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123 Apr 15
TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays survived their first elimination game of the postseason on Tuesday by defeating the Cleveland Indians 5-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Dennis Maruk Jersey .Now they must try to do it again in Game 5 on Wednesday at Rogers Centre.Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has given the assignment to right-hander Marco Estrada, who took the loss in Game 1 despite pitching Torontos only complete game of the season -- a 2-0 loss to Corey Kluber.The Indians will go with left-handed rookie Ryan Merritt, who will be making his postseason debut after spending most of the season at Triple-A Columbus.The Blue Jays five runs Tuesday were more than they had scored in the three previous games combined (three). It helped when a home run by Josh Donaldson gave them a 1-0 lead in the third and an RBI flare single by Ezequiel Carrera in the fourth gave them a 2-0 lead.You know, I liked being able to get the lead there early on in the game, Donaldson said. We havent been able to get a lead in this series. And I felt like it was very important for us to get out to a lead. And even if it was one run, whatever. ... In the playoffs, these games arent going to come easy to win. Theyve played great defense. Theyve pitched well and had timely hits.The Indians were able to get through Tuesday without using their two best relievers, right-hander Cody Allen and left-hander Andrew Miller. Both played vital roles in the first three games of the series. They will be rested for Game 5.I think that helps, Indians manager Terry Francona said. Certainly when youre down one trying to keep it at one so we have a chance, but also recognizing that if Miller and Cody pitch, that would have been four out of five pretty high-stress, high-leverage innings.(I) decided to try to go a different route. Didnt work out as well as we wanted, but we do have those guys available with a day off behind it.Edwin Encarnacion added a two-run single and Kevin Pillar had a sacrifice fly.Blue Jays manager John Gibbons felt like his team approached the game like they normally would.Really, everything, almost like a normal day, Gibbons said. Obviously its not, but it was almost like a normal regular-season game. They were nice, loose and relaxed, well aware of the circumstances. They showed up today like they always do and played a good ballgame.Francona was down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS when he was managing the Boston Red Sox. They became the first major-league team to come back from a 3-0 disadvantage, beating the New York Yankees in seven games. They then went on to win the World Series.Im proud of that, obviously, Francona said before the game Tuesday. That was a wonderful four days. I dont think the first three were that great. But it ended -- it was fun to live through that and to actually live. So I guess if people ask, I dont mind it, because like I said, I was proud of those guys. ... But this is a different time, a different team, very different circumstances.Merritt has pitched in four regular-season games, including one start, and is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. In 24 starts at Columbus, he was 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA.If you told me at the start of the season I was going to be pitching in the ALCS, I wouldve thought you were crazy, Merritt said. Its awesome. Im glad its here.Estrada allowed two runs in eight innings in the 2-0 loss in Game 1 at Progressive Field. He allowed six hits and one walk and struck out six.In his regular-season start against Cleveland this season, he allowed three runs in five innings. In two career regular-season starts vs. Cleveland, he is 0-0 with a 3.75 ERA.Weve got to win, Estrada said. Thats basically it. Im going to go out and do what Ive basically done all year and not really think about it as an elimination game. Ill just think about it just as another game. My job is to try to go nine innings and give up zero runs. So it doesnt matter if its the last game of the season, the first game, you want to do that every time out. Rod Langway Jersey . Vokoun departed practice on Saturday morning after discovering swelling in his thigh. He was taken to a local hospital where the clot was revealed. The club announced the surgery following a 5-3 exhibition loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dale Hunter Jersey . Scott Kazmir allowed four hits in seven shutout innings, Michael Brantley hit a two-run homer in a three-run first inning and the Indians maintained their hold on an AL wild-card spot with a 4-1 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday night. http://www.officialcapitalsfanstore.com/ . LOUIS -- Attorneys for the St. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is coming off of the best season of his professional career. In 2015, Newton set career-best marks in just about every statistical category en route to his first MVP award, and his 15-1 Panthers made it to the Super Bowl. While you can say Newton had a wonderful defense at his back, few would look at Newtons supporting cast on paper and suggest that the former first overall pick had much help. His tackles were castoffs Michael Oher and Mike Remmers. His top wideout, Kelvin Benjamin, went down for the year before the season even started. Newton elevated the likes of Ted Ginn Jr. and Devin Funchess into a functional receiving corps.Every other playoff team had more weapons than Carolina. With Newton, that didnt matter.But 2015 is in the books. Theres a chance weve already seen Newtons best season, which isnt remotely bad considering a player who peaks as an MVP is quite a player. During his career, though, Newton has continually taken on challenges and exceeded expectations. He led Auburn to the most unlikely of national titles, and after a poll of league executives suggested Blaine Gabbert was the best quarterback in the 2011 draft, Newton emerged as the best offensive player from his draft class. Cam led the Panthers to a division title in 2013, and in the famously topsy-turvy NFC South, Carolina managed to repeat during an up-and-down 2014 before a dominant 2015. His growth has also occurred during a time when the surrounding cast, from weapons to blocking, has remained a question mark.So, now what?Newton doesnt need to get better. He could take a step backward and still be an incredibly valuable quarterback. For a player as driven and impactful as he is, though, the possibility that he might still improve is exciting. As is the case with every player in football, there are places where Newton can grow and further develop. The former first overall pick only turned 27 in May, and theres still a reasonable chance Newton pushes forward. Lets figure out what an even better version of Newton might look like in 2016 and beyond.Cam in 2015Figuring out what an improved Newton might look like in 2016 starts by understanding what he did in 2015 and how likely some elements of that performance are to carry over. Its entirely possible that he could perform better on a play-by-play basis and produce worse numbers or win fewer games.While Newton posted career bests in many categories, a look at those broader categories doesnt produce many dramatic outliers. His completion percentage (59.8 percent) and yards per attempt (7.8) were right in line or slightly ahead of his career averages. His interception rate dropped from a career mark of 2.8 percent to 2.0 percent, which is roughly a difference of about 3-4 interceptions per year in a typical Newton season. His passer rating leaped from a career mark of 85.4 to 99.4, and his 57.4 QBR through 2014 jumped to a mark of 66.0 last season.Theres nothing outlandish in those numbers, which itself tells a story: Newton didnt have the statistical record of a typical MVP-caliber quarterback in the traditional way. Ive noted in the past in looking at MVPs that they tend to be quarterbacks on highly successful teams (duh) and/or players who lead their position in terms of fantasy points scored. Newton didnt produce the sort of outlandish passing efficiency figures of a Tom Brady, but his incredible value as a runner led him to lead all NFL quarterbacks in fantasy points in a standard league.Carolinas interior running is the heart of its offense, with an inventive scheme from offensive coordinator Mike Shula built to support the core of his team. The strength of the Panthers offensive line is on the interior, with All-Pro center Ryan Kalil joined by emerging star right guard Trai Turner to carve out holes for Newton and lead running back Jonathan Stewart. This combination helped the Panthers become?the second-best team in the league in what Football Outsiders describes as power situations,?where they needed two yards or less to go for a first down or a touchdown. Newton was 26-of-30 (86.7 percent) in picking up first downs with two yards or less to go last year against a league average of 66.9 percent. Thats efficiency in an entirely different way.Newton led the league in fantasy points by scoring a whole lot of touchdowns, and if theres an element of his performance which might not be sustainable, it starts there. Newton ran for 10 touchdowns last season after averaging eight over his previous four campaigns, which isnt crazy. As a passer, though, he threw for a whopping 35 scores after averaging 20 his previous four campaigns. 7.1 percent of his pass attempts resulted in touchdowns, which led the league and stood out notably compared to his previous average of 4.3 percent.Those touchdowns were a product of remarkable -- and perhaps unsustainable -- success in the red zone. It makes sense that the Panthers would be good inside the oppositions 20-yard-line, but they were incredible in 2015. Carolina scored a league-high 5.54 points per red zone trip last season. With much of the same personnel, notably Newton at the helm for 30 of 32 games, they were 15th in the same category in 2013 and 23rd in 2014. As I wrote about earlier this summer, red zone performance is remarkably inconsistent from year-to-year. History suggests that Carolina -- and by proxy, Newton, who threw 24 touchdowns in the red zone without a pick -- will struggle to be as effective in the red zone in 2016.Saving their best performance for key moments was a huge reason the Panthers won 15 games and why Newton won MVP. Its not just that he was great; its when he was great which stood out. If you could craft a case for when to weight a players best moments during a season, you would build the resume Newton built in 2015. He got better as the year went along and played his best when the Panthers needed him most.During the first nine weeks of the season, while the Panthers were starting 8-0, Newton posted a QBR of just 50.7, which was just behind Ryan Mallett for 24th in the league. Remember, QBR includes his performance as a runner, too; if you just want to consider traditional passing stats, Newton was 26th in the league in passer rating and 21st in adjusted yards per attempt. I dont believe Newton was truly a below-average starter -- the context of the offense built around him means something -- but I do think its fair to say that he wasnt as dominant as his 8-0 record suggested.Over the second half of the year, though, Newtons performance jumped. His QBR spiked to 79.5, which was the seventh-best mark in football and in line with the leagues best passers. The typical NFL starter had three games with an QBR of 85 or greater last season; Newton had four of them in a five-week span between Week 11 and Week 15, cementing his hold as the top MVP candidate. While he fell off during Carolinas only loss of the season (to the Falcons inn Week 16), Newton had already sealed up the hardware. Custom Washington Capitals Jerseys. His second-half performance might be a leap to a new level of play, but it is usually better to use all of a players performance to project how hell do in the future, as I talked about with Derek Carr last week.Likewise, if you think a great quarterback needs to play his best in the fourth quarter, Newton was your man. Through three quarters last year, Newtons QBR was an above-average 63.1. In the fourth quarter and overtime, though, nobody beat Cams QBR of 76.5. He posted a passer rating of 104.8 in the final stanza, and when the Panthers needed to get back into a game or close one out, their offense was devastating. Carolina had 17 meaningful possessions last year in the fourth quarter while the game was within seven points or less. Those drives produced more scores (nine) than punts (six), with the other two ending on a blocked field goal and Newtons fumble in the loss to the Falcons. Their five touchdowns included four Newton passes (all 15 yards or more) and a 13-yard Newton run.Those sort of fourth-quarter leaps arent really sustainable. Guys dont consistently elevate their game in the fourth quarter, which is logical if you think about it for a second: Why wouldnt you just play better all the time? Andrew Lucks career is a classic example. In 2013 and 2015, Lucks QBR jumped in the fourth quarter by 31.1 points and 42.1 points, respectively. In 2012, Lucks fourth-quarter QBR was identical to that of the previous three quarters, and in 2014, it declined by 1.2 points. Jay Cutlers QBR declined in the fourth quarter by 41.2 points in 2011; in 2012 and 2013, it improved by 38.0 points and 39.9 points. This is almost totally random.The one other thing which might have aided Newton, of course, was more help from his receivers. My memory seems to suggest that Ginn dropped a 75-yard touchdown pass from Newton each and every week, but the data isnt quite as harsh. Ginn merely dropped seven passes last year, which was tied for fifth in the league, and as you might suspect, those drops were coming on what would have been big plays for the Carolina offense. Newtons overall drop rate was 3.8 percent, which was roughly league average. On throws of 20 yards or more in the air, though, Newtons drop rate spiked to 6.8 percent, which was the second-highest in the league behind the aforementioned Gabbert, who didnt throw deep anywhere near as frequently.Cam in 2016Start thinking about ways Newton might improve in 2016, and the presence of Benjamin is a jumping-off point. Benjamin had his own drop issues as a rookie in 2015, but he is unquestionably a more effective and impactful wideout than Ginn or second-year man Funchess -- though the second-year man out of Michigan is generating plenty of camp buzz -- and should represent the second-best receiver in Newtons arsenal behind star tight end Greg Olsen. The same caliber of pass from Newton is more likely to turn into a successful play with Benjamin on the other end.There are elements of Newtons performance which statistically lag behind his peers, but I think they may be subject to the style of offense Carolina plays and the nature of Newtons style.?Start with his completion percentage. At 59.8 percent last year and 59.6 percent over his five-year career, it lags behind his peers. Newtons sack rate has also been higher than league average during each of his five pro seasons, although it was closest in 2015.Those stats arent strong enough to resist dramatically different contexts, and all you need to do is watch Newton to know that hes not playing in a typical offense. The Panthers ask him to chuck the ball downfield as much as anybody in football. Newtons average pass traveled 10.3 yards in the air last season, which was third in the league behind Carson Palmer and Tyrod Taylor. Since entering the league, the typical Newton pass has gone 9.4 yards, which is the longest average throw in football over that timeframe.When you keep the context in mind, Newtons completion percentage is just fine. Football Outsiders has a statistic I helped create called plus-minus, which adjusts a quarterbacks completion percentage for the distance and location of his throws. Theyve further adjusted the metric to account for the impact of dropped passes. When you account for the distance of his throws and the frequency with which his receivers dropped them, Newtons completion percentage was actually above-average and 13th in the NFL last year. Newton could still take another step forward from where he is now, of course, given that Palmer and Taylor each managed to complete nearly 64 percent of their passes while throwing similarly far downfield, but his completion percentage isnt subpar.The natural place for Newton to improve, given Carolinas style of play, is on play-action. It makes sense that a team with a dominant running game like Carolinas would be great when Newton holds linebackers and safeties with play fakes, and while ESPNs play-action statistics dont count run-pass options (RPOs), Newton does create short, efficient completions for himself by reading the defense correctly when Shula calls them.On traditional play-action passes, though, Newton wasnt very good last season. He finished 30th in the league in QBR on those throws with a 48.8 mark, including four of his 10 picks. Contrast that to Taylor and Palmer, his fellow downfield bombers, who finished first and second in QBR on play-action passes. This wasnt a small sample size fluke, either; 28.7 percent of Newtons dropbacks came with play-action, which was third in the league behind Colin Kaepernick and Teddy Bridgewater.Its fair to say that Newton wont be that bad on play-action in 2016, given that he was better in years past. Newtons QBR on play-action throws was 17th in the league in 2013 and 13th in 2014. Its still a surprise, though, that he hasnt been downright dominant on those play-action attempts, especially given how effective the Carolina rushing attack has been over that timeframe. If theres an opportunity for Newton to grow and finish in the top-five somewhere new in 2016, its here.The most likely scenario for Newton in 2016, as is the case for the Panthers, is that they each decline a bit from their red-hot 2015 and still settle in the leagues upper echelon. That would represent not just an incredibly valuable player but a staggering leap forward when you put Newtons history in context.The same guy who was a controversial first overall selection and a quarterback expected to look up at Gabberts NFL success is the clear face of the Carolina franchise (if not arguably the league as a whole) and a franchise quarterback. He doesnt need to get better, and he still could anyway. Its notoriously tough to repeat as NFL MVP. Its also notoriously tough to stop Cam Newton. ' ' '

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