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Mariners happy with their offseason additions

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Mariners happy with their offseason additions

SEATTLE (AP) Finding a way to boost the worst offense in baseball was the offseason goal for the Seattle Mariners.

Based on what management had to say Wednesday at the team's annual pre-spring training luncheon, the Mariners think that goal was accomplished with the additions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. They also hope Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez still have some pop left in their bats.

The additional benefit is that Seattle added some veterans who manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik believe will bring more help to the clubhouse than previous veterans provided for a team trying to build around a young core group.

Last season, many of those young players were put in positions they weren't ready for and the Mariners finished last in the AL West for the third straight year. Wedge thinks it will be different this season thanks to the veteran influx.

``It wasn't really fair to them because with where they were and are in their careers they weren't able to be protected, they weren't in the best possible position to succeed,'' Wedge said. ``But I'm more of an optimist. Because they had to sink or swim on their own they're going to be tougher for it. Because they had to lean on each other and didn't really have that veteran presence in the clubhouse to lean on and help them through it, they're going to be stronger and they're going to be the type of player, both tangible and intangible, that much quicker.

``Even though it was painful at times, for them first and foremost, they didn't give into the fight. They didn't complain about it. If you look at the veterans we had in the clubhouse last year versus the veterans we have in the clubhouse this year, it's night and day.''

Wedge didn't mention the veterans he felt were lacking last season by name, but it's noticeable that the Mariners traded Ichiro Suzuki last July, cut ties with infielder Chone Figgins and decided to let catcher Miguel Olivo walk in free agency. Those moves allowed Seattle the flexibility to make the additions it did in the offseason, although the Mariners failed in their attempt to land free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton.

Instead, the Mariners went the trade route by sending pitcher Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels to bring in Morales, and shipping catcher John Jaso to Oakland as part of a three-team deal that brought Morse back to Seattle.

Combined with the signings of Ibanez and Bay, the moves give Seattle a veteran presence that takes some of the strain off youngsters Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak.

``We had to go through that to get these kids experience,'' Zduriencik said. ``But just the fact you got a young kid sitting in the on-deck circle, someone like Raul Ibanez gets up and puts his arm around the kid and says, `I've been in this situation before.' That's a whole lot different than coming from a hitting coach or a manager.''

When the Mariners arrive at spring training next month, they will be a healthy group. Only two players underwent offseason surgery and both Ackley (ankle) and shortstop Brendan Ryan (elbow) have been cleared for all activity.

But there are still areas for Seattle to address between now and the time pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12. The rotation took a hit when Vargas was sent to the Angels, leaving the Mariners without a true No. 2 starter behind ace Felix Hernandez. The Mariners brought back right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and have Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramriez as other likely rotation options, but both Wedge and Zdruiencik expressed a desire to add one more arm.

Seattle has among the best pitching depth of any team in baseball in the farm system, but the most prized of those prospects - Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Brandon Maurer - are all likely to start the season in the minors short of spring training performances that make it impossible for them not to be on the opening-day roster.

The Mariners also need depth at catcher. Montero is the only one on the 40-man roster after the trade of Jaso. Wedge said he thinks Montero has the skills to handle being an everyday catcher, but there needs to be depth behind the plate.

``I don't have any doubt in my mind he can handle it from a talent perspective, that he can handle the role fundamentally,'' Wedge said. ``But being so young and inexperienced, the mental grind - we ask a great deal out of our catchers here - and then the physical grind that goes with it, that is pretty real. But he knows he's coming here to catch.''

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Need to Know: Alex Smith will need to be a fast learner for the Redskins to be successful

Need to Know: Alex Smith will need to be a fast learner for the Redskins to be successful

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, April 24, two days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Smith will need support for the Redskins to be successful early

There are high expectations for new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. He needs to replace Kirk Cousins, who was one of the league’s most productive passers over the past three years. Smith, of course, has been a solid performer himself. Since 2015, the first year that both were starters, Cousins has passed for more yard but primarily because he attempted 225 more passes. Their adjusted yards per attempt and passer ratings over that time are nearly identical. 

Smith will be expected to be at peak production right out of the box. With 151 starts in 12 NFL seasons, he knows what is expected of him as the leader of the offense. 

However, he may have another issue, one we’ve seen from him before. He was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs following the 2012 season. Smith got off to a rocky start in Andy Reid’s offense. In the first seven games, Smith threw seven touchdowns and four interceptions, posting 6.1 adjusted yards per attempt and a passer rating of 79.2. 

After that, he got rolling. In the final nine games, he threw 16 TD’s and three interceptions and improved his adjusted yard per attempt to 7.5 and his passer rating to 98.7.

Will it take him that long to pick up the Redskins offense? 

It needs to be noted that the Chiefs went 7-0 during the Smith’s bad start. They were able to support him with a running game that went over 100 yards every week (121 per game average) and a defense that didn’t allow over 17 points in any game and let up single-digit point totals in three of them. 

Looking at the history of the last three years, the Redskins would have more trouble winning if their quarterback was struggling as much as Smith was in his early Chiefs days. In fact, during Cousins’ three years as the starter, the Redskins went 2-17 in games where he posted a passer rating of 90 or lower. 

In his five seasons with the Chiefs, the team went 17-17 when Smith posted a passer rating of lower than 90. While that may say something about the relative abilities of the two quarterbacks to scuffle to a win when things aren’t going as well as planned, it says much more about the teams surrounding Smith and Cousins. 

Unless the Redskins’ defense and running game improve significantly—and that’s certainly possible—they won’t be able to prosper in wins column if Smith needs an extended adjustment period to get comfortable in Jay Gruden’s offense. 

He has a chance of doing so, based on the 2017 performances of the pass defenses he and the Redskins face in the first half of the season. In terms of pass defense DVOA, the Redskins face only on that ranked in the top 10, the No. 5 Saints. Also above average were the Panthers (10th) and the Cardinals (11th). Five of the opponents were in the lower half including the Cowboys (18th), Falcons (19th), Giants (20th), Packers (26th), and Colts (32nd). 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Sent out as the Caps were holding on to a fourth-quarter lead over Columbus.

Timeline  

Today’s schedule: Pre-draft press conference with Doug Williams at Redskins Park, noon.

Days until:

—Rookie minicamp (5/11) 17
—OTAs start (5/22) 28
—Training camp starts (7/26) 93

The Redskins last played a game 114 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 138 days. 

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