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Baseball playoffs full of momentum swings

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Baseball playoffs full of momentum swings

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Just ask the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals how much momentum means in the postseason.

Poised to ride the wave from Game 4 walkoff wins in the division series, the A's and Nationals were promptly thrown under water - Oakland by a brilliant start by Justin Verlander, Washington by a bullpen meltdown.

It happens every October, or at least seems to. Just when one team appears to have seized momentum with a dramatic comeback or frantic finish that leaves the other side devastated, the roles get reversed.

``For me, I don't really believe in that kind of stuff,'' St. Louis infielder David Freese said. ``We're all professionals here and you wake up the next day no matter what happened previously and you grind it out. ... As far as momentum, I think both teams just battle and you just play it out. And then if it doesn't work out one night you get a good night's sleep and you show up the next day ready to go.''

If there's anyone who would be a believer, it could be Freese. He helped the Cardinals deny Texas a World Series title a year ago that seemed firmly in the Rangers' grasp.

With the Cardinals down to their final strike in Game 6, Freese hit a two-run triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Neftali Feliz to tie the game. Josh Hamilton replied with a two-run homer in the 10th only to have St. Louis tie it in the bottom half. Freese then forced Game 7 when he led off the 11th with a homer against Mark Lowe.

The Cardinals then won it all the next night in Game 7, overcoming an early two-run deficit to win 6-2.

There are plenty of other examples l- from the New York Mets' improbable Game 6 rally that led to a World Series title in 1986 to Kirby Puckett's walkoff homer in Game 6 in the 1991 World Series that was followed by Jack Morris' 10-inning shutout that game the Minnesota Twins the title over Atlanta.

That was perhaps the best example of former Baltimore manager Earl Weaver's mantra that ``momentum is the next day's starter.'' That proved true again this year when Verlander beat Oakland 6-0 in Game 5 a night after the Tigers blew a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning.

``I don't want to sound casual about this kind of stuff, because don't get me wrong, the game broke our heart,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before the Game 5 win. ``But at the same time you learn over the years that, like I always use the expression, you can't chew yesterday's breakfast.''

CC Sabathia did the same for the Yankees when he threw a four-hitter to beat Baltimore 3-1 in Game 5 the day after New York lost in 13 innings.

St. Louis' Chris Carpenter, one of this era's most accomplished postseason pitchers with 10 career wins, doesn't buy into that theory. He points to his team's Game 5 win in the last round when Adam Wainright fell into a 6-0 hole before St. Louis rallied to win in the ninth.

``I think it's how you play each game,'' he said. ``Nobody expected Adam to go out and give up six runs in one inning or two, whatever. And we still won that game. There's no question it might set the tone a little bit. At this time of the year everything matters. It doesn't matter who's starting, what's going on. You need breaks, you need a little luck and you need to go out and do the things the right way. So I don't buy into anything.''

Since the start of the expanded playoffs in 1995, teams are 53-35 in the postseason in games following a victory when they scored the winning run in the ninth inning or later, according to STATS LLC.

But teams are just 2-6 so far this postseason in those situations. That includes San Francisco's Game 3 extra-inning win in Cincinnati that started the Giants' comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series.

``If you look at our series with Cincinnati, I mean we looked dead in the water here,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``I don't think a lot of people had us going in there and winning three. You win one game and it can switch. We have one hit for nine innings, but we found a way to win that ballgame. You saw the confidence grow with the ballclub and they found a way to win the next two. You always want to try to build up momentum, and if it doesn't happen for you, you want to stop it.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 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. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

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