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Judgment day for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa at Hall

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Judgment day for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa at Hall

NEW YORK (AP) There's a chance the podium under the chandeliers in the gold-and-ivory-colored Vanderbilt Room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel will go unused.

With the cloud of steroids shrouding the candidacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others, baseball writers may fail for the only the second time in more than four decades to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame, rendering a news conference unnecessary.

About 600 people are eligible to vote in the BBWAA election, all members of the organization for 10 consecutive years at any point. Results will be announced at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday, with the focus on first-time eligibles that include Bonds, baseball's only seven-time Most Valuable Player, and Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner.

Since 1965, the only years the writers didn't elect a candidate were when Yogi Berra topped the 1971 ballot at 67 percent and when Phil Niekro headed the 1996 ballot at 68 percent. Both were chosen the following years.

``It really would be a shame, especially since the other people going in this year are not among the living, which will make for a rather strange ceremony,'' said the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Three inductees were chosen last month by the 16-member panel considering individuals from the era before integration in 1946: Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O'Day and barehanded catcher Deacon White. They will be enshrined during a ceremony at Cooperstown on July 28.

Also on the ballot for the first time are Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, power hitters whose statistics have been questioned because of the Steroids Era, and Craig Biggio, 20th on the career list with 3,060 hits - all for the Houston Astros. Curt Schilling, 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play, is another ballot rookie.

The Hall is prepared to hold a news conference Thursday with any electees. Or to not have one.

Biggio wasn't sure whether the controversy over this year's ballot would keep all candidates out.

``All I know is that for this organization I did everything they ever asked me to do and I'm proud about it, so hopefully, the writers feel strongly, they liked what they saw, and we'll see what happens,'' Biggio said on Nov. 28, the day the ballot was announced.

Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall's chairman, said last year she was not troubled by voters weighing how to evaluate players in the era of performance-enhancing drugs.

``I think the museum is very comfortable with the decisions that the baseball writers make,'' she said. ``And so it's not a bad debate by any means.''

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs and was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice for giving an evasive answer in 2003 to a grand jury investigating PEDs. Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges stemming from congressional testimony during which he denied using PEDs.

Sosa, who finished with 609 home runs, was among those who tested positive in MLB's 2003 anonymous survey, The New York Times reported in 2009. He told a congressional committee in 2005 that he never took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

The BBWAA election rules say ``voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.''

``Steroid or HGH use is cheating, plain and simple,'' ESPN.com's Wallace Matthews wrote. ``And by definition, cheaters lack integrity, sportsmanship and character. Strike one, strike two, strike three.''

Several holdovers from last year remain on the 37-player ballot, with top candidates including Jack Morris (67 percent), Jeff Bagwell (56 percent), Lee Smith (51 percent) and Tim Raines (49 percent).

When The Associated Press surveyed 112 eligible voters in late November, Bonds received 45 percent support among voters who expressed an opinion, Clemens 43 percent and Sosa 18 percent. The Baseball Think Factory website compiled votes by writers who made their opinions public and with 151 ballots had everyone falling short. Biggio was at 68 percent, followed by Morris (63), Bagwell (62), Raines (61), Piazza (59), Bonds (43) and Clemens (42).

Morris finished second last year when Barry Larkin was elected and is in his 14th and next-to-last year of eligibility. He could become the player with the highest-percentage of the vote who is not in the Hall, a mark currently held by Gil Hodges at 63 percent in 1983.

Several players who fell just short in the BBWAA balloting later were elected by either the Veterans Committee or Old-Timers' Committee: Nellie Fox (74.7 percent on the 1985 BBWAA ballot), Jim Bunning (74.2 percent in 1988), Orlando Cepeda (73.6 percent in 1994) and Frank Chance (72.5 percent in 1945).

Ace of three World Series winners, Morris finished with 254 victories and was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. His 3.90 ERA, however, is higher than that of any Hall of Famer. Morris will be joined on next year's ballot by Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 300-game winners.

If no one is elected this year, there could be a logjam in 2014. Voters may select up to 10 players.

The only certainty is the Hall is pleased with the writers' process.

``While the BBWAA does the actual voting, it only does so at the request of the Hall of Fame,'' said the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin, the organization's past president. ``If the Hall of Fame is troubled, certainly the Hall could make alternate arrangements.''

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

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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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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