From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Rafael Soriano has been so reliable for the New York Yankees that they've hardly missed a beat without Mariano Rivera.Until now.Colby Rasmus hit a three-run homer off Soriano with two outs in the ninth inning and the Toronto Blue Jays took advantage of Derek Lowe's wild pickoff throw in the 11th to beat New York 8-7 Monday night, snapping a seven-game losing streak."He's been so good for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's done a great job. Just tonight wasn't his night."It was Soriano's third blown save in 36 chances since taking over as closer for the injured Rivera in May. New York fell to 69-5 when leading after eight innings.Soriano left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.Moments after Rasmus' stunning drive put Toronto ahead 7-6, Derek Jeter tied it with a home run off Casey Janssen. But the last-place Blue Jays didn't cave, scratching out a run two innings later to stop an eight-game slide at Yankee Stadium.The loss might be a costly one in more ways than one for the AL East leaders. Slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira was pulled with a left calf injury and sent to the hospital for an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 strain. Teixeira said he expects to miss at least a week, maybe two."He's been such a backbone to our lineup," Nick Swisher said. "For a guy like that to be out of our lineup, that's a big deal."The injury is another blow to the middle of New York's power-packed batting order. Alex Rodriguez has been sidelined since July 25 with a broken left hand but was cleared to take batting practice Tuesday."It's very frustrating," Teixeira said. "We've had our share of bad luck, as most teams in baseball have. We'll have guys step up."Yorvit Torrealba had a two-run shot and Adam Lind also went deep in his first plate appearance for the banged-up Blue Jays since coming off the disabled list. Missing slugger Jose Bautista and several other regulars, Toronto had dropped a season-worst eight straight on the road."When you come here to play in Yankee Stadium, man, anything can happen. I think everybody knows that," Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver said.Robinson Cano homered twice and Swisher hit a two-run drive for New York.Torrealba singled leading off the 11th for his third hit and pinch-runner Mike McCoy scampered to third when Lowe's pickoff attempt got past first baseman Eric Chavez and rolled into foul territory up the right-field line. Lowe (8-11) was charged with an error."It's a simple throw to first and it cost us," he said, shaking his head. "It's inexecusable, but it happened."After a strikeout, Adeiny Hechavarria hit a slow grounder toward third that forced Jayson Nix to charge the ball. McCoy waited until Nix threw to first, then dashed home and beat Chavez's throw to the plate with a slide."Great instincts," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.Oliver (3-2) pitched two hitless innings for the win, Toronto's first at Yankee Stadium since May 23, 2011.Rookie right-hander David Phelps gave the Yankees another solid spot start, this one in place of injured Ivan Nova, and New York opened a 6-3 lead in the fifth. Hechavarria got Toronto's comeback started with a two-out RBI single off Cody Eppley in the seventh.Moises Sierra and Rajai Davis singled in the ninth to bring up the slumping Rasmus, who drove a breaking ball deep into the second deck in right for his 21st home run."Real pleased with the way guys competed all the way through the end of the night," Farrell said. "We didn't roll over and we kept coming at them. ... These are those games, in the 11th inning on the road you win it. Sometimes if they go the other way they can almost feel like two losses."On a night when it was downright dangerous to be a Toronto pitcher, four times the Yankees hit sharp comebackers that caromed off the body of a Blue Jays hurler.Henderson Alvarez took the worst one, Russell Martin's hard grounder that smacked off the right-hander's leg in the fourth inning and careened into shallow right field for an RBI single. Alvarez hobbled over to the first base line and bent over in pain. He was checked by a trainer and walked slowly off the field with a bruised left shin."That's just the way the season's gone," Lind said.X-rays were negative and he is day to day. Aaron Laffey relieved and was given all the time he needed to warm up.Alvarez also was checked by the trainer in the second inning after Chavez's comebacker deflected off his pitching hand for an infield single. He threw a couple of warmup pitches and appeared to be OK.Chavez had another infield single in the eighth that hit reliever Aaron Loup. Laffey recovered from a body shot to throw out Jeter in the sixth. Laffey left with a bruised left calf and is day to day."In some ways we dodged a couple of bullets," Farrell said.NOTES:Bautista, back on the disabled list with a left wrist injury, was examined by a hand specialist in Cleveland and was on his way to New York to rejoin the team, Farrell said. The Blue Jays were awaiting test results. ... Yankees RHP David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth inning hours after his wife, Erin, gave birth to their first child, a baby boy they named Luke Joseph. ... RHP Phil Hughes (12-11, 4.15 ERA) starts Tuesday night for the Yankees against struggling LHP Ricky Romero (8-11, 5.63).
When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.
In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.
Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.
What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games.
The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.
As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.
The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.
Let us know what you think in the comments.
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Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.
—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105
Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.
Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016
(originally posted January 28)
As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.
The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.
The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.
The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.
While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.
Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.
The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.