Nationals

Brett Anderson prevents A's from early elimination

911051.jpg

Brett Anderson prevents A's from early elimination

From Comcast SportsNet
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The Oakland Athletics will play another day in this improbable season full of remarkable rallies.These A's never count themselves out -- down and doubted is their dogma.Brett Anderson outdueled fellow postseason first-timer Anibal Sanchez and the upstart Athletics showed off stellar defense all over the diamond, avoiding another playoff sweep by Detroit by beating the Tigers 2-0 Tuesday night in their AL division series.The A's cut their deficit in the best-of-five matchup to 2-1.Coco Crisp, whose misplay dearly cost Oakland in Game 2, saved a likely home run by Prince Fielder with a leaping catch at the top of the center-field wall in the second inning."You see him hit it and you just kind of put your head down a little bit because you think you just gave up a homer," Anderson said. "Then you see him plow through there and catch the ball and it kind of kick starts you to go out there and make pitches."Yoenis Cespedes hit an RBI single in the first inning and Seth Smith homered in the fifth. That was plenty on a night Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Fielder and the Tigers' high-priced offense were shut down by the low-budget A's.Tigers 16-game winner Max Scherzer will try to close out the series in Game 4 Wednesday night against A's rookie A.J. Griffin. Detroit swept the A's in the 2006 AL championship series.Fielder was the biggest victim of Oakland's spot-on defense, robbed three times. First by Crisp, Oakland's most experienced player whose blunder on Cabrera's fly allowed two runs to score in a 5-4 loss Sunday in Detroit."Not to be all over-confident or anything, I think I'm going to catch everything out there," Crisp said. "Obviously it doesn't happen that way -- duh Detroit, right?"Crisp let out a big "Whoo!" after raising his arm to signal he'd made the grab."Coco's catch, the ball was out of the ballpark and it came back," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "The key to that play was he was playing deep and that enabled him to get into a spot to get up and make the catch. And it was a great catch, no doubt about it."A's shortstop Stephen Drew made a tough play running to his left to stop Fielder's grounder in the fourth and then threw to first while still off balance and in motion.Then, in the seventh, Cespedes cut over to make a diving catch on Fielder's liner to left field.That delighted the yellow towel-waving sellout crowd of 37,090 in this blue-collar city."It's frustrating. But it's a good team you're playing," Fielder said. "They're going to make those plays, that's why they're here."After Cabrera singled with one out in the ninth, Fielder grounded into a game-ending double play.The A's own the lowest payroll in baseball at 59.5 million. Fielder is getting big money in Motown: 214 million over nine years.Anderson, back on the mound for the first time since straining a muscle in his right side Sept. 19 at Detroit, worked quickly and showed no signs of a layoff or jitters in his first postseason start.That's just not the way the A's have operated this year.Last week, Oakland entered its final three-game series of the regular season needing to sweep the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers to capture the AL West -- and the A's did it, sending a stunned Texas team to the one-game wild card, which it lost to Baltimore.A club with a majors-best 14 walkoff wins and countless whipped cream pie celebrations snapped the longest postseason skid in franchise history at six games. All of those against the Tigers, too.The Tigers are trying to reach second straight AL championship series after losing last year's ALCS in six games to the Rangers.Detroit captured the AL Central in Oakland last year and is hoping for another clinching party as soon as possible.Anderson did his job to delay it.He insisted he was healthy and ready to go -- and manager Bob Melvin took his pitcher at his word and gave him a shot in his biggest start yet. Anderson had shown plenty when he returned in August following a 14-month absence recovering from elbow-ligament replacement surgery and made six impressive starts.Not feeling quite 100 percent, he allowed two hits, struck out six and walked two in six innings. He was on a pitch count of 80 and was done at exactly that, though was never told about it beforehand."I don't know how you could expect more than we got out of him tonight," Melvin said.Next, the reliable bullpen took over.Ryan Cook pitched the seventh, Sean Doolittle struck out the side in order in the eighth and closer Grant Balfour finished the four-hitter for a save. The A's staff pitched the 11th postseason shutout by the franchise, while the Tigers were blanked for the 13th time in the postseason.The A's had lost five straight while facing elimination in the postseason, one shy of the longest active streak by the Twins.But this group has defied expectations ever since the first full workout at spring training back in February when the A's lost third baseman Scott Sizemore to a season-ending knee injury. Opening day starter Brandon McCarthy took a line drive to the head Sept. 5 and needed brain surgery. Starter Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games in August for a positive testosterone test.Oakland became the first team in major league history to win the division or pennant after trailing by five or more games with fewer than 10 to go. The A's were five back of the Rangers with nine left, then won their final six all at home with sweeps of Seattle and Texas.Smith hit a towering drive to the deepest part of center field in the fifth for yet another timely home run for the A's, whose 112 longballs after the All-Star break led the majors."That's how you win postseason baseball games, with pitching and defense and timely hitting," Smith said. "We had that. We got two runs and that's all we needed. Anderson was great and our defense was, too."Sanchez gave up five hits and two runs in 6 1-3 innings, struck out three and walked two.NOTES:Smith hit his first postseason homer and third lifetime against Sanchez in 15 at-bats. ... At 24 years, 251 days, Anderson became the fifth-youngest pitcher in Oakland history to make his first career postseason start. ... Both Bay Area teams avoided elimination after the NL West champion San Francisco Giants won at Cincinnati earlier in the night. ... Oakland sold out for the eighth time this year and second straight -- the regular-season finale vs. Texas drew 36,067 -- including 1,000 standing-room only tickets and extra suite sales. It was the biggest crowd at the Coliseum since drawing 43,974 against the Yankees on Sept. 4, 2005, before the upper decks were tarped.

Quick Links

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

usatsi_10899685.jpg
USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite as clear anymore. 

MORE NATS NEWS:

Quick Links

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

usatsi_10685702.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jerome Robinson

School: Boston College
Position: Shooting guard
Age: 21
Height: 6-5
Weight: 188
Wingspan: 6-7
Max vertical: N/A

2017/18 stats: 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 48.5 FG%, 40.9 3PT% (2.3 3PT/5.7 3PA), 83.0 FT%
Player comparison: Danny Green
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 29th, NBADraft.net 16th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 17th

5 things to know:

*A three-year player at BC, Robinson developed into a big-time scorer before making the leap to the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points as a sophomore and then 20.7 points as a junior while improving his shooting percentages across the board. He went from 42.3 percent from the field as a sophomore to 48.5 in 2017-18.

*Robinson turned himself into an excellent three-point shooter. After shooting just 33.3 percent as a sophomore, he got that up to 40.9 percent as a junior and on 5.7 attempts per game. That trajectory bodes well for Robinson's chances at the next level.

*He has a quick release on his jumper, giving him the ability to be effective on catch-and-shoot plays off screens. Robinson could develop into a reliable scorer who doesn't need the ball in his hands as a primary focus of the offense. He also showed the ability to throw down some powerful dunks and finish with creativity at the rim. He didn't record a vertical leap at the NBA Combine, but playing above and around the rim didn't appear to be a problem in college.

*Though it didn't show in his last season at Boston College, Robinson was adept at forcing turnovers in his first two years. He averaged 1.6 steals per game across his freshman and sophomore seasons and 16 times in his career had three steals or more in a game.

*Questions for Robinson would include his versatility and speed. Some draft evaluators wonder if he will be able to get separation off the dribble at the NBA level. Also, he put up decent rebounding and assists numbers in college but didn't exactly stand out in either category.

Fit with Wizards: Robinson would give the Wizards depth at the shooting guard position and they need that. He could help Bradley Beal pare down his minutes and offer a scoring punch off the Wizards' bench. The Wizards could use a reliable shooter to help space the floor for Kelly Oubre, Jr. and others in the second unit.

The problems with Robinson's fit would be his lack of positional versatility and what appears to be a relatively low ceiling. He's not the freak athlete that some of his counterparts are at shooting guard. If the Wizards are choosing between Robinson and guys like Zhaire Smith and Lonnie Walker IV, they could view the latter two as more enticing because of their potential. Robinson would represent a safer pick while others could pay off big-time and have a greater impact on the franchise in the long-term.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!