Capitals

Kruk to replace Francona in ESPN Sunday booth

Kruk to replace Francona in ESPN Sunday booth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) John Kruk is following Bobby Valentine and Terry Francona into ESPN's Sunday night baseball booth.

Is he going to emulate them and wind up managing a major league team in 2014?

``I think that is why they are putting me in the booth,'' Kruk said before adding: ``Ain't no chance of that happening.''

A member of ESPN's studio team since 2004, the three-time All-Star was announced Monday as the new partner of Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, giving ESPN a different trio for the third straight season after 21 consecutive years with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Buster Olney remains as the crew's reporter.

Shulman and Hershiser were in the Sunday night booth in 2011 along with Valentine, who left to become manager of the Red Sox and was replaced by Francona, Boston's manager from 2004-11. Francona departed ESPN in October to become Cleveland's manager.

Kruk has been working in the Bristol, Conn., studio about eight days a month and has filled in on game coverage. He expects his studio work to be roughly cut in half next season when he shifts to Sunday nights, ESPN's top baseball event because it has an exclusive window.

He never wanted to be a game analyst.

``I was always uncomfortable when former players came into your clubhouse, and I don't know why I felt that way,'' Kruk said.

He began to change his mind about game work when he accompanied Valentine on ESPN's bus tour of spring training sites.

``I got more carte blanche at ballparks than some of the other guys,'' he said Sunday. ``I was in the training room, talking to players. Bobby Valentine took me to some parts I wasn't supposed to be in. Wish he'd told me when I had to get out.''

Kruk then realized ``you get more information when you're there than just sitting in the studio.''

He hit .300 and had exactly 100 home runs during a big league career from 1986-95 with San Diego, Philadelphia and the Chicago White Sox. His most famous moment occurred during the 1993 All-Star game at Baltimore, when Randy Johnson's first pitch to him was a fastball that sailed way over Kruk's head.

Kruk pounded his heart in jest, flinched at a strike down the middle, flailed at two curveballs and then bowed to Johnson.

Part of the reason for his newfound comfort in the booth is that very few players remain from his time on the field.

``Unless Jamie Moyer comes back,'' Kruk said, laughing.

Actually, there are a few others, including Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Kruk thought he may have been part of Rivera's first game for the Yankees. Actually, it was the fifth appearance for Rivera, a Fourth of July game when he pitched shutout ball for the first time - eight scoreless innings. Kruk took a called third strike and walked twice in Chicago's 4-1 loss.

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How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

Everyone remembers Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018. That goal now overshadows another series-clinching goal Kuznetsov had in 2015. In Game 7 against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov scored what would prove to be the winning goal to break up a 1-1 tie. Clearly he knows how to get ready for a big game. His secret? Television.

Kuznetsov appeared on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals Greatest Hits show on Monday to talk about his 2015 performance and the topic of the locker room came up. Both teams went into that game knowing their season was on the line and Kuznetsov was asked if the feeling was any different in the locker room before the game, a question he did not know exactly how to answer.

"I'm never in the locker room," Kuznetsov said. "I'm always by the TV watching TV shows."

Yes, when Kuznetsov arrives at the arena, he apparently likes to watch TV before the game and said he is not in the locker room until only about 30 minutes before warmups. He enjoys watching soccer, but also likes a good movie.

"It's usually soccer games," Kuznetsov said. "If it's not the soccer game, it's whatever the movie's going."

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He went on to say he was thankful for the team subscribing to whatever channel it was that he watches movies on.

If this seems odd to you, there is a method to the madness.

"Usually it's movie because that way I'm not thinking about hockey," Kuznetsov said. "I like to be loose before games."

Hey, if that's what he was doing before Game 7 in 2015 and before Game 6 in 2018, it's hard to argue against it.

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry

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Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

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