How Yusei Kikuchi is emulating Robbie Ray and why it’s working

Yusei Kikuchi is coming off his best start as a Blue Jay. On Monday against the Seattle Mariners, his former team, he threw six shutout innings, allowed just one hit, and struck out six. He did walk three batters, but that was the only blemish in what was otherwise a great outing. After the game, Kikuchi talked about the adjustments he had made and how he was trying to emulate what Robbie Ray did last season.

Yusei Kikuchi says he was aware of how much #BlueJays pitching coach Pete Walker helped Robbie Ray last year.
They’ve tried to emulate Ray with Kikuchi’s “big cutter”:
“Just creating that similar shape as Robbie Ray was the goal,” Kikuchi says.
— Ethan Diamandas (@EthanDiamandas) May 17, 2022

With the Blue Jays Ray made three distinct changes. He altered his mechanics, increased his fastball usage, and threw more pitches in the strike zone. Kikuchi is not someone who likes to make mid-season adjustments, but we have seen him already make changes in his short time with the Blue Jays.

The first clip is from Kikuchi’s first start with Toronto and you can see he has the hesitation in his delivery, which he used throughout his time in Seattle. In the second clip that hesitation is gone. That’s not the only change that he has made, however.

These two screen shots are at the apex of Kikuchi’s leg kick. In the first shot, you can see his hands are separated early and it appears you can see his hand and perhaps the ball below his leg. In the second slip, he keeps his hands together at the top of his leg kick and it looks to me like he hides the ball behind his leg longer. We can’t say for certain if hitters were able to see the ball before or if they were able to pick something up, but dropping the hesitation is a notable change and makes his overall mechanics much more fluid.
With these changed mechanics we have also seen Kikuchi change his pitch mix throughout his first six starts.

Kikuchi threw his four-seamer 64.4% of the time in his last start, the highest rate of the season and well above his season average of 51%. Kikuchi has a very good fastball; he averages 94.9 on the pitch and can run it up to 97 mph on occasion, making him one of the hardest throwing lefty starters. Batters this season have hit just .109 off of Kikuchi’s fastball and slugged just .217. He doesn’t get much swing and miss on the pitch, only a 9.9% swinging strike rate the lowest of his four pitches. What the pitch does though is get hit weakly in the air. The pitch has a 45.5% fly ball rate and of those fly balls, 40% …

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Author: Paul Berthelot / Blue Jays Nation

Toronto Six captain Shiann Darkangelo, goalie Elaine Chuli returning for PHF Season 8

The Toronto Six have had a great start to the offseason, so far. They started off with a tidy piece of business, signing their leader, captain and All-Star Shiann Darkangelo on a 1-year contract. Darkangelo had a stellar point-per-game season in Season 7, with 8 goals and 12 assists in 20 games. She’s by all accounts an incredible leader and person, someone who is inspiring woman to play with. She’s also an incredibly strong and talented hockey player, to boot!

The Toronto Six are proud to announce the re-signing of #T6 Captain Shiann Darkangelo for Season 8!
— Toronto Six (@TheTorontoSix) May 4, 2022

Goalie Elaine Chuli is also back for Season 8, Toronto’s main starting goaltender last season. She played 17 games and had a 93.1% save percentage in that span. She’s also been nominated for goaltender of the year along with Boston’s Katie Burt and Buffalo’s Carly Jackson.

Join us in wishing #T6 Goaltender Elaine Chuli a very Happy Birthday!
— Toronto Six (@TheTorontoSix) May 16, 2022

Defender Taylor Davison is also returning to the Toronto Six next year. She had her first pro season last year with Toronto after 5 years at York University. The team is excited to bring back a top-tier young defender, surely. Davison had 4 points in 20 games and made the All-Star team in her first season.

Someone just loves to play at Canlan Sports – York
The Toronto Six are proud to announce the re-signing of Defender Taylor Davison for Season 8!
— Toronto Six (@TheTorontoSix) May 18, 2022

Final Thoughts
These three re-signings for Toronto come with a couple of noted departures. Firstly, what probably should have been the top piece of business for the Six, re-signing their top scorer Mikyla Grant-Mentis, didn’t get done. Grant-Mentis signed a landmark $80,000 deal with the same Buffalo Beauts she began her pro career with 3 years ago.
Grant-Mentis was the league MVP in Season 6, and just missed out on the league’s scoring title last year to Kennedy Marchment.
The Six will also be without Tori Charron, who has moved to the offices as the Metropolitan Riveters’ General Manager.
In other news, Lindsay Eastwood has been nominated as defender of the year, and the aforementioned Ch …

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Author: Ryan Hobart / The Leafs Nation

Jays closer Jordan Romano named AL reliever of the month

Jordan Romano’s red hot start to the year has been recognized.

Romano was named the American League’s top reliever of the month for April after leading the AL in saves.
For Romano, it’s his first time receiving the honour after a month that saw him save 10 of the Blue Jays’ 14 win in April. All the while, he recorded a 1.59 ERA through 11.1 IP. He struck out 13 opposing batters, while limiting them to a .195 batting average.
His play has been at a high level for a while, dating all the way back to May 11, 2021, as the MLB noted. Since then, he’s posted a 1.89 ERA and a 4-to-1 strike-to-walk ratio.

Jordan Romano has become one of the best closers in baseball and there’s nothing like a good closer entrance. This is a great thing they got going in Toronto. Place is electric!
— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) May 1, 2022

Romano’s been a huge storyline for the Jays early on this year and rightfully so. He’s stepped into a ton of games and has done a great job in helping the Jays close out games. His emergence as a great closer is going to pay dividends for this team down the road.
On top of all of that, with all the improvements made at the Rogers Centre, he’s now got some of his own entrance music like he’s a WWE wrestler.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at

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Author: Zach Laing / Blue Jays Nation

Maple Leafs vs. Lightning: Who has the advantage on the blueline?

We know the opponent, it’s time to start diving into the matchups. The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking on the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Today, we begin breaking down the individual matchups in the upcoming series, beginning on defence. In past seasons, the defence has been a major criticism of the Maple Leafs, but enter the 2022 edition of the postseason with a very deep group. With as many as eight legitimate NHL options if everyone is healthy, Toronto will have some tough decisions to make for Game 1 and beyond.
On the Lightning side, the defence will consist of the clear group of seven that they have used almost exclusively all season long. How those players line up, and who is on the outside looking in, remains to be seen. In the final week of the season, Tampa Bay experimented with different pairings from their usual lineup construction and even dressed seven defencemen, as did Toronto.
The 1st Pair
Both Tampa Bay and Toronto broke up their most-used defence pairings late in the season. Fo …

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Author: Kyle Cushman / The Leafs Nation

The regular season Maple Leafs would win a series easily against the regular season Lightning

I’m going to start this Staturday column with the obvious caveat: the numbers below are for the regular season efforts of both our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2-time Cup-winning, three-peat-attempting Tampa Bay Lightning. On the one hand, the Leafs have a history of playing great in the regular season and then pooping the bed in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Lightning have little incentive to push themselves in the regular season, beyond ensuring they make the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at the Lightning and how they compare to the Leafs.
Over the course of the year, Toronto has held a firm lead in the shot attempt differential over Tampa, according to Evolving Hockey (the bottom blue line is T.B while the one above it is TOR):

According to Natural Stat Trick, on the whole, the Leafs get 54.49% of the shot attempts at 5-on-5, when adjusting for score and venue. That’s good for 5th in the league. Conversely, the Lightning sit at 51.5%, and 12th in the league.
If we take the total shot attempts that each of the Leafs and Lightning got this season, smash them together, the Leafs should control about 51.62% of the shot attempts in this series.
The other question is about the pace of the game. The Leafs play at much higher, riskier pace than the Lightning, who are bit more methodical and quiet in their approach. If you add the rate at which each team generates shot attempts for and against together, that’s an estimation of pace. The Leafs are the 6th paciest team, while the Lightning are the 27th. Low pace isn’t bad, it’s just a stylistic difference.
If the Leafs can push the pace on the Lightning, they should have the skill advantage to win that slugfest. If they play down to the Lightning’s pace, they risk suffering from the Lightning’s ability to make something out of nothing.
May the odds be ever in our favour
The NHL Playoff Odds machine on gives Toronto a really good chance of beating the Lightning:

Of course, this is all on the above-stated caveat that either team’s regular season numbers are a genuine representation of what the actual players on the ice will do come the playoffs.
Final Thoughts
According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s playoff chances model, the Lightning have had over 95% chance to make the playoffs since January. If you’re that team, coming off of two championships and attempting a historic third in a row, it’s going to …

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Author: Ryan Hobart / The Leafs Nation

Charlie Montoyo sounds off on teams complaining about Canada’s COVID-19 laws

Charlie Montoyo has had quite a feisty start to his 2022, hasn’t he?

The often calm Charlie Montoyo has shown a new fire, something that quite a few Blue Jays fans had an issue with. 
A few days ago, the 56-year-old manager was ejected for only the fifth time in his 392 games that he has managed. On Tuesday, Charlie Montoyo had a spicy quote when dealing with those who believe the Blue Jays have an advantage in regards to cross country travel.

#Bluejays manager Charlie Montoyo on Covid 19 restrictions for ballplayers travelling to Canada: “Rules are rules and that’s why we couldn’t play in Toronto for two years. And from experience nobody gives a shit. Nobody cared about us when we were in Dunedin.”
— Rob Longley (@longleysunsport) April 19, 2022

Charlie is 100% correct here. It is evident that fans of American teams didn’t give a shit when the Blue Jays played their entire 2020 in Buffalo. It’s especially evident when those same detractors give the Jays absolutely no credit for finishing 2021 with 91 wins, despite playing 44 “home games” in the United States.
No, to non Blue Jays fans, the fact that some players such as Tanner Houck of the Red Sox and Aaron Judge of the Yankees will miss like 10 games in Toronto is apparently enough to give the Jays a huge advantage.
This is ignoring the fact that every single Jays player has to be vaccinated, or they’d be unable to play half of the scheduled games. Why? Well, the same rules apply for leaving Canada, something that is intentionally neglected.
If the same rules apply in the next off-season, the Blue Jays would have a major disadvantage in signing the aforementioned Judge. In fact, they’re the only team that has to worry about this. Hell, it’s alleged that Michael Conforto is unvaccinated, meaning the Blue Jays possibly had to look elsewh …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Blue Jays may have a Hyun Jin Ryu problem

It might be time for the Toronto Blue Jays to start worrying about starter Hyun Jin Ryu, who’s endured a miserable start to the 2022 season.
First, the owner-imposed lockout took place, causing Ryu to begin his ramp-up activities at home in South Korea. Making matters worse, he ultimately caught COVID-19 and was forced to quarantine, putting a temporary halt on his throwing program.
Now, a few months later, the 35-year-old currently finds himself on the 10-day injured list with left forearm inflammation, which the team hopes isn’t a serious ailment. But before hitting the IL, some alarming signs flared up regarding the veteran left-hander.
Among them was Ryu’s inability to control the strike zone as he’s largely struggled with his command out of the gate. As someone who relies on stuff and control, not having the feel for your pitches usually leads to poor performance. And that’s exactly what’s transpired thus far.
Failing to perform effectively, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound hurler has allowed 11 earned runs on 11 hits – including a pair of home runs – across 7 1/3 innings. As a result, he currently possesses a whopping 13.50 ERA and a .333 OPP AVG through two starts.
Digging deeper into his woes, opposing batters have generated plenty of hard conta …

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Author: Thomas Hall / Blue Jays Nation

Leafs fan guide to the 2022 NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament

We’re one day away from the start of one of the most exciting tournaments on the hockey schedule, the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament.
For Toronto Maple Leafs fans, this means an opportunity to see multiple high profile prospects compete for the national championship over the next week and a half. Toronto has six prospects playing for four different teams at this year’s tournament, creating intrigue for Leafs fans on top of what is already set to be a phenomenal tournament.
Minnesota – F Matt Knies, D Mikey Koster
Leading the way for Toronto is Matt Knies, their 2021 second-round pick. Although he is a freshman, Knies has burst onto the scene with the University of Minnesota, immediately becoming one of the most dangerous forwards in the Big Ten conference upon his arrival back in the fall.
In fact, Knies’ performance has been so remarkable this year that despite being less than a year removed from being a second-round draft pick, he earned his way onto Team USA at the Olympics and has been rumoured to potentially be signing with the Leafs upon the completion of his collegiate season.
Knies brings a unique blend of skills to the table. His combination of size (listed at 6-foot-3) and tenacity on the forecheck with an ability to get the puck …

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Author: Kyle Cushman / The Leafs Nation

The Leafs 3 stars of the week: Erik Källgren shines in debut week, Mitch Marner continues dominant season

As we inch closer and closer to the NHL trade deadline, we start wondering what kind of moves teams are going to make. More specifically, what moves the Toronto Maple Leafs going to make given how their goaltending has been for the past three-ish months, as well as their poor play defending in front of their own net. There have been plenty of rumours around the team regarding potential forwards, defensemen, and goalies Toronto could be interested in. But for now, they have to roll with who they have on their squad.
Entering last week’s set of games, we knew Jack Campbell was still going to be unavailable due to a rib injury, so it’s Petr Mrázek’s and recently called up Marlie, Erik Källgren’s crease for now. After Källgren came in relief for Mrázek against the Coyotes on March 10th, Mrázek ended up getting the crease in the Heritage Classic game and it ended up being the wrong decision. Well, he actually looked pretty good in the first period but it all went downhill from there as Toronto ended up dropping another game by the score of 5-2.
After that loss, Sheldon Keefe and staff went with the decision to give Erik Källgren his first career NHL start …

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Author: Joseph Zita / The Leafs Nation

Källgren has been great, but can’t be the goaltending solution for the Leafs

Let’s start with the fact that the Leafs needed Källgren. Fans needed Källgren. Generally, everyone has a lot more hope today than they did yesterday because of Källgren. In his two and a half games as a Leaf, Källgren has allowed just three goals, has a .963 save percentage and given the Leafs two wins and an overtime loss at a time when we thought the Leafs would be leaning into Mrazek’s .884 save percentage until the equally unreliable Jack Campbell returns from his injury.
The fact that Källgren is getting the start again on Saturday against Nashville is great. He certainly looks like the best path to victory for the Leafs, and they are wise to make the most of that. It’s just a matter of how long it can last.
As a new goaltender in the league, Källgren benefits from shooters not knowing him. That’s a concept that Leafs fans should be awfully familiar with considering how often Toronto gets “goalie’d” by AHL netminders and backups.
There’s also the matter of Källgren’s history showing that he’s not a .963 goaltender (surprise, no one is), but he’s also not really a .920 goaltender at either the AHL or SHL level. He was .911 in the SHL last season o …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation