Nationals

Lemon has huge night, Syracuse beats UConn 40-10

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Lemon has huge night, Syracuse beats UConn 40-10

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) When Orange tailback Jerome Smith steamrolled through Connecticut on the first drive of the game, Syracuse sensed its game plan would work.

Did it ever.

Alec Lemon had eight catches for 166 yards to help set up three touchdowns, caught an 11-yard scoring pass, and Syracuse beat Connecticut 40-10 on Friday night to spoil Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni's return nearly eight years after he was fired by the Orange.

With the run game purring - Smith had a career-high 133 yards as the Orange gained 251 yards on the ground - Lemon took advantage of the middle and was virtually unstoppable. He had receptions of 41 yards and a career-long 68 yards to set up scores late in the second period and on the first possession of the third to help break open the game, then caught a short one over the middle as the Orange wreaked havoc on both sides of the ball.

``The running game was going,'' said Lemon, who has 27 catches for 475 yards in four games against UConn. ``We just feed off the running game in the pass game, keep it going. And we knew they were tired out there.''

A loss for Syracuse (3-4, 2-1 Big East) not only would have been embarrassing, it would have made reaching a bowl game a daunting task with five games left. The Orange snapped a five-game losing streak against UConn (3-5, 0-3).

``It was a big game, sure,'' Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. ``You're fighting, you're fighting, you're fighting. The kids did a good job during the week. Let's call it like it is. We were 2-4 and that's not good enough. The pressure's turned up. The kids did a good job and won a game. It doesn't take the pressure off. If anything, it shows - let's take this next step.''

Pasqualoni's departure after the 2004 season at Syracuse was awkward at best. His firing came only three weeks after Chancellor Nancy Cantor had given him a public vote of confidence to return for the final year of his contract. That was before a 51-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl to end the 2004 season.

New athletic director Daryl Gross, on the job less than two weeks, quickly decided a change was needed and Pasqualoni was fired after 14 seasons. He left as the second-winningest coach in Syracuse history with a 107-59-1 record, behind only Ben Schwartzwalder's 153 victories.

On this night, Coach P, who beat his old team a year ago at home, was seeking his 150th victory as a college coach. Although the Orange didn't oblige, Pasqualoni said he enjoyed his welcome.

``It was good to be here tonight. The people were great,'' he said. ``They were nice and very hospitable. We just wish we could have done a little bit better.''

The Syracuse defense repeatedly pressured quarterback Chandler Whitmer, stuffed the Connecticut run game, and finally created a turnover - just its sixth of the year - that led to a score.

Outscored 17-0 in the third, Connecticut finished with minus-6 yards rushing on 18 attempts, while Whitmer was 23 of 41 for 296 yards and one touchdown and an interception - in the final minute. The Huskies converted only 3 of 13 third downs.

``We just didn't do a lot of things well,'' Whitmer said. ``They got out front early and it was tough to fight back. We didn't do what we expected to do.''

The Orange did.

Ryan Nassib was 14 of 20 for 251 yards passing and Ross Krautman kicked four field goals as Syracuse racked up 502 yards offensively and did not commit a turnover. In its first six games, Syracuse committed 15 turnovers and gained only five, giving it one of the worst turnover margins in the nation.

After Rutgers nabbed four turnovers and turned a blocked field goal into a touchdown in a 23-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday, the Orange focused during practice this week on creating some of their own, and the hard work paid off in the second quarter.

Free safety Durell Eskridge blitzed, forcing a fumble by Whitmer, and Cameron Lynch recovered for the Orange near midfield. It was the 17th turnover of the season for the Huskies and the Orange capitalized.

Nassib converted two critical third-down passes to keep the ensuing drive alive, hitting tight end Beckett Wales for 18 yards over the middle and Lemon for 17 yards in traffic.

That set up a first-and-goal at the 10, and Adonis Ameen-Moore scored on fourth-and-inches for a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

The Huskies finally got untracked just before halftime. Whitmer hit Michael Smith for 18 yards on a slant and followed with a 23-yard completion to Shakim Phillips. After a pass-interference call against the Orange, Whitmer ran right, then turned and hit tight end Ryan Griffin all alone on the left side for a 32-yard score to make it 13-10 with 3:39 left, a play reminiscent of bygone days in the Carrier Dome.

Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator George DeLeone, together again at UConn, created one of the most memorable plays in Syracuse history when they ran the Orange offense. Donovan McNabb threw the same pass to tight end Stephen Brominski on the last play of the game to beat Virginia Tech 28-26 in 1998.

Undaunted, Syracuse drove 77 yards for another touchdown, keyed by Lemon's brilliant 41-yard catch and run to the UConn 2. Nassib then rolled right and hit Wales for a 3-yard score and a 20-10 halftime lead.

Syracuse put the game out of reach in the third. After Lemon's 68-yard reception put the ball at the 2, Prince-Tyson Gulley scored on a 3-yard run.

Krautman kicked a 42-yard field goal, his third of the game, for a 30-10 lead midway through the period, and Lemon capped his brilliant night with an 11-yard reception over the middle with 2 minutes left in the period.

``When our guys understand what their job is, do their job, they're really good,'' Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. ``I think that's really what it was. The guys executed the game plan almost to perfection.

``Nobody's dominated us. Every game this season, it's been on us.''

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?

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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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