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Strong 2nd half, Headley's season give Padres hope

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Strong 2nd half, Headley's season give Padres hope

SAN DIEGO (AP) A strong second half, fueled by Chase Headley's breakout season, showed that there's promise for the low-budget San Diego Padres.

That hope was strengthened when the Oakland Athletics, who have baseball's lowest player payroll, won the AL West.

General manager Josh Byrnes said the TV in the Padres' clubhouse was tuned to the A's game against Texas on Wednesday.

``Seeing Oakland, if that doesn't sort of get your attention, big market or small, our players were riveted watching that game,'' Byrnes said Thursday. ``I thought it was a great achievement. We want to be that team.''

The Padres, who had the second-lowest payroll, went 42-33 after the All-Star break. While far better than their awful start, it wasn't enough to prevent them from finishing 76-86, their fourth losing record in five seasons. They were fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the San Francisco Giants.

San Diego hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006.

The Padres believe they have most of the pieces in place to contend next year under manager Bud Black. Byrnes said they'll need to add starting pitching, mostly because their rotation was hit with a rash of injuries early in the season that contributed to the team winning only 17 games through May and being 22 games under .500 - 24-46 - on June 20.

``I do think the personality of who we want to be, the mix in there of Buddy, players, coaches, is very good,'' Byrnes said. ``So I think we've taken a big step in kind of the personality we want. To me, from a personnel standpoint, I think our starting pitching needs to get better. Even the winning we did over the last 100, 110 games, wasn't on the backs of our starting pitching. At times, even in September, we kind of ran out of gas. But it's a tough area to address and a lot of our good ones are hurt, so projecting when they return next year, how many innings we can count on are unknowns and will make the planning tricky. But as far as things we're trying to go get in the offseason, the focus will be on starting pitching.''

The Padres had only two pitchers throw more than 100 innings, lefty Clayton Richard with 218 2-3 and Edinson Volquez with 182 2-3. Besides Richard and Volquez, 22 pitchers threw at least 16 innings.

While the pitching was an issue, Headley's season was phenomenal. He won the NL RBI title with 115. Among his other career-bests were 31 homers, 173 hits and 95 runs scored.

The Padres have given several players long-term deals, but Headley isn't among them. Byrnes said the team has discussed a multi-year deal for the third baseman, but the Padres control his rights for two more seasons. At the very least, Headley will certainly cash in via arbitration.

Asked if the Padres were wrong for not extending Headley, Byrnes said: ``Probably, yeah.''

Byrnes pointed out that the extensions the team has given were either to players approaching free agency - left fielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street - or younger players including center fielder Cameron Maybin, pitcher Cory Luebke and catcher Nick Hundley. Luebke was among several Padres pitchers who required surgery and Hundley struggled after getting his deal and later was injured.

Byrnes said Headley falls in between those two groups.

``The good news is, two years is a long time,'' Byrnes said. ``If having such a good year makes negotiations difficult, we've got a lot of time. He's a home-grown guy, he's invested in this franchise, but the system is designed for a reason. It protects him, because he's going to get a nice raise because he had such a nice year, and it protects us because we control him for at least two more years.''

Until this year, Headley hadn't put up the power number expected of a third baseman. The switch-hitter said he worked hard at elevating the ball on the pull side.

On that topic, Byrnes and Black said they support moving in the fences in certain parts of Petco Park. Byrnes said the club is still discussing the matter and that no decision has been made.

``I think there are certain parts of the park that play a little bit extreme, that I think will help balance out some well-hit balls,'' Black said. ``In simple terms, if you hit a ball a long ways, and hit it well, it should be a home run.''

Black said the areas that need to be addressed are right-center, which has flummoxed Padres hitters since the park opened in 2004, and a bit in left-center.

``My sense is it wouldn't be a drastic change,'' Byrnes said. ``I think the extreme parts of the park would be corrected. ... We know when a ball's really crushed, the park has been a bit unfair.''

The Padres were purchased in August by a group headed by the O'Malley and Seidler families and local businessman Ron Fowler. They haven't said what their target player payroll is for 2013.

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came at the 2:30 mark of the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby. On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life. The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.