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Rookie stars lead Redskins to NFC East crown

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Rookie stars lead Redskins to NFC East crown

From Comcast SportsNetLANDOVER, Md. (AP) -- "R-G-3!" was all Redskins fans needed to chant when they wanted to express their love for Robert Griffin III. For the lesser-known rookie, they opted for his whole name: "Alf-red Mor-ris!"It's a new generation that has Washington atop the NFC East for the first time this millennium. There's Griffin -- the vocal leader, the first-round draft pick, the Heisman Trophy winner, the team captain. And there's Morris -- the out-of-nowhere sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic who merely ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the division-clincher and broke the franchise single-season rushing record."These," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, "aren't ordinary rookies."The Redskins claimed their first division title since 1999, beating the archrival Dallas Cowboys 28-18 Sunday night in a winner-take-all finale to end the NFL's regular season."I was 9 years old in 1999," said Griffin, sporting a black baseball cap commemorating the title. "So I stand before you at 22, and the Redskins are the NFC East champions. To me, talking to Alfred after the game, it's the first time the Redskins have been champs since 99 and we came in and we did it in one year. The sky's the limit for this team."Griffin, gradually regaining his explosiveness after spraining his right knee four weeks ago, ran for 63 yards and a touchdown for the Redskins (10-6), who finished with seven straight wins after their bye week. They became the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 and make the playoffs since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.With the running game working so well, Griffin didn't have to throw much. He completed nine of 18 passes for 100 yards.Washington will host Seattle next Sunday, the Redskins' third consecutive playoff game against the Seahawks. They lost at Seattle as a wild-card team in the 2005 and 2007 seasons."I've been here for the 4-12, the bad times, almost being the joke of the NFL," veteran defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "But to do this with this group of guys -- the old and the new -- it's good to be here."Certainly, Sunday night was mostly about the new. Morris had touchdown runs of 1, 17 and 32 yards and was so dominant that the Cowboys -- missing their five best run defenders due to injuries -- fell hook, line and sinker nearly every time the Redskins faked the ball to him. He finished with 1,613 yards for the year, topping Clinton Portis' 1,516 in 2005."I'll tell you what: Alfred Morris became a star tonight," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. "He deserved it. He's a phenomenal football player."To which Morris answered: "I'm never a star. I'll never be a star. Other people might think I'm a star, but I'm just Alfred."He won't have much choice if he keeps this up. On the Redskins' go-ahead drive in the third quarter, six plays were runs by Morris and the other three involved fakes to him. The touchdown came when Griffin faked to Morris -- one of several times linebacker DeMarcus Ware was totally fooled by deception in the backfield -- and ran 10 yards around left end to put Washington ahead 14-7.The Cowboys (8-8), meanwhile, will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, having stumbled in a make-or-break end-of-regular-season game for the third time in five years.Tony Romo threw three interceptions -- matching his total from the last eight games combined. A poor throw was picked by Rob Jackson when the Cowboys had a chance to drive for a winning score in the final minutes."I feel as though I let our team down," Romo said.Romo completed 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards, and his career is now further tainted by post-Christmas disappointments, including Week 17 losses to the Philadelphia Eagles (44-6) in 2008 and the New York Giants (31-14) last year. He's also 1-3 in playoff games."Your legacy will be written when you're done playing the game," Romo said. "And when it's over with, you'll look back. ... It's disappointing not being able to get over that hump."The Cowboys played catch-up after Morris' 32-yard scamper gave the Redskins a 21-10 cushion with 10:32 to play, pulling within three on a 10-yard pass to Kevin Ogletree and a 2-point conversion with 5:50 left. But Morris' third touchdown sealed the win with 1:09 remaining.The Cowboys also dealt with in-game injuries to receivers Miles Austin (left ankle), Dez Bryant (back) and Dwayne Harris (lower leg). Bryant, who had a torridsecond half of the season despite breaking his left index finger, had four catches for 71 yards.Washington's slow start this season prompted coach Mike Shanahan to dismiss playoff hopes and declare the remaining seven games would determine which players would be on his team "for years to come."Griffin and his teammates had other plans, and the coach quickly changed his tune. Now the Redskins will be playing in January."All odds were against us," Morris said. "But we believed in each other."Notes: Griffin set two more NFL rookie records. His 102.4 passer rating topped Ben Roethlisberger's 98.1 in 2004, and his 1.3 percentage of passes intercepted is better than Charlie Batch's 1.98 in 1998. Griffin had already set the league mark for rushing yards by a rookie QB (815). ... The Redskins also set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season with 14, fewer even than the 1982 team that played only nine regular-season games because of a players strike.

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

The White Sox played the White Sox Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field and the White Sox won 2-0.

Yes, the intrasquad portion of this wacky 2020 baseball season is upon us.

It would be foolish to put too much stock in one scrimmage, but considering the White Sox are just two weeks away from their first regular season game, these intrasquad games do hold some value, especially in determining the readiness of individual players who have been scattered all over the country for months trying to stay prepared for some sort of baseball season.

“Guys are getting their work done under tough circumstances,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said. “I think they are understanding that it’s a sprint. It’s a sprint to Opening Day, it’s a sprint to the season.”

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Making matters worse, manager Rick Renteria missed Thursday’s activities because he had to return to California for a family funeral. Renteria is not expected to be gone long, but he will have to clear MLB's COVID-19 protocol upon his return. With testing results taking a day or two to come back, Renteria could miss a few days.

In the meantime, McEwing led the team Thursday. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but here are some notable events from the game:

- I don’t know the exact number of Luis Robert at-bats I’ve seen in person, but it’s probably only around 15 to 20. That’s an incredibly small sample size, but in each game I’ve seen him play – going back to spring training in 2018 -- Robert always hits the ball hard. Thursday was no different as he just missed a home run to right-center in the first inning and then hammered a ball off Steve Cishek in the third inning. That ball looked destined for left field, but third baseman Yermín Mercedes made a really nice snag to record the out.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Robert adapts to Major League pitching once the games start because he certainly looks good in camp. My personal expectations continue to be sky high.

- It’s no secret that Eloy Jiménez needs to improve as a left fielder, but he sure looked comfortable going back on a line drive hit by Luis Basabe Thursday. Off the bat, it looked like the ball would easily fly over Jiménez’s head, but he tracked it well and made the catch over his left shoulder.

“Outstanding play on a ball to his left, going left into the gap off the bat of Basabe,” McEwing said. “Hard hit ball.”

- Tim Anderson looked smooth fielding a ball up the middle, but McEwing’s comments about his defense were even more interesting. Anderson spent the hiatus doing exercises to open up his hips in an effort to be able to bend more.

“They did specific exercises to open up his hips to put his body in a better position,” McEwing said. “And you can see it going to his backhand, like today, going up the middle, he was low the whole time. And in. Being able to throw from different angles while carrying something on it with his legs still underneath him. He looks amazing.”

McEwing has worked closely with Anderson on his defense for years, and while Anderson won the American League batting title last season, they’d both like to see his defense take off in 2020.

“He’s grown into a man – not just on the field, but off the field,” McEwing said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. It’s like, OK, you can leave the nest now. You’re on your own.”

- There wasn’t a whole lot of offense in Thursday’s scrimmage, but Edwin Encarnación finally delivered in the fourth inning with a solo home run to center field off of Aaron Bummer. Encarnación continues to be praised by coaches and teammates and figures to be a big piece of the puzzle during this 60-game sprint.

RELATED: Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

- One odd site to see Thursday? A Nick Madrigal strikeout. Granted, it was looking, and I believe balls/strikes were being called by the catcher. Madrigal only struck out 16 times in 532 plate appearances across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A last season.

- Drew Anderson, a non-roster invitee, pitched two perfect innings and was the one who punched out Madrigal to start the game. In fact, he struck out three of the six batters he faced, including James McCann and Andrew Vaughn. Anderson is a former 21st round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies and only made nine major league appearances over the last three seasons before getting an opportunity with the White Sox.

Stay tuned, as the White Sox are also scheduled to play intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday. 

 

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Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

To be honest, it wasn't terribly surprising to see Edwin Encarnación blast a home run out to center field during Thursday's intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field.

After all, that's the reason the 37-year-old slugger is here. He's smashed at least 30 homers in each of the last eight seasons, including two spent as a member of the division-rival Cleveland Indians. Rick Hahn inked Encarnación to provide some big-time pop to the middle of a White Sox lineup looking to swing its way out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode in 2020.

But for all the homers he's hit, Encarnación is still drumming up plenty of excitement every time he sends one out. Mostly because of the parrot.

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Encarnación's signature home run celebration involves miming that he has a parrot on his arm while he rounds the bases. It's hilarious and a great deal of baseball fun.

So when he teed off on an Aaron Bummer pitch Thursday, there's just one thing his teammates wanted to see. They started screaming at him from the dugout, "Parrot! Parrot! Do the parrot!"

He obliged, sticking that arm out as he rounded second base, even moving it up and down on the way to third, much to the delight of everyone in that third-base dugout. There wasn't a crowd in the stands, but the crowd in the dugout went wild.

"The parrot made an appearance on the South Side!" White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said joyously after the intrasquad showdown wrapped.

Coincidentally, Encarnación chatted with the media just one day earlier and was asked about the health of his imaginary feathered friend.

"I think the parrot is still alive, it's still on my elbow," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Hopefully when the season starts, you're going to see it very often."

Well, the season hasn't even started yet, and we've already got a parrot sighting.

Bird or no bird, Encarnación's presence in the middle of the White Sox lineup is extremely important. While the roster around him and fellow veteran slugger Jose Abreu is full of youthful potential and thrilling promise, Encarnacion, one of a slew of veteran additions made by Hahn's front office during the winter, brings reliability to the proceedings. There are plenty of reasons to anticipate big things from Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and the rest of the team's young hitters. The White Sox know what they're getting from Encarnación.

After ranking 25th out of 30 teams in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, the White Sox needed some heft. In Encarnación, they've got it.

"It gives us depth. It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer," McEwing said. "And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it, what he means to this ballclub, not just in the clubhouse but on the field.

"When he steps in the box, it’s a presence, that model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room, and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence."

RELATED: White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

As for the pitcher who gave the home run up Thursday, don't fret about any damaging effects for Bummer. He's equally thrilled by what this lineup looks like with Encarnación in it.

"I'm just glad he's on our side now," he said of the former division rival. "I'm glad he's on our side, and I'm glad that he got one (off me) when it didn't count.

"It's just kind of fun to watch. ... You see the lineup we're putting out there. I walked in, it was Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy. It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."

It's a stark contrast inside the stadium, the difference between the mostly silent moments without fans in the stands and the incredibly entertaining moments when the players start talking and you can hear everything they say. It seems the latter could make for some added fun for TV viewers when the regular-season games are broadcast.

Thursday, there was no missing those screams: "Do the parrot!"

It's a good bet we haven't seen the last of Encarnación's avian acquaintance this year.


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