Mookie Betts
Getty Images

Mookie Betts exits game with injury

4 Comments

Bad news in Boston: Red Sox slugger and AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts departed the sixth inning of Sunday’s series finale against the Mets with another bout of left side soreness. The incident occurred on Wilmer Flores‘ long sac fly to right field, which was caught by Betts and returned to home plate in an attempt to nail Austin Jackson and preserve the Red Sox’ 3-0 lead.

Instead, Jackson managed to narrowly beat the throw to score the Mets’ first run of the afternoon — inspiring a replay review, which was upheld in the Mets’ favor — while Betts appeared to suffer some kind of oblique injury on the play. He was promptly examined by manager Alex Cora and a team trainer, and was brought off the field before the inning resumed. There’s no word yet on the projected timetable for Betts’ return to the lineup, though he’s expected to undergo further evaluation as the Red Sox suss out the extent of his injury.

The 25-year-old outfielder is approaching the tail end of his best career year to date. Even after an underwhelming day at the plate (0-for-3 with a sac fly and two strikeouts), he’s riding an incredible .337/.431/.619 batting line with 29 home runs, a 1.050 OPS, and 9.2 fWAR across 538 plate appearances. He missed two weeks of playing time this summer after rehabbing a left abdominal strain, but has been remarkably healthy during the second half of the year and appeared to be a strong contender for the AL MVP award this fall.

Following Betts’ exit in the sixth, Jackie Bradley Jr. shifted from center to right field while rookie Tzu-Wei Lin was brought in as a center field replacement. Lin posted remarkable numbers at Triple-A Pawtucket this season, but he’s struggled to find his footing at the major-league level and entered Sunday’s game batting .191/.269/.234 with two extra-base hits and a .503 OPS through 52 PA.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
Getty Images
1 Comment

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”