Nationals

Beltran back in SF for postseason, now with Cards

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Beltran back in SF for postseason, now with Cards

Carlos Beltran so desperately wanted to help the Giants return to the playoffs last fall during his short time with San Francisco.

The Giants missed out a year after winning the 2010 World Series.

Now, Beltran is in the other dugout with the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, facing the Giants in the NL championship series.

Booed during pregame introductions and when he came to the plate, Beltran hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to put St. Louis ahead 6-0 and chase San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner.

``It was great,'' Beltran said of playing in San Francisco. ``Being able to play for the Giants was a good thing for me. I was looking forward to trying to be in this position. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. But at the same time, just being able to play for these fans, they're very loud, they're good fans. They're really supportive. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of new faces, new teammates, and it was a good time.''

Beltran, acquired by the Giants in a trade with the New York Mets in late July last year, batted .323 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in 44 games while also missing time with injuries.

While the Cardinals had their own remarkable rally from six runs down in Washington on Friday night - Beltran's double started a four-run comeback in the ninth inning of Game 5 - he was proud to see his old team come back from a 2-0 deficit in the NL division series to win three straight against the Reds in Cincinnati.

``That shows right there what type of team they are,'' Beltran said. ``They're a good team, they play together, they've got a good pitching staff, and they've also got a good manager in (Bruce) Bochy.''

The All-Star outfielder signed a $26 million, two-year deal with the Cardinals last winter.

The Giants still appreciate Beltran's contributions to their club, too - albeit such a short stint.

``He did a great job,'' Bochy said before Sunday's Game 1. ``Great teammate. We enjoyed him here and he did all he could to help us. We just as a group stopped hitting, but he didn't.''

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NIX IN: When Jayson Nix signed a minor league contract with the New York Yankees in the offseason, starting at shortstop in place of Derek Jeter in the postseason was hardly in his mind.

Still, throughout the year he was always prepared for the moment he might have to replace big stars.

``These are the things I have to consider,'' Nix said before Game 2 of the AL championship series against Detroit on Sunday. ``A certain guy goes down, I'm up. If Robbie (Cano) goes down or Derek goes down or Alex (Rodriguez) goes down, I've got to play.''

And play he will, for as long as the Yankees remain in this postseason.

He said Jeter, who broke his left ankle in Game 1 and is now out for the postseason, texted him Sunday morning to wish him well.

``He just said good luck. He said he believes in me, and go get `em,'' Nix said.

A part-time big leaguer of four seasons with Colorado, Cleveland, Toronto and the Chicago White Sox, Nix has excelled in his limited role in New York.

The 30-year-old Nix hit .323 over 18 games in spring training but was sidelined for two weeks with a bruised left calf and started the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

But he was called up in May on the same day Mariano Rivera injured his knee shagging flyballs during batting practice and has stuck with the team.

``To be able to come here and fill a role for this team and be around this group of guys has been very special,'' Nix said.

A first-round draft pick of the Rockies in 2001, Nix got plenty of playing time when A-Rod broke his hand in late July.

He batted .243 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats this season. And he already started at shortstop once this postseason, in Game 4 of the division series after Jeter fouled a ball off his foot and limped off the field a night earlier.

Nix went 2 for 3 with a double in the first playoff start of his career, and manager Joe Girardi has confidence he can do it again.

``I like Nixey's at-bats, and he is a grinder,'' Girardi said. ``He is one of the guys that got us here, and that's why I am doing it.''

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NO NERVES: There was one thing that had San Francisco pitcher Ryan Vogelsong just a bit nervous before he made his postseason debut last week in the NL division series: a lack of nerves.

Vogelsong expected a few jitters before his Game 3 start at Cincinnati and was surprised when they weren't there.

``That worried me a little bit because in the past when I've been in some not quite as big games as that, but throughout the regular season and a little bit last year and some stuff in the past with me in Japan, the nerves are usually good,'' he said. ``I didn't have any, really.''

``I was a little worried about that. I don't know if that was so much more of the conscious effort to try and calm myself down, to not go into the first inning too amped up and be out of control. But it didn't take long at all,'' he said.

Vogelsong responded well after a few first-inning difficulties, allowing one run and three hits in five innings in the Giants' 2-1 win over the Reds that started San Francisco's comeback of three straight wins.

With that start under his belt and the chance to pitch at home in Game 2 of the NL championship series against the Cardinals where his ERA was a full run lower in the regular season, Vogelsong is excited for his second postseason appearance.

``It's no secret, I've said in the past, that I definitely feed off the energy that this crowd brings,'' he said. ``I'm sure it's going to be pretty intense tomorrow night. It's pretty intense on a regular-season game here in the middle of June. So tomorrow night should be extra energetic.''

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2019 MLB Postseason Predictions: Where the Nationals stand

2019 MLB Postseason Predictions: Where the Nationals stand

A week after the Midsummer Classic, the Nationals' comeback June looks less and less like a fluke as Washington continues its push to the postseason and the NL East Wild Card race.

In the 2019 MLB Postseason fight, the Dodgers (62-33) of the NL West are predicted to finish the regular season as the top team in the league, while each wild card race remains fairly close. Right now, the NL Central Cubs (50-43) and NL East Braves (57-37) round out the current National League leaders, while the Nationals (49-43) and Phillies (48-45) are the two wild card teams. 

Washington, 1.5 games ahead in the wild card race, revived its playoff chances after a slow start to the season. The Nationals' comeback June propelled them back into a wild card position. But the NL wild card race is far from set, as the Brewers (48-46) are 0.5 games back from the Phillies (and the Cardinals (46-45) are 1.0 games behind). 

 Here are the MLB playoff standings if the season ended Monday:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Division Leaders
Houston Astros (West)
New York Yankees (East)
Minnesota Twins (Central)

Wild Card
Tampa Bay Rays (55-40, +1.5 Wild Card Games Behind)
Oakland A's (53-41, - WCGB)

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Division Leaders
Chicago Cubs (Central)
Los Angeles Dodgers (West)
Atlanta Braves (East)

Wild Card
Washington Nationals (49-43, +1.5 WCGB)
Philadelphia Phillies (48-45, - WCGB)

2019 MLB POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
(As of July 15)

All three projections for the playoffs have the Dodgers finishing at the top of the league, though Baseball Reference has Los Angeles winning a whopping 110 games––at least seven more wins than either FiveThirtyEight or FanGraphs projects. 

Baseball Reference predicts the Nationals and Diamondbacks will be the NL Wild Cards, with the Athletics and the Rays as the AL Wild Cards. FanGraphs also has the Nationals making the playoffs as a wild card, while FiveThirtyEight lists the Nationals as having a 56% chance of making the playoffs at all. 

FanGraphs is the only site that lists the Nationals' chance at winning the World Series as above 2.5% (5.8%), while it also gives Washington an 82% shot at making the playoffs overall (and a 63.7% chance to win the wild card). 

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10 Questions for training camp: Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

10 Questions for training camp: Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

The Redskins spent a ton of money to fix their safety position this offseason, shelling out $45 million guaranteed for Landon Collins.

There's only one problem, however, as a modern NFL defense requires two safeties.

Assuming health, Collins will undoubtedly start at safety. What player lines up next to him will bring concerns regardless of the direction the Washington coaching staff leans.

The leading contender for the job is Montae Nicholson, a third-year pro out of Michigan State. As a rookie, Nicholson looked like a potential draft steal, especially early in the season when he showed speed, pop and a nose for the football. His rookie season ended after just eight games though due to injuries and a concussion.

Going into this second year in 2019, Jay Gruden heaped significant praise on Nicholson, and compared his importance to the defense as Jordan Reed was to the Redskins offense.

Things didn't go well.

Nicholson never seemed to understand the new scheme in place, where he and DJ Swearinger occupied sides of the field instead of a more traditional strong and free safety role. Nicholson has the track background to play a real center field, and seemed bewildered at times playing close to the line of scrimmage.

As the 2018 campaign staggered along, Redskins team president Bruce Allen traded with Green Bay for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, effectively benching Nicholson. Clinton-Dix wasn't much better in D.C., and eventually he signed with the Bears as a free agent this offseason.

There was also a late-season arrest for Nicholson outside of a Loudon County bar. While charges eventually got dropped, the Redskins suspended Nicholson for the final few games of 2018.

Add all of that up, and it's hard to believe Redskins' brass when they speak about how much they trust Nicholson and expect great things from him. Still, the NFL is no place for hurt feelings, and both the franchise and the safety need to turn the page from an ugly 2018 and hope 2019 fares better.

The reality is the Redskins don't have many options if Nicholson can't reclaim his starting role. Troy Apke showed next to nothing in an injury-plagued rookie season last year. Deshazor Everett has been with the Redskins for four seasons and has been a valuable special teams player, yet, when the team has needed somebody to fill a revolving door at either safety spot, he rarely gets a chance.

Odds are there isn't more help coming.

The draft came and went without Washington adding a safety. Same with the second wave of free agency.

Maybe a veteran safety with legit speed emerges on the marketplace - an unexpected training camp cut - but the Burgundy and Gold can't count on that. It's also possible veteran defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can make the Redskins 53-man roster and help at safety in passing situations.

Remember, however, that DRC retired from football last year halfway through the season. Let's see him get through the grind of two-a-days in Richmond before considering the 33-year-old part of the solution.

Add all of that up and it's very clear the Redskins need a lot from Nicholson.

Collins should help Washington immediately, as a leader and as a sure tackler. He's had some elite seasons in the NFL, but that last happened in 2016.

Collins on his own as the last line of defense will help the Redskins, but not to the tune of an average salary of $15 million.

Collins paired with a healthy and fully engaged Nicholson could be special. But that requires Nicholson to be both healthy and fully engaged. Time will tell on that.

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