September 20, 2019

D.C. United Analysis: Eight thoughts on the 2013 season

As much as many fans, and maybe even the organization itself, wants to forget large parts of the 2013 Major League Soccer season, the time is upon us to review it and try and figure out just what happened.

It was a weird year that saw United finish as one of the worst clubs in MLS history, going 3-24-7, for just 16 points, dead last in the league by a good bit. But in 2013, United also won the U.S. Open Cup for the third time in its history, earning a bid into the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League in the process. [Read more…]

With a little support, Jordan Zimmermann has been Washington Nationals’ one constant

Washington—As the Washington Nationals have struggled to find consistency all season, the one sure thing this year has been the pitching of Jordan Zimmermann.

After his win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night at Nationals Park, Zimmerman is now 12-3 with an ERA of 2.46.  He has allowed more than three runs only three times this season, one of which was on Monday, and leads the National League in wins as the season approaches the All-Star break.

What a difference run support makes for a starting pitcher.

In 2011, Zimmermann finished the year 8-11 with an ERA of 3.18 in 26 starts as he was on a pitch limit in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery and his run support that year was 3.31 runs per game.

In 2012, the right-hander got a little more than a run-and-a-half more per game (4.91) and his record showed it as he went 12-8 with an ERA of 2.94 in 195 2/3 innings

In Zimmermann’s 17 starts this year, the Nationals are averaging 4.7 runs per game and he is making the most of that support.

“It’s definitely a lot easier to pitch and obviously I have been getting that this year,” Zimmermann said.  “I have also been pitching pretty good and I have been trying to put up as many zeroes as I can during the game and I feel like I am doing a pretty good job right now.”

Contrast that with the run support for Stephen Strasburg who won 15 games a year ago.  Strasburg is 4-6 in 16 starts and has pitched to a ridiculous ERA of 2.24 and his run support is a paltry 2.44 runs per games.

It does make a difference.

Zimmermann is finally getting the recognition he deserves.  It’s not that he hasn’t pitched well in the past but now with his record being what it is, people around baseball are starting to take notice.

In fact, over the last two weeks, Zimmermann has tried to shy away from questions about whether or not he is All-Star worthy, although he says it is hard not to think about the possibility of him being on the National League team at Citi Field in New York.

” Yeah, I think it’s possible,” he said. “I’ve had the best first half of my career and I think 12 wins is quite a big number for only the first half and I think I have a couple of starts left so who knows what’s going to happen.”

Teammate Ian Desmond agrees and went as far as to say Zimmermann should start the game.

“It would be a great honor to go there and represent the Nationals,” said Zimmermann.  “It would be a huge honor if I could start the game or just being in the game so we’ll see what happens.”

The most amazing thing about Zimmermann’s progression is he looks basically the same as he did three years ago.  Coming off last season, he decided he was going to work on the change-up and make it a bigger part of his repertoire and it has become a devastating pitch for hitters to try and adjust to.

“Just throwing it every day and working on it every day, it’s a feel pitch and the more you work on it, the better you feel,” he said.  “I am to the point where I feel comfortable throwing it in any count, at any time.  Any time I feel the hitter is sitting on the fastball and I throw that thing in there, I feel like there will be a swing and a miss or weak contact so, it’s been a pretty decent pitch for me.

“I threw it to Cargo (Carlos Gonzalez) the other day and he was way out in front and swung and miss.  Then he looks back up at the scoreboard and sees the speed of it and he’s like, “what was that?” So the next time I face him that will be in the back of his mind and give him another thing to worry about.”

The Nationals stand a full seven games in back of the Braves in the NL East as play started on Wednesday and they have been battling to stay afloat.  Zimmermann says the team is not in a panic mode and feels like they are not in bad shape as the second half begins.

“Obviously, we aren’t playing the best ball and people outside our team are starting to panic and wondering what’s going on but we’re in a good position right now.  We are just a few games back and there are a lot of games to be played and all it takes is a good five or six game winning streak and the Braves to lose a few here and there and you are right back in it.  So, I don’t think its anywhere near time to push the panic button because I think we are right where we need to be.

If he continues to pitch like he has, he may be right.

______________________

Craig Heist has covered sports in the Baltimore/Washington corridor since 1988.  He worked for WTOP Radio from 1999 April of this year.  He is currently a freelance reporter for several radio networks.  Craig is a three-time winner of the Maryland Sportscaster of the year presented by the National Association of Sportswriters and Sportscaster and voted on by his peers.  Heist is also an regional Edward R. Murrow award winner.

Instant Analysis Game 2: GAME OVER GREEN; Caps take 2-0 series lead

Game Over Green. The Washington Capitals take a 2-0 series lead over the New York Rangers in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup with a 1-0 overtime win, as Mike Green’s bomb from the high slot deflected off a Rangers’ skate past Henrik Lundqvist for the game winner.

Some thoughts:

— The Caps had to figure the Rangers would come out with more fire in the first period after dropping Game 1, and they did. The Caps did a good job killing off the Rangers power play in the middle of the period and overall was solid withstanding the Rangers early assault. The Caps looked a little sleepy on offense to start but they brought the physical game to match New York, especially the captain, whose check on Carl Hagelin set the tone for him.

— Marcus Johansson had a golden opportunity to break the scoreless tie early in the second. Playing four-on-four, Alex Ovechkin hit Johansson at the far post and he had an open net, but instead of simply sweeping the puck to the net, Johansson tried to stick handle, giving both Henrik Lundqvuist and Ryan McDonough a chance to recover and ultimately Lunqvist made the save from a prone position.

— Toward the end of the second, the Caps put on a good bit of pressure against Lundqvist but couldn’t get one to drop. The best chance came from Nick Backstrom on a nice criss-crossing feed rom Johansson to Ovechkin to Backstrom at the far post. Backstrom’s shot seemed to glance off Lundqvist’s right skate and into the corner harmlessly.

— The Caps did a pretty good job on Rick Nash all afternoon, until about 3:45 left, when Nash won a battle at center ice, split a couple of Caps D and walked in on Holtby. Troy Brouwer slashed from behind and was able to hold Nash just enough to keep him from getting a great shot off. Still, Nash hit the pipe then almost bounced the rebound in. The penalty to Brouwer earned the Rangers a two-minute advantage, but the Caps were strong again on the kill, not allowing a single shot to go through to Holtby.

— The teams traded delay of game penalties in the third, but like the rest of the first two games, the Caps had the better of play during special teams.

— Once again: Braden Holtby. He made a couple of careless plays with the puck in the first period, but after that was impenetrable. He’s building quite a Stanley Cup Playoff resume.

Game 3 is Monday night from Madison Square Garden at 7:30 pm. It’s a lot nicer to go in there 2-0 instead of 1-1.

Instant Analysis: Capitals take best of play to the Rangers in Game 1

If Game 1 is any indication, this is going to be a hell of a series.

The Washington Capitals used pressure in all three zones of the ice to neutralize the New York Rangers best players, most notably Rick Nash, to come up with an impressive 3-1 win in the first game of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Some thoughts:

– Given enough opportunities from the Rangers, the power play finally hit for the Caps first goal of the game. The Rangers did a good job on the first couple of Caps power plays, taking away the low post game between Mike Ribeiro, Nick Backstrom and Troy Brouwer in the slot.

How do combat that? Shoot from the point, which is precisely what Mike Green did on the Caps’ fourth extra-man advantage. Green’s bomb was off target, but it got Henrik Lundqvist moving, and Alex Ovechkin was able to corral the rebound and put it past the scrambling Lundqvist.

– The Caps power play was strong all night, but never bigger than during the 5-on-3 in the second period. Already a man down, Eric Fehr lost his stick. He blocked one shot without the twig, but in a goal line scramble he was forced to push Rangers around, and was called for an interference when he shoved Ryan Callahan down with a push in the chest.

First Johansson, then Backstrom, with Alzner and Carlson on the back line, turned away the Rangers for 57 seconds, then killed the rest of the 5-on-4 to the roars of the Verizon Center faithful.

– Using the momentum gained from the huge penalty kill, the Caps scored twice — 46 seconds apart — just a couple of minutes later, seizing control of the scoreboard.

– Things got chippy at the end of the second period, and continued late in the third and after the final horn, when Callahan and Troy Brouwer had words and slapped their sticks at each other as the teams were headed off the ice. Brouwer had words for Michael Del Zotto a couple of times during the game when the Caps forward took exception to an after-the-whistle poke by Del Zotto earlier in the game.

– Braden Holtby was sublime. The only Rangers goal came when an intended pass by Carl Hagelin bounced off John Erskine’s skate. Other than that, the Caps young netminder was stellar, making 35 saves in the win. His biggest save came with 4:03 left. On a two-on-one, John Moore slapped a bouncing puck toward Holtby’s blocker side which looked as if it hit the post and rebounded into Holtby’s equipment.

The play went to video review and the call of “no goal” stood. Regardless, Holtby got to the far post in time to get in front of the puck and keep the score at 3-1 as time wound down.

– The Caps rolled all four lines all night long. That’s good in the short term for Adam Oates, as it lets his entire roster know he has confidence in every single one of them. It’s also good in the long-term, especially if the series goes a long way as everyone expects it to.

Game 2 is Saturday afternoon at 12:30 pm Eastern (9:30 am Pacific).

ANALYSIS: Three Pre-Draft Thoughts On The Washington Redskins

The NFL Draft will have a different feel for the Washington Redskins this year. For the first time in years, they’re not looking to find an answer at quarterback, but instead are looking to plug holes and add to the team’s depth.

Here are a few thoughts on the Redskins draft just before the festivities begin:

1. The Redskins have needs outside of the defensive secondary, and they’re on offense.  Yes, the biggest need for the Redskins as they enter this draft is to acquire a defensive back (or two) that can come in and make a difference right away. They’re searching for a free safety that can start and a cornerback that can, at the very least, contribute in nickel packages.

But while upgrading the defense seems to be the clear-cut way to go, the team could still use some help on the other side of the ball. Sure,  the offense has plenty going for it as it is. They finished the season ranked fifth in yards, fourth in points, and tops in rushing. They have a quarterback in Robert Griffin III that, when healthy, is as dynamic a player as any in the league. The team’s surrounded him with solid offensive talent, but the case can be made that there’s still room for improvement.

Wide receiver, for instance, is a prime example of a position group of relative strength that could still use an upgrade. The Redskins have good group of outside receivers who can excel after the catch, but they’re missing the shifty, make-you-miss receiver that can create mismatches in the slot. Santana Moss filled that role admirably last season, but at 34, you’d have to imagine that the team is looking to groom a future successor at that spot.

Lingering health issues could be another factor for the Redskins when thinking about bolstering the receiving corps. Pierre Garcon, who played most of last season with a foot injury, admitted recently that he’s still not at full strength. Garcon’s impact on the offense and the team is pretty easy to explain; the Redskins were 9-2 last year with him in the lineup, and 1-5 without. Add in the fact that Joshua Morgan is coming off multiple surgeries to repair ankle and hand injuries, and it’s easy to see why adding another playmaking wideout would be a solid plan.

The same could be said about adding another running back. Alfred Morris was a workhorse last year, rushing for a franchise-record 1613 yards to go along with 13 rushing touchdowns as a rookie. But as productive as he was, the Redskins lacked a speedy, change-of-pace back that could provide more of a homerun threat in both the run and pass game. Roy Helu could theoretically be that guy, but he’s still recovering from achilles tendon surgery he had earlier in the offseason, leaving his status for OTAs and minicamp in doubt. If a scatback is available in the later rounds, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Redskins go in that direction.

You can never have enough speed on offense, and if the Redskins can find explosive playmakers, it’d be hard to fault them for doing so.

2. How much trade action could be in play for the Redskins in this draft? In each of the three drafts since Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have been in charge of the Redskins football operation, the team has been pretty active making trades. It’ll be interesting to see if the same holds true this time around, in a year in which the Redskins have all their picks outside of their first rounder.

One thing that’s been hammered home throughout this entire draft process is the common belief that this class has great depth between the second and fourth rounds. If true, that’s great news for the Redskins, who have no choice but to find impact players in the middle part of the draft. The question will be if they’re content standing pat with the picks they have, or if they want to do some maneuvering in the middle rounds to get as much talent and value as possible.

It’s unclear at this point what it would take for the Redskins to acquire another second, third or fourth round pick. They don’t have many tradable assets in terms of players that they’re willing to part with, but they do have an extra fifth rounder this year and could conceivably dip into the 2014 draft if they truly covet someone.

3. Just because the Redskins select a player you don’t know about, doesn’t mean they can’t help.  This time last year, Redskins fans knew plenty about their soon-to-be quarterback in Griffin, as well as many of the other top players in the draft. But what about a guy like the aforementioned Morris? Or Josh LeRibeus? Keenan Robinson? Richard Crawford?  Those weren’t exactly household names in the months leading up to the draft, but each player wound up finding a role on the team and contributed in some form or fashion once the season started.

NFL draft experts have done a great job helping fans and media to identify the top college prospects, the potential “sleepers”, as well as the potential busts. However, the Redskins — or any other team, for that matter — won’t always share the exact same opinion on players as the Mel Kiper’s and Mike Mayock’s of the world.  With the year-round work that NFL scouts put into the draft process, there will always be players that teams love that may not be shooting up mock draft boards.

In other words, if the Redskins wind up selecting players you aren’t familiar with, or take players at a different position than what you had hoped for, it’d be best not to panic before you see them play.

D.C. United GAME 1 ANALYSIS: With perfection required, United fell short in opener

A tie in the season opener isn’t exactly what D.C. United would dreamed of from its Major League Soccer season opener Saturday night at the Houston Dynamo. In retrospect, however, a tie would have been a good result given the starting lineup and how the match played out. The Dynamo won the game, 2-0, on two goals in the final 10 minutes.

Saturday’s lineup featured Lionard Pajoy starring as the lone forward. Not that he was the only player with attacking capabilities, certainly, as midfielders Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon are capable of scoring goals and setting them up. United outnumbered Houston in the midfield, 5-4, but with star midfielder Dwayne De Rosario out (suspension), D.C. didn’t control the midfield, despite the numbers, leading to a 60%-40% discrepancy in ball possession in Houston’s favor.

With Pajoy alone up top, what often happened is either he wasn’t available for the midfielders to outlet to, or when he was on the ball, he was quickly surrounded by orange-clad Dynamo defenders, unable to distribute the ball because no one had joined the attack to support Pajoy. Pontius tried to help, but missed a header high in the second half after crashing a free kick off the crossbar late in the first half. When it was over, United hadn’t forced Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall to make a save; no shots on goal from seven attempts. United had but two corner kicks to Houston’s six.

[Read more…]

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