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Canada is off to a great start in its Olympic baseball qualifier
Last night, while much of the country was glued to Game 7 of the Habs-Leafs series, Canada’s men’s baseball team did something pretty impressive. Three of its pitchers combined for a no-hitter as Canada crushed Colombia 7-0 to open its regional Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida. Andrew Albers, who had a cup of coffee with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 and now pitches for the Minnesota Twins’ triple-A affiliate, tossed the first seven innings for Canada and didn’t allow a baserunner over his final six.
The WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier, which runs through Saturday, will decide one of the two available spots in the six-team baseball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics, where the sport is back on the program for the first time since 2008. It could also be Canada’s last chance to qualify for Tokyo.
Here’s how it works: The eight teams competing in Florida are divided into two groups. Canada, ranked 13th in the world, is with No. 7 Cuba, No. 8 Venezuela and No. 14 Colombia. The other group is the No. 2 United States, No. 10 Dominican Republic, No. 11 Puerto Rico and No. 15 Nicaragua. Everyone plays the other teams in their group once, and the top two finishers in each group advance to the “super round,” which takes place Friday and Saturday. The super-round teams each play two more games — against those that advanced from the other group — and the result from their group-stage game against the other team carries over. The team with the best record after the super round wins the tournament and the spot in the Olympics.
The teams finishing second and third stay alive. They’ll get one last chance to reach the Olympics via the final qualifying tournament in mid-June in Mexico (it was recently moved from Taiwan due to pandemic-related concerns). That five-team event will also include Taiwan, Australia and the Netherlands. The winner gets the last ticket to Tokyo, where they’ll join the winner of the Americas qualifier, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Israel in the Olympic tournament.
Baseball was a full-status Olympic sport from 1992 to 2008. Canada qualified for two of those five tournaments, losing the bronze-medal game to Japan in 2004 and failing to get past the round-robin stage four years later. If Canada doesn’t qualify for Tokyo, its next chance won’t come until at least 2028. Local organizers have some say in what sports appear in their Olympics, and Paris (the 2024 host) opted to drop baseball. The 2028 Games are in Los Angeles, a baseball hotbed, so there’s a good chance the sport returns to the Olympics then. If you’re wondering about women’s Olympic baseball, it doesn’t exist. But a women’s softball event has always mirrored the baseball competition, and Canada has a team in the Tokyo tournament. It’s ranked third in the world.
Canada’s team for the Americas qualifier includes a few names you might recognize. The longtime manager is former Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt, whose assistants include ex-Jays pitcher Paul Quantrill and ex-Expos-and-Jays pitcher Denis Boucher. In addition to Albers, the pitching staff features Scott Richmond, who made 29 starts for the Jays from 2008-09, and John Axford, who led the National League with 46 saves in 2011 for Milwaukee and played for Toronto in 2018. Some guys you might remember on other teams include former Jays star Jose Bautista (Dominican), 2011 NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp (United States) and longtime quality starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (Venezuela). Read more about the Canadian roster here.
Canada’s next game is tonight at 7 p.m. ET vs. Cuba. Its group-round finale is Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET vs. Venezuela. You can watch both those contests, and every other game in the tournament, live on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Here’s the link.
Edmonton’s CFL team has a new name. Elks replaces Eskimos, which was dropped last year after Washington’s NFL team made a similar move in response to increased pressure on sports franchises to stop using Indigenous names and iconography. In the meantime, the CFL franchise was calling itself the Edmonton Football Team. Read more about the name change and see the new logo here.
Only one Canadian is left in the French Open singles tournaments. Men’s No. 20 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime lost his first-round match today to Italian Andreas Seppi. Women’s No. 6 Bianca Andreescu suffered her own first-round upset yesterday, and men’s No. 17 Milos Raonic withdrew before the event started. The Canadian left standing is the only unseeded one, and the youngest: 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez. Ranked 69th in the world, the former French Open girls’ champion destroyed 78th-ranked Anastasia Potapova 6-2, 6-1 in the first round. Fernandez’ next opponent is American Madison Keys, who’s seeded 23rd. Despite that, Fernandez is the slight betting favourite for Wednesday’s match. Read more about today’s French Open results here.
Canada scraped into the playoffs at the men’s hockey world championship. Usually, the Canadian team can count on a bunch of stars to join after their NHL teams are eliminated from playoff contention. But the current mix of health concerns and travel restrictions has left Canada without any big-name players for this year’s tournament in Latvia (Connor Brown and Adam Henrique are the team’s two leading scorers). This led to Canada losing four of its seven games and nearly missing the playoffs for the first time ever. But it backed into the quarter-finals after today’s 3-2 shootout loss to Finland to close the group stage.
The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since the Bush administration. W., but still, 2004 was a long time ago. Especially when you consider that was the last post-season before the NHL introduced a salary cap. So, put another way, one of the NHL’s richest teams has been unable to earn a playoff series win since it could more or less buy one. The bulk of the blame for the latest failure — blowing a 3-1 series lead to a far less talented Montreal team and then no-showing Game 7 — is falling on Toronto’s two best players. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner finished, respectively, seventh and fourth in the regular-season points race and Matthews scored 41 goals in 52 games to run away with the Rocket Richard Trophy. But Matthews found the net only once in the seven-game series vs. Montreal, and Marner has now gone 18 straight playoff games without a goal. Since entering the league together five seasons ago, Matthews and Marner are 0-5 in playoff series. Read more about the Leafs’ collapse vs. the Canadiens and watch highlights (lowlights?) here.
You’re up to speed. Have a good weekend.