Nationals

Column: Saban restless in a way rest of us are not

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Column: Saban restless in a way rest of us are not

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) At some point, this much success should have brought joy, or at the very least, a deep sense of satisfaction. It's only made Nick Saban chase each win more relentlessly than the last.

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see him try to top this one.

Alabama's Crimson Tide slipped on the BCS crown for the third time in the last four years Monday night, crushing Notre Dame 42-14 and almost as impressively, forcing a wide grin from its sometimes dour and always serious coach. Small wonder. The win was Saban's fourth national championship, which left him tied with Notre Dame's Frank Leahy for second on The Associated Press' all-time list, and behind only Paul ``Bear'' Bryant, the most famed of his predecessors at Alabama.

``I'm satisfied with this team because of what they accomplished,'' Saban said afterward.

But he has a rule that celebrations are cut short after 48 hours - and despite the biggest of wins - a rule is a rule.

``Two days from now,'' Saban said without a hint of humor, ``we got to start on next year.''

The weekend before the championship, more than a few people wondered whether Saban might finally open up, the way Urban Meyer did while still coaching at Florida a while back, the way some of his peers have when their legacy, like Saban's, was secured. Saban did - just not the way most expected.

He began with a story about inheriting his uncompromising work ethic from a father that he and everyone else in their tucked-away corner of West Virginia always called ``Big Nick.''

``There was a bum that used to come to my dad's service station early in the morning because he'd give him free coffee and doughnuts,'' Saban said. ``We had had a tough game the night before, I don't remember whether it was basketball game, a football game or whatever. The guy was giving me a hard time and I sort of sassed him. I was 17 years old. I got the strap right on the spot.

``It was the right thing,'' he added quickly. ``I needed to learn a lesson. I was disrespectful to an older person, regardless of the situation.''

Saban rarely comes off as a man who speaks from the heart. More often, he sounds like someone cobbling together bits and pieces culled from a shelf's worth of books on motivational speaking, which Saban, not surprisingly, has turned into a lucrative sideline. Maybe that's what made that story he told about his father seem even more revealing when the subject came up a day later.

This time, the lesson was not about respect, but about always striving for ``a standard of excellence, a perfection.'' Saban recalled being 11 years old, already working at that same service station by then. His responsibilities ran the gamut from pumping gas and collecting the cash to checking the oil and tires, and finally, washing the cars.

``I hated the navy blue and black cars, because when you wiped them off, the streaks were hard to get out. And if there were any streaks when he came,'' Saban paused, referring to ``Big Nick'' again, ``you had to do it over.''

Sports is not the only place where the father-son dynamic ignites a spark of ambition that grows and grows until it becomes a consuming flame. And there are men like Saban atop every profession. They clamber up the ladder without regard for consequences, treating each job like an audition for the next one. His story is instructive that way.

Saban played defensive back at Kent State, despite standing only 5-foot-6, and the determination he showed won him a job as a graduate assistant there in 1972. Next came a half-dozen more stops as an assistant - including a season with the NFL's Houston Oilers - before Saban landed his first head-coaching job at Toledo in 1990. He brought the school a Mid-American Conference title in his only season there, bailing out to become defensive coordinator with the NFL's Cleveland Browns under then-coach Bill Belichick.

In the ensuing 15 years, Saban burned through three more jobs, each one good enough to be considered a ``destination'' among his peers - first Michigan State, then LSU, where he won his first national title, and finally with the Miami Dolphins. Instead of feeling like he'd arrived, Saban remained restless in a way the rest of us are not. After two years, including his first losing season as a head coach, he flat-out denied he was leaving for the vacant job at Alabama - and then lit out for Tuscaloosa three weeks later.

That was 2007, and Saban is still there six seasons later, longer than his tenure lasted anywhere else. He's been so successful he not only owns the town and the state; he's even won over the fans and alumni who used to insist no coach deserved the Crimson Tide job without a connection to Bryant. Some of the most stubborn have made that connection themselves now, mentioning Saban in the same sentence with Bryant, and adding the ``D-word (dynasty)'' at the end that was once reserved for Bryant as well.

For his part, Saban has sunk roots in Tuscaloosa, even relocating the ``Nick's Kids Fund'' charity he and wife Terry set up more than a decade ago. It's actually named for ``Big Nick,'' the blue-collar taskmaster and former Pop Warner League coach who taught his son never to take on a job unless he intended to do it right.

Judged by winning percentage, he's certainly done right by nearly every team that hired him. The only remorse he feels is not having figured it out in time to tell ``Big Nick'' thanks.

``Probably when I was a senior in college, that's probably when I realized it. And my first year of graduate school was when he passed away. I never really ever told him,'' Saban said, ``which I regret.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

After a week that gave several teams the opportunity to prove themselves in the National League East, the only team that did so was the Miami Marlins.

They aren’t as bad as we thought they were.

As for everyone else, each fan base should be disappointed.

The Atlanta Braves missed a golden opportunity to pull away from both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, they actually lost ground to BOTH teams that were playing each other.

Philadelphia did leapfrog the Nationals in the standings, but they continue to leave wins on the table due to their bullpen. This is all while Washington went 4-4 on an eight-game homstand.

And if you’re the Mets, I need to say no more in regards to disappointment. Look out because the Marlins are now on your tail.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 44-32
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ St. Louis (3)

It is hard to take a team seriously when they lose two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles in their home park.

Both were in demoralizing ways. First, Sean Newcomb went seven innings allowing only a single run, then two relievers gave up a combined six runs in the ninth. Despite a comeback in the ninth, they wouldn’t eventually fall in the 15th (!) inning.

And yes… we can attest, this sucks…

Second was Julio Teheran allowing four to score before Atlanta even got an at-bat. There was a wistful rally for the rest of the game, but ultimately they came up two runs short.

Missing on a golden opportunity to emerge as the frontrunner in the NL East, the Braves dropped the ball. Once excited for a finalized rotation to be back together, there are still some gaps to fill. The team averaged 6.8 runs this week and managed only two wins.

And still no Robert Acuna Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 41-34
Last 10: 7-3
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (3), vs. Washington Nationals (4)

Winning series will get you in the postseason. Taking two-out-of-three over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nationals gives them four straight series wins.

None of those series victories were bigger than taking two at Nats Park.

In those six games Odùbel Herrera had 12 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs for a .444 average. He is leading the charge for a team that scored 39 runs in only six games.

Their starters are giving them quality outings as well. With each starting pitcher this week having a 1.40 WHIP or lower, there has been no downtick from them. However, all of their losses are attributed to their bullpen, including three blown saves.

On June 18, they optioned their closer Héctor Neris to Triple A after giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. While he did have a 6.00 ERA, and a 9.45 ERA in June, he did get the job done in the final innings of games. On 13 save opportunities this year, he got 10 saves.

They hope Seranthony Domínguez (four saves) can turn around the bullpen as they make a push to the All-Star Game.

Washington Nationals

Record: 41-35
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Tampa Bay Rays (2), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

All things considered it wasn’t the worst week for the Nationals. Despite losing a series to Philadelphia and dropping a Gio Gonzalez start to Baltimore, Washington gained a half game on the Braves.

But, you have to demand better on an eight-game homestand. These games may be the ones that could haunt the Nats come late-August and September.

Yet there are a lot of highlights this week.

-Juan Soto retroactively hit a HR on his first-ever MLB at-bat
-The Nats pick up reliever Kelvin Herrera in a career-year
-Despite trailing by four, and a rain delay, the Nats came back

Most importantly though Bryce Harper is out of his funk.

…and the fire is back, which may be the most important headline this week.

New York Mets

Record: 31-44
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3)

Finishing up a 10 game road trip with a 3-7 record, all the Mets needed was a return home.

Wrong, New York followed that up by getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

And one of those losses, just one, featured seven Dodger home runs.

Also another of the few productive players for the Mets could be heading to the DL. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (.283, 12 HR) took a pitch off of his hand this past weekend.

Miami Marlins

Record: 31-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. Diamondbacks (4), vs. Mets (3)

A 3-3 West Coast road trip is not too shabby for the Marlins who are playing .500 ball in the month of June (11-10).

It gave the opportunity for Kyle Barraclough to pick up two more saves, bringing his total up to seven this season. His stellar relief performances will likely garner him the honor as the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star Game next month.

He’s pitched 11.2 straight innings of hitless baseball. Barraclough has also not allowed a run since May 8 (19 appearances).

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Voting Results: Adams out, Harper down one spot after this week's voting

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Voting Results: Adams out, Harper down one spot after this week's voting

The countdown to the MLB All-Star game in Washington ticks on, but the stars of its host city struggled this week in the voting.

Last week, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Matt Adams dropped one position from the first week's ballot. This week, the downward trend continues, perhaps a sign of the ambivalence among Nationals fans following a mixed record since week two's update.

The Nats won three of their seven games last week with a blowout 2-12 loss to the Phillies on Friday. Maybe they're feeling bogged down by the incessant rain delays in the DC-Maryland area

Regardless, Bryce Harper dropped another spot on the fan voting ballot this week to settle in the No. 3 spot among outfielders with 1,403,335 votes. Leading him are No. 1 Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis with 1,829,276 votes and No. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Matt Kemp with 1,498,827 votes. It's worth noting that Harper trails Kemp by less than 100,000 votes, a very reasonable gap to recover from, and leads No. 4 Colorado Rockies centerfielder Matt Blackmon by over 400,000 votes, a somewhat safe separation. 

Matt Adams, however, was not so lucky. After dropping from No. 14 to No. 15 last week, he fell out of the top 15 in this week's voting. In this week's results, only 8,000 votes separate Nos. 14 and 15, so it's okay to be hopeful that your vote will make a difference. 

Trea Turner is still holding onto the No. 5 spot in the shortstop category, with an over 100,000 vote increase from last week's voting update pushing him up to 380,331 votes. The shortstops' rankings haven't changed since last week, so the San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford, Braves' Dansby Swanson, Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell and Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story remain in the top four spots.

Nats fans, now's the time to keep casting those votes to keep your favorites on this year's National League roster. You can keep voting until July 5 at 11:59 p.m. ET, up to five times every 24 hours. Read more about how to vote for your favorite players in the MLB All-Star Game HERE

The 2018 National League - American League matchup is in Washington, D.C. on July 17.

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