It’s hot in DC. For those unfamiliar, Washington has a different calendar.  Instead of May it’s called “Monsoon”.  And instead of June it’s “Heatbomb”.  Unfortunately as it’s gotten hot in Washington the Nationals’ bats have cooled off.  The team ranks 26th in MLB in batting average and runs scored this month.  In a game of inches a team’s fortunes can turn on a dime…and since June began the 5-8 Nats resemble their April counterparts more than their May selves.  And with a rotation minus Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson for the time being, the Nats can ill afford getting shut out on consecutive Max Scherzer starts.  Meanwhile, Atlanta and Philadelphia are turning on the heat. 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta leads by three and a half games….and 70 games into the season it’s obvious the Braves are no fluke with the fifth best run differential in the majors.  Philadelphia moved within four games of the lead by taking two of three from NL Central-leading Milwaukee;  their next four series come against winning ballclubs.  While the New York Mets ended their free-fall by splitting a series with Arizona they’re well on the road to non-contention.  Miami?  Five wins in seven games have the Marlins all of a sudden in contention for fourth place.  Will Derek Jeter hang a celebratory banner?

O’s Woes- the Birds avoided a double-digit losing streak by beating Miami 10-4 Sunday.  The Father’s Day victory was kind of fitting because the O’s last home win came on Mother’s Day (for further reference “Grandparents Day” is September 9th-and the Orioles are on the road that day).  The 20-50 start is one game better than the 1988 Gold Standard- and now Buck Showalter’s team needs to play .467 ball (43-49) the rest of the way to avoid a triple-digit loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor hit .600 while Adam Eaton in his first full week off of the Disabled List batted .333.  Rookie Juan Soto simply led the team in runs scored and RBI.  Max Scherzer struck out ten over six innings while Sean Doolittle notched a save.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Eric Fedde each posted ERA’s over six. Daniel Murphy’s return from the DL was not as smooth as he hit 2-for-20.  Bryce Harper went 1-for-16. Is Ryan Zimmerman coming back soon?

Game to Watch- Thursday Max Scherzer starts the series finale with the Orioles at Nats Park. Unlike the last few years, there is no “potential World Series preview” chatter about this week’s interleague showdown. Max has been stung by two soft offensive outings in a row.  One thinks he’ll leave little to chance this week.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats face Philadelphia at 4:05, meaning the bulk of your day will be spent at the ballpark on what will probably be a day best enjoyed in the pool or on the Georgetown Waterfront.  Even without the happy hour pricing on weekends, the raw oysters are money (try the fried clam basket).  You’ll thank me later…

Advertisements

The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions.  It’s been well over a week and the contact high from that sentence still holds.  The Caps are NHL champs for the first time in franchise history…and the DC metro area has its first major pro sports titlist (sorry, DC United and Washington Kastles) since 1992 when the Redskins ruled the roost.  What a journey and what a destination.

Alex Ovechkin can rest knowing he won’t have an asterisk on his career;  the Stanley Cup winning captain leaves the land of Marcel Dionnes and Gilbert Perraults behind.  Unlike a Ray Bourque, Ovechkin didn’t have to benefit from a late-career trade to piggyback another team’s Cup run.  The face of the franchise is a champion without spending another minute in another club’s home dressing room.  Ovechkin got to enjoy the Cup with his long-time teammate Nicklas Backstrom and now can become a rare cradle-to-grave title-winning Washington sports icon.

Barry Trotz can enjoy the professional achievement of winning a Cup after never having coached a game past the second round before this spring.  He can enjoy reaching the peak of his profession and the validation that the system he built in DC was title-worthy after all.  Trotz will also enter the summer knowing that just about every one of his moves (sitting Holtby after a disastrous February, moving Ovechkin and Backstrom to different lines, maximizing Wilson and Eller) this winter paid off in the long run.  He can also appreciate the fact that his contract with the team expired, and he’s going to be paid in DC or elsewhere at a rate commensurate with having led a franchise to their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Brian MacLellan’s Stanley Cup ring won as a player with Calgary finally has a buddy.  The General Manager made multiple moves to pump up a roster that was high on upside but didn’t have a ton of depth and was a disaster on the blue line when he took over.  The midseason trade for Michal Kempny was everything the move for Kevin Shattenkirk last year wasn’t–and worked for precisely that reason.  Seemingly minor pickups like Devante Smith-Pelly became major in the postseason.  Yes, decisions need to be made regarding John Carlson’s expiring deal and next year’s roster will look different–but for at least one day MacLellan can rest easy knowing he’s achieved what he set out to accomplish.  Even if it was year three of the “two year window”.

As for the team, from TJ Oshie to Nathan Walker, from Dmitri Orlov to Christian Djoos, they’re champs.  Pure and simple.  Unlike if the Redskins or Wizards won it all, there’s no precedent.  There are even those who if the Nats win the World Series will cite the 1924 Senators or how the Orioles were the region’s team for three decades.  But this is the first ever title for a franchise that entered the league under sorry circumstances (8-67-5 the byproduct of the slimmest expansion pickings ever)…only to be locked into the toughest division in an era when that was the only path to a title.  Gone are nightmares of Easter Morning.  Gone is the disappointment of coming up short to the Penguins.  This Stanley Cup was also for the Peter Bondras and Mike Gartners and Yvon Labres…players who skated against the windmills of the Patrick Division.  This Cup belongs to the fans who made the trek to the Cap Centre and suffered through the teal eagle sweaters when the team finally moved to DC.  This title belongs to an area that not only was without a champ in a major pro sport since 1992, but had also not played for a title in 20 years (actually it had been 20 years since a DC major pro team had played for the right to play for a championship).

Before the Philadelphia Flyers played Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final in 1974, coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room blackboard:  “Win today and we walk together forever.”  They went out and beat Boston to capture the franchise’s first of two Stanley Cups.  The Washington Capitals’ road has been long and winding with more than a few fits and starts, but for one brief shining moment they are the best team in hockey.  And for the rest of time this team will walk-and skate-together forever.

 

 

Yes, the Nationals are in the midst of the early middle part of their season (not to be confused with the middle early part of their year).  But this week, month, season and year have been swiped away by the Washington Capitals and their first ever NHL championship.  Last Thursday, the Caps captured the Stanley Cup by rallying on the road at Vegas.  And downtown Washington, DC came alive in an incredible melting pot of fans from all over the metropolitan area.  So while the Nats make their charge towards a potential fifth postseason in seven years, let’s marvel at the force of nature that was the Caps since April 12.  And sit back as these guys celebrate.  A championship in the major professional sports (sorry Kastles and United) hasn’t happened in DC since 1992, when the Redskins were the only local pro team to actually play its games in the District.  Amazing how things change as the ‘Skins are the ones who are now outside city limits.  And this is the FIRST in franchise history.  Before Philadelphia won the 1974 Stanley Cup, Flyers coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room chalkboard: “Win today and we walk together forever.”  Whatever happens this summer with player exits or next season as the Caps mount a title defense, this team will walk together forever.  So let’s celebrate was one magical spring.  Rock the Red…

Max Factor- according to ESPN.COM, the next home start for Max Scherzer falls on Thursday, June 21 against the Orioles. Plan accordingly.

You Can’t Spell Revolving Door with out “DL”- the Nats could be getting help at the plate with Daniel Murphy potentially returning this week as the DH at the New York Yankees.  Adam Eaton returned to the field Saturday and scored a pair of runs while batting 1-for-4.  But the DL taketh just as it giveth away, as Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler join the wounded.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats and Atlanta are tied after the Braves dropped four of six on their west coast swing.  Just like the Mets plateaued and then cratered could we be seeing Atlanta ebb a little?  It’s unlikely as the Braves’ next 14 games are coming against clubs with losing records.  Philadelphia has lost seven of nine to slide three games off the pace…and 15 of their next 18 games are against foes with winning marks.  The Mets and Marlins are a combined 4-13 this month to bring up the rear.

O’s Woes- pick your poison in the sweep at Toronto. Would you rather lose in extra innings on a bases loaded walk after stranding 13 on base like the Birds did Saturday?  Or get the drama out of the way early in a 13-3 loss Sunday when Alex Cobb coughed up nine runs and left in the fourth inning?  The O’s are a big league worst 19-45…and need to go 44-54 (.449 winning percentage for a team that’s winning 29.7% of the time so far this year) to avoid the dreaded 100-loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon celebrated his birthday in style Wednesday by going 4-5 with 3 RBI.  Juan Soto continues to mandate playing time by going .333 with five runs scored.  Max Scherzer went 1-1 while striking out 22 and walking three.  Tanner Roark tossed a solid outing. Sean Doolittle notched two saves in two opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler both land on the disabled list after short outings.  Pedro Severino went 0-for-12 at the plate.  Bryce Harper hit .190 with one walk and 7 strikeouts.  Trea Turner hit 4 for 21 with the bulk of his at-bats near or at the top of the order.

Game to Watch- We didn’t get any resolution in last month’s DC series with the New York Yankees, so here’s hoping there aren’t any rainouts this week.  Tuesday Tanner Roark is coming off of a solid outing and is actually better on the road (3.29 ERA) than at home (3.86) this year.  Ageless C.C. Sabathia might not be on pace to equal last year’s 14 wins, but has an ERA lower than any he’s finished with since 2012.

Game to Miss- Sunday Roark pitches in Toronto as the Nats wrap up their roadtrip.  But golf’s US Open takes center stage.  Sorry, Tanner.

These are special times in Washington, D.C.  And I’m not just talking about the Capitals’ quest for their first Stanley Cup.  Max Scherzer was named NL Pitcher of the Month and has been even better this year than he was the previous two–you know, the years he won Cy Young Awards.  Scherzer is currently 9-1 (most wins the majors) with 120 strikeouts (best in the big leagues) and an ERA of 1.92 (second lowest among qualified starters in MLB).  But he’s also hitting .310 with 4 RBI in 29 AB (prorates to 80 over a 580 AB season which is norm for a regular everyday player).  And Saturday Scherzer delivered a key pinch hit in extra innings and scored the go-ahead run from first on a Wilmer Difo triple.  If you live in the DC metro area, I don’t care what you do with your life.  But if you don’t look ahead at the schedule and buy tickets to see every one of Max’s home starts for the rest of this year, you are missing out in a major way.

Dissecting the Division- after entering the four game series with Atlanta atop the NL East for the first time since early April, the Nats dropped three of four to slide a game and a half behind the Braves.  It didn’t help that Jeremy Hellickson had to leave Sunday’s series finale early with an injury…and it didn’t help that they scored just nine runs over those four games.  Atlanta currently owns the third best batting average in the majors while ranking fourth in runs scored.  And it’s only getting warmer.  Philadelphia lost five of seven on a west coast swing and slips three games off of the Braves’ pace.  The Mets?  Swept at home by the Cubs and now three games under .500.  Only Miami (six straight losses and 19 games under .500) is colder this early June.

O’s Woes- the Birds’ final game with the New York Yankees was rained out Sunday…in a season that is a major washout. The 17-41 mark has the team on a pace to win 47-48 games, and they need to dig in and play .442 ball to avoid a 100-loss season.  Is it too early to start looking at “tragic numbers” to figure out when the Orioles are officially eliminated?

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer had only one start but struck out 12 Orioles in the series finale.  We already mentioned his plate prowess and demon on the basepaths mentality scoring the game-winning run in their only win at Atlanta.  Sean Doolittle notched three saves in three opportunities.  Juan Soto hit .360, giving everyone the impression that #22 is not going back to the minors anytime soon.

Last Week’s Humbled- the catching position of Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom went a combined 4-for-26 at the plate…while the understudy duo of Mark Reynolds and Matt Adams came back to earth by batting a combined 5-for-41.  Get healthy, Ryan and Daniel.  Tanner Roark went 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA…an odd hiccup for the usually solid righthander (in three full years as a starter he averages 15 wins with a 3.40 ERA).

Game to Watch- HAVE YOU BEEN READING ANY OF THE PREVIOUS PARAGRAPHS?  Max Scherzer pitches against Tampa Bay Tuesday in DC.  It’s an off night for the NHL and NBA and The Americans won’t torment us with the red herring that is Renee now that their finale is in our rear view mirror.  Who’s ready to see Max pitch, hit and run?

Game to Miss- Sunday the Nats host San Francisco at 4:05.  There is a very good chance the Capitals will be playing up the street in either a season-salvaging Game Six or a Stanley Cup-clinching Game Six.  Either way, the Caps own the day.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

How well do we really know each other?  How many of our secrets to we share with those who we consider close friends, neighbors and co-workers?  How much of each of us is an iceberg to others–and what steps do we take to make sure the 90% stays underwater?

It’s easy to be all-in on FX’s “The Americans”.  The spy show takes place in Washington, D.C. during the Reagan administration and unlike the movie “No Way Out” did not have anyone boarding the Metro in Georgetown.  There was plenty of violence and sex…with plenty of 80’s cultural references in the mix (David Copperfield really DID make the Statue of Liberty disappear!).  Over six seasons the show was equal parts up-tempo and slow-burn…led by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (two actors that wound up getting married during the series run) as a pair of travel agents who might just be working for the KGB (okay, SPOILER ALERT, they are).  The seemingly normal couple with two kids and a nice house in Falls Church (I swear a buddy of mine used to mow lawns in that neighborhood) were doing their darnedest to undermine the good old United States of America.  And this was no “Boris & Natasha”–they were chillingly effective at what they did (the suitcase from season three).  But the show became just as much about an evolving marriage as it was about the two spies in it.

Deception lurked around every corner for six strong seasons– from the semi-convincing wigs to having a teenage daughter swipe pages of her minister’s diary.  In the midst of all of the deception, targets (poor Martha) and multiple handlers (Frank Langella as Gabriel remains my favorite), the characters of Philip and Elizabeth (or Mischa and Nadezhda in their home country) went from spies pretending to be married to a married couple pretending to not be spies.  A parent always wants a better world for their children, and after they brought Paige into their world of spycraft one saw both parents push back from condemning their daughter to their world of deception.  Elizabeth wanted a safe job as a State Department mole while Philip wanted Paige to be completely out of the family business (I know what you’re thinking as we head to the finale:  poor Henry Jennings was going to be captain of his prep school hockey team as a senior–as they say in the mother country, Не больше).

And as fate would have it (aren’t TV coincidences crazy?!?), “The Americans” added the wrinkle of having an FBI Agent move next door.  Unlike most sit-coms where the wacky neighbor provides welcome comic relief, Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman was akin to having missiles in Cuba (or Turkey, depending on whose perspective you prefer)-danger on the doorstep.  Naturally, Stan and Philip became best friends.  And while we saw Philip evolve in his marriage and work we saw Stan’s marriage crumble (due to deception) and work go sideways to a point where he left counter-intelligence.  But in the final episodes, he can’t stop thinking that the Jennings might not be all what they seem.  And what has made the show work is you want to root for Stan and his FBI co-workers to win (it doesn’t hurt that Emmerich played assistant coach Craig Patrick in the movie “Miracle”)…while still be caught up in rooting for Philip and Elizabeth in some way (but not too much).

What also helped “The Americans” maintain a high standard was the devotion to the process of spying:  more than simply car chases and gadgets, the nuts and bolts of espionage was handled deftly from day one.  Philip, Elizabeth, Stan and everyone in the spy game were dogged grinders with not every play paying off.  The show also boasted quite an assembly-line of quality actors in minor roles and bit-parts, from Costa Ronin’s Oleg to Dylan Baker’s turn as a bio-chemist in Season 4.  The show was rich in characters, capers and possibilities.  The biggest one facing fans now is whether Stan’s new wife Renee is KGB, CIA or simply a red herring? In the true spirit of the show, I have a feeling we will never know.

The final run of episodes take place in 1987, during the INF Treaty talks.  Elizabeth has turned against her handler who is trying to overthrow Gorbachev and ruin the summit. Philip is on the run after being spotted with a Russian Orthodox Priest in DC (which amazingly looks like Brooklyn).  Stan is getting closer.  And everybody’s favorite machine, the Mail Robot, continues to hum efficiently.

Hey- it’s finally good to get some games in after the Nationals played just three the week before thanks to the schedule and rainouts.  It’s also nice for the Nats to play well–and they won five of six to inch closer to the top of the NL East standings (pesky Atlanta continues to win–what gives?).  On Memorial Day the Nats may be in third place but are only one game behind the Braves.  Buckle up for a scintillating summer.

Dissecting the Division- the Braves (30-21) lost consecutive series to Philadelphia and Boston, but looking closer one sees they’ve played very well against the NL East (20-11).  The Phillies are a half game off the lead and one half game better than the Nats–thanks in part to their 8-4 mark in one-run games and 4-1 record in extra-inning affairs.  The Mets are 8-15 this month and are treading water at the .500 mark.  The Marlins are an embarassment and Derek Jeter should be ashamed of himself.

Wildcard Worries- the Nats may currently hold the second wildcard spot, but there is a lot more competition in the NL amongst non-division winners.  Seven clubs at .500 or better competing for two spots…as opposed to just four in the AL.  We’re only a third of the way through the season, but still…

O’s Woes- after splitting a four-game set with the Chicago White Sox, the Birds dropped two of three to Tampa Bay.  They’re on a pace to lose 110 games and we’re still a month away from wondering on a daily basis if Manny Machado and Adam Jones will get moved for prospects.  Manager Buck Showalter is also wearing a Capitals jersey and “rocking the Red”.  Hey–Buck…the team in the Stanley Cup Final, while appreciative, might not need the mojo of a team with a .321 winning percentage.  Watch them take two of three from the Nats this week.

Last Week’s Heroes- Mark Reynolds hit .500 with three home runs.  Anthony Rendon batted .385.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and two saves in relief.  But the week belonged to 19-year old prime prospect Juan Soto, who homered in his Major League Debut on Monday before drawing three walks on Tuesday (his ninth inning leadoff BB led to the game-winning run).  It’s just one week, but wow.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer had a rare rough outing, allowing four runs over six innings.  Baseball Karma gave him the win, though, perhaps to make up for the no-decision he was tagged with in his previous start when he struck out 13.  Scherzer is now 8-1 with an ERA of 2.13 and an NL-best 108 strikeouts.  How is this humbling? “You use that word–perhaps it does not mean what you think it does…”

Game to Watch- the Nationals visit Atlanta this upcoming weekend for four games in a series that could be seismic to the standings.  Friday Stephen Strasburg (6-4, 3.13 ERA) pitches against Mark Foltynewicz (4-3, 2.55).  Bring it on…

Game to Miss- Apologies to Max Scherzer. Because I know he’s going to do something awesome in the series finale against the Orioles.  But the Capitals are playing Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Vegas…and “The Americans” wraps up its six-year journey of bad wigs, dead drops gone wrong and 80’s fashion.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM

 

It takes a special team to win a National Championship in Men’s College Lacrosse.  Just ask Maryland.  The Terps advanced to 19 Final Fours in between its 1975 and 2017 only to be thwarted one way or another by the Syracuses and Johns Hopkins of the world.  Last year’s title squad won three of its four tournament games by three goals or fewer.  Come May the little things become big and the big things become huge.  It takes a special group to win four games over three weekends.

The Terrapins head to Foxborough, Massachusetts for the Final Four on the strength of the best Special Teams combination in Division I:  Maryland ranks 2nd in Man-Up Offense (lacrosse’s equivalent of hockey’s power play) and 5th on Man-Down Defense (the lax version of the penalty kill).  Of the other three schools playing this weekend, only Duke has a specialty unit ranking in the top ten (6th on Man-Up Offense).  Coach John Tillman said, “We devote a lot of time to special teams–we feel like it’s a big part of any game. I do think it could be a big part this weekend.”

In charge of the two units are the Terrapin assistant coaches.  J.L. Reppert primarily works with the offense and has made the Man-Up Unit into a force that scores on 58% of its opportunities.  Coach Tillman said, “On the offensive end we have typically six really skilled kids out there– that group has great chemistry.  Coach Reppert’s done an awesome job putting the pieces together.”  Reppert’s grown into his role with the senior class.  Senior Midfielder Connor Kelly said, “I think we just have a group that’s really smart with and without the ball. With coach Reppert being in his fourth year he’s helped us out in preparation…and we’ve been thrown at us a bunch of different looks (by opponents).”

Sophomore attacker Jared Bernhardt leads the team with seven Man-Up goals, but Kelly (45 goals overall this year) receives a huge portion of the defense’s attention–much to the delight of the coaching staff. “When they take Connor away it takes the whole situation from a 6-on-5 to a 5-on-4,” Tillman said,”Connor’s presence is huge for that–and then it’s just having guys zip the ball around and have good spacing.and those guys are so unselfish.”  After losing championship games as a freshman and sophomore before last May’s title, the captain is more than happy to share the offensive wealth if results in a repeat of 2017.  Kelly said, “If we just keep moving it…any guy on that man-up unit is able to put the ball in the back of the net.”

Directing the Man-Down Defense that denies foes on 78% of opportunities is 2013 graduate Jesse Bernhardt.  The 2012 ACC Co-Defensive Player of the Year returned to College Park last summer after successful stints at Rutgers and Princeton, and has made an instant impact at his Alma Mater.  Senior goalie Dan Morris said, “He puts in a great scheme for us and gets us ready for every game.  We have guys who have good sticks who are really good on man-down.  Our unit’s a pretty close group and they do what they do well.”  Senior co-captain Bryce Young along with junior Curtis Corley anchor a Man-Down crew that is as stingy as the Man-Up is efficient.

How many times both units will be tested this weekend is anyone’s guess.  In two tournament games thus far the Terps have committed four penalties while being in the Man-Up just once (freshman phenom Bubba Fairman scored against Cornell).  Will we see the refs swallow their whistles in Foxborough?  “Historically the later you go the more they let you play, which i think most coaches would like,” coach Tillman said, “I think you’re talking about four teams that have gotten there for a reason and you’re getting the best officials.  My gut is it will be a more physical weekend.”  The Terps face former ACC foe Duke at 2:30 p.m on Saturday.

 

The other semifinal pits #2 Albany (16-2) against #3 Yale (15-3) at noon Saturday.  The Great Danes lead the nation in scoring and winning faceoffs while the Bulldogs rank fourth in goals per game.  Albany’s Achilles has been a man-down unit that is the most generous of teams playing this weekend (52nd in Division I).