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Bailey can follow no-hitter with playoff clincher

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Bailey can follow no-hitter with playoff clincher

CINCINNATI (AP) Homer Bailey played catch in the sun-splashed outfield at Great American Ball Park, his usual routine the day before a start. Nothing different at all, as far as the Texan let on.

``You guys,'' he said afterward, ``it's just another game.''

Uh-uh. Not buying it. Everyone knows the Cincinnati Reds pitcher has a chance to exorcise a lot of bad postseason history - or add to it - with his next start.

Less than two weeks after he threw the 15th no-hitter in the history of baseball's first professional franchise, the 26-year-old Bailey has a chance to add another career moment. He can complete a division-series sweep of the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.

Up 2-0 in the series, the Reds need one more victory to advance, with as many as three chances left at home. It'll be a breakthrough if they get it.

Cincinnati hasn't won a home playoff game in 17 years, a span of futility etched into the franchise's storied history. Everyone remembers the Big Red Machine winning back-to-back World Series in 1975-76. The 1990 Nasty Boys team swept Oakland to win another.

Since then? Little more than heartbreak. Got swept by Atlanta in the 1995 NL championship series under manager Davey Johnson. Lost a one-game playoff for the NL wild card to the Mets in 1999 at Riverfront Stadium. Got swept by the Phillies in the first round two years ago.

Maybe it's finally their time.

``I had this one kid give me a sweatshirt that said, `The Year of the 12,''' said manager Dusty Baker, who wears the uniform number. ``He gave it to me in spring training. I believe in that. I'm only going to see one `12 while I'm living. It's a special year. I just feel that it's our year.''

Their first shot at it will make major league history.

The Giants and Reds both had pitchers throw no-hitters this year - Matt Cain had a perfect game for San Francisco. When Bailey starts on Tuesday, it'll mark the first time two players that threw no-hitters in the regular season pitch on opposing teams in the same playoff series, according to STATS LLC.

The Reds put themselves in position for a sweep by overcoming the loss of ace Johnny Cueto to a bad back in the first inning of the opener, then pulling out a 5-2 win. They won 9-0 on Sunday night behind Bronson Arroyo's seven crisp innings, then tried to get a few hours of sleep on the overnight flight back to Ohio.

The plane landed at 6:48 a.m., less than an hour before the sun came up.

``I slept on the plane, got here, got my stuff, got breakfast (at a restaurant) and went back to bed, slept a couple of hours and made myself get up,'' outfielder Drew Stubbs said. ``Not an ideal amount of rest, but hopefully I get to catch up on it tonight.''

Stubbs, Bailey and a few other Reds showed up at the ballpark in the afternoon for a light workout. Stubbs ran a few pass patterns as players threw a football on the field.

The Giants stayed overnight on the West Coast and flew in during the afternoon, trying to get a little needed sleep in their own beds. Probably wasn't very restful - only four teams have overcome a 2-0 deficit in the division series.

Manager Bruce Bochy couldn't tell by what he heard on the flight to Cincinnati that his team was down to its last loss.

``I think more than anything, they were relaxing back there, doing what they normally do,'' Bochy said. ``Some guys were playing cards. We did have some family on the trip and they were watching movies. There was really nothing any different than any trip we take. So I can't say I noticed anything different about it.''

Out of the conversation, but not out of the minds for the 2010 World Series champions.

``The cliche is to say it's just another game, but I feel `just another game' doesn't count when you're talking about the postseason,'' said right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who starts on Tuesday. ``And when you're talking about being down 0-2 in a series, you can't say it's just another game, either.''

If Vogelsong and the Giants can extend the series, Bochy said Monday that left-hander Barry Zito would start Game 4. And the Reds were still unsure whether Cueto would be available.

It'll be Bailey's first appearance at Great American Ball Park since his no-hitter in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28. He followed the no-hitter with four shutout innings in a 1-0 loss in the final game of the season at St. Louis, an easy outing to save him for the playoffs.

Bailey led the NL with a 2.32 earned run average on the road this season, but is only 18-19 with a 5.13 career ERA at Great American.

It'll be the first time Reds fans get to recognize him for the no-hitter - not that he'll notice.

``I will probably be somewhat oblivious to it, just like any starter on game day,'' Bailey said. ``Unless there is a streaker running across, you don't pay attention, you're just focused on what you're doing.''

Bailey will be well-rested. He flew home with Cueto on Sunday, got home and watched the last few innings of the Reds' win on television.

It'll be Baker's first game back in Cincinnati since Sept. 12. He was hospitalized while the team was in Chicago for an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. He rejoined the team for the final series in St. Louis, then flew to the West Coast and got an ovation when introduced before the first playoff game.

Baker was still in a Chicago hospital bed when the Reds clinched at home on Sept. 22 - players toasted him in the clubhouse before spraying each other. He was in Cincinnati resting when Bailey threw his no-hitter in Pittsburgh.

He'll get another ovation when he's introduced on Tuesday night, though it's nothing he's anticipating.

``I didn't think about getting a reception in San Francisco,'' the 63-year-old manager said. ``I'm just doing my job.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 28, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Stability at the top of the depth chart

This post was originally published on March 23 Note that this was prior to the draft.

A Redskins defense that ranked 27thin total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16thoverall and 27thrunning the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year. 

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes. 

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger. 

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical he is much more likely to lad on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins. 

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose. (Udate: Of course, they did this in the draft when they took Daron Payne and Tim Settle).

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft. 

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard. 

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is a such thing has having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year. 

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries. 

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons. 

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