Nationals

Azarenka wins back-to-back Australian titles

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Azarenka wins back-to-back Australian titles

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Victoria Azarenka won her second consecutive Australian Open title, beating Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a final that included a break for fireworks, two medical timeouts and a nasty fall to the court by Li.

The Chinese star first tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle in the fifth game of the second set and had it taped.

On the first point after a 10-minute pause in the third set while fireworks boomed overhead from nearby Australia Day celebrations, Li fell over again and slammed the back of her head on the court. The 2011 French Open champion was treated and had another timeout before being allowed to resume the match.

Azarenka, who broke down in tears and sobbed into her towel when the match ended, won five of the next six games to claim her second major title and retain the No. 1 ranking.

``Unfortunately, you have to go through some rough patches to achieve great things. That's what makes it so special for me,'' she said. ``I went through that, and I'm still able to kiss that beautiful trophy.''

Serena Williams, who lost in the quarterfinals, will become the new No. 2 in the rankings.

Americans Mike and Bob Bryan won their record 13th Grand Slam doubles title, defeating the Dutch team of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4. They had been tied with the Australian greats John Newcombe and Tony Roche with 12 major titles.

The women's 2-hour, 40-minute match featured 16 service breaks, with Li losing her service nine times.

On a crisp Saturday night, Azarenka won the coin toss and elected to receive, a ploy that seemed to work when a nervous Li was broken to start the match. After a double fault on the first point, Li's forehand long gave Azarenka the early lead.

When she first injured her ankle, Li was trailing 3-1 in the second set. When she came back, she won three of the next four games to tie it 4-4, but Azarenka broke back and then held her serve.

Azarenka broke in the opening game of the final set, just two games before the match was suspended for the fireworks, a planned stoppage of play that both players were notified about before the match.

While Azarenka jogged around and practiced her serving motion during the 10-minute fireworks break, Li sat on her courtside chair for most of the stoppage.

It was on the first point that she again fell to the court.

Li said she went ``totally black'' for two seconds after her head hit the court, and when a medical official asked her to follow her finger, ``I started laughing, thinking `This is a tennis court, not like a hospital.'''

Li said the tournament doctor saw her after the match and checked out her head and neck.

``I should be OK,' Li said.

From the outset, the capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena was firmly behind Li, cheering loudly when she was introduced. Meanwhile, Azarenka's errors were applauded, and one spectator even mocked the loud hooting sound she makes when she hits a shot.

The chill from the crowd was a remnant of Azarenka's semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens, when Azarenka was criticized for taking a questionable 10-minute medical timeout near the end of the match. She was accused of taking the time out to compose herself after she'd wasted five match points while serving for the match against Stephens. Azarenka said she needed the time out because a rib injury was making it difficult for her to breathe and she had a knee injury.

In the second set Saturday, a few fans heckled Azarenka. One man yelled, ``Take a deep breath, Vicky.''

By the end of the match, she appeared to have won some of the fans back. Azarenka's friend, rapper Redfoo, yelled down to her from the player box ``You deserve it,'' and she later blew kisses to the crowd. Someone else in the crowd shouted ``Victoria, we love you.''

Azarekna appeared to quickly forgive the crowd, saying during the trophy presentations that she wanted to thank the fans for their support.

``I will always keep very special memories of this court and it will be in my heart forever,'' she said, pausing several times to find the right words. ``Of course, I (almost) forgot to say congratulations to Li Na, she's had a terrific start to the year ... hope to see you in many, many more finals.''

Later, Azarenka said she expected a ``way worse'' reception from the crowd.

``You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day,'' she said. ``The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, to do everything I could, and it was left behind me already.''

Azarenka and Li had met twice before in Grand Slam tournaments, with Li winning both times - in the fourth round of the 2011 Australian Open and quarterfinals at the French Open. Li lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters but won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros a few months later, beating Francesca Schiavone.

But after failing to advance past the fourth round at any major in 2012, Li hired Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former coach. The hard training he's put her through in the past four months appears to be paying dividends.

Li won a WTA tournament in China before travelling to Australia, where she advanced to the semifinals at the Sydney International.

In the men's final on Sunday, Novak Djokovic will attempt to win his third consecutive Australian Open against U.S. Open champion Andy Murray. Djokovic has had the benefit of an extra day off after an easy three-set win over David Ferrer on Thursday night, while Murray needed a tough five-setter to defeat Roger Federer.

Murray has predicted a tough match with long rallies against Djokovic, the player he beat in the final at Flushing Meadows in September.

``I'm ready for the pain,'' he said. ``I hope it's a painful match, that will mean it will be a good one.''

The Bryan brothers have six Australian Open doubles titles to go along with four at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the French Open.

In the other final Sunday to end the year's first Grand Slam, the unseeded pairs of Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden of Australia and the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak play for the mixed doubles championship.

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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