Nationals

Chiefs' Crennel focused on finishing trying year

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Chiefs' Crennel focused on finishing trying year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The only person who seems to be at ease with the question about Romeo Crennel's future with the Chiefs is the man who is being asked to answer it.

He's a coach who has only managed to coax two wins out of a team predicted to compete for the AFC West title. He's a guy respected and beloved in the locker room but who appears lost on the sideline, and who has had just one winning season in five years as an NFL head coach.

But he's also a man who witnessed one of his own players commit suicide after committing murder, and then served as the face of a franchise in mourning. He's a man who shelved his own emotions to provide unwavering leadership when the team walked into Arrowhead Stadium one day later and beat Carolina for one of those two victories.

``We're in this business to win, because that's how it's kind of counted, by your win-loss record,'' Crennel said this week, when asked about his future in Kansas City.

``When you're not able to win,'' he said, ``you always wonder about yourself: What do I need to do more? What haven't I done? And those kinds of things.''

Nobody knows exactly how hot Crennel's seat is in Kansas City, though.

Not even Crennel himself.

For one thing, general manager Scott Pioli's job also appears on the line after a season marked by on-the-field misery and off-the-field atrocities. An unprecedented fan rebellion has been calling for his job for weeks, and it's possible that the man who elevated Crennel from interim head coach to the full-time job last season may not be around long, either.

Pioli hasn't spoken publicly since the Chiefs' bye midway through the season, when he said that Crennel had his support. Pioli was with Crennel when linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life outside the team's practice facility, adding another layer of complexity to the decisions that will soon be facing Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.

Then there's the fact that Crennel simply won't spend time pondering his fate.

He's been a coach for more than four decades, progressing through the college ranks to the NFL, where he helped to win five Super Bowls as an assistant. He understands as well as anybody how tenuous life is in professional sports, and that next season is never guaranteed.

``The future is the next game,'' Crennel said. ``So that's the one I'm concentrating on and seeing what I can do to try to win the game. If we win the game, we'll see what happens down the road. The only control I have is trying to win a game.''

It's certainly an important game for reasons beyond the fate of the Chiefs' coach.

Indianapolis visits Kansas City on Sunday with a chance to wrap up an improbable playoff berth, something that few dreamed possible when they lost their first 13 games last season.

If nothing else, the rapid way the Colts have turned around their franchise should be heartening for the Chiefs, who are headed for one of the worst finishes in team history.

The question becomes who will be in charge of orchestrating that turnaround.

``This is a business, so you can't worry about that,'' said linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is on his fourth coach in eight years in the league. ``When you're having a losing season, everybody's job is in jeopardy, players and coaches. That's just the way it is, the nature of the beast.''

Crennel certainly graded out highly among players and fans when he took over for the fired Todd Haley last season, and then guided the Chiefs to a victory over then-unbeaten Green Bay and a season-ending road win against the Broncos.

Afterward, players chanted his name in the locker room, and many of them openly campaigned for the former Cleveland Browns coach to get the job on a permanent basis.

``That's the most disappointing part of this year, one of them, is not getting the results the way we feel for Romeo,'' Johnson said. ``We love Romeo. We were screaming for him after the season to be our coach, and for our season to turn out the way it did, it's disappointing.''

Crennel has tried just about everything to engender change within the team.

He benched incumbent starter Matt Cassel for quarterback Brady Quinn. He fired himself as defensive coordinator and appointed Gary Gibbs to the same role. He's even had a hand in the inspirational signs that are posted outside the Chiefs' locker room.

Nothing has worked, though, and now his job is in jeopardy.

``When you try different things and you still don't win, it kind of wears on you a little bit,'' Crennel said. ``You know you're going to play on Sunday, so you have to put that best foot forward and try to get that win, because that's the best thing that will make you feel better about yourself and about what you're trying to get done.''

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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