Nationals

Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

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Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

The top of the Big 12 looks familiar, with Kansas in first place and ranked in the top 10.

The rest of the league doesn't appear to be nearly as deep as usual this season, its first with West Virginia and TCU instead of Missouri and Texas A&M.

No. 24 Oklahoma State (8-1) is the only other league team to join the ninth-ranked Jayhawks (8-1) in the Top 25 and nobody else received a single vote for Monday's poll.

This wasn't entirely unexpected, of course. Missouri won the conference tournament before bolting for the SEC and its currently ranked 12th. But beyond the Cowboys, nobody has emerged as a serious threat to the Jayhawks with non-conference play winding down.

Big 12 teams are just 2-10 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 and the league is seventh in overall RPI - behind the Atlantic-10 and the Mountain West. The inconsistent play of Baylor and Texas has a lot to do with that.

The Bears (7-3) were picked to finish second in the preseason poll, while the Longhorns (6-4) were slotted fourth. But Baylor has been up and down, while the Longhorns could find themselves at 6-6 at the end of the week.

Baylor's biggest win was about as big a resume builder as a team could ask for. The Bears knocked off Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Dec. 1, 62-55, snapping the Wildcats 55-game home winning streak. But Kentucky later fell out of the Top 25and Baylor lost at home to Northwestern.

The Bears have already lost to Charleston in Waco. But they've got a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins before meeting Texas in the league opener on Jan. 5. Baylor hosts BYU and plays at Gonzaga on Dec. 28.

Baylor coach Scott Drew said he saw positive signs after his team led by just two at halftime before rallying to beat USC-Upstate, 73-57.

``Early in the year I think that you are always adjusting, changing and tweaking,'' Drew said. ``I'm so pleased with this effort though because we were able to defend and still take care of the ball and win. I thought that we made some extra effort passes. We made a more conscious effort to get the ball inside. We're learning how to get more touches inside.''

Texas is scuffling in part because of a challenging schedule and the absence of point guard Myck Kabongo (NCAA eligibility investigation) and forward Jaylen Boyd (left foot injury).

If the Longhorns want to turn their season around, this would a good week to get started.

Texas, which doesn't have an upperclassman in its starting lineup, hosts No. 23 North Carolina on Wednesday and plays at No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday. A pair of wins would be a massive boost for a team that has lost to Division II Chaminade and by 23 points to No. 15 Georgetown.

``You've just got to go into it with a mindset of getting better every day. Build on the positive. And that's what we've been trying to do as a young group,'' Texas freshman guard Javan Felix said.

Of course, not everyone in the Big 12 is off to a slow start.

Kansas brought a seven-game winning streak into this week. Oklahoma State has already beaten Tennessee and North Carolina State behind freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who is averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and 5.2 assists a game and is on the short list of the game's top freshmen.

New coach Bruce Weber got Kansas State off to a respectable 7-2 start, and Oklahoma beat old foe Texas A&M 64-54 on Saturday to move to 7-2.

Iowa State (8-3), which was picked to finish eighth in the league, has lost to three quality opponents; Cincinnati, UNLV and Iowa.

Coach Bob Huggins led West Virginia to five straight NCAA tournaments out of the brutal Big East. Right now, the Mountaineers find themselves last in the Big 12.

West Virginia (4-5), fresh off a 15-point loss to No. 2 Michigan, is one of the nation's worst shooting teams at just 38.9 percent. The Mountaineers have lost to Gonzaga and fellow Big 12 team Oklahoma, but they've also fallen to Davidson and Duquesne.

``We'll win. We've won before and we'll win again,'' Huggins said. ``We've got to continue to guard better and we've got to continue to rebound the ball better.''

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMererdithAP

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

After a week that gave several teams the opportunity to prove themselves in the National League East, the only team that did so was the Miami Marlins.

They aren’t as bad as we thought they were.

As for everyone else, each fan base should be disappointed.

The Atlanta Braves missed a golden opportunity to pull away from both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, they actually lost ground to BOTH teams that were playing each other.

Philadelphia did leapfrog the Nationals in the standings, but they continue to leave wins on the table due to their bullpen. This is all while Washington went 4-4 on an eight-game homstand.

And if you’re the Mets, I need to say no more in regards to disappointment. Look out because the Marlins are now on your tail.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 44-32
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ St. Louis (3)

It is hard to take a team seriously when they lose two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles in their home park.

Both were in demoralizing ways. First, Sean Newcomb went seven innings allowing only a single run, then two relievers gave up a combined six runs in the ninth. Despite a comeback in the ninth, they wouldn’t eventually fall in the 15th (!) inning.

And yes… we can attest, this sucks…

Second was Julio Teheran allowing four to score before Atlanta even got an at-bat. There was a wistful rally for the rest of the game, but ultimately they came up two runs short.

Missing on a golden opportunity to emerge as the frontrunner in the NL East, the Braves dropped the ball. Once excited for a finalized rotation to be back together, there are still some gaps to fill. The team averaged 6.8 runs this week and managed only two wins.

And still no Robert Acuna Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 41-34
Last 10: 7-3
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (3), vs. Washington Nationals (4)

Winning series will get you in the postseason. Taking two-out-of-three over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nationals gives them four straight series wins.

None of those series victories were bigger than taking two at Nats Park.

In those six games Odùbel Herrera had 12 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs for a .444 average. He is leading the charge for a team that scored 39 runs in only six games.

Their starters are giving them quality outings as well. With each starting pitcher this week having a 1.40 WHIP or lower, there has been no downtick from them. However, all of their losses are attributed to their bullpen, including three blown saves.

On June 18, they optioned their closer Héctor Neris to Triple A after giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. While he did have a 6.00 ERA, and a 9.45 ERA in June, he did get the job done in the final innings of games. On 13 save opportunities this year, he got 10 saves.

They hope Seranthony Domínguez (four saves) can turn around the bullpen as they make a push to the All-Star Game.

Washington Nationals

Record: 41-35
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Tampa Bay Rays (2), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

All things considered it wasn’t the worst week for the Nationals. Despite losing a series to Philadelphia and dropping a Gio Gonzalez start to Baltimore, Washington gained a half game on the Braves.

But, you have to demand better on an eight-game homestand. These games may be the ones that could haunt the Nats come late-August and September.

Yet there are a lot of highlights this week.

-Juan Soto retroactively hit a HR on his first-ever MLB at-bat
-The Nats pick up reliever Kelvin Herrera in a career-year
-Despite trailing by four, and a rain delay, the Nats came back

Most importantly though Bryce Harper is out of his funk.

…and the fire is back, which may be the most important headline this week.

New York Mets

Record: 31-44
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3)

Finishing up a 10 game road trip with a 3-7 record, all the Mets needed was a return home.

Wrong, New York followed that up by getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

And one of those losses, just one, featured seven Dodger home runs.

Also another of the few productive players for the Mets could be heading to the DL. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (.283, 12 HR) took a pitch off of his hand this past weekend.

Miami Marlins

Record: 31-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. Diamondbacks (4), vs. Mets (3)

A 3-3 West Coast road trip is not too shabby for the Marlins who are playing .500 ball in the month of June (11-10).

It gave the opportunity for Kyle Barraclough to pick up two more saves, bringing his total up to seven this season. His stellar relief performances will likely garner him the honor as the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star Game next month.

He’s pitched 11.2 straight innings of hitless baseball. Barraclough has also not allowed a run since May 8 (19 appearances).

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Voting Results: Adams out, Harper down one spot after this week's voting

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Voting Results: Adams out, Harper down one spot after this week's voting

The countdown to the MLB All-Star game in Washington ticks on, but the stars of its host city struggled this week in the voting.

Last week, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Matt Adams dropped one position from the first week's ballot. This week, the downward trend continues, perhaps a sign of the ambivalence among Nationals fans following a mixed record since week two's update.

The Nats won three of their seven games last week with a blowout 2-12 loss to the Phillies on Friday. Maybe they're feeling bogged down by the incessant rain delays in the DC-Maryland area

Regardless, Bryce Harper dropped another spot on the fan voting ballot this week to settle in the No. 3 spot among outfielders with 1,403,335 votes. Leading him are No. 1 Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis with 1,829,276 votes and No. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Matt Kemp with 1,498,827 votes. It's worth noting that Harper trails Kemp by less than 100,000 votes, a very reasonable gap to recover from, and leads No. 4 Colorado Rockies centerfielder Matt Blackmon by over 400,000 votes, a somewhat safe separation. 

Matt Adams, however, was not so lucky. After dropping from No. 14 to No. 15 last week, he fell out of the top 15 in this week's voting. In this week's results, only 8,000 votes separate Nos. 14 and 15, so it's okay to be hopeful that your vote will make a difference. 

Trea Turner is still holding onto the No. 5 spot in the shortstop category, with an over 100,000 vote increase from last week's voting update pushing him up to 380,331 votes. The shortstops' rankings haven't changed since last week, so the San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford, Braves' Dansby Swanson, Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell and Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story remain in the top four spots.

Nats fans, now's the time to keep casting those votes to keep your favorites on this year's National League roster. You can keep voting until July 5 at 11:59 p.m. ET, up to five times every 24 hours. Read more about how to vote for your favorite players in the MLB All-Star Game HERE

The 2018 National League - American League matchup is in Washington, D.C. on July 17.

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