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.

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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.

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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).

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The Maryland Women’s Lacrosse team is in the Final Four–again.  Ten straight appearances in the national semifinals means that, bear with me here, that not only has every senior been on four straight Final Four teams- no senior has played with anyone who played with anyone at Maryland who was on a Terps team that didn’t make the Final Four.  No easy task.  Just like winning a second straight national title this weekend will be no easy task as they battle Boston College at 7:30 Friday in the Semifinals-one year after beating the Eagles in the National Championship Game.

The seeds to this year’s senior class were planted over ten years ago.  Senior attacker Megan Whittle says, “The coolest thing about my class–there’s seven of us now–is that we’re all from Maryland and four of us played on the same club team together.  Since we were eight or nine.” The addition of transfer Kathy Rudkin from Syracuse bolstered a defense that lost plenty of talent to graduation-and gives the Terps eight seniors who contribute on and off the field.  “I’m just fortunate and blessed to have a team full of amazing women,” coach Cathy Reese says, “they’re all just terrific people and that’s what it’s all about.  From Megan Whittle who leads the team with 83 goals to Emma Moss who saw action in just four games this year, Reese’s senior class and team is more than a collection of talent but a group of teammates.  “What Cathy’s been able to do is bring 37 girls together, get everybody on the same page and focused towards the same goal. And have everyone love every moment of it,” Whittle says, “And that is something that is very hard to do–especially with 37 girls of college age.”

This year’s senior class leaves College Park with a 47-0 home record…setting the standard while also laying the groundwork for the 2019 and 2020 teams. “They mean the world (to me)”, says junior goalie Megan Taylor, “I’ve actually been playing with Megan Whittle since Rec (league)–and Taylor Hensh I grew up playing COBRA (travel lacrosse) with. Just being able to watch them grow and watch them become the leaders that they are, it’s really something special.”  But the mood around campus is not one of celebration this week–it’s one of focus.  “This senior class has had such an impressive ride and accomplishment, but it’s important that we don’t take anything for granted,” coach Cathy Reese says, “it took a lot of work to get here and there’s a lot of work still to be done going into this weekend.”  And that’s exactly where Megan Whittle wanted to be-and she gets to be there one more weekend in her playing career.  “When I was 15 years old and decided to commit to Maryland, that’s what I signed up for,” Whittle said, “And here it is, happening. My senior class had a very successful tradition of winning National Championships and Big Ten Championships–but the coolest part is that is isn’t over yet”.

 

In the other semifinal–

#2 North Carolina (17-3) faces #3 James Madison (20-1) at 5 p.m..  After a slow start the Tar Heels enter Memorial Day weekend on a 12-game winning streak that includes an ACC Championship.  The Dukes boast the fourth best defense in Division I and are led on offense by Kristen Gaudian (74 goals) and Katie Kerrigan (53 assists).  Gaudian and Elena Romesburg each scored 5 goals in the February meeting between the two schools that was won by JMU in overtime.

 

After taking six of seven on a west coast swing, the Nationals began a dream homestand (two games with the Yankees and a series with the Dodgers) with the nightmare of one suspended game, two postponed games and three losses.  The cherry on top?  Wasting 13 strikeouts by Max Scherzer.  And don’t get me started on the injuries.  Instead of making their move on Atlanta and Philadelphia atop the division standings, the Nats are back in fourth place.  At least the weather’s supposed to be nice this week…

Dissecting the Division- the 0-3 week coupled with the Mets sweep of Arizona drops the Nats down one rung.  For first place Atlanta, the future is wow with 21-year old Ozzie Albies belting 13 homers to lead the Braves.  Second place Philadelphia is enjoying a stellar season from Odubel Herrera (batting .344 with 30 RBI).  The Nats bats?  Yet to catch fire after scoring 7 runs while getting swept by the Dodgers.  Max Scherzer is the only player on the active roster who’s appeared in 10+ games batting over .300 at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop to 14-32 after losing three of four in Boston.  The team finished 12 games under .500 last year.  They’re now 18 games under .500 with over 110 games left in this journey to nowhere.  This is no longer a micro- thing.  The O’s have to step back and ask themselves where they see this organization in three to five years.  Nats fans know full well how bad things can get.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick was hitting 2-for-5 when he tore his achilles tendon Saturday.  The loss of Kendrick hurts in the lineup and on the field…as he had seen action at three different positions and five different spots in the batting order.  And now the 34-year old is done for 2018.  Max Scherzer struck out 13 Saturday and even drove in a run (he’s hitting .308 with more RBI than strikeouts this year).

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show three games gives us one super-small sample size.  But Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon each hit .083 and with a patchwork lineup in progress the two key cogs need to deliver.  Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis had less than desirable episodes out of the bullpen.  The rain blew up what could have been a great miniseries with the Pinstripes…and waterlogged a red-hot Nats club.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against San Diego…the lefthander allowed one earned run over six innings earlier this month in a loss to the Padres. But what makes this the one to watch is that 19-year old Juan Soto (.362 with 14 HR in 39 minor league games) makes his first Major League start.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Capitals face a potential Game Seven and The Americans airs its second to last episode.  Due to the rainouts wreaking havoc with the rotation the Nats have yet to name a starter for the 4:05 pm game.  At that time I’m either watching highlights of previous Game Sevens (Pat LaFontaine–ugh) or previous Jennings family capers (how much can you fit into a suitcase?).  I’ll leave the light on after watching both…

 

What a difference a couple of weeks make.  The Nationals have won 13 of 15 to turn from April underachievers to May movers and shakers…highlighted by a four game sweep of Arizona on the road.  Somehow despite missing major pieces in the lineup the Nats are within a stone’s throw of first place in a continuing to deflate NL East.  Credit a starting rotation that is the second stingiest (2.91 ERA) in the big leagues…and just enough offense (7th in MLB this month) to put W’s on the board and keep this club in contention until in theory the big bats on the DL return to the lineup.

More Aches- add Ryan Zimmerman and a hurting oblique to the growing list of lumber in the land of limbo.  Four of the top six bats in the order (Eaton, Rendon, Murphy and now Zim) have been sat down this spring- with Eaton now on the 60-day disabled list and Murphy past the point of “as long as he’s back by May 1st” concern.  In addition, Brian Goodwin’s stay on the DL nears one month means that the team has been forced to go with Plan C…and sometimes D and E in LF.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta’s Monday matinée victory over the Chicago Cubs gave the Braves a game and a half lead in the NL East…as six wins in seven games keeps them ahead of the surging Phillies (four wins in five games) and Nationals.  The Braves’ bats (#1 in the MLB in average) and the Phillies’ rotation (2nd most quality starts in the majors) have those clubs ahead of the Nats (24-18) for the moment.  The Mets remain over .500, but just barely…

Break up the Birds- who are these people?  Back to back series wins for the Orioles have the team no longer saddled with the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is a major monster (.350, 13 HR & 38 RBI) while Jonathan Schoop is off the disabled list.  Unfortunately the nightmare season of Chris Tillman lands the former ace on the disabled list.  The 10.46 ERA this year may not be the largest sample size, but he’s 2-11 since the start of last year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Reynolds homered twice in Sunday’s win over Arizona, while Trea Turner scored 8 runs and Matt Adams drove in 7 runs.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while Max Scherzer struck out 11 and allowed zero walks in his lone start (a victory).  Jeremy Hellickson posted a 0.77 ERA over two starts.  Sean Doolittle saved three games while tossing three scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .148 with 12 strikeouts (and no walks).  The early-season injuries are making life miserable for the training staff.  Hope they can go fishing on their off day this week.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer takes his 7-1 mark to the mound against C.C. Sabathia and the New York Yankees.  The Pinstripes are a big-league best 28-12 with four players already at 10+ home runs.  Max leads the majors in strikeouts and is fourth in ERA.  Even with FBI agent Stan Beeman finally realizing his neighbors are more than just “travel” agents, The Americans takes second place.

Game to Miss- the Washington Capitals are on a collision course with destiny…one that will result in me wearing a red suit for one day when they capture the Stanley Cup.  They took the first two games of their Eastern Conference Final with Tampa Bay on the road (and we won’t mention they did the same thing in the 2003 First Round only to lose in six games)…and host the Lightning Tuesday evening.  I’ll be there for WTOP– and even though the Gio Gonzalez-Masahiro Tanaka duel is compelling, the chance to watch the Caps take a 3-0 lead > regular season baseball in May.