Nationals

Buckeyes don't shy away from talking about AP poll

Buckeyes don't shy away from talking about AP poll

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Almost every major-college coach says he doesn't care about the polls, for fear others will think his team will be distracted.

``Not this coach,'' Ohio State's Urban Meyer said.

With Ohio State banned from playing in a bowl, banished from the Bowl Championship Series picture or even being listed in the coaches' poll due to NCAA sanctions, the Associated Press Top 25 offers a bit of incentive for a team with limited time to prove itself.

So, each week when Meyer meets with his players, they discuss the media poll, how far the Buckeyes have come and where they have yet to go.

``The thing is, they're going to talk about it when they go home, when they walk to class,'' Meyer said on Monday. ``Why not (discuss), `Here's really where we're at'?''

Meyer knows that his players follow the game. They know who the best teams are, who's rising and falling, who the national contenders are. Why not bring it out in the open?

``These players are just playing football, and they have a right to know where they stand on a national level,'' he said.

Nowadays, the Buckeyes have a lot to talk about. In the preseason, they were ranked 18th. They bounced around during an up-and-down non-conference portion of their schedule, going to 14th and 12th, then up to 16th, before climbing to No. 14, No. 12 and, this week, No. 8 in the media poll.

The Buckeyes will have made their biggest jumps, naturally, since knocking off ranked teams the past two weeks. They edged No. 20 Michigan State 17-16 on the road two weeks ago before battering No. 21 Nebraska 63-38 on Saturday.

It'll be difficult to make up any more ground on top-ranked Alabama and the rest over the next four games unless there are a substantial number of upsets, because the Buckeyes play four consecutive unranked teams over the next month (at Indiana on Saturday, Purdue at home, at Penn State and Illinois at home).

During his 10-year tenure at Ohio State, former coach Jim Tressel disavowed any knowledge of the polls - even the BCS rankings, which determine the teams in the national championship game. At the same time, almost all of his players knew precisely where they were ranked, who was ahead and who was behind them.

``I definitely think it's important to us,'' center Corey Linsley said. ``Like coach Meyer says, `If you don't think that statistics are important, you're kind of lying.' It's what we play for. We play for these polls, we play to be No. 1 in the country, for there to be no doubt.''

Because of NCAA transgressions during the Tressel regime, Ohio State is on NCAA probation and is banned from playing in a bowl after the season. Still, the Buckeyes remain in the race to capture the AP poll - which is based simply on the top teams in the country, regardless of their status with the NCAA.

The Big Ten has already determined that Ohio State is eligible to win a Leaders Division title and the trophy that goes with it. Should everybody else in the nation lose at least one game, and the Buckeyes were to go 12-0, they could also steal the AP's national championship trophy.

There is some precedent for such a run. Auburn was on NCAA probation in 1993 but went 11-0 and the Terry Bowden-coached Tigers finished fourth in the final AP rankings despite staying at home during the postseason.

``The players have to believe that it's doable,'' said Bowden, now the head coach at the University of Akron. ``I remember we had won (six) games and we played No. 4 Florida and beat `em. It was a big win for us. At that point, those kids said, `Let's take `em one at a time. Let's show `em what we can do.'''

Other NCAA-sanctioned teams have threatened to pull off the no-bowl-but-national-title feat- Oklahoma in the mid-1970s, SMU before getting hit with the death penalty in the 1980s, Southern California just last season - but none has done it. Yet.

Bowden isn't discounting Ohio State's chance.

``Urban's always got little motivators that he's always wired into. I don't think there'll be a problem,'' Bowden said. ``One we used then (was), `They can vote for whatever mythical championship, whatever you want - but if we go undefeated, no other team in the country can take it away.' And we ended up the only undefeated team in the country that year.''

Just last year, Ohio State's football credentials were sullied by ugly charges and innuendo, suspensions, defections and Tressel's forced resignation for major violations. On top of that, the team went 6-7 - the most losses for the program since 1897.

Now the Buckeyes are enjoying their return to the spotlight.

``(The AP poll) is important to the team to kind of show where we are right now,'' defensive end John Simon said. ``We'll try to get to No. 1 if at all possible. We're doing everything we can.''

Just last week, the Buckeyes hung 63 points on Nebraska before a record Ohio Stadium crowd of 106,102. The atmosphere was electric.

``You ask what it feels like to coach a top 10 team, it's an extraordinary feeling,'' cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. ``I've had the good fortune to coach in a Sugar Bowl and an Orange Bowl when I was with Cincinnati. Neither of those experiences compared to the game on Saturday night, frankly, because of the number of people who were at a home game and all of the tradition.''

Meyer isn't skirting the talk about the rankings, either.

``We're not shy,'' he said. ``(This is a) top 10 football team, and the stakes are real high.''

It's far too early to declare the Buckeyes officially redeemed from 2011 and back on the right track after their lost year.

But it sure feels like that to those who within the program.

``I've been a lucky man. I've coached on a lot of really good teams in high school and in college. But this experience right now is second to none,'' Coombs said. ``And, I told my guys after the game, `Let's just plan on not losing anymore.' You know, I mean, this is pretty good stuff.''

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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