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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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How to watch Appalachian State vs. James Madison: NCAA Football live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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Who’s Playing

James Madison @ Appalachian State

Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1

What to Know

The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.

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A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.

Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN Plus
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $40.99

Odds

The Mountaineers are a solid 6.5-point favorite against the Dukes, according to the latest college football odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Mountaineers as a 7.5-point favorite.

Over/Under: -111

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See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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UTSA vs. Texas Southern: How to watch NCAA Football online, TV channel, live stream info, game time

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Who’s Playing

Texas Southern @ UTSA

Current Records: Texas Southern 1-2; UTSA 1-2

What to Know

The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.

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The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.

Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.

Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
  • TV: STADIUM
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $69.00

Odds

The Roadrunners are a big 42-point favorite against the Tigers, according to the latest college football odds.

Bettors have moved against the Roadrunners slightly, as the game opened with the Roadrunners as a 44-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame live stream info, TV channel: How to watch NCAA Football on TV, stream online

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Who’s Playing

Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0

What to Know

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.

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The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.

Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.

The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • TV: ABC
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $110.00

Odds

The Tar Heels are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, according to the latest college football odds.

The line on this game has moved quite a bit since it opened, as it started out with the Fighting Irish as a 1.5-point favorite.

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Over/Under: -110

See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Notre Dame have won all of the games they’ve played against North Carolina in the last eight years.

  • Oct 30, 2021 – Notre Dame 44 vs. North Carolina 34
  • Nov 27, 2020 – Notre Dame 31 vs. North Carolina 17
  • Oct 07, 2017 – Notre Dame 33 vs. North Carolina 10



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