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Indy hoping to make most of 2nd chance at playoffs

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Indy hoping to make most of 2nd chance at playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis allowed one postseason-clinching chance to slip away at Houston.

It doesn't intend to let the same thing happen again at Kansas City.

``It's the playoffs. This is the playoffs,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said before Wednesday's practice began.

For the Colts (9-5), this is a rare second chance in a league where players and teams risk being left behind any time they miss an opportunity.

Just ask the Chicago Bears, 7-1 at midseason and now fighting just to make the playoffs. Or the Baltimore Ravens, who were in contention to earn the AFC's top seed three weeks ago. Or quarterback Alex Smith, who led San Francisco to last year's NFC championship game and a 6-2-1 record this season before losing his starting job to Colin Kaepernick.

The Colts are not looking back after making a historic turnaround.

They didn't complain when team owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson started over in March by cutting team captains Peyton Manning and Gary Brackett, letting Jeff Saturday and Pierre Garcon walk away in free agency and opting to rebuild through the draft and with a handful of players who needed another chance to prove they belonged in the NFL.

They ignored the critics who pegged them as the league's worst team in training camp and projected three wins at best. They didn't despair after returning from a bye week and were told coach Chuck Pagano was taking an indefinite leave after being diagnosed with leukemia.

So they're sure not going to let the 29-17 loss at Houston linger.

Instead, they're focused on their next task - beating the reeling Chiefs (2-12), who have barely averaged 10 points per game and were shut out in Oakland last weekend.

``There's a playoff spot at stake, so it's win or go home,'' outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. ``We can't go out and lay an egg like we did last week.''

It's a simple scenario for the Colts.

Indy makes it in with a win over the Chiefs or in the season-finale against Houston (12-2) or if the Steelers (7-7) lose one of their two remaining games - Sunday at Cincinnati (8-6) or the final week against Cleveland (5-9).

But the Colts are chasing more than just a playoff spot.

A win would help them regain some momentum heading into January, allow Arians to tie the NFL record for victories after a midseason coaching change, make the Colts one of only four teams in league history to go from two or fewer wins one season to 10 or more the next, and, of course, take the pressure off Pagano if he returns to the locker room Monday as players, coaches and team officials are hoping.

Almost from the moment Pagano began chemotherapy treatments in late September, Arians and Indy's upper management targeted the Dec. 30 game as Pagano's return. With that game fast approaching, Arians has said twice this week that nothing is certain yet.

Arians said he is eager to go back to working just one job, offensive coordinator.

``Hopefully we can get this victory and secure our playoff spot and turn it back over to Chuck,'' he said.

Players can't wait, either.

``It would be great, I'm sure it would be emotional for a lot of people if it comes (next week),'' rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said. ``Hopefully, it will be soon. It will be great to have him back.''

Pagano may not be the only one making a return in the next few days.

Starting safety Tom Zbikowski has missed the last three games with a knee injury. On Monday, Arians ruled him out for the Chiefs game. On Wednesday, Arians acknowledged the prognosis had improved and said Zbikowski was questionable. He did dress for practice Wednesday.

``He's moving around really well, so he is not out as I reported earlier this week,'' Arians said.

Yet there are plenty of other concerns, especially along the offensive line where starting center Samson Satele is out with an ankle injury and right tackle Winston Justice (biceps) and backup center A.Q. Shipley (right knee) are both questionable.

If Satele and Shipley don't play, Arians will move right guard Mike McGlynn to center and the rest of the Colts will adapt again - just as they have all season.

``I think guys understand what's at stake,'' Luck said. ``There's a little more of a sense of urgency in terms of what to expect, but it is kind of like the playoffs.''

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It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

Whenever a player has a career year in the last year of his contract, there is always some trepidation the next season. Was he really worth all those years or all that money that come with his new deal or did he just cash in on one great season?

John Carlson got the big contract and now is silencing all the doubters with his outstanding play.

Carlson scored his fifth goal of the season Monday as he chipped in a great feed from Jakub Vrana past Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson.

On the final year of his deal in 2017-18, Carlson was brilliant with 15 goals, 53 assists and 68 points, all of which were career highs.

It’s rare to see a bonafide No. 1 defenseman hit the open market, meaning there would have been plenty of teams lining up to pay him the big bucks. The Caps never let it get that far and they re-signed Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million before free agency opened. His $8 million cap hit ties him for second among all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of money to spend on a player whose previous career high was 55 points. Carlson would not have been the first player to regress in the first year after signing a big deal and he certainly would not be the last.

For now, however, he looks like he is worth every penny.

Carlson’s 68 points last season led all defensemen and he looks like he’s on pace to shatter those numbers. His goal Monday was his 11th point on the season. It took him 15 goals to reach that mark last season and 43 games to reach five goals.

Despite a career year, Carlson was not invited to the All-Star Game, he was not a finalist for the Norris Trophy and he was not named a first or second-team All-Star at season’s end. At his current rate of play, however, he will be impossible to ignore. 

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nats have a clear need at catcher​​​​​​​

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nats have a clear need at catcher​​​​​​​

One of the Nationals' biggest offseason needs is clearly at the catcher position, where they have no obvious starter under contract and no top prospect waiting in the wings.

Matt Wieters, Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino all saw time in the starting lineup in 2018, but all three failed to contribute in anything more than a few flashes. Severino started strong but was ineffective at the plate after the spring ended. Wieters finished the season strong but missed two months with an injury. Kieboom was good but never great.

Before we look ahead at the future of the position and whether the Nats will address their need with a trade or through free agency, let's look back at the 2018 season that was for Nationals backstops. 

2018 Nationals Position Review: Catchers
 

Matt Wieters

Age: 32
2018 salary: $10.5 million
2018 stats: .251/.315/.410, 76 G, 271 PA, 235 AB, 56 H, 24 R, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 8 2B, 0 3B, 30 BB, 45 SO, 86 OPS+, bWAR 0.6

Wieters was always a short-term fix for the Nationals catcher, but this year he didn't exactly provide the production needed to even serve that purpose. His numbers were a bit better than 2017, his first year in Washington, but Wieters battled injuries, missing two months from mid-May to mid-July with a hamstring strain. 

To Wieters' credit, he finished the season strong. From July 23 to his final game on Sept. 29, Wieters carried a .353 on-base percentage with a .763 OPS. His defense was a mixed bag, but he did rank 10th in MLB in caught stealing percentage (min. 40 GP).

Wieters is expected to be gone this winter and where he goes next will be interesting. He can probably still get another starting catcher job, but not for a good team. Meanwhile, the Nats will go out hoping to find someone much better and younger than Wieters to move forward with.
 

Spencer Kieboom

Age: 27
2018 salary: Pre-Arb Eligible
2018 stats: .232/.322/.320, 52 G, 143 PA, 125 AB, 29 H, 16 R, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 5 2B, 0 3B, 16 BB, 28 SO, 71 OPS+, bWAR 0.4

Kieboom got the call in May when Wieters went down and got his first extended stint in the majors. He made his debut in 2016, but had just one plate appearance before going back down and then staying in the minors for all of 2017.

Kieboom did a serviceable job considering the circumstances. His caught stealing percentage was fourth in the majors. And offensively, he had some moments. He had seven multi-hit games and had a few stretches where he drew walks in bunches. 

The question for Kieboom is whether he did enough to keep a roster spot next season. He's under team control until 2024, but clearly, the team will seek upgrades at his position. 
 

Pedro Severino

Age: 25

2018 salary: Pre-Arb Eligible

2018 stats: .168/.254/.247, 70 G, 213 PA, 190 AB, 32 H, 14 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 9 2B, 0 3B, 1 SB, 18 BB, 47 SO, 34 OPS+, bWAR -1.1

Severino had played for the Nats in brief stints each of the past three seasons, but like Kieboom he got his first real run in the major leagues this season. He began the year as the backup catcher but was optioned down when Wieters returned in July because Kieboom essentially took his job. Severino then returned in September when rosters expanded.

Severino continued to show flashes this season with his defense and speed on the basepaths relative to his position. But he just didn't get it done at the plate. He couldn't hit for average or power and he doesn't get on-base consistently enough.

Since Kieboom passed him on the depth chart, and given the Nats are likely to add talent at catcher, it's unlikely Severino will enter next season as anything more than Triple-A depth.

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