Ravens

The best pitcher in baseball is ... R.A. Dickey?

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The best pitcher in baseball is ... R.A. Dickey?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- R.A. Dickey saved his career by cultivating a knuckleball. Now he's using it to rewrite the Mets' record book as baseball's most dominant pitcher. Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters and Ike Davis hit a grand slam to lead New York past the Baltimore Orioles 5-0 on Monday night. Coming off a one-hit gem at Tampa Bay last Wednesday, Dickey struck out a career-high 13 and allowed only Wilson Betemit's clean single in the fifth inning. He has not permitted an earned run in 42 2-3 innings, the second-longest stretch in club history behind Dwight Gooden's streak of 49 innings in 1985. "I don't really feel much more confident than I did the last couple years," Dickey said. "I've always felt like I have a pretty good knuckleball. I worked hard to do that." The previous pitcher to spin consecutive one-hitters was Dave Stieb for Toronto in September 1988, according to STATS LLC. The Mets said the last to match the feat -- or top it -- in the National League was Jim Tobin with the 1944 Boston Braves, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. Tobin tossed a one-hitter followed by a no-hitter. The 37-year-old Dickey (11-1) walked two and became the first 11-game winner in the majors, befuddling Baltimore with knucklers that ranged from 66-81 mph in a game that took just 2 hours, 7 minutes. He fanned the final two hitters and four of his last five, topping his previous career best of 12 strikeouts set Wednesday against the Rays. "Yeah, it's surreal," Dickey said. "You almost get emotional out there, especially that last hitter. You hear everybody, like one big heartbeat beating. That's the best way I could explain it." A longtime journeyman before joining the Mets in 2010, Dickey has won a career-best nine straight decisions and six consecutive starts. He is tied for the major league lead in ERA (2.00), strikeouts (103) and complete games (three). It was his fourth game this season with double-digit strikeouts, most in the majors, and the fifth of his career. The right-hander has an incredible 71 strikeouts and six walks in his last seven starts. "I'm going to leave it to you guys to explain it. I'm just going to try to be in the moment with it," said Dickey, a deeply religious deep thinker. Betemit's two-out single in the fifth ended Dickey's franchise-record streak of 13 hitless innings. "Do I have a chance to appeal that base hit? Did anybody dive for that ball? I got a bad view," Mets manager Terry Collins said, drawing laughs. The only blemish Wednesday night was B.J. Upton's infield single with two outs in the first, a high bouncer that third baseman David Wright tried to field with his bare hand. After the game, the Mets appealed the official scoring decision to Major League Baseball, asking the commissioner's office to review the play and consider whether Wright should be charged with an error, thus giving Dickey the team's second no-hitter this month. The appeal was denied and Dickey said he was relieved, explaining that there would have been "an asterisk by it bigger than the no-hitter itself." The only active knuckleballer in the majors, Dickey has a 1.21 ERA and 88 strikeouts during his nine-game winning streak. It was his fifth career shutout and second this season, both in June. Pretty amazing for a guy who relies on a seemingly uncontrollable pitch that he throws harder and with more precision than just about anyone else who's made a living on it. "He has no wild pitches this year. That's impressive," Baltimore slugger Adam Jones said. "He's in a groove." The Mets said Dickey has made five straight starts with no earned runs allowed and at least eight strikeouts, the longest streak in major league history, according to Elias. One of the people Dickey can thank for his incredible success story is Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was instrumental in persuading the pitcher to remake himself into a knuckleballer when both were with the Texas Rangers. "He had every attribute of a major league pitcher except the arm," Showalter said, his thoughts then turning to the fact that his team was about to face Dickey. "I wish it hadn't happened." After the game, Dickey said he would be remiss not to thank Showalter. "You know, and this is a tip of the hat to him: It was fairly poetic, I thought. The last game he saw me pitch live I gave up six home runs and tied a modern-day major league record," Dickey said. "It's really incredible." A member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Dickey was devastated when the Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than 800,000 to 75,000 after they discovered during a physical that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow. Undeterred, perseverance got him to the big leagues anyway. When he failed, the knuckleball brought him back. Committed to his craft, Dickey enlisted the help of former knuckleballers like Charlie Hough and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Along the way, teammates and fans were introduced to his unique personality: A voracious reader, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January to raise money for charity and released an autobiography that revealed suicidal thoughts and the sexual abuse he endured as a child. He's even featured in a documentary film called "Knuckleball." Dickey made his mark at the plate on Monday, too, sparking New York's big rally with a leadoff single in the sixth against Jake Arrieta (3-9). Jordany Valdespin doubled with one out and Dickey had to scramble back to third after he initially broke the wrong way on Wright's lineout to shortstop. The pitcher barely beat the throw with a headfirst dive, which turned out to be a crucial play. Lucas Duda walked and Davis hit the next pitch just to the left of center for his seventh home run of the year and first career slam. Valdespin tripled off Kevin Gregg in the eighth and scored on Wright's single. The Mets, who lead the NL with seven shutouts, had lost three straight and nine of 13.

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NFL Playoff Picture: A lot on the line for the Ravens heading into Week 16

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USA TODAY Sports/AP

NFL Playoff Picture: A lot on the line for the Ravens heading into Week 16

Week 15 in the AFC was verrrryy interesting.

The Los Angeles Chargers went into Kansas City and handed Patrick Mahomes a loss.

Tom Brady may have to play during Wild Card weekend for just the third time in the Brady-Belichick era, and the sixth a final playoff spot is still up for grabs as the Baltimore Ravens could be eliminated this weekend.

Here's a look at where things stand in the AFC heading into Week 16.

AFC Playoff Standings:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3, 4-1)

The Chiefs have already clinched a playoff berth, but their Thursday night loss to the Chargers made things much more interesting in the AFC West. 

If they win out, the Chiefs will still claim the AFC West and the No. 1 seed. A loss over the next two weeks, however, could shift their seeding around. 

Remaining Games: @Seahawks (8-6), Raiders (3-11)

2. Houston Texans (10-4, 3-2)

The Texans moved up in the standings thanks to the New England Patriots losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Deshaun Watson closing out a win against the New York Jets.

The Texans could easily finish 12-4 after their remaining two matchups.

Remaining Games: @Eagles (7-7), Jacksonville (4-10)

3. New England Patriots (9-5, 3-1)

The Patriots' loss to the Steelers Sunday has put them in a sticky situation. 

A first-round bye is potentially in jeopardy, something Tom Brady and Bill Belichick aren't used to, and a road game in the second-round seems plausible. Their remaining games, however, could easily bounce them back from their two-game losing streak.

Remaining Games: Buffalo (5-9), Jets (4-10)

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1, 3-1-1)

A win Sunday over the Patriots didn't move the Steelers any in playoff seeding, but did keep them half a game up of the Ravens for the AFC North.

It will be a race to the finish line for Ben Roethlisberger and co. as the AFC is anything but steady and they face Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 16.

Remaining Games: @Saints (12-2), Bengals (6-8)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3, 3-2)

The Chargers secured a spot in the playoffs with their 29-28 win over the Chiefs in unexpected fashion.

They could also ruin the Ravens' season Saturday as a win will knock them out of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

Remaining Games: Ravens (8-6), @Denver (6-8)

6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6, 2-3)

There are so many scenarios for the Ravens heading into Saturday's game against the Chargers. One of those includes them taking over the AFC North, and the other involves missing the postseason for the fourth year in a row.

If the Ravens win Sunday and the Steelers lose to the Saints, they will lead the AFC North. But if the Ravens lose and the Steelers, Colts and Titans all win the Ravens head back to Baltimore with nothing to show for their 2018 season. 

Not only do the Ravens have to travel across the country on a shorter week, but it will be the first time Lamar Jackson faces a top-10 defense. It's all in their hands.

Remaining Games: @Chargers (11-3), Browns (6-7-1)

In The Hunt:

7. Indianapolis Colts (8-6, 3-2)

The Colts slowed down the Dallas Cowboys hype train in their shutout win Sunday. 

The Colts will need some help to make it to the playoffs and a Ravens loss on Sunday could do just that.

Remaining Games: Giants (5-9), @Tennessee (8-6)

8. Tennessee Titans (8-6, 3-2)

A shutout win over the New York Giants kept the Titans' playoff hopes alive.

The Colts have the advantage over the Titans at the moment based on their head-to-head record, but that could all change in Week 17 when the two faceoff against one another. 

Remaining Games: Redskins (7-7), Colts (8-6)

9. Miami Dolphins (7-7, 4-1)

Miami has been able to stay in the mix, but their 41-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday could have spelled the end.

They now must win out and need a lot of help from other teams to see January football. 

Remaining Games: Jacksonville (4-10), @Bills (5-9)

10. Cleveland Browns (6-7-1, 2-1-1)

The Browns need somewhat of a miracle to make the playoffs, but their season certainly hasn't been boring.

In order to make it to the postseason, the Browns have to win out AND the Titans and Colts both have to lose Week 16 AND the Titans and Colts have to tie in their Week 17 matchup. 

Eliminated: Oakland Raiders (3-11), New York Jets (4-10), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10), Buffalo Bills (5-9), Cincinnati Bengals (6-8, and the Denver Broncos (6-8). 

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The Capitals see so much more in Tom Wilson than just the physical play

The Capitals see so much more in Tom Wilson than just the physical play

The Capitals raised eyebrows over the summer by signing forward Tom Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract. That’s a hefty contract for a goon whose only contribution to the team are some big hits.

But general manager Brian MacLellan sees a lot more to Wilson’s game than just the physical play. In him, MacLellan sees a top-line line player who is a leader on and off the ice. That was evident during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup and that’s why the team made such a sizable commitment to him in the offseason.

Wilson has a certain reputation around the league because of his physical style of play and his past run-ins with the Department of Player Safety. But that only tells you part of the story. When you look at Wilson’s entire skillset and body of work, it soon becomes clear why the Capitals have so much faith in him.

Washington recognized Wilson’s potential early on, making him a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

“Our amateur scouts had a high opinion of him -- the skating, the physicality, the character – and I think they thought there was some upside there offensively that we could tap into,” MacLellan said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington. “He did score some at the junior level, but they thought he could get to a different level as he turned pro.”

But because of how he was utilized when he first entered the league, no one knew Wilson had that extra level to his game.

In need of a physical presence to plug into the lineup, head coach Adam Oates gave Wilson his NHL debut in the 2013 postseason. Rather than return him to his junior team the following season, the Caps elected to keep him in the NHL. Oates, however, only utilized him in a fourth-line enforcer role and that’s how Wilson’s reputation began to grow.

Wilson worked hard at developing other aspects of his game, but it was hard to show those with fourth line minutes. No one saw the work he was putting into his game, all they saw was highlights of fights or big hits.

“He came in originally as a fourth line energy player, might have started in the league a year or two early or not depending on your opinion,” MacLellan said.

Wilson’s real breakout season came in the latter half of the 2017-18 campaign when Barry Trotz elected to make him a top line player.

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are two of the most talented offensive players in the NHL, but they are not nearly as good in their own zone. Rather than just load the top line with offensive skill and thus limit the situations in which it could be used, Trotz looked for someone who provide some defensive balance while also be able to keep up with the offensive skill of his line mates.

Wilson seemed like an odd choice initially, but only because most did not know how strong a skater he was. Most did not know his offensive upside. Most did not know the type of leader he was.

But the team did. It didn’t take long for the top line to take off with Wilson playing on the right wing.

“From the last 60 games and into the playoffs, I think his game hit a different level,” MacLellan said. “He played well on the first line with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. [He] brings a lot to our team, brings a lot of energy to our team and I think at the point there in the playoffs that if we don’t have Tom Wilson, I don’t think we’re winning the Stanley Cup. He was that effective down in a couple of those series.”

If a general manager views a player as being that important to his team’s success, a big contract won’t be far behind.

It was a small sample size, but Wilson was only living up to the potential the Caps always knew he had and so a long-term deal seemed like a no-brainer.

“We felt confident and wanted him to be around here for as long as we could get him,” MacLellan said. “Both parties could have wanted a shorter term just to test the comfort level, test where he’s going to be skill wise and the impact he’s going to have on our team, but I think we were comfortable going term on him because we believe in the player, we believe in the person.”

“When the GM and the organization reach out and are willing to do a long-term thing, it’s pretty exciting and makes you feel good,” Wilson said. “That being said, it’s responsibility to continue to improve and help the team win because at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.”

For more on Wilson the player and the person, be sure to check out our mini documentary “Tom Wilson: Marked Man” that will drop Wednesday exclusively on the MyTeams app!

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