Capitals

Detroit stars were no match for Giants in sweep

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Detroit stars were no match for Giants in sweep

DETROIT (AP) They entered the World Series a collection of stars rivaling any team in baseball.

Then one by one, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera fell short in the season's final test.

It ended with Cabrera at the plate, watching the third strike that finished Detroit's season. So close to their first championship since 1984, the Tigers were vanquished in a sweep few saw coming, losing four straight to the San Francisco Giants.

The finale was 4-3 in 10 innings. Cabrera homered in Game 4 on Sunday night, but Fielder's struggles persisted, and Verlander never had another chance to pitch after he was knocked around in Game 1.

``You remember this feeling all winter, and it makes you want to come back and try this again,'' Verlander said. ``I've lost twice, and it doesn't get easier. It gets harder. I don't want to do this a third time.''

Detroit lost in five games to St. Louis in the 2006 World Series. This showing was even worse.

In both years, the Tigers won the AL championship series in a sweep, then looked out of sorts in the Fall Classic. Detroit was shut out by the Giants in Games 2 and 3, and lost Sunday despite Cabrera's two-run homer in the third inning.

It was Cabrera's popup that wasted Detroit's best chance in Game 3 - and the Triple Crown winner made the last out of the series, striking out looking to end the 10th on Sunday.

``We could not find our game in the World Series,'' Cabrera said. ``We were looking in the whole series to get ahead, but they pitched good, they pitched great and they beat us.''

Before Game 3 on Saturday, there was still an old scorecard posted in the Detroit dugout at Comerica Park, left over from practice games the Tigers had played with instructional league players during the layoff between an ALCS sweep of the New York Yankees and the World Series. Those workouts were supposed to prevent rust, and the scorecard actually listed both Fielder and Cabrera as designated hitters in the same lineup - a sign of how informal the games were.

Two DHs? Neither player hit well enough in the World Series to merit that distinction. Cabrera was 3 for 13 and Fielder was 1 for 14.

``It is unfortunate, but we played as hard as we could. Losing to the World Series champions isn't too bad,'' Fielder said. ``We played good baseball, but they just beat us. We had a great season to get to the playoffs, and we played well to get to the World Series. You just don't get to write your own script.''

The Tigers had a chance to take control in Game 1 with Verlander on the mound in San Francisco. But he gave up five runs in four innings in what would be his only appearance of a series that didn't go at all as planned for Detroit.

``I'm a little bit flabbergasted to be honest with you,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``In both of those series, I never would have thought that we would have swept the New York Yankees, and I never would have thought that the Giants would have swept us, but it happened. It's a freaky game.''

The Tigers at least mounted one last comeback Sunday. Cabrera's wind-blown, two-run drive put Detroit up 2-1 for its first lead of the series. When Buster Posey gave the Giants a 3-2 lead with a sixth-inning homer, Detroit tied it immediately in the bottom half on a solo shot by Delmon Young.

But that was it.

The Tigers wouldn't score again, and the vaunted middle of their batting order wasn't heard from. After a leadoff walk in the eighth, Cabrera, Fielder and Young struck out in succession, and there was a sense that one more San Francisco run would win it.

Marco Scutaro delivered it, singling home the tiebreaking run in the 10th.

``For us to play like we did against this great club, I couldn't be prouder of these guys,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Now Detroit will have to come back next year and try again to reward owner Mike Ilitch with a title after his big spending. It was Ilitch who signed off on the $214 million deal that made Fielder a Tiger in the offseason.

``I'm disappointed for Mr. Ilitch. We wanted this bad for him,'' Leyland said. ``But when you've been in the game a long time, somebody wins and somebody loses.''

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

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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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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