What you need to know about a World Series matchup no one wanted

October 26, 2021
What you need to know about a World Series matchup no one wanted
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This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The World Series starts tonight

Look, no one wanted this matchup. The marquee franchises — Yankees, Red Sox, the reigning champion Dodgers — are all out. We’re left with a team that cheated its way to a championship in 2017, and another that had the worst record of all the playoff teams and whose fans are somehow still doing this in the year 2021.

But, hey, it’s still the World Series, right? So here are a few things to know about the Houston vs. Atlanta clash, which begins tonight at 8:09 p.m. ET.

Everybody hates the Astros. Remember back in the early 2000s when we called the Yankees the Evil Empire because they… uh… spent lots of money on players? Well, Houston upped the ante on baseball villainy by essentially becoming the sports version of a smug tech company. To hear the management-consultant types in their front office tell it, the Astros won the 2017 World Series because they’re smarter and better than the rest of us. Maybe, but they left out the part about stealing opposing catchers’ signals so that Houston hitters would know what kind of pitch was coming next. When the scheme was fully exposed in early 2020, it cost GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs and the organization a record $5 million US in fines along with some draft picks. But the Astros got to keep their rings, and the scandal hardly sent them into the wilderness. They’ve now reached five consecutive American League Championships Series, and three World Series in that span. They’re favoured to win this one, with infielders Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve among the presumed beneficiaries of the 2017 cheating still going strong. Ace Lance McCullers Jr., though, is out with an arm injury that kept him from pitching in Houston’s ALCS win over Boston.

Atlanta really turned things around. When the sun set on Aug. 1, they were 52-55 and mired in third place in the National League East. But Atlanta closed the regular season on a 36-18 tear, during which they won a higher percentage of their games than any other team but the Dodgers and San Francisco, who finished with the two best records in baseball. The NL East champs then knocked off Milwaukee in the opening playoff round before shocking the heavily favoured Dodgers to reach their first World Series since 1999. And they did all this without young superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., who tore an ACL chasing a fly ball in early July. Canadian general manager Alex Anthopoulos (who held that job with the Blue Jays from 2009-15) made some shrewd moves to rework his outfield in the wake of the Acuna injury, while the infield remained the strength of the lineup. First baseman Freddie Freeman (the reigning NL MVP whose parents are both Canadian), third baseman Austin Riley, second baseman Ozzie Albies and shortstop Dansby Swanson each hit between 27 and 33 home runs.

Dark clouds are looming. Enjoy this series, because the 2022 baseball season could be impacted by a work stoppage. With the current labour deal between team owners and players set to expire on Dec. 1, it seems pretty likely that free agency will be delayed, at the very least, and maybe even the start of spring training and the regular season. Work stoppages were once commonplace in baseball — eight of them occurred from 1972-95, culminating in the devastating 7½-month strike of 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. There hasn’t been a stoppage since, but some fear the quarter-century-long streak is in jeopardy. Read more about what the fight is about this time here and read a preview of the Houston-Atlanta World Series here.

Jose Altuve is one of the holdovers from the Houston team that cheated its way to a World Series title in 2017. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Quickly…

Chicago general manager Stan Bowman is out. He resigned today following the NHL team’s release of the findings of an investigation into allegations that an assistant coach sexually assaulted a player in 2010. Bowman is also the GM of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team. There was no immediate word on his future in that role. After Chicago released its findings, the NHL fined the organization $2 million US for “inadequate procedures and mishandling of the 2010 matter” involving former video coach Brad Aldrich. This story was still developing at our publish time. Read the latest on Bowman’s departure from Chicago and the fallout from the investigation here.

The Canadian women’s hockey team beat the U.S. again. If you’re counting (and we are), that’s four straight head-to-head victories for Canada as the archrivals ramp up for their almost-inevitable showdown for Olympic gold in Beijing this February. The Canadians won both meetings at the world championship in Calgary this summer — first in the round robin, then in the gold-medal game — and they’re 2-0 in the teams’ nine-game pre-Olympic exhibition series after last night’s 3-2 win in Hartford. The next two are in Kingston, Ont., and Ottawa in late November. Read about the road ahead for the Canadian team here.

The Canadian Olympic curling pre-trials are underway. Fourteen men’s and 14 women’s teams are in Liverpool, N.S., competing for the final two spots in their respective Olympic trials. Those 10-team tournaments will take place in late November in Saskatoon, with the winners representing Canada at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Read about yesterday’s opening draws here. Follow the latest women’s scores here and men’s here.

It’s a tough time for Toronto sports teams. The Blue Jays fell agonizingly short of the playoffs, the Raptors dropped to 1-3 with last night’s defeat to former franchise player DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls, and Leaf fans are in full burn-it-all-down mode after their team suffered its fourth straight loss, 4-1 to Carolina, on the heels of Saturday’s 7-1 blowout at Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the company that owns one of the biggest stakes in the Leafs and Raptors is in disarray, with members of the Rogers family fighting over who gets to control the telecom giant of the same name. The man with the upper hand at the moment, Edward Rogers, reportedly tried to dump popular Raptors president Masai Ujiri over the summer before being thwarted by other members of the board. For more on that bit of palace intrigue, watch this segment from the newest episode of Bring It In with host Morgan Campbell.

Also…

Here’s what Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes will be wearing in Beijing:

The red kits are for the opening ceremony and the medal stand, the white ones for the closing ceremony.

And finally…

Tonight, the Montreal Canadiens play in Seattle for the first time in more than a century — against an eerily familiar backdrop. When the Canadiens took on the Seattle Metropolitans in the 1919 Stanley Cup final, the world was in the grip of a pandemic. The so-called Spanish flu killed tens of millions of people worldwide and infected an estimated half a billion — close to a third of the global population at the time — in multiple waves from 1918-20. The 1919 Cup final was abandoned after Montreal ran out of healthy players and several Seattle guys got sick too. A few days later, Montreal’s Joe Hall died of complications from the flu. As the present-day Habs get set to play the expansion Seattle Kraken tonight, learn more about one of the darkest chapters in NHL history in this video by CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.





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