Jays catching imagination of Ontario bettors

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TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays are in the playoffs for a second straight year, but this time Johnny Avello expects them to get past the opening round.

The Blue Jays opened a best-of-three wild-card series on the road against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday afternoon. Toronto reached the playoffs last year before being swept 2-0 by the Seattle Mariners in a wild-card series.

The Twins and Jays split their six games this season, with the road team winning two-of-three each time. Earlier on Tuesday Minnesota entered as a slight favourite (minus-120), not a surprise given all three playoff contests are being played at Target Field in Minneapolis.

“That’s the only reason,” said Avello, the director of race and sports operations for DraftKings. “If Toronto was playing at home they’d be the favourite in this one . . . they’d probably be minus-130.

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“I’m thinking they (Blue Jays) are going to go to the next round here. Not crazy about the way they finished the season (two straight losses) . . .but going back a few weeks ago they really had to win some games.”

Minnesota earned its playoff berth by winning the American League Central Division while Toronto claimed the third and final AL wild-card spot. The Blue Jays haven’t advanced past the wild-card round since 2016.

The second game of the series goes Wednesday, with the finale, if needed, slated for Thursday.

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On DraftKings’ Ontario sportsbook, Toronto has 95 per cent of the handle and 92 per cent of bets to win its wild-card playoff series.

“Any time that a team makes the playoffs in any sport and that team is in a jurisdiction where we offer wagering, that is a big deal,” Avello said. “It’s a big deal for people that live there because they get to watch and bet on the team that they follow all year.”

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Avello remains bullish on the Blue Jays, saying he feels they have the potential to reach the American League Championship Series.

“Is it possible? Yes,” he said. “They’re not that big an underdog (16-1 to win it all), that’s not astronomical odds.

“Here’s what happens in baseball, you need to get on what I call a magic carpet ride . . . everything needs to work and that’s possible for any one of these teams that’s in the playoffs. It’s also possible for some of the big favourites to get knocked out early, that happens also.”

On theScore Bet, 90 per cent of bettors are backing the Blue Jays to win the wild-card series. Fifty-two per cent of wagers on the American League pennant winner are on Toronto while 33 per cent of bets on the World Series champion are on the Jays (both as of Tuesday).

Toronto won consecutive World Series titles in 1992-93.

“We always tend to see really strong home-team support, whether it’s Leafs, Raptors and Jays,” said Aubrey Levy, senior vice-president of content and marketing at theScore. “But the Blue Jays are obviously Canada’s team and carry a ton of love and support.

“Maybe there’s a little 30-year mojo in the can, who knows? There’s a lot of optimism and they’ve definitely got me pulling for them . . . but it also gives us opportunities to bring our relationship with them to life in other interesting ways.”

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Like celebrating the 30th anniversary of Toronto’s last World Series win by opening a pop-up ’90s-themed diner. TheScore Bet Throwback Diner will offer a menu of elevated ballpark items at ’90s prices at its downtown Toronto location.

The venue opened Tuesday with the start of the Toronto-Minnesota series and will serve patrons through Thursday (noon-10 p.m. ET) while supplies last. Attendees must be 19 years of age and older.

TheScore Bet is also offering special markets for the series, with the most popular being Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hitting over 1.5 homers (plus-900). Others include: Toronto hitting over 5.5 homers (+500); Bo Bichette registering over 5.5 hits (+350); Toronto scoring more than 15.5 total runs (+250); and any Jays pitcher registering over 9.5 strikeouts (+190).

It’s also no surprise that Proline players are solidly behind the Blue Jays. According to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, over 90 per cent of money is backing Toronto to win its first-round series.

As for Tuesday’s opening contest, 83 per cent of Proline players have Toronto on the money line. And 36 per cent of punters feel the Blue Jays can bring a World Series title back to Canada.

Overall, the National League-leading Atlanta Braves have 10 per cent of the action, just ahead of the American League-leading Baltimore Orioles (seven per cent).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.

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