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Bullpen woes cost Brewers a return to postseason

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Bullpen woes cost Brewers a return to postseason

MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Brewers entered the season wondering whether they could replace the firepower provided by Prince Fielder, who left via free agency to sign with the Detroit Tigers.

The 2012 Brewers scored 55 more runs than the 2011 team that reached the NL Championship Series, but a meltdown by the bullpen during the summer prevented the team from reaching the postseason for a second consecutive year.

``A lot of ups and downs,'' closer John Axford said.

The year started with a cloud over Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP whose 50-game suspension was overturned during spring training. Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone levels but arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in favor of the Brewers slugger due to chain of custody issues involving the sample.

Braun endured taunts all season long in visiting parks amid questions whether his performance would suffer. Instead, he had an NL-leading 41 home runs and 107 runs scored while batting .319 with 112 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.

``The goal is consistency and longevity,'' Braun said. ``Those are the two biggest challenges in this game that we face. So the goal is to be good and productive year in and year out. The more successful I am the more I'm able to contribute to the team's success and the more fun I have.''

General manager Doug Melvin added several players to alleviate the loss of Fielder. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, signed as a free agent from the Chicago Cubs, started slowly but finished with an NL-leading 50 doubles while batting .300 with 105 RBIs.

However, the Brewers couldn't overcome the implosion of their bullpen.

In 2011, the Brewers bullpen blew only 19 saves and one lead when the team was leading after eight innings. That number jumped to 29 blown saves and 11 leads lost this season, with Axford and setup man Francisco Rodriguez struggling in the middle of the year.

The low point may have been a 10-game stretch in July where the Brewers won only a single game. General manager Doug Melvin started shopping ace right-hander Zack Greinke and bullpen coach Stan Kyles was fired.

Greinke was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on July 27 for young shortstop Jean Segura and two pitching prospects, and the Brewers started giving more playing time to inexperienced but talented pitchers to determine whether they could contribute in future years.

By the middle of August, the new-look Brewers became one of the hottest teams in the majors.

Michael Fiers used pinpoint control to pitch effectively for two months before tiring in September. Mark Rogers, the team's No. 1 draft choice in 2004, joined the rotation and pitched well before being shut down with two weeks left in the year.

Top prospect Wily Peralta was recalled in early September and had strong starts in four of his five outings.

In addition, Axford and Rodriguez rebounded and the Brewers went on a 24-6 streak that vaulted them into position to compete for a wild card spot. Milwaukee pulled within 1 1/2 games of the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 21 before fading.

``We all are disappointed we didn't get to the playoffs,'' manager Ron Roenicke said. ``But where we were a couple months ago, to get back in it was really important. And to see the young guys was important.

``Can this team compete and win next year?'' Roenicke asked. ``Everybody knows we can now.''

The young pitchers have left the veterans optimistic about the future.

``I hate to try and figure out what they are going to do next year,'' said Corey Hart, who hit 30 homers while moving to first base at midseason. ``We have so many good arms.''

With a few large contracts expiring at the end of the year, the Brewers will have some money to spend, possibly on a veteran starter.

``The biggest key is starting pitching,'' Braun said. ``We have young quality starting pitching through a bunch of guys who won't be making any money. So, it puts the team in a good position, a really good position.''

In 2011, Braun said a contract extension through 2020. He said he is happy to be a long-term member of the Brewers.

``This is my sixth year in the major leagues and four of those six years we've been in the pennant race with a week to go,'' he said. ``I've been fortunate enough to go to the postseason twice already. I certainly believe in the direction of the organization.''

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, July 20, six days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the cornerbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Pro Football Focus’ coverage metrics, although I did some juggling based on interception totals and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teamsreceivers, running backspass rushers, and quarterbacks

1. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals—The athletic Peterson has been All-Pro three times and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his seven years in the league. He hasn’t had a big interception total since he got seven in 2012 but that is mostly because quarterbacks only throw his way about once in every ten snaps he is in coverage. 

2. Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars—I could easily have ranked Ramsey over Peterson. I went with Peterson because he’s been doing it for longer and he’s only 28. Ramsey has justified his No. 5 selection in the 2016 draft. His long arms and ball skills serve him well. He has the size to defend the bigger receivers and the athleticism to be effective against shifty and speedy receivers. 

3. A.J. Bouye, Jaguars—If Alex Smith tries to throw away from Ramsey he will encounter trouble on the other side. It’s been trendy to say that Bouye is underrated for so long he’s in danger of becoming overrated. But he’s not there yet. Bouye was one of four full-time (played at least 60% of snaps) cornerbacks who did not allow a touchdown pass last year and he had by far the most plays in coverage. 

4. Malcolm Butler, Titans—If the Brady-Belichick Patriots don’t win another Super Bowl, the coach’s decision to keep Butler on the bench as Nick Foles shredded the New England secondary will be marked as the end of that era. Maybe Butler isn’t good enough to have made a difference, but it would have been interesting to see. He’s with the Titans now and he will give Smith problems in December. 

5. Marshon Lattimore, Saints—Last year’s defensive rookie of the year plays an aggressive style both in press man coverage and when tackling receivers who have caught the ball. An ankle injury sent him out of the game against the Redskins early, perhaps one of the reasons why Kirk Cousins was able to light them up for 322 yards and three touchdowns. 

Best of the rest: Desmond Trufant, Falcons; Brent Grimes, Bucs; Logan Ryan, Titans;k Jaire Alexander (rookie), Packers

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 6
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 20
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 43

The Redskins last played a game 201 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 51 days. 

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

So, the Orioles made some headlines earlier this week. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but minor league pitcher Asher Wojciechowski exercised his opt-out clause and is no longer with the organization. Please keep Orioles fans in your thoughts during this trying time.

As everyone reading this is undoubtedly already aware, the Orioles *also* made a trade yesterday, sending 26-year old superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return for their once-in-a-lifetime talent, the Orioles received a whopping five prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Yusniel Diaz, OF, 21

It’s fitting that this trade is being compared to the Erik Bedard trade, which was also a five-for-one, because Diaz could be a poor man’s Adam Jones. He’s not the prospect Jones was, but he could end up being a really nice player.

Talent evaluators are split on his ultimate ceiling. Some describe him as a bona fide stud, and others leave him off their top 100 lists. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 31st overall (by Baseball Prospectus), which, if accurate, is a terrific main piece in a package for a star rental. 

Most consider Diaz’s main flaw as a prospect to be his in-game power, though anyone watching the 2018 MLB Futures Game would be confused by that, as he became the second player ever to hit multiple home runs in the game. It’s possible that more power develops as he matures, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to hit for more power once reaching the Majors, but for now, it’s not a strength. I wouldn’t expect him to top 20 home runs in most seasons.

His bat-to-ball ability is his clearest strength, as he projects to consistently hit for a high average. His batting eye, while formerly a weakness, has become a strength in 2018, as he’s actually walked more times than he’s struck out (a rarity in this day and age). That will play well with O’s fans who are tired of seeing their players challenge strikeout records.

Dean Kremer, RHP, 22

Kremer isn’t a major name, which is a disappointment for O’s fans and one of the reasons their haul felt so uninspiring. Compared to more highly-touted prospects like Dustin May, Kremer looks like the team settled.

That said, he’s currently sporting the best K/9 ratio in the minors, and could end up being a diamond in the rough. He’s come a long way since being a 14th-round pick two years ago, and you have to wonder if the Orioles’ much-maligned pitching development can pick up where the much more successful Dodgers instructors left off.

Kremer is also notable for being the first Israeli-born player ever drafted in Major League Baseball.

Rylan Bannon, IF, 22

Bannon was an 8th-rounder last year and is having somewhat of a breakout this season. He’s leading the league in home runs, though playing in a notorious band box of a home park is skewing those numbers.

Bannon is undersized, but has a reputation of a good, if not elite, fielder. He’s a third baseman, but will likely spend some time at second as well. If the power breakout is real, he could end up a solid starter for the Orioles down the road. Again, that’s about all you can hope for in trades of this nature.

Zach Pop, RHP, 21

Pop has been described as potentially a future “right-handed Zach Britton,” which every O’s fan would take in a heartbeat. Of course, he’s not ranked like a future All-Star, as even in the weaker Orioles farm system he’s likely no better than around 25th. 

Still, the filler players in big trades like this are just lottery tickets, and considering his lack of pedigree, Pop seems like a relatively “safe” pitcher with projectability. He strikes out a lot of batters and gets a lot of ground balls, and at the very least can likely become a decent middle reliever.

Breyvic Valera, IF, 26

In a best-case scenario, Valera becomes the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty replacement. If you squint, you can see somewhat decent upside in each of the other returning players, even despite their modest prospect rankings, but Valera is a clear utility player. 

He gets on base and hits for contact well enough to stick around and has proven capable of defending multiple positions, so there actually might be a spot for him at the end of the Orioles bench.

Overall

This trade has been described as anywhere from adequate and somewhat deflating to a great haul O’s fans should be excited about. Four of the five players have decent ceilings, though the chance of all four (or even just two of them) reaching those ceilings is highly unlikely. It’s just the nature of baseball.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged on the success or failure of Yusniel Diaz, who is the clear centerpiece of the package. Whether or not he succeeds will be partially up to him, and partially up to the front office and player development team.

If this trade is the beginning of the core for the next competitive Orioles team, then it’ll have to be considered a success. If these players each bust out of the league, then it was still the correct decision to trade Machado instead of settling for draft pick compensation, but it will still sting all the more for O’s fans seeing Manny soar to new heights elsewhere.