Nationals

After rough start, Packers near division title

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After rough start, Packers near division title

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) A month into the season, few people outside of Green Bay would have given the Packers a shot at the NFC North title.

Heck, even the folks in Green Bay could have been forgiven for feeling a little pessimistic.

The injuries were already starting to pile up, and the Packers had been the victims of the Inaccurate Reception. With a losing record five weeks in and the Chicago Bears off to a blazing start, a wild card seemed about the best the Packers could do.

Now look at them. One of the NFL's hottest teams over the past two months with seven victories in eight games, Green Bay (9-4) can clinch the division title with a win Sunday in Chicago. The No. 2 seed, and the first-round bye that goes with it, is still a possibility, too.

``We're excited about the opportunities that we continue to create,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ``You get what you put into it and our guys have a great frame of mind. It's a good locker room, it's a steady locker room. We don't swing with the highs and lows.

``Special, that's what we're in it for,'' he added. ``We're not in it just to get to the playoffs or to have a winning season.''

Players and coaches on pretty much every team talk about resiliency, and how they can't let injuries or losses turn into a distraction.

Or, worse, an excuse. But talk is cheap - just look at some of the records out there - and it's tough to continue looking ahead week after week.

The Packers, though, have turned it into something of an art form. Few teams have been hit harder by injuries, with the Packers losing more than a dozen starters or projected starters for two or more games. That includes No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings (eight games), perennial Pro Bowler Charles Woodson (six games), sackmaster Clay Matthews (four games) and C.J. Wilson (three games), a cornerstone of their run defense.

Running back Cedric Benson is on injured reserve, as is offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Yet the Packers simply fill the holes and move on. In Sunday night's 27-20 win over Detroit, it was a rookie, Mike Daniels, who had the fumble return for a score that swung momentum Green Bay's way.

The go-ahead touchdown was scored by DaJuan Harris, who'd been elevated from the practice squad eight days earlier.

``You can't sit around and invest a lot of time in guys that you're not going to have out there,'' defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. ``You've got to focus all your attention on the guys you do have.''

The Green Bay resolve starts with McCarthy. Low-key and humble - he joked Monday that his players take their cue from his ``boring'' press conferences - he is not one for histrionics on the sideline or drama anywhere else.

Circumstances are what they are, and there's no sense wasting time on anything else. When the Packers lost that game in Seattle on a controversial call, not only did McCarthy refuse to whine or complain, he called the replacement referee who made the wrong call to offer his support.

That attitude has filtered down to the players.

``It says a lot about the locker room leadership,'' McCarthy said. ``We've accomplished some things in the past that we can maybe look back on. What are you to do with your energy? What are we going to do with our time? How are you going to apply it? I think our guys do a good job of it.''

It helps that the Packers have some practice at this. Two years ago, they had so many injuries they were practically pulling guys off the street to fill the lineup.

They wound up winning the Super Bowl.

``They know there's an expectation level ... that they've got to be not only accountable to themselves, but accountable to everybody in that room,'' Capers said. ``So if their number's called, then they owe it to the guy sitting next to them to be ready to go out and do their job.''

Green Bay's recent run hasn't always been pretty; the Packers struggled against Jacksonville, and trailed in both games against Detroit. But aside from a blowout by the Giants, Green Bay has managed to find ways to win.

``I don't get caught up in statistics,'' McCarthy said. ``We've got nine wins. That's only statistic I worry about.''

The Packers could make it 10 wins - and a division title - against the Bears, adding extra buzz to a rivalry that's already the NFL's best.

And it's the rivalry, not the spoils that could come with it, that will get Green Bay's full attention this week, McCarthy said.

``You start to get voice mails from Willie Davis, people like that, early this morning, you know it's a big game,'' McCarthy said. ``So we're focused on beating the Bears down there. It's a tough place to play. Yes, we'd love to wrap up division and hopefully be playing for more the next two weeks. But this is about the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.''

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Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

When Trea Turner sees the Little League World Series – or even thinks about it – there’s one feeling that comes to mind: Jealousy.

“I always wanted to go to this tournament,” he told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas. “Tried every year. We had some good teams and made some good runs, but never got a chance. I’m a little jealous.”

The team is in Pittsburgh this week – a nearly 200 mile drive from where Virginia’s Loudoun South Little League team is looking to advance after two impressive no-hitters. And while it might be a longshot for them to make it to the big leagues one day Turner wasn’t the only current Nationals player whose dream started back in Little League.

Turner played in Little League from the age of five to 13. “My dad coached,” he said. “Most of my best friends to this day are still from of that age group and their fathers as well were coaches.” They were a close-knit group, he said.

Erick Fedde remembers his time in Little League – as a catcher. “I didn’t really pitch much until my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “Everybody pitches when they’re little. I think I was playing left field or something. I was always like I want to pitch [in high school], but I don’t want to tell the coach.”

Luckily, his mom intervened. 

“My mom pushed me,” he said. “[She told me] ‘you should tell them you want to pitch.’”

Hunter Strickland’s dad also coached him in Little League – and seeing the Little League kids, he said, brings back memories with his dad and brothers. “He definitely pushed us,” he said of his dad as a coach. “But, I respect it. It’s made us into the people we are today. It makes you a better player, a better person just from the discipline.”

Andrew Stevenson played in the Little League World Series in 2005 with his team from Lafayette, La. His heroics in a game against a team from Kentucky lead the Associated Press roundup of the tournament at the time. He scored the winning run after making it to first on a bunt single and then getting to home from third on a throwing error.

“He may be the fastest player up here,” his team manager, Mike Conrad, told the AP at the time.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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