The Redskins learned their upcoming regular season schedule last Thursday night…three months after learning all of their opponents for 2017 (beware that third place schedule).  Which brings in my two best Burgundy & Gold Buddies, Positive and Pessimist.  Both have plenty of thoughts about how the upcoming slate will progress.  Their projections average out to a final record of 6-7-3.

September 10- Philadelphia, 1 pm.  The Eagles enter year two of coach Doug Pederson’s regime…with Carson Wentz that much more polished than the guy who got swept by the Skins last year.  Can’t wait to see Kirk Cousins now that he finally has great new shiny toy in Terrelle Pryor plus a healthy Josh Doctson!  Don’t the Redskins always sleepwalk in September after going easy during the preseason?  Not feeling good at all here.

September 17- at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 pm.  First game back in the Coliseum since…when did they visit the LA Raiders?  Former Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay has a major rebuilding project on his hands.  Easy pickings- the Skins D will know McVay’s offense inside and out.  Chalk up another W!  Wouldn’t McVay know the ins and outs of the sad-sack Skins D?  But it’s impossible not to think of a successful sunny afternoon against these Rams-at least this year.

September 24- Oakland, 8:30 pm.  The first of five prime-time games for a team coming off an 8-7-1 record.  Hey, the NFL has to put somebody on.  Do we have to refer to them as “Oakland”?  I’m feeling there may be some tension between the city and team that will have them less than focused.  Whatever city they’re calling home, the Raiders boast Derek Carr at quarterback.  The first legit QB to face the Skins D will enjoy some easy pickings.

October 2- at Kansas City, Monday at 8:30 pm.  Consecutive prime-time games this early means the NFL is hedging their Burgundy & Gold bets…because a 1-2 Redskin team is so much better than a 2-7 squad.  Can you say 4-0 entering the bye?  I’m thinking Andy Reid finds a way to bungle this one.  Didn’t Reid own the Skins when he coached the Eagles?  And isn’t this game on Monday night?  Just what we need–two weeks of desperation.

October 15- San Francisco, 1 pm.  The coordinator reunion tour continues with a visit from Kyle Shanahan.  They needed two weeks to prepare for the 2-14 Forty-niners?  I’m never a fan of a west coast team playing at 1 ET…except when it helps the Skins.  W.  There’s no way they can lose this game, right????

October 22- at Philadelphia, Monday at 8:30 pm.  Another prime-time game?  Guys in the beltway area will be dragged to apple picking, brunches and antiquing early and often Sunday afternoons this fall.  Seriously, Carson Wentz got locked in a gas station bathroom last offseason!  Didn’t the Skins escape both games last year?  Philly will be better, and Wentz will be wiser (at least, he’ll take his cel in the bathroom with him).

October 29- Dallas, 4:25 pm. Six of the Skins’ first eight games will be on national TV.  They return a bottom-10 defense and are going through trust/confidence issues with a quarterback who loses both of his wideout weapons?  Hmm.  Next to fans fighting in the stands, nothing is more certain about a Redskins-Cowboys game than it will go down to the wire.  I feel good.  Dallas will be that much better with Dak Prescott…at least during the regular season.  I have a feeling we’ll see Colt McCoy that day.

November 5- at Seattle, 4:05 pm. Technically a part of FOX’s regional package…back in the day when there were blackouts this always used to be referred to as the “Curt Menefee-Brian Baldinger” slot.  Tough to keep the glass half-full out west…where this team never plays well.  Doubling down on that–it gets loud out there and it could get ugly.  The late-afternoon start means more apple-picking.  Great.

November 12- Minnesota, 1 pm.  Two teams trying to get back into the playoffs after each barely missed the postseason in 2016…and both should be in the mix again this fall.  Will Teddy Bridgewater be healthy?  If not, I’m looking forward to facing Ryan Reynolds-lookalike Sam Bradford.  A win? Definitely Maybe.  The Vikes should have won here last year…and they’ll likely have a better QB.  Deadpool rocked!

November 19- at New Orleans,  1 pm.  The pre-Thanksgiving Sunday game gets them home by 8 Sunday night…unlike last year when they were supremely hosed by the league.  The Superome features no D whatsoever by the home team…and Drew Brees is a year older.  I’ll take it.  Brees can still pick apart most defenses…and the Skins aren’t like most defenses.  They’re likely going to be worse.

November 23- NY Giants, Thursday at 8:30 pm.  Who gets this call- Al Michaels or Mike Tirico?  Either way, NBC has an NFC East showdown supreme.  How did we lose to this team in week 17 last year?  Eli’s good for at least two ill-placed interceptions.  Break out the pumpkin pie!  Thanksgiving Night?  Great–after dealing with relatives I don’t want to see I have to head over to Fed Ex Field for a late-night travesty.  Thanks for nothing…

November 30- at Dallas, Thursday at 8:30 pm.  Finally a Thursday night game where both teams aren’t working on short rest.  Why doesn’t the league have its TNF foes be the ones coming off byes?  They’d be better rested and prepared.  This should be for first place in the NFC East…I can already see Pryor turning the Cowboy secondary inside-out.  The Cowboys get consecutive Thursday night games?  Further proof the NFL is out to get this team.

December 10- at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 pm.  They’re playing this game not at the Coliseum but in a soccer stadium.  Anything to get that second team in LA.  Rested and refreshed, the perfect way to begin the stretch run.  Philip Rivers can still play, and after back to back prime time games against division foes this is prime time for a major letdown. Don’t let the palm trees hit you on the way out…

December 17- Arizona, 1 pm.  Another morning body-clock game for a team out west!  Although doesn’t Arizona become Mountain Time in the in the winter?  I forget.  Daylight Saving is such a scam.  Skins take advantage of a sleepwalking Cardinals team that’s probably out of contention.  Did you see what they did after a slow start last year?  If Carson Palmer is healthy…watch out.

December 24- Denver, 1 pm.  Odd to see an interconference game this late in the schedule.  Sucks for the Broncos to have to fly across the country on Christmas Eve.  Another early game against a team from the west?  Is this a makeup for last year’s BS?  We’ll take it on the way to the playoffs.  These are precisely the games the Skins lose late in the year against non-division foes that might be out of the hunt.

December 31- at NY Giants, 1pm/4:25pm/8:30pm.  Face it, this game will probably be flexed in some way.  Unless it’s like 2013 when probably the worst game ever played ended the Mike Shanahan era.  Ringing in the new year with another Division Title banner.  Nothing like having a New Year’s hangover on New Year’s Day.

 

 

Break up the Nationals!  Seven straight wins and a 6-0 start to their road trip give Dusty Baker’s team the best record in the big leagues.  And this is happening in the middle of a bullpen shuffle and a three-city, ten game journey.  While 18 games represents just one-ninth of the schedule, sweeping the Mets at Citi Field is a nice early statement.

Starting with the Closer/Closers- looks like the Blake Treinen era was brief:  last week Manager Dusty Baker announced that Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley would share the ninth-inning role.  While the duo answered the challenge over the weekend at the Mets, it’s a long way from late July and the trading deadline.  One thinks that once again the Nats will be in the market for a closer.

Dissecting the Division- the sweep puts the Nats three games in front of the pack…with Miami (10-8, 3 games back) and Philadelphia (9-9, 4 off the pace) giving chase.  The Mets aren’t just 8-11 but are -3 in run differential and 4-8 at home.  Granted, it’s only April.

Meanwhile in the Other East- the Orioles took two of three from Boston (despite some shenanigans) to stay atop the AL Quintet…with Trey Mancini making his case to stay and play every day.  The 25-year old leads the team in homers and RBI….while playing perfect defense in the field.  Before we begin a season-long tango with the Orioles and Red Sox, we have to notice the New York Yankees.  Their +30 run differential just happens to be the best in the major leagues and maybe this team is closer than a year away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .550 with 10 runs scored while notching 3 homers and 7 RBI en route to taking NL Player of the Week honors.  He’s off to a better start than he was last April when he was the player of the month (when do they visit the Cubs?).   Ryan Zimmerman hit .500 with 10 RBI.  Last year the veteran had just one month where he drove in more than 12.  Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts while going 2-0 and posting a 1.80 ERA.  Koda Glover saved two games over the weekend.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor’s opportunities are few and far between…but to go 1-for-10 with four strikeouts over five games is not going to inspire confidence in the Nats’ brain trust.  Adam Eaton hitting .208 with an on-base percentage of .321 isn’t an issue- it’s doing that from the leadoff spot.  And after dealing with the spotlight of being the team’s closer, Blake Treinen meets a different spotlight as the ex-closer.

Game to Watch- Same teams, different weekend.  After sweeping the Mets at Citi Field, the Nats try to push their NL East rivals further back in the standings.  Max Scherzer allowed a pair of home runs in his most recent start while Jacob deGrom struck out ten Nationals the day before.  They’ll meet up this Friday at Nationals Park.  Break out the Rick Astley fan safety video.

Game to Miss- With Scherzer pitching Friday and Stephen Strasburg (after paternity leave) slated to start Sunday, Joe Ross matches up with Zack Wheeler and his 5.40 ERA.  Meanwhile, a certain hockey team in the district will be hosting a certain nemesis that night.  While Game One is Thursday, I want to see Gio Gonzalez and his 1.35 ERA at Coors Field in the late-afternoon air.  Plus, the Caps are 8-1 in Game Ones against Pittsburgh while just 3-6 in Game Twos against the Penguins.  Rock the Red…

 

 

Apologies for getting the weekly feature underway two weeks later than normal.  Who’s ready for a semi-informative and occasionally amusing look at the Nats from a guy who is at the ballpark more often than not?

The 7-5 start has given fans plenty of thrills (Daniel Murphy picking up from where he left off in 2016), chills (Bryce Harper screeching home from first on a double in Friday’s win over Philadelphia) and spills (a leaky bullpen that’s less than ideal). Welcome to the 162-step marathon that involves plenty of missteps in every direction.

Causes for Confidence- an offense that leads the majors in OPS, ranks second in batting average and seventh in runs scored.  The addition of Matt Wieters extends the lineup as many thought it would…and even with Wilmer Difo still finding his bat this team has the potential to bring buckets of runs to the table.

Causes for Concern- the bullpen ranks 25th in ERA and has the fifth most blown saves (3) in the early season.  There’s the thinking that this is just an early hiccup…while the other school of thought labels the subpar start as the beginning of a season-long problem.

Dissecting the Division- it’s never too early to freak out about the rest of the NL East.  The Nats are tied for first with Miami and the New York Mets are one-half game behind the leaders.  Two weeks into the season, the club owns the third best run differential (-2) as a 17-3 loss to Philadelphia will cook the numbers a little bit.  Nobody has cause to panic in April–unless you’re 2-10 Toronto.

Meanwhile in the Other East- how about those plucky Orioles?  Despite not having Fort Knox at their disposal like the Yankees and Red Sox, Buck Showalter’s team owns a half-game lead in the division with the best record in the bigs.  Even without Chris Tillman, the Birds are getting it done (although the pitching staff allows the second-highest batting average in the majors).  Now Zach Britton’s on the disabled list…and they still take three of four from the Blue Jays.  Break out the Old Bay…

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .391 with 2 HR and 8 RBI…and scored the game-winning run Friday night against the Phillies before smacking a walk-off homer Sunday.  This is the Bryce of 2015 that was a registered force of nature.  Chris Heisey makes the most of his opportunities, consistently delivering productive at-bats.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 14 and a third innings over two starts, posting an ERA of 1.88.  Shawn Kelley posted two wins in relief, striking out four over three and a third innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo is NOT Trea Turner.  Nobody expected the infielder to light up the league with the Nats’ leadoff man on the DL…but hitting .190 with six strikeouts and no walks is far from ideal.  Anthony Rendon hit .240 last week with four strikeouts…hopefully his RBI double last Friday is the start of a turnaround.   Joe Blanton pitched in three games and allowed a home run in each.

Game to Watch- Friday the defending NL East champs face the 2015 division winners for the first time this year.  Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) has a 12-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio and will pitch against a Jacob deGrom who’s coming off a 13-strikeout performance.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the novelty of the Braves’ new ballpark will be worn off…as no doubt Atlanta fans will be clamoring for a new venue.  It’s not Joe Ross’ fault he’s making his 2017 debut the same night the Capitals visit Toronto and the Wizards host Atlanta.  I’ll be curious to see how he fares, but one will be rocking a different red that night.

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM in 2016…and re-dressed with last year’s Second Round Stumble.  Apologies to the 1986 Caps Collapse to a sub-500 Rangers team.

It happens every spring… beauty and awe before they’re gone all of a sudden.  The Cherry Blossom season more often than not mirrors the Caps postseason:  heavy anticipation, attention-grabbing quick bloom,  and then after one or two rains it’s all gone.

The Capitals have enjoyed a checkered postseason in their history…unfortunately getting double-jumped by Pittsburgh, the Islanders and Rangers on multiple occasions while having to hear the refrain “King Me” a lot more than they’d prefer.  But in the middle of the wreckage of many a spring on ice they have also had their moments–it’s just tough to locate the highlights amongst the heartbreak.  Two provide a nice bookend to get us started…

Highlight Honorable Mention: 1983.  In Bryan Murray’s first full season as head coach, the previously hapless Caps (8-67-5 in their first year…and it took six seasons to post a winning percentage above .400) actually make the playoffs and lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.  Just like being nominated for best documentary, it was simply an honor to be the first speedbump that season for Mike Bossy, Billy Smith & company.

Heartbreak Honorable Mention: 2015.  Losing to the Rangers is never fun…and blowing a 3 games to 1 series lead is even more painful.  Thank you, Curtis Glencross for your contribution to Caps Collapse History.  Still, they bounced the Islanders (although losing game 6 meant they couldn’t close out Nassau Coliseum).  They won a game the same night the Wizards and Nats prevailed…and it was coach Barry Trotz’s first season.  Of course, the key to getting over heartbreak is rationalization.

Highlight #5: 1994.  Sadly, it’s a little bit of a challenge to find roses amongst the playoff thorns for this franchise.  But in 1994 they bounced recent nemesis Pittsburgh (who beat the Caps en route to Stanley Cups in 1991 & 92) in six games…outscoring the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr from the get-go.  Don Beaupre stood on his head for four games…while Joe Juneau and Michal Pivonka led a balanced attack that more than took advantage of their opportunities.  The Caps won the series clincher 6-3 and had other games where they lit the lamp 4 and 5 times.  What happened to that NHL?

Heartbreak #5: 1989.  Finally, a Patrick Division regular season championship.  This would be the team that would finally emerge from the early rounds…only to learn that in the divisional playoff format turnabout isn’t just fair play, it’s often expected.  The Caps got bounced by an aging Philadelphia team in six games.  These weren’t the Broad Street Bullies…or even the Cup runners-up from 1987.  How bad were these Flyers?  Their 80 points was the team’s fewest since 1972 and they’d go on to miss the playoffs the next five seasons.  Which brings to mind the question about banner protocol.  Do you have to return the regular season championship banner if you lose in the first round?

Highlight #4: 1984. You never forget your first series win.  Especially when it’s a sweep.  Against the team less than 3 hours up I-95.  And especially when it ends the career of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.  Long before he was ruining the Flyers on a short-term (as General Manager) and long-range (as Senior VP) basis, Clarke was one of the scrappiest (some will say dirtiest) players in the league.  He was the face of the franchise in Philadelphia…and to sweep him into retirement by beating the Flyers in the Spectrum was the extra onions on the cheesesteak.  Yes, they lost to the Islanders in the next round.  But still…

Heartbreak #4: 2009.  After winning the Southeast Division (let the record show that it was called the SouthLEAST for much of its existence), the Caps trailed the Rangers 3 games to 1 before taking games five, six and seven (so it does happen the other way sometimes!).  A thrilling conference semifinal showdown against Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby brought three overtime affairs and a 3-3 series tie heading into a Game Seven at Verizon Center.  Sadly, this finish would be more floundering than fantastic and the Penguins won a 6-2 clincher that wasn’t as close as the score looked.  That Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup would be little consolation this time.

Highlight #3: 2012.  A team in turmoil fires its coach early in the season and brings in a legend (Dale Hunter) to put the house in order.  After finishing two games over .500…the grittier version went into Boston and won a game seven (thank you Joel Ward!) before taking the #1 team in the conference (Rangers) to seven games in the next round.  The foundation was set.  And Coach Dale Hunter would be back to take this franchise to the next level.  Only he didn’t…choosing to return to his role as president and owner of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.  The team would stagger and then crumble under Adam Oates.  But we’ll always have that spring…

Heartbreak #3: 2016.  Last year’s Second Round loss in six games to Pittsburgh offered up a little of everything Caps fans have grown to expect.  Losing to Pittsburgh on the Penguins’ path to another Stanley Cup?  Check.   A President’s Trophy banner that gets to hang from the rafters, highlighting not the great 82-game marathon won but reflecting on the 6-game sprint lost?  Check. A guy who scored just nine regular season goals ending your postseason in overtime? Check.  What separates this from the 2009 defeat was that team’s best days were seemingly ahead of it (as evidenced by the 2010 President’s Trophy)…while the 2016 club can definitely see the day when Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom skate for the final time.  From here on out every spring stumble carries extra weight.

Highlight #2: 1990.  An underwhelming regular season saw the Caps finish with a losing record for the first time in eight years.  Naturally there was a midseason coaching change.  Oddly enough, coach Bryan Murray was replaced by his brother Terry.  Thankfully Bryan didn’t go all Fredo (he remains smart and deserves respect).  Despite an 18-14-2 finish under Murray 2.0, little was expected.  And with low expectations comes a surprising first round triumph over New Jersey.  Followed by shocking the first place Rangers in five games.  Even after getting swept by a better Boston team in the Cup Semis, the team’s first and only Patrick Division banner remains a high point during their stay in Landover.

Heartbreak #2: 1987.  Again, sometimes its how the movie ends that enhances everything before it.  The seven-game showdown with the Islanders was one for the ages.  Another 3 games to 1 lead with a game five at home.  Haven’t we written this script before?  Yes…but only this time the game seven went down to the wire and beyond.  A late one-goal lead disappeared with 5 minutes left in regulation.  Four overtimes later Pat LaFontaine ends the Capitals’ season…and a game that began at 7 p.m. concludes at 1:58 a.m..   Easter morning was a groggy one for many families in the area.

Highlight #1: 1998.  After finishing third in their division, the Caps rode hot goaltender Olaf Kolzig to the finals for the first time in franchise history.  Never mind that they got swept by Detroit.  And never mind that they took advantage of a busted bracket (upsets of Pittsburgh and New Jersey meant they would have better records than each of their playoff foes in the first three rounds).  Even the teal eagle jerseys couldn’t ruin this run.

Heartbreak #1:  2010.  After winning the President’s Trophy, the high-flying offensive juggernaut looked as though it was ready to finally crown Alex Ovechkin (career high 59 assists), Nicklas Backstrom (career highs in goals and assists) and Mike Green (before the injuries).  After taking a 3-1 first round series lead over Montreal (and posting 19 goals)…they somehow forgot the league changed the format to best-of-seven back in the 1980’s.  Yes, the Canadiens Jaroslav Halak somehow conjured up the spirits of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy to limit the #1 offense in the league to 1 goal in games 5, 6 and 7.  But to lose in the first round after 82 games of positive reinforcement?  The Bruce Boudreau regime would never be the same–making its eventual departure less than 20 months later.

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Past met present at Georgetown…with an eye towards the future.  The school introduced Hoyas great Patrick Ewing as its head men’s basketball coach in front of a room packed with media, boosters, fans, students, alumni and a pep band that did not know “Vehicle” by the Ides of March.  But the name “Patrick Ewing” was music enough to everyone’s ears at the John Thompson Jr. Athletic Center.  Ewing even replicated his famous scene from when he committed to play at the Big East school in 1981, holding a Georgetown pennant above his head.  Ewing has less hair now and has put on a little weight, but the three-time All-American can still pose for a picture.

“I’m very honored and pleased to be named head coach at Georgetown basketball,” Ewing opened, “we’ve had a rich tradition led by the man in the back–Coach Thompson. His vision, his hard work, his dedication has helped to lift the program to where it has gotten. It’s my job to add on to that legacy.”

On the right-hand side after the first few rows of chairs and conveniently near a door for his quiet exit sat the man who brought Ewing to DC from Boston.  John Thompson, Jr. retired 18 years ago and saw his #1 assistant (Craig Esherick) make a Sweet Sixteen appearance before getting fired after a sub-500 season.  He then witnessed his first-born son (John Thompson III) lead the program to the Final Four before getting fired after consecutive losing campaigns.  Now Big John sees his best player take over the program and brand he and Ewing took to an elite level over 30 years ago.

“If it was any other university I wouldn’t be doing this,” the longtime NBA assistant coach said, “but it’s my alma mater. It’s Georgetown. I’m a Hoya. I just thought it was a great opportunity to come back and rebuild the program.”

The job is open for a reason.  John Thompson III’s tenure ended with three losing seasons in its last four years, punctuated by a ninth-place Big East finish this March with a loss at home to cellar dwelling DePaul.  A highly-touted freshman class of three years ago resulted in players underachieving, transferring, or both.  The Hoyas lose their top two scorers from this past season (Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak).  That means the Hall of Famer will have to rebuild on the fly for next winter.

“We’re going look at JuCo (players) if they can get in, we’re going to look at fifth year seniors. European…anything. Anybody that we think has the ability to be successful here.” Ewing said, then cautioned: “But I’m not going to just jump into it and bring in people in here that in two years I’m saying ‘now why the hell did I bring him in here?’. I want to take my time and make sure we bring in the right people.” It’s early April…and time is not a luxury Ewing and his yet to be comprised staff has for the 2017-18 campaign.

Ewing’s first task is putting together that coaching staff.  He’ll need assistants who can guide him along the recruiting road, as all of his experience on the bench has come in the NBA.  But the Jamaican-born and Boston-educated Ewing knows where the Hoyas bread will be buttered if they’re to become successful.

“The D.C., Baltimore and Virginia area is a hotbed of great talent.” Ewing said, “That’s my job to try to get us back to that level that these great players try to stay home.”  On this past season’s 14-player roster, just five were from the region.  Great players like Josh Hart (Villanova) as well as those who made immediate impact like Anthony Cowan (Maryland) went elsewhere…as the Hoyas’ local talent base slowly eroded over the last five years.

The major question mark facing Ewing is what is more of a challenge for a career NBA assistant (15 years):  becoming a first-time college coach or a first-time head coach?  There will be adjustments on both fronts;  and just as not all valued assistants become successful head coaches, pro success does not directly translate into winning at the college level.  Fellow 80’s Big East icon Chris Mullin is 22-43 after two seasons with St. John’s, but the Red Storm won six more conference games this past winter and Mullin doesn’t have nearly the coaching experience Ewing possesses.  Fellow Dream Teamer Clyde Drexler went straight from playing to coaching at his Alma Mater Houston…and two years later he left with a 19-39 mark.  Eddie Jordan after a career as an NBA assistant and head coach returned to Rutgers and posted a 29-68 record over four seasons with his former school.  Despite the Hoyas recent dip, the program is in much better shape than the other three situations.

When the Redskins had to deal with a third coaching change in four years (I’m not including interim coach Terry Robiskie for accounting purposes) they looked lost in the wilderness…before bringing back Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs.  Despite limited success, Gibbs represented a magic bullet for the Burgundy and Gold faithful.  For anyone dissatisfied with how the John Thompson III era finished or how he was treated in the final days, Patrick Ewing is a seven-foot tall magic bullet with a vision and work ethic to bring the Hoyas back to relevance.  Heaven forbid if this move doesn’t work out.

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What is it with the yo-yo performances of the Washington Nationals?  They’re slowly becoming the poor man’s San Francisco (forget about the three World Series titles the Giants have- last fall’s flameout against the Cubs in Game Four was even more spectacular than the Nats’ underwhelming Game Five loss to the Dodgers) with playoff appearances during even-numbered seasons…and frustrating walks in the wilderness during odd-numbered years.  The shock of 2012 and making the postseason for the first time ever was tempered by the frustration of a 2013 team that floundered…just like the 2014 club that exceeded expectations found a way to spiral downward in 2015.  The local team’s fortunes remind me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine loses her job and winds up wearing sweatpants while George gets hired by the Yankees.  Everything evens out eventually…

With a few exceptions (the Joe Torre Yankees, the Bobby Cox Braves), teams don’t repeat because in order to win in the first place a club needs premium seasons from its best players and outlier-type seasons from the mid-range players.  Doug Fister isn’t going to win 16 games every season…and when opposing hitters adjust and things aren’t as sharp as they were during the dream season, a 5-7 nightmare with a 4.17 ERA can be a rude awakening.  It hasn’t helped that there have been whispers around the Nats clubhouse regarding their manager in both occasions where the team was defending its title, whether it was Davey Johnson being put out to pasture or Matt Williams being out of his league.  Dusty Baker’s calm center should keep the yo-yo in check somewhat…but players will still vary production-wise year to year.

That is very good news for Bryce Harper.  The 2015 MVP had a less than stellar 2016…just like his 2014 was less than ideal.  But even with all of his issues (some alleged to be injury-related), the Nats prime offensive weapon still ranked second on the team in on-base-percentage, third in runs scored and second in runs batted in.  Could this be the year he finally surpasses 100 RBI?  The yo-yo says yes.

Does this mean that Max Scherzer will likely not win 20 games this season?  Even thought the ace says he’s recovered from the hairline fracture to the knuckle of his right ring finger, back to back 20-victory campaigns are few and far between in the current era.  And Max had a better WAR (wins above replacement) season the year before when he went 14-12.  What’s more unlikely for the reigning Cy Young winner is his continued prowess at the plate:  last season Scherzer drove in 12 runs over 70 at-bats…a rate that would translate to 102 RBI over 600 AB.

Should Tanner Roark be nervous then?  After winning 15 games in 2014, the pitcher went to the bullpen the following year and showed that he was best suited as a starting pitcher.  His return to the rotation resulted in 16 wins and proved that 2014 wasn’t a fluke.  He gets another year of going against third and fourth starters in other team’s rotations…so another 15+ victory season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Daniel Murphy fans should be wary, though.  Nobody expected the offseason acquisition to hit .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBI in 2016…and nobody should expect him to match those numbers this year.  Conventional wisdom has the second baseman hitting in the .290’s with 15 HR and 80 RBI in 2017…but the famed conventional wisdom said the same thing about Murphy last year.

What to make to Turner and Treinen?  Trea Turner set the base paths on fire last season from the leadoff spot and returns to lead off this season…how much of his 2016 success (.342 with 33 steals and 53 runs scored over 73 games) can be attributed to beginners luck?  Now that pitchers have an actual scouting report on the kid one feels that while he’ll be productive it won’t be at the rate Turner was in 2016.  Blake Treinen had a breakthrough season last summer in the bullpen…but in a setup role.  Posting an ERA of 2.28 over 73 games as a set-up man is one thing…but how will the 28-year old handle the responsibility and expectations of being the team’s closer?

Sometimes the string wears out- Ryan Zimmerman’s coming off his least productive season and hasn’t driven in even 80 runs since 2012.  The “new normal” for the oft-injured 32-year old may be .250 with 15 homers and 55 RBI…not what you look for from a power position like first base.  Jayson Werth enjoyed a resurgence after being moved to the #2 spot in the batting order last spring…but the 37-year old enters the final year of his contract and hasn’t had consecutive 20-homer seasons since 2010-11.  Like Zim, Werth plays a position where production is paramount.  How one veteran bounces back and another prevents a market correction could go long way towards if the Nats will continue their even-odd year yo-yo.  That…and of course the Mets who were ravaged by injuries last year.  One expects a bounce-back from the other NL East team to make the playoffs last year.

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John Thompson III’s firing on paper almost makes sense.  Consecutive losing seasons for a school that once ruled the Big East.  A ninth-place finish this year in a conference that only has ten schools (and a home loss to lowly DePaul to boot).  A 69-62 mark over the last four years…with first weekend losses in the NCAA Tournament (Florida Gulf Coast, Ohio) the rule and not the exception since their Final Four run ten years ago.  You could even make the case that JT3’s Final Four team was built with his predecessor Craig Esherick recruits (Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert).  Forget about those who were shouting “Fire Thompson!” at Verizon Center…think about the 5,158 who actually showed up to watch the Hoyas host St. John’s.  But we don’t exist in a vacuum…and Georgetown’s heart and soul will have to find itself over the next few months as the parting with the son of Big John will need a while to take hold.

Think about where the program was when John Thompson, Jr. took over in 1972.  A private, catholic university that was near the White House but far from relevant.  A paltry postseason history that included one NCAA Tournament berth plus a pair of trips to the NIT.  Fresh off a 3-23 season.  Enter a 31-year old high school coach with a couple of NBA Championship rings.  Sounds like a bad sitcom on the CW, right?  But Big John turned around a program that was fighting for fourth place inside the beltway behind Maryland, George Washington and American (remember, this was during the Kermit Washington era) into a national power.  The 1980’s Georgetown teams ran through a newly created Big East conference and more often than not were cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden each March.  Unforgettable stars ranging from slippery guards like Sleepy Floyd and Allen Iverson to giants ranging from Patrick Ewing to Alonzo Mourning.  Fantastic supporting players from Victor Page to Jaren Jackson.  Under Big John, Georgetown became a Big Deal locally and nationally.

Thompson was more than just successful on the court- the first African American coach to win a national title was also a vocal supporter of student-athletes, once walking off the court before a 1989 game to protest the NCAA’s Proposition 42 that took scholarships away from academic non-qualifiers.  Thompson also went toe-to-toe with a D.C. area drug dealer to stay away from his players.  Big John provided a lifeline for many underprivileged young men…all while winning six Big East Tournament titles and a National Championship.  He’s still around the program to this day…sitting on the baseline near the home bench at Verizon Center.  And even seated, John Thompson, Jr. will always cast a shadow.

The transfer from the elder Thompson to longtime assistant (and former player) Craig Esherick in the late 1990’s was less than smooth.  One trip to the NCAA’s in his five full seasons…and no Big East finals appearances.  When John Thompson III came over from Princeton (with two NCAA appearances and an NIT berth) to succeed the fired Esherick in 2004, it felt natural to move from one heir apparent to the namesake.  And for a while it was amazing.  DePaul never got to the Final Four under Joey Meyer…and Sean Sutton was quickly disposed of at Oklahoma State.  Pat Knight?  A sub-500 record at Texas Tech.  JT3 won (albeit with Esherick recruits) and did so by staying true to his Princeton offense roots.  People recall the first round flameouts and recent winters of discontent, but I’m going to remember the John Wallace-Jeff Green-Roy Hibbert team that upset Ohio State in the 2006 Sweet Sixteen, advanced to the Final four in 2007 and ran into a hot-shooting Steph Curry and Davidson the following March.  Little did we know that would be the peak of the JT3’s thirteen-year tenure.

I always dreaded “Parent Observation Day” in elementary and middle school.  Tough to be “cool-at-school-Dave” when your parents are sitting in the back row.  And that was for two hours once a year.  John Thompson III has enjoyed the wisdom and guidance of his Hall of Fame father, but has also had his dad in the classroom with him for most of the last thirteen years.  Big John is not shy when sitting in the back row at press conferences, from calling out referees for sloppy efficiency or kissing former conference rival Syracuse goodbye after a 61-39 thumping at Verizon Center.  He’s also protective of his son, having sent someone to pipe down students chanting “Fire Thompson!” at a recent game. One can imagine despite however beneficial-how uncomfortable it was for JT3 trying to become a successful coach in his own right under a legend he couldn’t hope to match let alone eclipse.

Off the air with WTOP’s digital sports editor Noah Frank this week I mentioned how “it’s always easier to perform the autopsy than the diagnosis”.  There will be post-mortems on Thompson-the-Younger’s success and failures.  And reasons why recruiting wasn’t as successful the last few years.  There will be discussions about how the Hoyas play in a half-full NBA arena instead of a Cameron 2.0.  There will be short lists of who’s next, from Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley (not to be confused with brother Bobby) to current Charlotte associate coach Patrick Ewing (if you’ve read this far, you might have heard of him).  There will be a search led by Athletic Director Lee Reed and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  But until one hears what John Thompson, Jr. has to say, the final word has yet to be spoken.

 

Regional Roundup- Thursday gave us three nailbiters and a blowout…not bad for the second weekend when your viewing options are fewer than the first two rounds.  And even the Kansas-Purdue game was competitive for 24 minutes…at least until the Jayhawks turned a 53-51 game upside-down by going on a 45-15 closing run.  They’ll meet an Oregon team that held Michigan scoreless for the final 2:04 as the Wolverines’ season ends with just three shots (all misses) in the last two minutes of their season.  Finishing droughts wasn’t the exception, as West Virginia didn’t score for the final 1:48 and miss 5 shots plus 2 free throws in that span in their loss to Gonzaga.  Arizona?  Nothing to show for the final 2:40 as Wildcats coach Sean Miller won’t have the chance to experience heartbreak in the Elite Eight this year.  The Musketeers move on to their first Regional Final since 2008–when Sean Miller was their coach.

Tonight’s Games- in Memphis it’s the bluebloods plus a team that wears blue.  Butler meets North Carolina in the early tipoff (try to tell the Tar Heels they’re the warmup act) while UCLA meets Kentucky (19 NCAA titles combined) in the nightcap.  Madison Square Garden is still recovering from losing both the Big East and ACC Tournament winners last weekend:  minus Villanova and Duke, the South Carolina-Baylor and Wisconsin-Florida matchups have a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl feel about them.