December 11, 2018

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 3 Preview: Baltimore Ravens

The Washington Redskins will travel north on I-95 on Saturday to take on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium at 7:30 pm for what figures to be the “dress rehearsal” for the 2014 starters.  Apart from the excitement of seeing every day players into the second half, this preseason matchup should provide even more answers for what the 53 man roster should look like for both teams.

We know about the offense and the development of Robert Griffin III, who gave a mixed performance in the win vs. the Cleveland Browns last week.  But there are several other key factors to keep close tabs on while watching the preseason game that everyone hates the least.

Here are the things to keep your eye on in preseason game 3:

Jason Hatcher: One of the Redskins’ biggest offseason acquisitions, Jason Hatcher, will don the burgundy and gold for the first time this preseason in Saturday’s game.  Hatcher has been sidelined through training camp and the first two preseason games due to arthroscopic surgery he had on his right knee in the offseason.  A dynamic pass rusher, Hatcher brings physicality and also helps to create depth along the Redskins’ 3-4 defensive front, which looks to improve upon a meager 2013 performance.

Hatcher doesn’t figure to play long as the Redskins will most likely limit his snaps, but it will be interesting to see how well he bursts off the line after the snap on that repaired knee.  A solid pass rush is essential, especially when facing Joe Flacco who tends to make poor decisions when he feels pressure.  Chris Baker is the other defensive end and Jarvis Jenkins figures to have some significant playing time this season too.  Hatcher certainly adds to the talent that goes along with these names and Saturday’s contest should be a good measuring stick for how this group is going to look in 2014.

Penalties: The hot-button issue in the NFL this preseason has been penalties, especially those pertaining to defensive holding and illegal contact beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage.  Players, coaches, and fans alike are becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of “yellow” on the field so far this year, with penalties in preseason games up 44 percent.

But that is the reality of the modern day NFL.  The NFL makes its money off of high flying offenses and the players that feature them, so it appears the league will continue to make it tougher for defenders to actually defend. At any rate, defenses must adjust or be doomed to suffer.

Sure, the referees could be just setting a precedent and could back off once the regular season begins, but the Redskins need to start making these adjustments now while they have live game action available to them.  Last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Redskins committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, so this has definitely got to be an area that Jay Gruden will look to improve upon this week.

Third Running Back: Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. are going to make this team.  That is a given.  So who will be the third guy?  This has been one of the biggest questions since the preseason began and both Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd impressed against the New England Patriots.  In the Browns game, it was a mixed bag for the offense as a whole, although Seastrunk certainly didn’t do anything to increase doubt in his abilities.

Chris Thompson is a dynamic and gifted running back and Evan Royster seems to have never gotten a true chance to showcase his true talents since being drafted by the team in 2011.  However, these two seem like the odd men out at this point.  Lache Seastrunk is speedy, shifty and Jay Gruden spent a draft pick on him.  It’s hard to fathom that Seastrunk or Redd would make it to the practice squad before another team picks them up, which leaves Washington’s coach with a difficult decision indeed.

Battle of the Beltway!: The Redskins and Ravens (maybe even more-so on the part of Baltimore) have tried since Baltimore re-acquired an NFL franchise to make this matchup a regional rivalry.  The thing is, it may be developing into one.  The last time these teams faced each other was in the 2012 regular season, where Robert Griffin III’s knee was originally injured, arguably setting into motion the events that led to the Seahawks playoff game disaster and the eventual debilitation of Mike Shanahan and Griffin’s relationship.  However, the Redskins won that game in dramatic fashion, and even though the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl that year, it was still a tough pill for them to swallow.

This may never be a huge rivalry, but there certainly is animosity developing between the fan bases of these two teams.  Some fans of the Baltimore Colts adopted the Redskins once Irsay moved the team in the middle of the night, but then quickly bolted back to Baltimore once the Cleveland Browns made the move in the late 90’s.

Redskins fans hold animosity there and it’s clear that while the Ravens control most of Maryland, anything below College Park, into DC, and well into Virginia and North Carolina is Redskins country, which seems to irk even Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. It will be interesting to see just how many Redskins fans make the trip north for this preseason matchup, and just how electric the atmosphere will be for an otherwise less than desirable exhibition before the real action starts in September.

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Review: McCoy’s late TD difference-maker in win over Browns

If you watch the NFL preseason at all, you should expect sloppy and disjointed play, penalties and turnovers. But Monday night, before a national audience on ESPN, the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns combined to play a spectacularly sloppy, disjointed, penalty-filled preseason game, with Washington ending on top 24-23.

The teams combined for 21 penalties for 154 yards.

In what was billed as a marquee matchup between media darlings Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, the outcome was more affected by bottom of the depth-chart signal callers, as is usual for the second preseason game.

The first quarter, when both teams played with their starter, suffered flag after flag and three turnovers — and no scoring.

On the last play of the first quarter, Griffin hit a streaking Andre Roberts on a fly for 49 yards to put the first team offense into scoring position.

New head coach Jay Gruden stuck with his starters at the start of the second quarter in an effort to put a score on the board. Gruden called for three straight dive plays, challenging his offensive line to win the line of scrimmage and the one yard needed for the touchdown.

But on three straight attempts, the Browns line was up to the task. On fourth-and-one, Gruden called for an off-tackle left with Alfred Morris and the call on the field was ruled a touchdown. After review, however, it was ruled Morris’ hip had hit the ground before he crossed the goal line and the score was disallowed.

In three series, Griffin finished his night 6-for-9 for 112 yards and interception.

On the subsequent possession, the defense was able to hold the Johnny Manziel-led Browns and forced a punt. On the resulting drive, Kirk Cousins was able to move the second unit offense for a first down, but on a play-action pass as the series continued, he overthrew his receiver and it was picked off by T Gipson, who returned it to the Redskins 15-yard line.

Manziel went three-and-out, and Cleveland settled for Billy Cundiff nailing a 29-yard kick for to give the Browns a 3-0 lead.

As time was expiring in the half, Cousins found Santana Moss on a screen on third and long and the veteran   gained 24 yards for the first down. Later, Cousins hit Even Royster on a circle route out of the backfield for 24 yards down to the Browns’ two-yard line, then two plays later he bullied his way into the end zone to make it 7-3 at the half.

Washington outgained Cleveland 241-84 in the first half.

On the first drive of the second half, the Redskins drove down the field on the legs of Silas Redd, then Cousins hit the impressive Ryan Grant on a fade from 15 yards out to make it 14-3.

The Browns got into the endzone early in the fourth quarter. A 16-play, 68 yard drive culminated with Manziel’s middle screen taken by Dion Lewis eight yards for the score.

On the ensuing possession, Jim Leonhard intercepted Colt McCoy’s first pass and took it 21 yards for a touchdown. After the kickoff, McCoy found Rashad Ross on a go route for 43 yards, but the drive stalled and the Redskins had to settle for a Kai Forbath 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 17.

McCoy then led the Redskins on a six-play, 56-yard drive, capped by his 30-yard touchdown pass to Nick Williams to break the tie.

Unfortunately, Browns fourth-string QB Connor Shaw heaved a 45-yard Hail Mary to Emmanuel Ogbuehi as time expired to draw Cleveland within one point, but the two-point conversion attempt failed, and the Redskins walked away with a 24-23 decision, mercifully avoiding overtime.

Five takeaways from the Washington Redskins victory over the Browns

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ Monday night 24-23 preseason victory over the Cleveland Browns.

  1. An up-and-down performance from Robert Griffin III. The interception RGIII threw was an ugly one, where he should have thrown the ball away and didn’t plant his back foot and throw with good form. This will be something the third-year pro will surely go back and correct on film. However, the interception wasn’t helped by poor pass protection by both the offensive line and running back (Roy Helu). However, on the second play of the game Griffin did a fantastic job of standing tall in the pocket, progressing through his reads and finding the open man down field. Griffin also threw a pretty ball to Andre Roberts at the end of the first quarter. Griffin’s transition into more of a pocket passer will take time, but he has shown promise on plays like these.
  2. The defensive pass rush may be the biggest strength on the Redskins entire team. Even without Jason Hatcher the front seven has played very well. The pass coverage has to improve though. The Redskins were bailed out by poor passes from the both the Browns quarterbacks, in addition to some drops from the wide receivers.
  3. The running back position is wide open. Roy Helu still has the inside track on the third-down back job, however, he struggled both in pass protection and in catching the ball against the browns. Evan Royster, Helu’s main competitor for playing time, played very well including an impressive catch-and-run on a circle route and a solid run to finish off a two-minute drive with a touchdown.
  4. Ryan Grant is making a push to be the fourth receiver on the Redskins depth chart. After Aldrick Robinson had a solid performance in the first pre-season game, Grant continues to show rare polished routes for a rookie and consistently good play, including a beautiful touchdown strike from Kirk Cousins.
  5. Turnovers need to stop, especially the sloppy avoidable ones. The starting offensive unit played well, and moved the ball well, but when you fumble a ball that is directly in your hands and throw an easy interception you won’t win many games. Turnover margin was one of the biggest reason for the Redskins success in 2012 (+17) and failure in 2013 (-8). The Redskins simply have to take care of the ball better.

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 2 Preview: Cleveland Browns

by Joe Miller, Staff Writer

Robert Griffin III will play up to a quarter in the Washington Redskins second preseason game Monday night against the Browns (photo by Brian Murphy)

Here’s what to look for in the Monday night showdown between Washington and Cleveland:

Normally, Johnny Manziel coming to town for his second ever NFL game would be excitement enough, especially for a preseason game. But Kyle Shanahan will also make his first trip back to FedEx field since he and his father were shown the door following the 2013 season.

While both provide their fair share of drama to an otherwise mundane preseason game between two of 2013’s bottom-dwellers, there are an abundance of other intriguing storylines that have greater implications for the Redskins upcoming season.

Here are a few things to watch for: [Read more…]

Washington Capitals announce 2014 preseason schedule

Thursday afternoon, the Washington Capitals announced the preseason schedule for the 2014-15 season. The official NHL schedule has not been released, but is reported to be announced Sunday, June 22, when the Capitals will find out their opponent  for the 2015 Winter Classic. The venue will be announced at that time as well.

 

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have released their 2014 preseason schedule, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today. The schedule will feature eight games against five opponents and will include four games at Verizon Center.

The Capitals will open their preseason schedule against the Buffalo Sabres on Sept. 21 at Verizon Center. The Caps will travel to Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and Boston on Sept. 24 before hosting the Bruins on Sept. 26. The Capitals will then travel to Montreal on Sept. 28 and Buffalo on Oct. 1 and will conclude their preseason schedule with two games at home against Philadelphia on Oct. 2 and Carolina on Oct. 5.

The Capitals were 4-0-4 in the preseason in 2013, and their all-time preseason record is 147-115-33-10.

All preseason games will be carried via WashingtonCaps.com, with selected games to be broadcast on 106.7 The Fan and WFED-AM 1500. The full preseason broadcast schedule will be announced in September. The complete 2014-15 NHL regular season schedule will be released at a later date.

The complete preseason schedule is listed below:

Date                Opponent        Location                  Time

Sun., Sept. 21 vs. Buffalo, Verizon Center 5 p.m.
Mon., Sept. 22 at Philadelphia, Wells Fargo Center 7 p.m.
Wed., Sept. 24 at Boston, TD Garden 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 26 vs. Boston, Verizon Center 7 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 28 at Montreal, Bell Centre 6 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 1 at Buffalo, First Niagara Center 7 p.m.
Thurs., Oct. 2 vs. Philadelphia, Verizon Center 7 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 5 vs. Carolina, Verizon Center 3 p.m.

 

 

Washington Nationals 2014 “Natosphere” Preseason Survey

HAPPY OPENING DAY!

For the past several seasons, the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association (DC-IBWA) has conducted a preseason survey, asking questions to key Washington Nationals issues and seeking predictions for season statistical leaders. You can find this year’s results here. Below is how our staff answered the tough questions.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs?

DAVE NICHOLS (Editor-in-Chief): Bryce Harper. Hopefully Harper stays healthy, lays off the breaking stuff, and is passable against lefties.

RYAN KELLEY (Prospects and scouting): Harper’s left-handed power is the best on a team with plenty of pop. In his early 20’s he’s put together a career .209 ISO during his first two MLB seasons, and there’s plenty more power to come. He also showed up to spring training with more muscle in his frame. If he stays healthy he could hit 30+ bombs, and even 40 wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to predict.

STUART WALLACE (Statistical analysis): Bryce Harper.

CHRIS GAROSI (Fantasy): Harper. A full healthy season sees him approach 30 homers.

ALYSSA WOLICE (Beat writer): It’s no secret that last season Jayson Werth edged Bryce Harper for D.C.’s home run crown with 25 total home runs. But the sophomore battled injuries for the greater portion of the year. And, his new stature makes evident the fact he’s had a productive offseason. Critics – or, pessimists, rather – say Harper’s weight gain could adversely affect his swing. But, I’m not buying it. If he can remain healthy, Harper will certainly lead the Nats in home runs – and, perhaps, he’ll even make a run for the 40-mark.

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?
DN:  Harper. If he hits fourth the bulk of the season he’ll have the best opportunity to lead the team in RBIs batting behind Rendon and Zimmerman. At least, in a perfect world that’s how it works out.
RK: Ryan Zimmerman. Lineup spot plays a direct part in determining totals. Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman are generally guys that stay closest to the middle of the lineup, and furthest from the leadoff spot. LaRoche will sit against some lefties this year though, and he looked punchless for much of last season.
Zimmerman has plenty of power and is a good hitter, but if Williams decides to spread his lefties out, there’s an outside shot Ryan could be pushed away from the RBI spots. He’s also a guy that will lose games to injuries every year. Harper has the most pop, but he’s young and he was owned by southpaws last year. So, I guess I’ll gamble and go with Ryan Zimmerman. He’s a good bet to be in the either the 3-hole, clean-up spot, or 5th spot in the lineup consistently and he’s a good balance of power, discipline and hitting ability–though his bat wrapping makes his swing very long.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Harper. If he keeps hitting fifth he’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive in Werth and Zim.
AW: Ian Desmond. Last season, the star shortstop knocked in 80 runs – just two shy of Jayson Werth. And, while Werth posted some of the best numbers of his career in 2013, Desmond has the advantage of relative youth. In fact, Desmond has batted in more runs year after year, and I would bank on that trend continuing, at least for 2014.
3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?
DN: Denard Span. If spring training taught us anything, it’s that new skipper Matt Williams wants to be aggressive on the basepaths. I expect Span will be running a lot this season.
RK:  The Nats don’t have much speed. Supposedly, first-year skipper Matt Williams will run the team on the bases more aggressively than Davey did, but judging by the player he himself was — and the juiced-up era he learned to play MLB baseball in — it’s hard for me to envision the offense putting a lot of emphasis on stolen bases.
Harper, Span and Desmond have some speed, while McLouth is a heady baserunner, but none of them are truly plus runners. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d say Desmond, who is the best mix of aggression, veteran instincts and raw speed. His workload also means he’ll get plenty of chances. But if Eury Perez gets extensive playing time, that’ll be the guy.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Ian Desmond.
AW: Denard Span. Sure, Span had a less-than-stellar 2013 season. But if spring training can produce only one thing, it’s promise. And, Span gave plenty of reasons to hope for improvement this season. But of course, in order for Span to rack up the stolen base total for Washington, he’ll have to fine-tune his approach at the plate to avoid repeating last season’s .327 OBP.
4) Who will lead the staff in wins?
DN:  Stephen Strasburg. This is his year to put up 200+ innings and show he’s the workhorse of the staff he’s always said he wants to be. His stuff is downright nasty, he has a mean streak on the mound, and he’ll be working to a decent pair of catchers really for the first time in his career.
RK:  Jordan Zimmermann. I really like JZ, he’s an outstanding pitcher and one of the most underrated guys in baseball-even now that he’s gotten his money. His approach to pitching and demeanor are very similar to Mike Mussina, and statistically, he’s a similarly productive — and overlooked — player. He led the NL in wins last year with 19, and his 4.03 K/BB ratio was seventh in the league and tops among returning members of the staff. Considering he’s this talented, and he’ll get plenty of favorable match-ups in the middle of the rotation, JZ is the safe bet.
SW: Stephen Strasburg.
CG: Jordan Zimmermann.
AW: I’m finally going to write what I’ve been long hoping to write: I think this season will be Stephen Strasburg’s breakout year. Fans have every reason to believe he will emerge better than ever before, now that he’s had the bone chips in his elbow taken care of. Now that the birth of his daughter has provided Strasburg with a new perspective on life, I think he’ll approach each start with a renewed sense of focus and purpose. Add to that, one can only hope Strasburg’s newly acquired slider will create even more frustrations for opposing batters. That’s not to say Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez won’t challenge Strasburg for most wins. But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Strasburg could reach 20 wins this year, provided he remains healthy and garners the run support he lacked last season.
5) How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?
DN:  25 or so. I think Zimmerman will get a handful of starts against lefties and get moved around a handful of times late in games when LaRoche gets pinch-hit for against LOOGYs. I think the Nats will resist the temptation of moving him over to first full-time until next year, but it’s coming. His throwing looked no better in spring training than it did for much of last season. It’s a shame that Zim and Espinosa both wrecked their careers (Zim defensively, Epsi offensively) playing through injury in 2012 in pursuit of a pennant.
RK:  10-15. It could certainly be more depending on how well LaRoche and Espinosa play against southpaws, but I don’t think the Nats will put him there too often so they can avoid raising discussion about him getting unseated there so early. Personally though, I don’t think Rendon plays like a long-term second basemen, and he looks much better at third. Espinosa’s value lays in the fact that he’s a middle infielder with plus defense and pop. So, it’s not a bad idea to get Zimmerman reps at first, especially because his third base defense has regressed to average, largely due to his throwing issues.
SW: 55.
CG: 45.
AW: I’ll give Zimmerman a dozen starts at first base, and 30 total games in which he makes an appearance on the right corner of the infield. I think it’s pretty clear the Nats are interested in having Zim switch corners, at least for curiosity’s sake. And, Matt Williams has already hinted that the star third baseman could be called upon to cover first in double-switch scenarios and the like – anything causing Adam LaRoche to be pulled from the game. Of course, if Zimmerman’s shoulder starts to show signs of wear and tear – or if Adam LaRoche misses significant playing time for any reason – that number could rise tremendously. But, assuming neither of those situations occur, I’d say Zimmerman makes an appearance covering first base a maximum of 30 games.
6) Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?
DN:  Taylor Jordan. I think he’s got the better long-term package to succeed out of this group. But they’re all just a place-holders really until Giolito and Cole are ready. By then, though, one of those might be replacing Jordan Zimmermann, who it seems more and more likely that he’ll test the free agent waters.
RK:  Tanner Roark. Taylor Jordan is the best pitcher of the four, but he’s also the youngest and still isn’t that far removed from TJ surgery. Long-term Jordan is a more fundamental member of the rotation, but there isn’t enough need to push him now with options ahead of him. The organization really likes Roark, and though I have my doubts about his feel and the depth of his repertoire, he does have good command of a 94 mph fastball and has a very high floor. Ultimately, he still may be best suited for the bullpen, where he’d be very good in a Craig Stammen role or even as a closer.
SW: Jordan.
CG: Tanner Roark – He’s got more upper minor league experience. I think Jordan heads back to the minors once Fister is healthy.
AW: I’m going to take what we saw of Tanner Roark and run with it and say he earns the most starts with Washington of the four. That’s assuming he posts numbers that come even remotely close to his hard-to-believe 1.51 ERA and 7-1 record from last season. Do I think he’s going to post a sub-2.00 ERA again? Not at all. But, if he can maintain good movement on his sinker and approach the upcoming season with confidence, I think he’ll earn a bit of time in the rotation, particularly if Doug Fister struggles to return to good health.
7) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll (Survey went out well before Carroll was released or Kevin Frandsen was added to roster)?
DN:  Obviously, the answer is Espinosa by default. But I’m very skeptical that Espinosa will contribute anything with the bat again this year. His two-homer game in spring training aside, he continued to look lousy at the plate in Florida despite cutting down his swing a bit. I just don’t think he has the power in his shoulder to generate MLB bat speed anymore.
RK:  Danny Espinosa. Carroll is insurance, at most. He didn’t look so “ageless” (what so many people refer to him as) last year when he hit .211/.267/.251, and he looked old this spring. The Nats want to see what they can get out of Espinosa, even in a bench role. And at the very least, they’ll showcase his skills enough to trade him at a better price when the market is hungrier.
SW: Espi (but this question is moot. He will get more ABs than Frandsen also).
CG: Danny Espinosa – I assume he’ll play at least one.
AW: The burning joke to make here would be to vote for Jamey Carroll, despite the Nationals’ recent decision to release the 40-year-old infielder. But, all burns aside, I think Danny Espinosa would have earned more at-bats, regardless. Call me an optimist but, I’d like to hope Espinosa has made enough improvements at the plate to make him a considerable option for the Nats’ reserves. I wouldn’t necessarily imply he might be a first- or second-choice in a pinch-hitting situation. But, injuries plague every team, and the optimist in me says that, should the opportunity for a second chance arise, Espinosa could deliver. After all, numbers aside, Espinosa has something to prove – perhaps more than any other player who could find himself on the Nationals’ bench this season.
8) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?
DN:  Hard not to say Giolito. Scouts are drooling all over the kid. Big fastball, two more plus offerings. Great makeup. This season will be his first full year after TJ surgery, so look for pitch counts and about 160 innings out of him. Next season, the training wheels come off.

RK:  Drew Ward. I really like Ward, and see him as a solid bet to be a Hank Blalock-type third baseman, and even if he moves to the outfield, his bat is good enough to be a slugging right fielder with plus on-base percentages like Geoff Jenkins or even J.D. Drew. But there’s considerable risk here, and his background is a throwback to when farm boys used to populate minor league circuits playing on hay-covered dust.

Ward played on a very rural circuit in high school, and while he looked good against stronger competition, he rarely had the chance to swing against high 80’s heat and advanced breaking pitches. His first taste of the pro’s was promising, as he hit .292/.402/.387 in the GCL. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays a level higher in 2014. If not for his playing on such a rural circuit, and him not graduating early, Ward would’ve likely been a top-20 draft pick this coming June.
SW: AJ Cole
CG: Zach Walters. He could be a very important piece if the Nats have to move Zimmerman to first base sooner than later.
AW: I’m most interested in seeing what becomes of RHP A.J. Cole this season. For starters, I’m interested to see how Cole works his way up the ranks after being reacquired by the Nats (he was dealt to the Oakland A’s in the Gio Gonzalez deal). I wouldn’t necessarily say Cole will be the Nats’ star prospect this season – that title could very well fall to Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole or Brian Goodwin. But, the Nats, no doubt, have seen something in Cole who, after struggling with the A’s High-A team in 2012, posted strong number fors the Nats’ Double-A Harrisburg. In seven starts last season, Cole recorded a 2.18 ERA and a 4-2 record with Harrisburg. And, if he can improve his curveball a bit, he could really garner some attention, wherever he finds himself in the Nats’ organization this season.
9) Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?
DN:  Sammy Solis is the easy answer. He’ll be one of the first recalled if the Nats need a pitcher of any sort. Cole is next, with Giolito in close pursuit. Purke has a long way to go to prove he belongs in this discussion anymore.

RK:  Giolio’s age, recent recovery from elbow surgery and ceiling means he has no chance this year. Purke’s injury-laden resume and struggles this spring make him a long shot, even despite his contract, notoriety and left-handedness. So, that leaves Cole and Solis. Cole has more upside, with a premium heater, plus fastball command and nice athleticism, and he’s very polished for his age. He’s one of the top 10 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball in my opinion. Solis is older, craftier and more MLB-ready. He’s also left-handed, a skill that puts him right behind Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler on the team’s depth chart. So, either one of these guys.

I think Solis might get a shot in the ‘pen as soon as someone goes down with injury, so it’ll be him first. But if any of the team’s big name starters goes down for extended time, and if Jordan or Roark don’t live up to expectations, then the organization will be more than happy to start Cole’s arbitration clock early.
SW: AJ Cole.
CG: AJ Cole.
AW: I’m going to go with LHP Sammy Solis on this one, if only because Lucas Giolito will require a bit of time to earn his way up the ranks – and prove his ability to stay healthy. Giolito’s pitching repertoire is downright impressive – he boasts a nasty curveball and a top-notch changeup – but, he’s battled with his fair share of inactivity as the result of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
10) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Whom?
DN: Two: Harper and Strasburg. Jordan Zimmermann will have a tough time replicating his first half last season, just because it was so damn good. And I have a bit of worry about Gio this year.
RK:  Four. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper are almost locks if they’re healthy. Not only are they elite-level players at their positions, but they’re fan-favorites and high fantasy picks. I know Desmond got snubbed last year, but there was enough hubbub about it that I don’t think the Washington area’s massive market will let that happen if the team lives up to expectations this year. Plus, Tulo and Hanley are both very injury prone.
Stephen Strasburg is a lock if he’s healthy (knock knock), so that’s 3, and it’s hard to believe that one of Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard won’t make it. So that’s four, almost definitely. Wilson Ramos has star-level talent, and has produced when healthy — he just needs to stay healthy. And then Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Werth also have good chance, and it’s not like Storen, Fister and Rendon don’t have the chops. So I think it’ll be four, But, it could certainly be five, and six isn’t too crazy if the team wins and grabs the spotlight.
SW: 4 – Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, JZimmermann.
CG: Two — Bryce Harper and Tyler Clippard.
AW: Three: Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg
11) Total wins and what place in the division?
DN:  90 wins, first place. With all the injuries to Atlanta’s pitching staff, the Nats will win the division by default, and I believe the N.L. East is the worst division in baseball now due to the Braves plight. The Phillies are falling apart due to age, the Mets are a couple years away and the Marlins just have so very little big league talent right now, despite a couple of very good pitchers.

RK:  95 wins, 1st place. Matt Williams’ managerial resume is pretty light, so he’s a bit of a wildcard no matter what kind of player he was. With that said, I think the Nationals are the MLB’s best bet for first place.

Besides Atlanta, the Nats’ division is weak and their balanced roster is overflowing with All-Star talent. The team transformed into a winner in 2012, and while they had a sophomore slump in 2013, the franchise’s studs–Harper, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio– are now entering their primes and their leaders–Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth–are hungrier than ever for a World Series.
After the front office neglected their need for left-handed pitching and power last year, they did a great job addressing it this offseason. Now, the club not only looks supremely talented, but supremely balanced. Rafael Soriano as the closer looks like the lone weak spot, but the team has enough bullpen talent between Clippard, Storen, Stammen and Detwiler that this issue isn’t troubling. Their run differential could approach a full run per game if they’re well managed, so they could bring home as many as 100 wins and be one of the most dominant teams since the ’98 Yankees. But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The rotation is gifted but somewhat fragile and every big league season brings plenty of disappointment.
SW: 91-71; 1st
CG: 89 wins, first in N.L. East.
AW: With the Philadelphia Phillies all but defunct and the Atlanta Braves coping with serious injuries before the season’s first pitch, I say the Nationals absolutely have to win the NL East this season. I’ll give them 96 total wins to edge the Braves, who will likely enjoy a bit of a revival in the second half of the season.
Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?
DN:  Ryan Zimmerman’s defense, in conjunction with Adam LaRoche’s offense. Ryan Zimmerman is the Face of the Franchise. He’s signed through 2019. He could outlast all of Desmond, Zimmermann, Strasburg and Harper. His bat is better at third than it would be at first base, but if he can’t get his defense sorted out — and it’s more than just the throwing at this point — he’s going to have to be moved.
LaRoche is essentially a platoon player at this stage in his career. Granted, it’s the side of the platoon where he’ll see the bulk of at bats. He’s never been good at hitting lefties, but last year he was down-right atrocious. The Nats can’t afford that type of production from their first base position. LaRoche is still decent in the field, but not as great as people in this market seem to think. If LaRoche doesn’t show signs of bouncing back early in the year, it’s a bad sign and will force the Nats into shuffling things around.

RK:  Wilson Ramos and the team’s catching. Ramos has shown All-Star-level ability, with outstanding power for a catcher, a strong arm and the ability to keep the ball in front of him. Injuries have been his downfall, and it’s what forced Davey Johnson to give a rundown and weak-swinging Kurt Suzuki so many starts over the previous two years. In Ramos’ absence, Suzuki proved not only to hurt the team with his poor pitch-framing, but he didn’t make opposing base-stealers hesitate before going for second base–not one bit–and his 70 wRC+ during his time in Washington means he was horrific with the bat.

Ramos is being handed the reigns to one of the most gifted rotations the game has every seen–and certainly the most valuable. He too is young, and his job comes with plenty of pressure. Even with Jose Lobaton added to the team as both the back-up and injury insurance, the weight still falls heavily on Ramos’ shoulders. For this team to live up to it’s potential, he’ll have to catch 100 games this season and be a stud both in the box and behind the plate.
Can he frame pitches well enough to keep the pitch counts down for fragile guys like Strasburg, Gio and max-effort Tyler Clippard, whom all have exhausting mechanics? Can he get Jordan Zimmermann and Rafael Soriano strike calls while they live on the edges of the zone? After his ACL and hamstring injuries, can he still block the plate well enough to keep the staff’s young guns confident in their premium breaking stuff? And can he get out of his crouch quick enough to slow down base stealers despite a so-so career 27% CS%?
Ramos has a hefty amount of responsibility. He could step up the the plate and flourish, establishing himself as a star, or it could certainly be more disappointment for him. But the team really needs him to play his best. Because even if Lobaton is a solid game caller and receiver, he’s not a first-tier catcher like Ramos is. And after him, the organization has little beyond glove-only Sandy Leon and a few bullpen catchers.
SW: The most important development of the season for the Nats will be the maturation and continued development of Anthony Rendon, both at the plate and as a utility player. Possessing one of the more impressive and advanced hit tools for a player his age, continued seasoning from MLB plate appearances will further hone his contact rate, his understanding of the strike zone and how opposing pitchers will handle him, which will only improve his offensive stock. A full return to health after being a little banged up last season will also add to his performance.
However, the biggest piece of the puzzle for Rendon will be in the field, as he continues to learn how to play 2B at the major league level, while also retaining his above average skills at his natural position of 3B. Given the merry-go-round of players and their positions in the infield with Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa as well as Rendon all looking at new positions part-time or otherwise, it will be up to Rendon to provide a precociously steady influence at both second and third for the other two to have successful transitions. The hitting will always be there, but health and fielding from the young Texan will play an enormous role in the overall success of the bottom half of the batting order and the team’s defense.
AW: Saying the bench should be the Nationals’ single-most important development this season might not fire up fans. But, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be item No. 1 on the Nationals “must-fix” list. Washington boasted some of the league’s best pitching last season, and came up with absolutely no run support to swing the win-loss column in their favor. With the addition of Nate McLouth and the lingering hope that Danny Espinosa could show at least marginal improvement, one would hope Washington will perform better in clutch situations this year.

Washington Capitals Morning Skate Update 9/28: Laich skates, might play in season opener

Brooks Laich skated at Kettler this morning, and stayed on the ice for most of practice, but took it easy.

Adam Oates said they are shooting for Laich to play in the season opener on Tuesday, but if there’s any chance he’s still not 100%, he won’t play.

If Laich does play, Oates said it will be “hopefully in his spot on the second line, with Grabo and Brouw.”

The lineup tonight against the Blackhawks will remain much the same as who dressed last night against the Flyers (minus Alex Ovechkin), according to Oates.

The Capitals will open the regular season at Chicago on Tuesday, October 1, and their home opener is on Thursday, October 3 against the Calgary Flames.

Washington Capitals Preseason Game 7: Caps win 6-3 in Friday fight night against Flyers

The latest preseason fashion seems to be fights, fights, and more fights. That didn’t change Friday night, where there were 5 total fights. At least we were spared a line brawl, but tensions flared from the puck drop to final whistle.

All told, there were  103 total  penalty minutes between the Capitals and the Flyers, including a blindside hit on Mikhail Grabovski by Flyers tough guy Zac Rinaldo that will almost certainly result in some type of discipline from the NHL.

Grabovski told reporters he saw Rinaldo coming, but it was too late to react. He was able to regroup and assist on Tom Wilson’s goal later in the game.

Interestingly enough, Wilson told reporters he “grew up watching” Grabovski play. “I know how talented of a player he is, it was nice to be on the receiving end of that pass.”

Eric Fehr continued his preseason scoring run Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, a deflection in the first period that beat goalie Ray Emery, who left the cage to play the puck, inadvertently passing it to the Capitals’ Mathieu Perreault. Perreault sent the puck over to Connor Carrick, who fed it to Fehr, who tapped it in while Emery was still out of position.

Alex Ovechkin scored from his wheelhouse on the power play in the first period, and Tom Wilson punched in an easy layup off Grabovski’s slick pass to make it 3-0 in the second.

The Flyers would even the score before the end of the second period with goals by Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds. No need for panic over the blown lead late in the 2nd- the Caps only dressed one of their regular defensemen Friday night, and the Flyers iced basically their regular season starting roster, minus Jakub Voracek.

In the third, Eric Fehr scored his second goal of the night, assisted by Connor Carrick, who had a three-assist night. Fehr also assisted on Ovechkin’s second power play goal.

The Capitals were able to inch ahead in the third after Fehr and Ovechkin’s tallies, winning 6-3 after an empty-net goal from Mathieu Perreault, who has played in only three of the Capitals’ seven preseason games.

” We found the groove right away,” said Perreault. “Getting a goal on the first shift gets you going.”

“We kind of slowed ourselves down in the second with all the penalties and fighting, so we got back to what we were doing in the first in the third, and we did a good job.”

Washington Capitals Preseason Game 6: Grabovski shines in preseason action, Caps win 4-1

Preseason performance doesn’t mean a whole lot for a guy who already knows he’s on the team, but Mikhail Grabovski has already shown some good things in the two games he’s played as a Washington Capital.

Both games were multi-point games — two assists against the Boston Bruins, and three at home at Verizon Center against the Nashville Predators. That’s five assists in six periods. Not bad at all. Granted, he’s been playing against many non-roster players, but you can’t overlook Grabovski’s performance because of that.

If not for Grabovski, Eric Fehr wouldn’t have had quite the night he did, scoring two goals on Predators goalie Carter Hutton, both assisted by Grabovski.

Grabovski also assisted on Alex Ovechkin’s tally on the power play. Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber weren’t in the line up for Nashville tonight, but coach Adam Oates was pleased with Grabovski’s play overall, even against weaker competition.

“He’s a good hockey player. He fits into our puzzle,” he told reporters after the game, full of praise for the center. “He skates very well, he’s a tough player.”

Martin Erat quite literally faced off against his former team, the Predators, this evening. Tonight marked his first game trying out the center position at the coaxing of Oates, who had previously conducted the experiment with Eric Fehr at center.

Fehr, who played on the wing tonight,  said he doesn’t think Oates is finished tinkering with positional assignments for either of them. There’s still plenty of time to play around with things before the season starts for real, though.

It would be easy to see Fehr staying on the wing: his speed lends him to that position, but Oates may be planning to alternate playing him there and at center on an as-needed basis throughout the season.

The Capitals are now 3-2 in the preseason after defeating the Predators 4-1 on home ice. They’ll take on the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center on Friday night, before heading off to Chicago to play their final preseason game against the Blackhawks, just two days before they open the season in Chicago on October 1.

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