Nationals

American Pharoah helped make 2015 special

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American Pharoah helped make 2015 special

There were many great performances in the area in the year about to come to an end. Kirk Cousins, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Alex Ovechkin, John Wall.

Who will ever forget Paul Pierce’s called shot?

To me, another form of artistry stood out. It was witnessed by a crowd far larger than at Ravens or Redskins games and three times bigger than those at Orioles or Nationals games.

It was history.

For the first time in 37 years, Marylanders witnessed part of a Triple Crown when American Pharoah romped to a seven-length win in May’s Preakness at Pimlico.

Thirteen times since the last Triple Crown winner, a horse had won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but failed to win the Belmont.

American Pharoah changed all that, and fulfilled one of my remaining wishes in my writing life.

When I was a little boy, my grandparents came to our house in Brooklyn each Saturday. Every week, my grandfather and I, joined occasionally by my father, his son-in-law, watched “The Race of the Week” from New York and Florida tracks. I became a horse racing fan.

In 1973, the great Secretariat won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and was highly favored to beat a small field in the Belmont.

And beat the field, Secretariat did, winning by an unfathomable 31 lengths. His winning time for the 1 ½ miles was a record 2:24, more than 2.6 seconds faster than American Pharoah’s time.

I’ve watched the amazing video of Secretariat’s win countless times knowing I’d never see anything like that. Neither did my grandfather.

A few months after the Belmont, my grandfather died, and the weekly race viewing at my house stopped. I kept up with horse racing, always watching the Triple Crown races.

Four years after Secretariat’s win, the underrated Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown, and a year later, Affirmed won it in a stirring Belmont duel with Alydar.

Then, the drought began.

As a young reader of sports pages and magazines, I learned there might never be a Triple Crown winner again. Secretariat’s win was the first Triple Crown since Citation in 1948—a gap of 25 years.

While good horse after good horse failed to capture the Belmont, various theories were thrown out. Horses are bred for speed, not distance. They don’t race enough, and the Triple Crown calendar is too brutal.

Tom Chuckas, who ran the Maryland Jockey Club for six years until his resignation in Nov. 2014, darkened his final Preakness Day by again publicly campaigning for a lengthening of the Triple Crown schedule.

Instead of three races in five weeks, the Kentucky Derby’s first Saturday in May should be followed by the Preakness on the first Saturday in June and the Belmont on July’s first Saturday, Chuckas said.

American Pharoah’s triumph ended that crazy talk.

In my father’s and grandfather’s time, a Triple Crown winner was known by everyone—just like the name of the heavyweight champion.

Now, except for these three races and perhaps the Breeder’s Cup, there’s little public attention on horse racing.

Most tracks have been reduced to veritable off-track betting parlors with small crowds watching live races. Few young people are fans of the sport. Ninety seconds or two minutes of action every half hour aren’t enough to hold their attention.

They’d rather play poker or fantasy football.

For a moment, American Pharoah changed all that. For six months, he reigned supreme—from the Derby to his farewell win at the Breeder’s Cup in Keeneland, Pharoah was a champ.

American Pharoah suffered a loss in last August’s Travers Stakes in Saratoga, but it doesn’t diminish his greatness.

For those of the more than 131,000 at Pimlico who braved a pre-race monsoon, they saw a great horse do something that hadn’t been done since 1978—and gave me the chance to say I covered part of a Triple Crown winner.

MORE YEAR IN REVIEW: 50 of the best DMV sports photos from 2015

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Around the NL East: Braves get a chance to pull ahead

Around the NL East: Braves get a chance to pull ahead

Unsurprisingly the Atlanta Braves fully surpassed the Washington Nationals as the frontrunners in the National League East.

Atlanta has gotten healthy and appears, whereas Washington continues to struggle to find offense and is continually on the mend.

Unlike the week prior, the NL East was above .500 due to the Miami Marlins performing quite well. While it should be no sign of a turnaround, Miami’s offense has some liftoff.

While we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and giving unneeded significance to a series in June, the Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies series at the end of this week is one to watch. Washington is on their worst stretch of games since the start of the season. Two of their top seven arms are on the DL, and they need some breaks to go their way. Philadelphia has been off-and-on for a month, and a series win over the Nats could give them the justification they need to battle for the NL East crown.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 42-29
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ Toronto Blue Jays (2), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)

It should not be that noteworthy that the Braves jumped out to a lead in the East after their schedule this past week. Playing two of the bottom teams in the National League, the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, Atlanta took care of business going 5-1 on the week.

Understanding it is against bottom half competition, their pitching was superb by some key starters in their rotation. Of course Mike Soroka finally came back from rehab with 6.1 innings of one-hit baseball, along with a brief break by Julio Tehran. Occupying the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Soroka will significantly bolster the bridge to Tehran, who struck out 11 Padres on Sunday.

For position players, Freddie Freeman hit three home runs this week despite seeing a 10-game hitting streak come to a close. They also still are waiting for their star left fielder Robert Acuna Jr. to get back. He was sent to the 10-day DL back on May 28.

A relatively easy June continues for the Braves with only Toronto and Baltimore on deck this week.

Washington Nationals

Record: 37-31
Last 10: 4-6
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (2), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3), vs. Philadelphia Phillies (3)

The best news for the Nationals after getting swept by the Blue Jays is honestly their young phenom Juan Soto. Hitting .312 in 77 at-bats, the outfield call-up has far exceeded expectations.

Almost singlehandedly, Soto gave them their lone victory of the week by hitting two dingers in Yankee Stadium. He brought home four of their five runs in a one-run win.

By all means he has earned his starting spot with the top club, alongside the now healthy Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper. However, where does Michael A. Taylor fit in? Tough decisions to be had in the Nats clubhouse.

An eight-game home stand is severely needed for a squad that had dropped six of their last eight and is now 3.5 games back in the division. Not to mention they are still without Stephen Strasburg, Jeremy Hellickson, and Brandon Kintzler.

Don’t worry the All-Star break, which will be in their home yard, is right around the corner.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 37-32
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3), @ Washington Nationals (3)

Two series wins over the Colorado Rockies and in Milwaukee was a good pick-me-up for the young Philadelphia squad.

Unlike the week prior, there are finally some runners getting on base. None more than Rhys Hoskins who had eight hits (three of them long balls), and four walks in the past six games. They’ve even got some lively play from shortstop Scott Kingery, batting .333 in the past week.

Still their starters have to give them more consistency to give them a chance in the NL East. That includes Jake Arrieta (5-5) who consistently cannot make it to the sixth inning. He’s given up a combined 13 runs in only 14.2 innings pitched in his last three starts.

A chance for them to really pull their worth and possibly leapfrog the Nationals this week.

New York Mets

Record: 30-38
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Colorado Rockies (4), vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3)

All of the New York Mets ‘stars’ are still on the disabled list. All two of them.

Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes were anticipated to come back this past week, but neither got the nod from Mickey Callaway.

With a solid uptick in production by Jose Reyes, who still has a .165 average on the year, there is some hope with the production from their infield.

Miami Marlins

Record: 28-44
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ San Francisco Giants (3), @ Colorado Rockies (3)

Twice this week Miami had a chance to get their first sweep over an opponent this year. Sure one team was the Baltimore Orioles, but the other was the San Francisco Giants.

It wasn’t necessarily because of dominant pitching either. Their lineup pieced together some timely hits, including three triples from center fielder Lewis Brinson and three home runs by J.T. Realmuto.

Speaking of pitching though, closer Kyle Barraclough saw four appearances without allowing a run, garnering three saves. If his team can get him more opportunities he could be up there with Kenley Jansen and Sean Dolittle as one of the top closers in the NL.

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Offense

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Offense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 18, 38 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—offense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on offense; defense up tomorrow. 

Quarterbacks (2)
Alex Smith, Colt McCoy

I think that Kevin Hogan is very much on the bubble as the third quarterback. They got along with two QBs last year, and with Alex Smith having demonstrated great durability during his career, Hogan may well get bumped off. 

Running backs (4)
Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, Rob Kelley

I’d say that this is 95 percent locked in. Maybe Kapri Bibbs or Byron Marshall can make a push for Kelley’s roster spot but his history with Jay Gruden will make it very hard for him to get knocked out. 

Wide receivers (6)
Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder, Maurice Harris, Robert Davis, Trey Quinn

The first time I did this back in April I didn’t have Quinn on the roster. That was before he was a man among boys at rookie camp and a player who looks like he belongs when the veterans showed up. I don’t know if he’ll have the impact that many fans think he will, but he’s certainly going to get his chance. Brian Quick could steal a roster spot from Harris or Davis.

Tight ends (3)
Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle

The Redskins did not draft a tight end or sign one in free agency so there seems to be faith that Reed will be healthy. We’ve heard that before and it seems somewhat risky to leave Davis, who has Father Time nipping at his heels, and the inexperienced Sprinkle as the only two backups. They may try to make room for an undrafted rookie like Hudson Garrett.  

Offensive line (9)
Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses, Ty Nsekhe, Geron Christian, Tyler Catalina, Tony Bergstrom

I think that Gruden is probably happy with the starters here but the depth is shaky, especially in the interior. The key could be whether Christian is ready for prime time as the swing tackle. That could allow Nsekhe to fill in at guard. Bergstrom is fine as the backup center, although I wouldn’t want to have to count on him for more than a few games. 

Offensive players: 24
Rookies (3):
Guice, Christian, Quinn
New to the organization in 2018 (5): Rookies plus Smith, Richardson 
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (11): Rookies plus new plus Harris (practice squad), R. Davis (practice squad) and Bergstrom (not on the team). 

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  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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An Indiana state police officer tweeted that he pulled a driver over for going too slowly in the left lane. I believe this person is a national hero. 

Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 38
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 52
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 75

The Redskins last played a game 167 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 83 days. 

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