Fire

Strasburg gets the win - and hits a HR

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Strasburg gets the win - and hits a HR

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg took a swing and looked in amazement as the baseball carried over the left-field wall. If Strasburg's first major league homer came as a surprise, his performance on the mound did not. With Strasburg leading the way, the Washington Nationals beat the Baltimore Orioles 9-3 Sunday to avert a three-game sweep. In addition to his 2-for-2 performance at the plate, Strasburg (4-1) struck out eight in five innings before being lifted by manager Davey Johnson, who said the pitcher mentioned tightness in his biceps. "I don't care who it was, if I find out they have tightness, they're out," Johnson said. "I talked to him later in the game. He said it relaxed a bit and was a lot better. I'm not as concerned when it's in the biceps." Strasburg attributed the soreness in part to working too hard in the days following his previous start. "The biceps is fine," he said. "It's just throwing a lot of pitches early, then we put up a lot of runs and stuff. I just got a little tired, got a little tight, but that's nothing different than any other outing." Strasburg sent an 0-2 pitch from Wei-Yin Chen into the Baltimore bullpen in the fourth inning to put the Nationals ahead 5-3. After dusting off his home run trot and returning to the dugout, he responded to a curtain call by waving to the crowd of 41,918. "Shocking, that's for sure," Strasburg said of his clout. "I feel like in (batting practice) I have to swing a lot harder to hit it out. I just somehow ran into one." He was almost embarrassed about his trip around the bases and subsequent climb up the dugout steps. "I'm not big for going out there and showboating," Strasburg said. "It was great, but I know my place. I'm not a real hitter out there so I'm not going to go out there and act like I do it all the time." The hard-throwing Strasburg had five hits in 40 big league at-bats before Sunday. He singled and scored in the third inning, then followed a shot by Jesus Flores with one of his own in the fourth. "I didn't expect Stras to hit a breaking ball," Johnson said. "He doesn't usually see breaking balls. (Third base coach) Bo Porter came in after and said we found a left fielder." Known more for his pitching than his hitting, Strasburg excelled at both. The right-hander allowed three runs, one earned, four hits and a walk in his first career appearance against Baltimore. He retired the last 10 batters he faced. Since returning from elbow ligament replacement surgery last September, Strasburg is 5-2 with a 1.99 ERA in 14 starts. Danny Espinosa also homered, and Bryce Harper drove in two runs and scored three for the Nationals. Chen (4-1) yielded six runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings and absorbed his first major league loss. The Taiwan native was vying to become the first Baltimore starter to begin his Orioles career with five straight wins since Jimmy Key in 1997. "This is baseball. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day," Chen said through a translator. "Definitely, I had a terrible start today." The loss ended Baltimore's five-game winning streak and nine-game road run. The Orioles scored the game's first three runs but got only two hits after the second inning -- both in the ninth. "If you came in today thinking you'd get their starting pitcher out of the game after five innings, you'd like your chances," manager Buck Showalter said Baltimore went up 1-0 in the first when Xavier Avery walked, advanced on a fly ball and scored on a single by Nick Markakis. The Orioles added a pair of unearned runs in the second after Harper drifted from center to left field to chase down a wind-blown fly ball, then dropped it. Robert Andino drove in a run with a groundout and Avery added an RBI single before Strasburg struck out J.J. Hardy with two outs and runners on second and third. Harper made amends in a three-run third. Strasburg singled, Espinosa doubled and Harper hit a liner to right that a diving Markakis gloved but lost when he hit the ground. The triple scored two runs, and Harper scored on a groundout by Ian Desmond. Flores gave Washington a 4-3 lead with his first homer since Aug. 18, and that only served as a prelude to Strasburg's drive. Desmond chased Chen with an RBI single in the fifth, and Espinosa homered with a runner on during a three-run eighth. NOTES: Orioles C Matt Wieters, who had the day off after a night game, will have to wait until Monday to try to snap an 0-fror-18 slump. ... Tommy Hunter (2-2) takes the mound for Baltimore on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series against visiting Boston. ... Gio Gonzalez vies for his sixth win when the Nationals open a nine-game road trip Monday in Philadelphia. ... Avery got his first major league stolen base.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16