Capitals

Jaguars coach Mularkey released from hospital

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Jaguars coach Mularkey released from hospital

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey is out of the hospital and feeling fine.

The Jaguars said Mularkey was released Monday afternoon after a brief stay that included tests. Mularkey showed up at the facility a day after his team's 17-10 loss to the New York Jets and started feeling ill. He went to a team trainer, who took him to a nearby hospital.

The team offered few other details about his illness.

But the Jaguars (2-11) said Mularkey is expected back at work Tuesday.

``He seemed to be doing pretty good,'' said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who informed players about Mularkey's absence at a team meeting Monday afternoon. ``I look forward to having him back in here.''

Jacksonville, which has lost nine of its last 10, plays at Miami (5-8) on Sunday. The Jaguars will be looking to avoid a third consecutive meltdown in the second half.

The Jags led the New York Jets 3-0 on Sunday before 17 unanswered points. The same thing happened the previous week at Buffalo, where the Bills scored 17 straight in the second half to turn a close game into a rout.

``Players are frustrated, guys are frustrated with the way the season has gone,'' guard Uche Nwaneri said. ``We've had numerous opportunities to close teams out. If you look at our season game by game, there's five or six games in there easily that if we would have been able to execute just a little bit better those are wins instead of losses.''

The biggest problem the last two weeks has been Jacksonville's run defense.

The Jets ran for 116 yards in the second half, including a seven-play, touchdown drive that included seven consecutive runs by Bilal Powell.

The Bills ran for 158 yards in the second half the previous week, gouging the Jaguars inside and out.

``It's absolutely not a matter of effort,'' Tucker said. ``These guys are playing extremely hard. Guys are physical, guys are giving it everything they have. As you can see, we were able to get the ball back there in the fourth quarter a couple times stopping the run and getting off the field and giving us a chance there at the end. There's no lack of effort with these guys, and if there was, I'd be the first one to tell you.''

The Jaguars moved the ball into Jets territory in the final minute - they completed a 28-yard pass on a fourth-and-15 play - but Chad Henne's second interception ended any chance for a comeback.

Players felt like they let one slip away, especially since nothing went their way early.

Henne had a pass tipped and intercepted near the goal line. Rookie receiver Kevin Elliott, starting in place of Cecil Shorts III, dropped two balls and was flagged for illegal touching on a key play late. Guard Eben Britton, playing in place of Mike Brewster, was manhandled inside, giving up three sacks.

Josh Scobee missed a 55-yard field goal attempt to close out the first half. And the Jaguars just missed blocking two punts. Especially gut-wrenching for Jacksonville was Dwight Lowery's touchdown return that was overturned in the second quarter.

``When you have all your cards in the deck, you assume you will be able to put a game away or close out a ball game,'' said cornerback Rashean Mathis, pointing out a number of key injuries. ``When you don't have all your cards in a deck, you have to have a perfect hand.''

Despite another loss, the Jaguars believe they will be able to close out the season on a high note.

``Even though it's late in the season, horrible record, we are trying to build something special and carry some positive momentum into the offseason,'' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. ``We are at the most difficult point of the year: losing, bad record, no playoffs. But we still have to do things right because eventually, someday soon, this organization will be a playoff team and we've got to start putting those building blocks together sooner rather than later.

``We don't want to put anything out there that doesn't represent our best.''

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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Mike Rizzo makes bold move to call up Juan Soto

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Mike Rizzo makes bold move to call up Juan Soto

This is not a tweet I expected to read in May of 2018.

On the heels of their latest injury, the team is adding uber-prospect Juan Soto to the roster. It's unclear how much playing time he'll receive early on, but it's hard to imagine the team would be willing to start his service time clock and mess with his development track simply to sit him on the bench. He'll likely play, and make an impact on the team for as long as he's in D.C.

Let's not bury the lede, though. As you probably noticed in the tweet, Juan Soto is 19-years old. He was born in October of 1998, making him the youngest player in the majors, and bringing us one step closer to the first big-leaguer born in the 2000s. 

As incredible as it is for Soto to make the majors as a teenager (Bryce Harper and Time Raines are the only other teenagers to play in the majors in franchise history, which is pretty good company), what might be even more stunning is how quickly this came together for him. 

This will already be Soto's fourth different level of professional baseball this season alone, having spent time with the low-A, high-A, and AA clubs so far. In his entire life, Soto has just 35 plate appearances above class-A, which is almost unheard of for a player getting promoted to the big league roster.

He's hit everywhere he's been, with his career OPS in the minors a whopping 1.043 (his lowest  wRC+ at any level is 132), though it remains to be seen if his prodigious bat is ready for Major League pitching. Still, simply being in the majors at such a young age is a great sign for his future.

Not that anybody should put Hall of Fame expectations on a kid who hasn't even faced a pitch in the majors yet, but Soto's meteoric rise gives him a better chance than most at greatness. Just last month, when discussing the dynamic Braves duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Hall of Fame-expert Jay Jaffe did some research on young stars making the big leagues, and the numbers are promising.

According to Baseball Reference (and we're just going to take their word for it), there have been 19,261 players in the history of Major League Baseball, and 226 of them have been elected to the Hall of Fame. That's a minuscule 1.1%.

But, of every player to ever record 100 plate appearances as a 19-year old (a number Soto should easily hit if he stays up all season), the number of players who eventually made the Hall of Fame jumps to 24%. If Soto is only up for a cup of coffee this year, and next year is when he's here to stay, you can move up the list to players who recorded 100 PA in their age-20 seasons, and the number is still 19%.

Plus, that percentage is likely to increase in the coming decades, as there are 18 active players to reach the benchmark, including future locks Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout, and guys who are young but on the right track (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, and Giancarlo Stanton). Acuna, Albies, and Rafael Devers could find their way on the list one day as well. Considering only three of those names need to be enshrined in Cooperstown one day, it's safe to say that percentage is only growing.

That's a lot of stats that look nice for Soto and the Nationals, but obviously, we're at least a decade away from having a legitimate conversation about his Hall of Fame chances. Still, it highlights what we've known about him for quite some time. Juan Soto is a special, generational talent, and his rise to the big leagues as a teenager is worth writing home about.

What he's done so far is historic, and even if the move seems premature, it's plenty cause for excitement about the future of baseball in D.C.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.