From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Mark Sanchez is no longer the New York Jets' franchise quarterback.He might not even be the backup.Rex Ryan decided to bench Sanchez on Tuesday in favor of Greg McElroy after the fourth-year quarterback had another miserable performance in a 14-10 loss at Tennessee on Monday night that eliminated New York from playoff contention."I think it's best for our team, and for this game," Ryan said during a conference call.So, it'll be McElroy under center for his first NFL start when the Jets (6-8) play the San Diego Chargers at home Sunday. Ryan hasn't decided whether Sanchez or Tim Tebow -- listed as the No. 2 quarterback -- will be the backup.While Sanchez blew the second chance Ryan gave him a few weeks ago, Tebow was leapfrogged by a third-stringer, fueling speculation that the team has little confidence in him as a quarterback."I have to look at what I think is the best for the team and not necessarily the individual," Ryan said. "I'll say this about Tim and I've always said it: I know he wants to help this team be successful in the worst way and there's no doubt about that."Sanchez threw four interceptions Monday night and wasn't able to handle a low snap with the game on the line, ending the Jets' hopes to get back into the postseason.Things got worse after the game for Sanchez, who received a series of death threats from one disgruntled fan on Twitter. League spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL's security staff was aware of the man's threats and was working with the Jets to assist on the matter. The team declined comment through a spokesman.Ryan said after the loss that he wasn't ready to decide who would start against the Chargers, but told Sanchez he would be making a change at quarterback by going with either McElroy or Tebow."He respected my decision," Ryan said. "That's not easy, that's for sure."After talking to his staff and members of the organization Tuesday, Ryan chose McElroy."This is my opinion, and I do believe that it's best for our team that Greg is our quarterback," Ryan insisted. "I'm the guy that's making this decision. Every decision I make is based on what I believe is the best decision for the team."But Ryan was vague in his answers to why he selected McElroy above Tebow, choosing after being asked several times to not go into detail about what specifically factored into the decision."I can answer this question a million ways, frontward, backward, sideways, anything else," Ryan said. "It's my decision and I based it on a gut feeling or whatever."McElroy, a seventh-round pick last year out of Alabama, helped lead the Jets to a 7-6 win over Arizona on Dec. 2 when Ryan pulled Sanchez from that game late in the third quarter. McElroy had modest numbers -- 5 of 7 for 29 yards -- but threw for the only touchdown of the game, and nearly led another scoring drive as the Jets ran out the clock.Ryan decided to stick with Sanchez after that game, saying that the one-time face of the franchise gave the Jets their best chance at winning as they remained in the playoff hunt.But Sanchez struggled in a 17-10 win over Jacksonville and again even more in the loss to Tennessee. McElroy, who gave the Jets a huge spark in his first NFL action, was inactive for both games. That hurt New York on Monday night when Ryan was unable to turn to McElroy since he was not in uniform for the game. Instead, Ryan went to Tebow for one series -- which had been part of the game plan -- but it was unproductive and Sanchez came back in for the next offensive possession.Sanchez leads the league with 24 turnovers, including 17 interceptions, and has turned the ball over 50 times since the start of last season. His future with the team is uncertain because he signed a contract extension with New York in March that included 8.25 million in guaranteed money for next season.Ryan would not commit to Sanchez beyond this season, and wouldn't discuss what the depth chart will look like."We have two games left and that's where my focus is going to be," he said. "What's past that will be determined later."Sanchez was regularly booed during home games this season, falling out of favor with the fans who were excited when the Jets traded up to take him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft."Has he had better days than (Monday night)? Absolutely," Ryan said.There certainly were some good moments for the former Southern California star, particularly in helping lead New York to the AFC championship game in each of his first two seasons, but he failed to take the next step in his development.While his frequent mistakes in reading defenses and miscalculating throws are a huge reason for his struggles, Sanchez also wasn't helped by a constantly changing cast around him. Several of the team's top offensive players -- Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Plaxico Burress, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody -- have all been released, traded or allowed to become free agents since Sanchez's rookie season. He is also working with his second offensive coordinator in Tony Sparano after an up-and-down three seasons with Brian Schottenheimer.Tebow, acquired from Denver in March, has had a minor role in the offense after being expected to play a major part. He is recovering from two broken ribs that sidelined him for three games, but returned Monday night and had little impact. It would seem unlikely that Tebow, who helped lead the Broncos to the playoffs last season, will be back next season.When Tebow arrived in New York, he often said he was "excited to be a Jet," but there's little doubt that he no longer feels that way. He has done his best to hide his frustration throughout the season, especially when the wildcat-style offense was talked up by Ryan and Sparano as a highlight of the offense.Tebow has instead just been a spare part on an offense that ranks 30th in the NFL. He is 6 of 8 passing for 39 yards, and has run 32 times for 102 yards -- playing a more significant role as the personal punt protector on special teams."People can speculate anything they want," Ryan said. Obviously, as a football team, we're 6-8 and nobody's happy about that and ultimately, I'm the one accountable."
This AL Central race is going to be fun.
It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.
But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.
The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.
Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.
“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."
When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.
But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.
Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.
Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.
You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.
That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.
“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”
The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.
That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.
“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.
“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.
“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”
Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.
But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.
They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.
“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.
“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.
In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders.
But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.
"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."
To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.
It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.
"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."
Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.
"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."