Chansky’s Notebook: Beware The Blue Jays!

The Blue Jays are a serious threat to the Cubbies.

Now that Toronto has swept Texas and knocked the Rangers out of the baseball playoffs for the second straight year, are we ready to admit the Blue Jays are a team, perhaps the only team, capable of beating the Chicago Cubs, especially with the home-field advantage the American League has in the World Series?

Toronto has home run bombers all over its lineup, from Encarnacion to Bautista to Donaldson to Tulowitzski to Saunders to Martin – six players with at least 20 homers during the regular season. Their starting pitching is as deep as any team with Estrada, Happ, Dukie Stroman, Sanchez and Dickey, and their bullpen is solid if not spectacular.

Most importantly, after struggling during certain pockets of the regular season, the Jays are now playing their best baseball, hitting their stride at exactly the right time. They won two out of three in Boston to secure the wildcard home field and went to Texas, where the Rangers had the best record in the American League, and won the first game with slugging and the second game with defense and pitching.

Then they went home to the thunderous Sky Dome, or Rogers Center, and outlasted the Rangers in extras to sweep the ALDS and earn a nice rest to get their rotation set for the AL championship series that begins this weekend. Whether plucky Cleveland, or even if the Red Sox pull a miracle comeback, the Jays will be favored because they have the best all-around team of all remaining in the American League.

And getting to play four at home and only three at Wrigley Field, you have to love their chances to win their first World Series in, what, 30 years? The Cubs have become America’s team, sentimental favorites to break the curse of the Billy Goat. And I, for one, will be pulling for them. But I’ve seen the Jays at their best, and their best is as good as the Cubbies best. If that turns out to be the match-up, what a World Series it will be.

Chansky’s Notebook: Baseball In October

The wildcard games were wild; that’s October baseball.

Ever since Major League Baseball added a second wildcard team, the do-or-die play-in games have been tense, taut entries into the postseason playoffs. Two teams, with the fourth-and fifth-best records in each league, playing one game to get in.

This year, the six division races were over with at least a week to go, but a half-dozen teams were still vying for the four wildcard spots. It went down to the last day of the regular season before Toronto and Baltimore survived in the American League and the Mets and Giants, teams with birthplaces in New York, made it in the National. And what wild games they were.

The Blue Jays walked off with a 11th-inning win in Toronto when Edwin Encarnacion bombed a three-run homer while the Orioles’ Zack Britton, the best closer in baseball, sat in the bullpen. O’s manager Buck Showalter has caught an earful ever since for going with an old baseball axiom that on the road don’t bring in your closer until you are AHEAD in the bottom half of the last inning. The Jays go on to play at the Rangers who own American League’s top record in the best-of-5 division series. Boston visits Cleveland to start the other.

The National League wildcard was scoreless in the top of the ninth, when San Fran’s Conor Gillaspie hit a three-run homer to beat the Mets, the team with the best record in baseball over the last 40 games, in their own ballpark. The pitching duel matched Giant Madison Bumgarner from Hickory, NC, against Noah Syndegaard, the one starter left from an invincible Mets’ rotation back in April.

The Giants, who have won the World Series the last three even-numbered years, go to Chicago to play the dominant Cubbies who won 103 games and are determined to break their 108-year World Series curse in the best-of-five at Wrigley Field. In the other, the Dodgers visit Washington, teams that won their divisions comfortably but are hardly comfortable moving into playoffs.

These four division series promise to be as wild as the wildcard games. That’s baseball in October.

Former UNC Pitcher Adam Warren Traded to Chicago Cubs

On the second day of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, the New York Yankees made a deal to send former UNC standout Adam Warren to the Chicago Cubs, along with Yankees’ second baseman Brendan Ryan, in exchange for Cubs’ infielder Starlin Castro.

Warren, who grew up in New Bern, NC, played three years for the Tar Heels from 2006 – 2008, posting a 9-2 record as a starter his Junior year with Carolina’s lowest ERA in ACC play that season. Warren was drafted by New York in 2009 and has spent his career in the Yankees’ organization up to this point. He is 13-15 for his career with 245 strikeouts.

The 28 year old will now join the Chicago Cubs bullpen, bringing them a versatile pitcher – one who can be used as a starter, long reliever, or a setup man – having worked in all of those roles throughout his time in the Bronx.

The deal between the two teams came on the heels of the Cubs agreement earlier on Tuesday to sign Ben Zobrist to a 4 year deal, which cleared the way for Castro to be dealt.

Former UNC Star Ackley Traded to Yankees

The Seattle Mariners have traded former UNC Tar Heel baseball star Dustin Ackley to the New York Yankees, the team announced on Thursday.

Ackley, who is from Winston-Salem, will join former Carolina teammates Andrew Miller and Adam Warren wearing the Yankee pinstripes.

Ackley was taken second overall in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, after Stephen Strasburg.

The 27-year-old Ackley is leaving Seattle where another former Tar Heel – Kyle Seager – has developed into one of the best third basemen in baseball.

Ackley had a .243 batting average this year with six home runs and 19 RBI’s for the Mariners.

Harvey To Start All-Star Game For NL

NEW YORK – Former North Carolina standout Matt Harvey will become the third player in program history to start the Major League Baseball All-Star Game when he takes the mound for the National League, manager Bruce Bochy announced Monday.

Harvey, who joins Walt Weiss (1998) and Brian Roberts (2005) as Carolina All-Star starters, will oppose Detroit’s Max Scherzer in the Midsummer Classic Tuesday night at Citi Field. Harvey owns a 7-2 record with a 2.35 ERA in 130 innings of work for the Mets this season. He has struck out 147 batters in 19 starts and currently leads the National League in strikeouts.

“It’s a huge honor,” Harvey told “I appreciate it. It’s obviously here in New York. The fans have been great here all year. Hopefully I can make them proud.”

Harvey will be the first pitcher to start an All-Star Game at his home ballpark since Roger Clemens in 2004. Harvey will also be the third pitcher to make his first All-Star Game start at his home ballpark. The others were Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants in 1934 and Esteban Loaiza of the White Sox in 2003.

“What a tremendous year he’s had,” Bochy said. “It really wouldn’t have mattered what city we’re playing in, with the year he’s had.”

The Mystic, Conn., native starred for the Tar Heels from 2008-10 before being drafted by the New York Mets with the seventh overall selection in the 2010 MLB Draft.

With the selection to the All-Star Game, Harvey becomes the seventh Tar Heel to earn a roster spot at the MLB All-Star Game and is the first player since Brian Roberts in 2007.

UNC All-Star Game History

Nate Andrews – 1944 (Reserve)
Burgess Whitehead – 1935 (Reserve), 1937 (Reserve)
Snuffy Stirnweiss – 1945 (DNP) 1946 (Reserve)
Walt Weiss – 1998 (Started at SS)
B.J. Surhoff – 1999 (Reserve)
Brian Roberts – 2005 (Started at 2B), 2007 (Reserve)