Nationals

Brian Gay wins Humana Challenge playoff

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Brian Gay wins Humana Challenge playoff

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) Scott Stallings' chip on the par-5 sixth skidded and released instead of checking up, leading to a lost-shot par.

He missed a 2-footer on the next hole for his first bogey in four days in the Humana Challenge, then watched a short birdie try catch the edge and stay out on the eighth.

A few holes later, the five-stroke lead he took into the final round was long gone. And a few hours later, Brian Gay was holding the big trophy after an unexpected playoff.

``You're going to have your good days and your bad days, but if you live and die with every shot out there, your career is not going to last very long,'' Stallings said.

The two-time PGA Tour winner saved par on the par-5 14th after driving into the All-American Canal on the right side, but dropped a stroke on the par-4 16th when his 4-iron tee shot went farther than he expected and ended up in the lip of a left fairway bunker.

``I flushed it and it went right up in the lip,'' he said. ``I didn't really have a play.''

On the par-5 18th, needing birdie to win and par to get into a playoff, Stallings hit a perfect 315-yard drive to set up a 6-iron approach from 220 yards.

He took a big divot and watched helplessly as the ball landed in the left rough, rattled around the rocks and tumbled into the water. He still had a chance to get in the playoff after a penalty drop, but left himself 10 feet after a chip and missed the par putt.

``There wasn't any nerves or anything like that going into it,'' Stallings said. ``Just hit a bad shot. Same thing that happened on 14. .. Coming down the stretch on the 72nd hole, you can't make mistakes like that. It stinks, but it's something that I'll definitely learn from.''

He finished with a 2-under 70 to miss the playoff by a stroke.

Gay took advantage of a chance he didn't expect to win his fourth PGA Tour title, finding the extra distance off the tee he has longed for without sacrificing control.

Gay cracked a 300-yard drive down the middle to set up a birdie on the first playoff hole, then split the fairway with a 297-yarder and made another birdie to hold off Charles Howell III with the sun setting behind the Santa Rosa Mountains.

``I'm still in a little bit of shock,'' Gay said. ``It kind of happened so fast there at the end the way things went down. Last year was a struggle. It was a long year, a lot of work. I just wanted to come out this year kind of refocused, recharged, and believing in myself.''

Gay won on the par-4 10th, putting his 9-iron second shot 5 1/2 feet below the hole. Howell drove into the right rough, hit into the back bunker, blasted out to 15 feet and two-putted for bogey and his 14th runner-up finish.

The 41-year-old Gay, hardly an imposing figure at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, worked hard last year with Grant Waite and Joe Mayo to increase his driving distance.

``My whole game's been about accuracy and short game,'' Gay said. ``I've always been a short hitter on the tour and I felt like as I was getting older I'm only going to get shorter and shorter. ... It was tough last year trying to play making those changes.''

Gay closed with a 63 on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course to match Howell and Swedish rookie David Lingmerth at 25-under 263. Howell shot a 64, and Lingmerth had a 62.

Lingmerth dropped out on the first extra hole - the 18th - after hitting his approach into the left-side water and making a bogey.

Howell tied for second a week after opening the season with a third-place tie in Hawaii at the Sony Open. He won the last of his two tour titles in 2007.

``Anybody that says that golf is fun or whatever, has really not done it for a living,'' Howell said. ``I would never characterize this as fun. It's different than that. It's awfully challenging mentally.''

Gay began the round six strokes behind Stallings.

``The thoughts were, `Just be aggressive, shoot as low as you can,''' Gay said.

After birdieing nine of the first 13 holes, Gay closed with five straight pars. On 18, he hit into the right greenside rough, chipped past the hole and missed an 8-foot birdie try.

``I was happy to be in the playoff,'' Gay said.

Given a second chance, he outlasted Howell for his first victory since the 2009 St. Jude Classic. Gay also won the 2008 Mayakoba Golf Classic and 2009 Verizon Heritage.

Playing in the second-to-last group, Howell had a chance to pull ahead on the final hole of regulation, but left his approach about 85 feet short and three-putted for par. His 5-foot birdie attempt veered left inches from the hole.

``Going into the day, I didn't really think that anybody had a chance apart from Scott,'' Howell said. ``He's won before, he hits it long enough to take advantage of the par 5s. At 22 under, I figured if he shoots 6, 7 under, he's really not catchable. So, then to have a chance there in regulation, that's where I really would like that one back, that three-putt.''

Making his second career PGA Tour start, Lingmerth hit his 4-iron approach left into the water in the playoff. He had an awkward stance with the ball above his feet.

``I didn't feel that comfortable over it, obviously,'' Lingmerth said.

Phil Mickelson had a 66 to tie for 37th at 17 under in his season debut.

``I was rusty starting the year,'' Mickelson said. ``I had a great four days here where I can work on my game with perfect weather and wonderful golf courses, where I could build some momentum. Heading into San Diego, I feel a lot more confident.''

DIVOTS: James Hahn eagled the 18th for a 62 to tie for fourth with Stallings. ... Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner last week in his first start as a PGA Tour member, tied for 56th at 15 under after a 69.

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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