Nationals

Column: Bad call, bad idea for one-game playoff

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Column: Bad call, bad idea for one-game playoff

There was something a bit artificial about it to begin with, and not just because the worst team in the National League playoffs became the first beneficiary of the expanded wild card.

The St. Louis Cardinals certainly celebrated as if it was real, even if they had to wait until they were off the field to go wild about their wild-card win. No sense antagonizing the fans in Atlanta any more, in case they still had a few more beer bottles in reserve.

Baseball is not supposed to be decided in one game. Never was, no matter how much extra money it brings Bud Selig and his owners.

That a 94-win season can end because of a few ill-timed errors is hard enough to digest for Atlanta fans who kept the faith through a long season. That a call an umpire had no business making thwarted a possible comeback will make the offseason seem even longer.

Actually, left field umpire Sam Holbrook may have done everybody but Braves fans a favor by raising his arm and calling an infield fly in the eighth inning Friday. His call highlighted the absurdity of a sudden-death playoff system thrown together quickly and without a great deal of careful thought.

The idea was sound, much like the original plan to add a wild-card team back in 1994. More teams in contention in August and September means more fans in the stands, which means more money to the owners.

The original wild card - instituted when baseball went to three divisions from two - has worked well, even if purists grumble that the best-of-five opening series should be best-of-seven. It has added excitement to baseball races, and given teams that might never beat a juggernaut in their division something to play for.

The expanded wild card is more of a gimmick that punishes the wild-card entry with the best record and makes the 162-game regular season even less meaningful. There's too much emphasis put on one game, too many chances that something weird - like a bizarre infield fly rule call - causes an entire season to suddenly go bad.

And let there be no mistake about it. The infield rule call was bizarre, beginning with the fact it was made in the outfield.

It might not have cost the Braves the game, but it surely cost them a chance to get back in the game. And while it may have been the technically correct call to make under the broad interpretation of the rule, it was the wrong call to make under the rule of common sense.

It was a call made by an umpire looking at the play from an angle he never sees during the regular season, when there are no outfield umps. The last time Holbrook was that far down the left- field line during the regular season, he probably was trying to get away from the bratwurst and hot dog racing between innings in Milwaukee.

It was also a judgment call, meaning no amount of instant replay could change it. Indeed, even after watching the video after the game, the umpires were unanimous in their opinion that the call was the right one.

Joe Torre, the former player and manager who now acts as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said he was sorry the controversy overshadowed the first game under the new format. But Torre said he found the game exciting, and liked the idea of the sudden- death playoff.

Not surprisingly, losing manager Fredi Gonzalez didn't quite agree.

``Maybe they need to tweak the rules a little bit as you go forward,'' Gonzalez said. ``But it was one game for both teams. So, that part was fair.''

The best tweak would be to expand the wild-card elimination to a best-of-three series, and play all games on the home field of the team with the best record. That would provide an incentive for having the best regular-season record of the two wild-card teams and eliminate a travel day that would push the postseason further into November.

That doesn't guarantee the best team will win, but playing a minimum of two games takes some of the randomness out of it. Teams will play looser, managers will be able to set up their pitching staffs better, and umpires will have a few more games to get used to making calls down the outfield lines.

More importantly, fans won't have to live with the idea of an entire season being wiped out by a fluke play or a bad call.

It's a simple fix that will make September more competitive, and October even more interesting.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Strasburg, Scherzer get in heated conversation after ugly inning

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Strasburg, Scherzer get in heated conversation after ugly inning

The Washington Nationals have had a less than ideal season thus far.

The reigning N.L. East champs entered the All-Star Break 5.5 games back of first place, have a new manager that has gotten his fair share of criticism, are riddled with injuries contributing to a lengthy disabled list and seem to be frustrated to no end on the baseball field.

In his first game back following a right shoulder injury that landed him on the DL for over a month, Stephen Strasburg started Friday night's game in Washington against the Braves, one of tewo teams above the Nats in the East standings.

Following a poor outing in the fifth inning in which Davey Martinez decided to pull Strasburg, fellow ace Max Scherzer attempted to greet the starter. Strasburg brushed Scherzer off as he sat down on the bench and the two got into what seemed like a very heated exchange.

The Nationals never recovered from Strasburg's start and fell to the Braves 8-5 in Washington.

The frustration was evident as Martinez met with Scherzer and Strasburg to hash out the argument, delaying postgame clubhouse access to the media while their meeting was going on.

The meeting was kept under lock by Martinez, Scherzer, and Strasburg, who chalked it up to just being a part of the "family."

According to Martinez, the dugout conversation was hashed out and he immediately brushed it off when pressed for questions.

The Nationals look to even up the series against The Braves in Washington tonight.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

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10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No rookie draft pick excited the Redskins fan base like Derrius Guice since Robert Griffin III came to Washington back in 2012. That's a fact. 

Guice slipped during the draft to near the end of the second round, a position much too late for a player with his talent. Rumors emerged that he had character issues, but in the months since April's selection, they seem unfounded. In quick time, Guice has emerged as a Redskins fan favorite and has performed plenty of charitable acts.

So, moving past the erroneous off-field questions, it's time to manage expectations for what Guice can do on the field. 

DJ Swearinger recently said he expects Guice to make the Pro Bowl and rush for more than 1,000 yards. As a rookie. (Listen here)

That's not unheard of, last year rookie Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rush yards. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott did the same thing. Rookie running backs can step in and produce right away in the NFL, unlike some positions that usually bring more of a learning curve. 

Can Guice do that?

The first and most important questions will be health and durability. Guice dealt with lingering knee injuries last year at LSU, and the Redskins will need him fully healthy. A 1,000-yard season is not unrealistic if Guice plays a full 16-game season. It would require rushing for about 65 yards-per-game. 

The bigger key is opportunities. 

How many carries will Guice log in 2018? Early on in the season, Guice might still be learning pass protection in the Redskins scheme, and Jay Gruden will not tolerate missed assignments that result in big hits on QB Alex Smith.

If Guice can lock in on blitz pickup, 200 carries seems reasonable. Remember that Chris Thompson will still be a featured part of the Redskins offense, and Rob Kelley will get chances too. 

Last season, Samaje Perine led all rushers with 175 carries. He didn't do much with the chances, averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry. Kelley had 62 carries before injuries shut his season down after parts of seven games. 

Combine Perine and Kelley's carries, and then things start to get interesting. With 230 carries, at an average of 4 yards a pop, Guice starts to approach 1,000 yards.

One problem with extrapolating too much data from last season is the crazy amount of variables. Late in the year, with Perine largely ineffective and a very beat up offensive line, the Redskins simply couldn't produce on the ground. In their last five games of 2017, the Redskins never rushed for more than 100 yards. They averaged just 60 yards-per-game on the ground during that stretch, including a season low 31 rush yards against Arizona in December. 

The line can't be that beat up again, right?

Guice has to be able to deliver more than Perine, right?

If the answers to those questions are yes, then a 1,000-yard season seems possible for Guice in 2018. 

One misnomer from the Redskins 2017 campaign emerged that Washington simply did not run the ball well or enough. In fact, early in the year when the Redskins looked like a possible playoff team, they ran the ball quite well. In three of the first four games, Washington went over 100 yards on the ground, including 229 rush yards in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Guice might get to 1,000 yards in 2018. It's no sure thing, and there are plenty of variables, but it's possible. That hasn't happened in Washington since Alfred Morris, and would be a very welcome sight. 

The rookie runner has invigorated the Redskins faithful, and that's before he even steps on the field. If Guice can produce, the fans will go crazy.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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