Redskins

Bargnani, Raptors quietly confidence of better '12

Bargnani, Raptors quietly confidence of better '12

TORONTO (AP) No bold predictions, no promises of reaching the playoffs. There is instead a quiet sense of optimism around the Toronto Raptors heading into the season.

A year after general manager Bryan Colangelo preached patience with a young, building team that was all about gaining experience, the Raptors made several key moves in the offseason in hopes of significantly improving the team.

Colangelo added three potential starters to the roster in point guard Kyle Lowry, Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas and athletic swingman Landry Fields, while losing Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson.

``There's that feeling there could be something special about this group, but time will tell,'' Colangelo said.

The Raptors, who open the season at home Wednesday against Indiana, finished 23-43 last year in a lockout-shortened season with low expectations. Few expect them to improve all that much this year - something second-year coach Dwane Casey said may work in his young squad's favor.

``With that lack of respect, that should get us motivated to come into this gym each and every day to bust our tails.'' Casey said. ``That right there tells us how much lack of respect the league has for us, and how much we have to continue to work to perform every day we walk on the court.''

Casey is a big reason for Toronto's optimism. The former Dallas Mavericks assistant took a team that was at the bottom of the league in defense to finish in the top half last season.

They remained in the bottom third in offensive stats, however - something Casey focused on with a benefit of a full training camp this season.

``The numbers are staggering what happened last year (defensively),'' Colangelo said. ``But with respect to the pace, the offense, offensive efficiency, offensive production, we talked a lot this offseason about how we're going to improve that.''

There hasn't been a clear face of the franchise since Chris Bosh patrolled the floor, and Vince Carter before him, and this season is no different.

The team will look to center Andrea Bargnani to provide a good chunk of its scoring. Bargnani was having a breakout season last year - and showed an uncharacteristic enthusiasm for defense - before a calf injury cost the team's leading scorer 35 games. The Raptors' season unraveled right along with him.

Bargnani and Valanciunas could make a formidable front court. The Raptors selected Valanciunas with their No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft, leaving him in Lithuania for a year of development. The 20-year-old, touted as the future of the franchise, definitely gives Raptors fans something to be excited about - rare athleticism for a big man coupled with a puppy-dog enthusiasm for the game.

Acquired from the Houston Rockets after a failed bid to land Canadian star Steve Nash, Lowry is expected to add heart and hustle to a Toronto team that hasn't enough of either in recent seasons. The 26-year-old, a vocal leader who will push his teammates, is expected to start ahead of veteran Jose Calderon, who will lead the second unit as one of the better backup point guards in the league.

Fields has been touted as Toronto's so-called ``glue guy.'' Out of Toronto's returning players, athletic swingman DeMar DeRozan, has polished his post-up game and along with Bargnani, will be a focal point of Toronto's offense. The 23-year-old remains among the weaker starters on the defensive end.

``DeMar's one of the most talented wings in the league and he's learning every day to be efficient,'' Casey said. ``He understands that, he's getting to the foul line, doing what we ask him to do, going in the low post.''

Toronto's three new starters have bumped players to the bench, which gives the Raptors' more depth than they've seen in a while. Calderon, Alan Anderson, Linas Kleiza, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis averaged 24 starts last year.

They're joined by hard-working guard John Lucas III, athletic rookie Terrence Ross and Dominic McGuire, a strong defensive player who was given the Raptors' final spot on their 15-man roster.

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.