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Romano may not get the title, but Blue Jays acting as if he’s their closer

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CARLSBAD, Calif. – Jordan Romano is deserving of all the praise he received, plus more, for the way he pitched in 2021, making his selection as a finalist among relievers for the all-MLB team a nice little bit of national recognition.

There’s no need to revisit the Toronto Blue Jays’ early-season bullpen issues, but imagine for a moment what might have happened had the right-hander from Markham, Ont., and lefty Tim Mayza not provided manager Charlie Montoyo with late-leverage lifelines in May and June.

Romano pitched to a 2.14 ERA and 1.048 WHIP with 85 strikeouts in 63 innings while converting 23 of 24 save chances. His Win Probability Added (explained here) of 3.7 tied Los Angeles Angels free agent Raisel Iglesias for the American League lead among pitchers, underlining his impact.

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So it’s with good reason GM Ross Atkins started a discussion about his bullpen by saying the Blue Jays are “super excited about Jordan Romano,” and praised the native of Markham, Ont., for being flexible when it comes to the way he’s used. “We have consistently talked to him about the potential impact, the potential role and his consistent response is, ‘I want to be a part of a winning team and whatever makes us better, I’m all in,’ which is remarkable about him.”

To that end, Atkins replied “hopefully not,” when asked if the Blue Jays intend to anoint a closer for 2022, conceding that “the psychology of pitching in the ninth inning is something you need to factor in, and routines are exceptionally important.”

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“Jordan is not someone that needs that,” Atkins continued. “But we’ll see where our team is when we get closer to the start of the season and we’ll learn more about whether or not the additions need different levels of communication, how Jordan and Timmy Mayza and the (team’s other relievers) feel about the communication and how we can help make it better. But flexibility is exceptionally powerful.”

Now, all that is instructive on how the Blue Jays intend to bolster their bullpen for next season. Romano may not always be used as a traditional closer, but he’s their guy when the team feels the most crucial outs are on the line. And at this point, they don’t seem to be after someone experienced in the closer’s role, at least in free agency, as they’ve yet to engage with Iglesias (who has a looming decision to make on his qualifying offer from the Angels) and Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That could always change, of course, but as they’re executing their script right now, that doesn’t seem to be a priority. Still, Atkins noted that “swing and miss is always nice later in the game to complement (Adam) Cimber and (Trevor) Richards,” and “another arm that could get a strikeout late in the game would be a nice piece to have.”

“Hopefully we have a couple of those.”

That suggests adding relievers with leverage experience, able to slot in alongside Mayza and behind Romano, and ahead of Richards and Cimber. Internal options for the bullpen beyond that mentioned by Atkins include Julian Merryweather, Trent Thornton (“One guy I think could be integral for us, that didn’t have a bad year in some ways – the batting average and ERA were a little bit high, but the strikeouts and walks were very strong”), Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay.

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He also mentioned Nate Pearson, although the Blue Jays still want him to start and are kicking around using him similarly to how the Tampa Bay Rays deployed Luis Patino last season. All of that depends on what they add, of course, leaving the bullpen likely to be among the final pieces of the off-season puzzle to fall into place.

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• An odd juxtaposition all week at the GM meetings was how the 30 clubs and agents went about business as usual as the build-up to an expected lockout loomed in the background. Fitting then is that the Major League Baseball Players Association began its annual agent meetings at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa on Thursday just as the GMs were leaving. Details of MLB’s latest proposal were shared with agents – covered well here by Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic — and it’s another non-starter. Without getting deep into the weeds of the proposed changes, the fundamental gap is that the owners don’t want to alter the percentage of the sport’s revenue paid to players without a direct link to how much money the industry takes in, the gateway to a cap system. Players want the market to become freer, rather than more restrictive, and it seems the owners are determined to test their willingness to fight off another round of claw-backs. The CBA expires at the end of the day Dec. 1.

• In 2015 when the Toronto Blue Jays won the American League East, Alex Anthopoulos became so anxious during the post-season, he had to force himself to watch. Given that he’s been to the playoffs six times since, you’d think he’d have gotten used to it by now. Nope. “As I’ve gotten older, I have a harder time watching a game that’s close,” he says. That’s why he was “a wreck” leading up to Game 6 of the World Series, when he watched his Atlanta team beat Houston to claim the championship from home because of a breakthrough COVID-19 case. He feared a loss would give the Astros momentum and put pressure on his team to avoid blowing a 3-1 series edge for the second straight year. After being talked out of a drive by his wife, he channel-surfed between the World Series, an NBA game and the Toronto Maple Leafs game. “You know, Canadian,” he quipped. “But once we got to five or six runs and I felt good about it … we counted down the outs and yelled and cheered.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

• Before the World Series, Anthopoulos did some preview media with broadcaster Fox. “They bring into this really cool room, they have the World Series trophy sitting there and they were like, ‘Oh, you can take photos with it and grab it,’” he said. “I’m like, I’m not touching that, we haven’t won it.” He finally got his hands on it last weekend at Truist Park, when he and his family came in to take some pictures. “It was really heavy,” he said, “really, really heavy.”

• Though Lourdes Gurriel Jr., will only have five years of major-league service time when the $22-million, seven-year contract he signed with the Blue Jays in November 2016 expires after the 2023 season, his deal allows him to become a free agent at that time. His salaries of $4.9 million in 2022 and $5.8 million in 2023 make him an intriguing trade candidate. But with only two years of control left, he’s more valuable to a team currently in contention, rather than one that’s rebuilding.

• Old friend update, as first baseman Justin Smoak, who posted an .820 OPS in 41 games with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan this year, is staying in shape and is open to playing in 2022. If the universal DH is a part of the new CBA, that would open up 15 new jobs for offence-first players and could perhaps help his cause.

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• Before Yoshi Tsutsugo signed a $12-million, two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays in December 2019, the versatile Japanese slugger nearly signed with the Blue Jays. His transition to the majors hasn’t gone smoothly, batting .209/.309/.388 in 447 plate appearances the past two years, and after bouncing from the Rays, to the Dodgers to the Pirates in 2021, he’s now back in free agency.





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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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