Wizards

Better starting pitching gives Orioles a Twins split

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Better starting pitching gives Orioles a Twins split

Fans often make the misassumption that trends are ongoing. After the first two losses In Minnesota to the team with the worst record in the American League, fans were in a full-scale panic.Two wins later, things are looking a little better.For the first time since July 3-4, the Orioles have consecutive wins, and excellent starting pitching was the key. Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds had key hits, but it was the starters who stood out.Tommy Hunter pitched his best game in at least two months on Wednesday, allowing just a run and six hits in 7 13 innings. Of course, he gave up the requisite home run.Hes only had two starts all year where he didnt give up a home run: his last good start in Kansas City months ago, and his first start of the season, also against Minnesota.On Thursday, Wei-Yin Chen started for the first time since Jason Hammel was put on the disabled list, and he allowed three runs and six hits over seven innings.With exactly 70 games to play, the Orioles are still above .500 with a 48-44 record. Four games in Cleveland await, and with at least a split there, perhaps therell be some renewed optimism and concrete trade talk.

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Kawhi Leonard going to the Raptors may actually be good news for the Wizards and the East

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Kawhi Leonard going to the Raptors may actually be good news for the Wizards and the East

Through nearly three weeks of NBA free agency and almost a month of trades, the Eastern Conference had remained eerily quiet. The Wizards had arguably been the most aggressive team in the East, as all the biggest moves had occurred in the West and, most notably, LeBron James changed coasts.

That all changed on Wednesday as the Toronto Raptors pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs to land Kawhi Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year. The full deal includes All-NBA guard DeMar DeRozan going to San Antonio along with big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick. The Raptors also get guard Danny Green, according to ESPN.

Here are some takeaways from the trade...

This is good, potentially great news for the Wizards

The worst-case scenario for the Wizards and most of the East would have been if Leonard got dealt to either the Sixers or Celtics, as the potential would have been there for a dominant team. The Sixers, in particular, could have conceivably traded for Leonard without giving up much in the way of pieces that can help them now. They would have teamed Leonard with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and would probably be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. Instead, the Sixers struck out and now face the prospect of taking a pretty big L on this offseason, given all the guys they were tied to going into it.

Leonard and the Raptors will be good and they may even be better than they were last season. Though the Raptors won 59 games in the regular season, they disappointed in the playoffs. Leonard could change that, but he won't have the help to make them an unstoppable force. Kyle Lowry is good, but he's an aging player and they don't have a third star, at least not yet. They have a lot of recent first round picks that could, in theory, make the leap.

This deal is good for the Wizards and could become great if Leonard leaves in free agency next summer. If he does, the Raptors will be in deep trouble.

What will the Lakers do?

When James signed with the Lakers, most assumed they would then add at least one star to run with him. But now that Leonard is going to Toronto, it's very possible they don't add one at all. James might actually have to play with Lonzo Ball in addition to Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. Sure, they can sign Leonard next summer or find another star then, but this is shaping up as of now to be a lost year for James.

As consistitued, they aren't winning anything of substance. It's just so surprising James would be cool with this level of talent around him considering what he could have done this season if he signed with Philly or some other team.

People are looking at the wrong contract

Much of the instant reaction to the Leonard trade was praise for the Raptors in ridding themselves of DeRozan's deal. That's a headscratcher. DeRozan is set to make over $27 million in the next three years, the third being a player option, but he's an All-NBA player who turns 29 next month. In the context of NBA contracts, that isn't too bad.

Lowry's contract, on the other hand, is borderline awful. He's 32 with his numbers heading in the wrong direction and he's due to make $31 million next season and $33.3 million the year after. It's not like the Raptors freed themselves of their worst deal.

Masai is making moves

This is a risk for the Raptors and you have to respect it. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, had seen enough of the DeRozan-Lowry duo falling short in the playoffs. He fired head coach Dwane Casey and pulled off a trade for Leonard, who at his best is one of the premier players in the NBA.

There is considerable risk in this move with Leonard having missed 73 games last season with a quadriceps injury and given the fact he can opt to test free agency next summer. If he really does want to join the Lakers, he could leave the Raptors empty-handed.

But it's a risk that is probably worth taking. Everyone assumed the same future for Paul George and he ended up staying in Oklahoma City. It's not a guarantee Leonard leaves and now the Raptors have a year to convince him to stay. Ujiri should get praise for this deal because it's bold and he did one of the hardest things a GM can do in finding a top-5 talent for his team.

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Key Caps questions: Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: At 33 years old, can Alex Ovechkin challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top-goalscorer?

Tarik: By scoring 49 goals last season, Alex Ovechkin didn’t just defy Father Time, he also did something historic: at 32 years old, the Caps’ captain became the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Phil Esposito did it at 33 in 1974-75.

Which brings me to today’s question.

I see more reasons Ovechkin will challenge for a record eighth goal-scoring title rather than reasons he won't. (By the way, he’s currently tied with Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who led the league in goals seven times).

Consider:

  • No. 1—Ovechkin, who turns 33 on Sept. 17, has shown no signs of breaking down physically, despite logging some hard miles over the course of 13 seasons. And if you’re going to lead the league in goals, you’ve got to play, and play a lot. Last season, in fact, he averaged nearly two minutes MORE per game (20:09) than he did the previous year.
  • No. 2—Something tells me that now Ovi has done a keg stand from the Stanley Cup, he’s more determined than ever to take another swig next summer. I don’t have any stats to back up this bullet point. It’s just a hunch from someone who’s covered a lot of his career.
  • No. 3—From an Xs and Os standpoint, not much is expected to change in 2018-19. His line will be centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov. If things go stale, new head coach Todd Reirden will have the ace-up-the-sleeve option of reuniting Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom. Meanwhile, the power play—where No. 8 does so much of his damage—will have the same structure and pieces.

To me, the only thing that could prevent Ovechkin from challenging Patrik Laine, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and Co. for another goal scoring title will be complacency. And I just don’t foresee that being an issue.

Ovechkin has an opportunity to help the Caps make up for some lost time. But there’s no way they’ll be contenders if their best player isn’t at, or near, the top of the league in goals once again.

And he knows it.

JJ: Ovechkin has shown people throughout his incredible career that you should never doubt him. He only scored 32 and 38 goals in 2010-2012. Think he's not going to reach 50 again? Well, he did it three times. Think Ovechkin's 33-goal season in 2016-17 shows he's on the decline? Well, he just led the NHL in goals for the seventh time in his career. Think Ovechkin can't lead his team to a Stanley Cup? Well, we all know how that turned out.

Ovechkin was challenged at the end of the 2016-17 season by Brian MacLellan who noted Ovechkin would have to change the way he trained in order to keep up with the quicker NHL. He took those words to heart and showed up for training camp a little earlier and little lighter than usual.

After his day with the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin sent it off with the words, "See you next year." He knows what it takes to be successful and he will be extra motivated to once again come into camp ready for a big season.

Having said all of that, Father Time will always be undefeated.

As Tarik noted above, the 32-year-old Ovechkin was the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Esposito in 1974-75. It's hard to do. Plus, there are a lot of young players like Laine and McDavid who are only getting better. While they're hitting thier prime, Ovechkin is fighting a losing battle with time.

That does not mean I expect Ovechkin's production to fall off a cliff. I still think he can surpass 40 goals, but the league's offense is trending up with the league average for goals per game per team climbing all the way up to 2.97 last season. That's the highest it has been since 2005-06. I am of the opinion that the offense is going to continue trending upward and it is going to take more than 49 goals to win the Rocket Richard this year.

Can Ovechkin score 40+ goals this season? Absolutely. Can he score more than that? I'm not so sure.

The Great 8 will remain a great goal-scorer and the Capitals' best offensive weapon, but I do not foresee him earning his eighth Rocket Richard Trophy or even finishing in the top three among the league's goal scorers.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?