Nationals

Bears, Lions downplay any ill will

Bears, Lions downplay any ill will

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Hard feelings? Bad blood?

The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions for the most part did their best to downplay the idea leading into their game on Monday night.

It wasn't exactly an easy sell.

The way emotions boiled over the last time they met at Soldier Field, it's safe to wonder if sparks might fly this time, too.

If they do, players and coaches insisted it'll be because two division rivals are meeting in a game with quite a bit riding on the outcome and not because of the shenanigans last year.

The Bears (4-1) are trying to solidify their spot at the top of the NFC North, while the last-place Lions (2-3) are trying to jump back into the race.

``With anybody in our division, we're not going to like them and they're not going to like us,'' Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. ``It's a game we want to win and they want to win. It means a lot to each side. We've got to do our best to go out and get the W.''

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn't taking the bait, either.

``I think both of these teams have a lot of respect for each other and what we can do on the field,'' he said. ``It's a division game. We're rivals. They know what we're going to do; they know what we're going to do. It's just going out there and executing and that's what makes it physical and intense.''

It was certainly that way last year, when the Bears beat the Lions 37-13 at Soldier Field.

Things were already heated when Chicago's Tim Jennings picked off Stafford in the fourth quarter and got shoved hard out of bounds by Nate Burleson. As that unfolded, Stafford grabbed Moore by the helmet and threw him to the ground near the Lions sideline, setting off a confrontation that led to Moore's ejection.

That happened a few plays after the Bears' Lance Briggs delivered a hard hit on Calvin Johnson, but the tension started earlier in the game.

Cutler had his helmet ripped off by Ndamukong Suh after a run, and he got slammed to the ground by Nick Fairley on a late hit in the third quarter.

It all added up to this: Moore getting fined $15,000 Friday by the NFL for charging into Stafford and Stafford getting hit for $7,500.

``I don't think it's bad blood,'' Moore said. ``I think it's just a guy was frustrated. He did something, I did something, and then that was pretty much it. I don't really see it as something that just keeps going. If it happens again, I wouldn't react any different than I did.''

But for now, he's feeling nothing but love for the Lions. Right?

``Yeah, hugs and kisses. Birthday wishes,'' Moore said, grinning.

Not that they're expecting this one to be gift-wrapped.

With Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams up front on defense and Stafford and Calvin Johnson leading the offense, the Lions came in with high expectations.

A three-game losing streak nearly derailed them just as the season was starting.

That skid ended last week when they rallied to beat Philadelphia 26-23 in overtime. Now, they have a chance to get back to .500, a small but important step for a team that won 10 games a year ago and made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

They want to show that they're more than just a one-year wonder, that they're built to last. Beating Chicago would be a good start.

``We can sit there for a long time and talk about the talent that's on the field and the respect that we have for them,'' Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. ``But that means that we're certainly going to go and give our very best, and we're going to try to play as tough and as physical as we can. And I think the team that executes the best, the team that plays with the most passion, makes the fewest mistakes, that's the team that's going to win - not the team that's chippiest or anything else. That's just a side story, I guess.''

It would help if Detroit cut back on the penalties after committing 16 against Philadelphia and if Stafford and Johnson connected in the end zone. That hasn't happened yet.

Johnson has just one TD catch, and it was on a pass from Shaun Hill. Even so, they just might be the league's most dangerous quarterback-receiver tandem. If they are, Cutler and Brandon Marshall aren't far behind.

So there's another side story.

``They're awesome,'' Stafford said. ``They do a heck of a job. They've had some really big games this year and they're really sparking their offense. They are definitely a dangerous combo.''

And Johnson has a big fan in Marshall. Chicago's prized offseason acquisition, he has 10 receivers that he analyzes on his iPad, hoping to pick up some tips.

Marshall wouldn't name them all, but he did say Johnson is one.

``I really like what he's doing,'' he said. ``I really like where his career is heading. He had an amazing year last year, and a lot of us guys are trying to keep up with the pace he set.''

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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USA Today Sports

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

The Washington Wizards released guard Chasson Randle Monday. The additional space – the Wizards had one vacant roster slot even with Randle – brings up the question of what the team may do next. For now, don’t expect a blockbuster move.

Head coach Scott Brooks briefly addressed the move ahead of Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“He’s a terrific young man, a very good player,” Brooks said of Randle. “Just gives us more flexibility. Who knows what we might do with it. He’s definitely an NBA player.”

Randle, who Washington signed to the active roster on Oct. 30, likely clears waivers, and then would rejoin the Capital City Go-Go, Brooks said. It’s been a back-and-forth scenario for Randle between the Wizards and their G-League squad this season. The 6-foot-2 guard was on the Go-Go roster when Washington’s season tipped off and assigned to the G-League squad at the time of Monday’s release. Randle scored 37 points in the Go-Go’s inaugural game. He did not enter a game for Washington.

The Wizards were forced to add a player by Oct. 30, a date that marked two weeks from the time Washington traded Jodie Meeks to Milwaukee. League rules require a minimum of 14 players on the roster.

That two week timeline applies to the current scenario. For now, the Wizards save a bit on the luxury tax payment by waiving Randle, who was signed to a $1.24 million non-guaranteed contract. Considering he'll likely be back in the building, Randle returning to the Wizards roster is a consideration.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, adding Randle cost the Wizards approximately $239,000 in luxury tax payments. Washington saved approximately $8 million by dealing Meeks.

As Brooks acknowledged, the open spots create greater flexibility.  In wake of the Timberwolves trading disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, multiple reports at least tangentially mentioned the Wizards’ as part of the mix.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Washington balked at including Bradley Beal. SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported teams are keeping tabs on the 3-9 Wizards in case role players like Jeff Green, Markieff Morris or Kelly Oubre Jr. become available should the slow start continue.

Randle’s release limits Washington’s backcourt depth, but the top four options are healthy entering its five-game home-stand. In theory two-way contract player Jordan McRae could be recalled from Capital City, but the wing guard is dealing with a groin injury, according to a source. McRae should be available later in the week.

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