Nationals

Eight questions for every baseball fan

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Eight questions for every baseball fan

From Comcast SportsNetThe Baltimore Orioles began the week with the best record in the majors, with Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals close behind. Albert Pujols was slumping, Bobby Valentine was getting booed and Derek Jeter was hitting nearly .400.Signs of the season, or mere mirages? A quick look at the big questions so far in baseball:-------- Can the Orioles stay atop the AL East? Cleveland teased fans last spring, Pittsburgh stuck around until summer. Sure looks like a charmed year in Charm City, too, coming off DH Chris Davis' improbable stint on the mound. Buck Showalter has the Birds believing, bolstered by a shutdown bullpen. The O's haven't had a winning season since future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar led them to a division title in 1997 -- let's watch the next two weeks when Texas, Tampa Bay and the Yankees visit Camden Yards. The call: The Orioles fall back a couple spots before the All-Star break.-------- How many home runs will Albert Pujols hit? After ending the longest power drought of his career, the three-time NL MVP was still hitting in the .190s. He's in a new, better league, facing many pitchers he's never seen, playing in a park that's not ultra-homer friendly. His 240 million contract draws a lot of attention, but these are the numbers worth noticing -- 47 homers in 2009, down to 42 in 2010, down to 37 last year with St. Louis. The call: Pujols drops again, and finishes with 33.-------- Will Washington win the NL East? All eyes are on Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals right now. They're fresh, fun and full of rising talent. Plus, they're winning minus injured closer Drew Storen. Manager Davey Johnson provides a steady hand, and the Nats will do OK while Jayson Werth's broken wrist heals. The last time a baseball team from the nation's capital reached the postseason was 1933, when FDR was in office. It might be time for President Barack Obama to begin warming up his left arm. The call: The Nats just miss the playoffs.-------- What will Derek Jeter hit? In recent years, the Captain has become perhaps the most polarizing player in the majors. Really, try to find a single fan who stays anywhere near neutral when talking about the Yankees star. At this point last year, Jeter seemed washed up at the plate and in the field. Since homering for his 3,000th hit right before the All-Star break, he's completely rejuvenated. Manager Joe Girardi is being diligent in giving the 37-year-old shortstop proper rest, and the results appear to be showing. The call: Jeter hits a robust .321.-------- Can Bobby Valentine survive the season? This sure isn't what Bobby V had in mind when he returned to the big leagues. Battered bullpen, banged-up roster, mini-feud with popular Kevin Youkilis and angry crowds at Fenway Park. Many fans in Boston wondered how much worse it could get after last year's collapse. Well, last place isn't looking so great. That said, he won't be the first manager to get chopped in 2012 -- that's much more likely to be Kansas City's Ned Yost. The call: Red Sox management will preach patience, Boston starts playing better and Valentine makes it through the year.-------- How many more no-hitters will there be? Jered Weaver, OK, maybe some could've foreseen that. But Philip Humber's perfect game, no way. Predicting no-hitters is a tricky business. A lot of people claim they're more possible nowadays, with hitters in the post-Steroids Era. Maybe a pair of gems in less than two weeks means more are on the way. Even so, all it takes is a checked-swing blooper to wreck a bid. The call: One more this year, pitched by Matt Cain.-------- What's in the future for Mariano Rivera? The greatest closer of all-time is holding out hope that he'll pitch again this year. Such comebacks from torn ACLs have occurred, although not with 42-year-old ballplayers. If the Yankees reach the playoffs, look for daily stories on how Rivera is close to rejoining them. Mo' likely, a return in 2013. The call: "Enter Sandman" blasts away at Yankee Stadium next season as Rivera, with almost a full year to rest his arm, loses very little off his cutter.-------- Who will win the World Series? Tampa Bay looks sharp with all its pitching, St. Louis has done well as the defending champion and Miami is starting to play well under Ozzie Guillen. And how magical it would be if Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers captured the crown? The call: There can be just one champion, and that team is Texas. With Yu Darvish on his way to winning 20 games and Josh Hamilton leading a beastly lineup, the Rangers will shake off the disappointment of losing two straight World Series and hammer whichever NL team dares to get in their way.

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Nationals turn to Patrick Corbin to close NLCS in a sweep

Nationals turn to Patrick Corbin to close NLCS in a sweep

WASHINGTON-- Holding a bottle of Bud Light in his left hand, the one which produced enough quality pitches for a $140 million contract, Patrick Corbin was a peripheral party participant.

He’s generally quiet. When the All-Star break arrived, he and his wife, Jen, made initial plans to go to the Hamptons. They went to upstate New York instead. The couple stayed with Jen’s parents because getting to the Hamptons seemed like a pain. Then he came back to work.

Asked during the post-Wild-Card Game celebrating how he would explain the team’s run to someone from home who had not been watching, Corbin smiled.

“Who would that be?”

Fair point. 

What’s now pervasive well beyond the greater Syracuse area is the Nationals’ weeks-long burn. They are 15-2 in their last seventeen games. The season reached the edge of extinction late in the Wild-Card Game, then again in Game 5 of the NLDS. The National League Championship Series is a romp thus far, and Corbin’s chance to close it with a sweep comes Tuesday night in Nationals Park.

Washington, finally, is not playing from behind. No National League team has ever lost a seven-game series with a 3-0 lead. The Nationals even suddenly have a 50-50 shot of winning the World Series, according to projections at fivethirtyeight.com. Those odds will likely twist to favor the eventual American League champion, either New York or Houston. For now, the Nationals have the juice. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s odd,” Sean Doolittle said. “It feels nice. We’re not taking anything for granted, but this is definitely a better position to be in than we were three games after the last series. I think it can be a situation where we can come and continue to play with that loose confidence that is when we’re at our best, without feeling like we have our backs against the wall. Not that we’re uncomfortable in that position. But, we can be the aggressor in this situation.”

Corbin is trying to follow his rotation mates by snuffing out any St. Louis offense. The Cardinals have the worst batting average in NLCS history, a meager .121. St. Louis is going through a historic malaise. Corbin is going through his first postseason.

His start was rough. Corbin walked in a run to open Game 1 in Los Angeles. But, he worked his way through six innings despite the ineffective opening. A disastrous relief appearance followed three days later. Corbin’s routine and outcomes were upended. He sat in the dugout during the rest of Game 3 against Los Angeles, stone-faced and wondering what happened. Asked afterward why he remained instead of walking into the clubhouse to decompress, he said, “I don’t know.”

Things have been better since then. Corbin’s relief appearance in Game 5 against Los Angeles was paramount. He matched up late in Game 2 against St. Louis. Days typically reserved for bullpen sessions turned into in-game journeys during the season’s most difficult time.

“I feel great at this time,” Corbin said Monday. “Been lucky to stay healthy this whole season and just -- you just kind of continue to do what you've done, be smart about things. I think at this point in the season you're not lifting as heavy as you would and maybe backing down on some running and things like that. But pretty much the same routine. Body feels great. If you can't get up for these games, then yeah...”

Corbin faced St. Louis twice this season: April 29 and Sept. 17. St. Louis was an offensive force in April. September is the more relatable sample. Corbin went six innings, allowed five hits, no earned runs, four walks and struck out 11.

“I’ll just try to go over film and go over what I did do well and what I didn't do well,” Corbin said. “At this point, everyone kind of knows what I've done. I just need to go out there and execute those pitches.”

Corbin was speaking in the same press conference room used for his introduction almost a year ago. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer sat in the front row. Together, they went into spring training, then the regular season, as the core of everything. They remain so in the postseason. Strasburg and Scherzer have done their series work to this point. Corbin’s chance comes Tuesday night, when he can close it down, send the Nationals to the World Series, and grab another round postgame.

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Jay Gruden answers questions on the Redskins' culture, Dwayne Haskins and what's next

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Jay Gruden answers questions on the Redskins' culture, Dwayne Haskins and what's next

Jay Gruden has had the label of "ex-Redskins head coach" for a little more than a week now. Turns out, being out of the sport is already wearing on him a little bit.

"Pretty quiet really," he said Tuesday on the Dan Le Batard show when asked what life's been like since being fired on Oct. 7. "Bored out of my mind."

During his tenure with the Burgundy and Gold, of course, things were the opposite of quiet. Gruden dealt with a stressful combination of losing, injuries, quarterback drama, off-field distractions and front office issues for five-and-a-half seasons with the team.

But still, though he's no longer associated with the franchise, he chose not to take any shots at it, even when pushed to comment about its much-maligned culture.

"I can't say anything negative about the culture," Gruden explained. "When you're a coach and you want to put a team together, you have a vision of what that should look like and sometimes it doesn't match other people's vision and that's where problems occur. But, on the flip side of that, when you are a coach, you don't have GM responsibilities or you don't have total say, then you have to do the best you can with what you're given."

He also had a chance to talk about Dwayne Haskins, the Redskins' first-round QB. Reports have trickled out ever since Haskins was drafted stating that he wasn't Gruden's preferred choice, because Gruden needed to win in the short term and Haskins was a long term option. 

Gruden told the show why he didn't insert Haskins into the lineup when he was in charge yet also expressed hope for the passer's future.

"People are excited when you take a guy at 15, you want to see him play right away. But it was our professional opinion that he wasn't quite ready to step in and play in the first five games of the season," he said. "He's very raw, but he's very talented. It will take some time with him. He just wasn't ready when I was there. Maybe he'll get ready in the next coming weeks."

As for what's next, Gruden has an idea. He wouldn't mind the opportunity to "dabble" in TV or radio, but ultimately, he hopes to return to the sidelines. 

"I feel like coaching is what I want to do," he said. "It's what I was born to do. I love the game, I love being part of it. I love leading people, young groups of men and trying to get them better and maximize their potential. Unfortunately, I did a poor job of that at Washington, but hopefully I'll get another crack at it."

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