Capitals

MLB team clinches 1st playoff berth since '97

879877.jpg

MLB team clinches 1st playoff berth since '97

From Comcast SportsNetBALTIMORE (AP) -- The champagne was on ice, plastic shields were in place above the cubicles in the Baltimore clubhouse and couches were removed to accommodate a celebration 15 years in the making.The party never happened -- at least not at the ballpark after the Orioles beat Boston 6-3 Sunday.Baltimore ultimately clinched its first playoff berth since 1997, but not until late Sunday when the Texas Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 8-7 in the finale of a day-night doubleheader.The Orioles are assured a wild-card berth, but they're looking to get into the postseason as AL East champions. Upon arriving in Tampa area, where the Orioles open a season-ending series at the Rays on Monday night, manager Buck Showalter said, "I think everybody knows where the finish line is, and we're not there."He added, "There are steps to it. One is assuring yourself of getting a chair at the dance. And then we'd like to figure out a way to play some games at our park in front of our fans. It's in our court."The Orioles remained tied atop the division standings with the New York Yankees, who rallied to beat Toronto 9-6 and also clinched no worse than a wild-card berth.Both contenders have three games left. New York begins a season-ending series against visiting Boston on Monday night, and the Orioles face the Rays."We'll see where the next three games take us," Showalter said.After the final out of their win over the Red Sox, around two dozen players and coaches took scoreboard watching to a new level by staying on the field at Camden Yards and rooting for the Rangers to win the opener,Orioles players exchanged high-fives and fist-bumps following their fourth straight victory, then gathered along the first-base line to watch the scoreboard telecast of the ninth inning, which began with Texas winning 4-3.Many in the crowd of 41,257 stood and watched, too.But a two-out, two-run double by Torii Hunter put the Angels in front and ruined the fun. As the Orioles walked off the field, Showalter waved to the crowd and offered a fist-pump of encouragement.Sitting in front of his locker with a beer in his hand, first baseman Mark Reynolds said, "It would have definitely been cool to celebrate with our fans. They've been supporting us all year. To be able to celebrate out there with them and take in the moment, it would have been pretty neat."Baltimore held out hope of cracking open a few cases of champagne in Florida."I take particular enjoyment in ruining someone else's clubhouse," reliever Darren O'Day said.Shortstop J.J. Hardy added, "I'm not going to say there's no disappointment, but we all understand we need to keep playing good baseball to get where we want to be. We'll just worry about ourselves and win the next three games."Who'd have thought the Orioles would be talking about division titles, playoff berths and champagne after 14 consecutive losing seasons and four straight last-place finishes? The Orioles (92-67) already have 23 more wins than a year ago."Our goal now is try to figure out a way to play some more baseball games here at Camden," Showalter said. "Hopefully, it's see you later."Hardy, Nate McLouth and Chris Davis hit solo homers, and Jim Thome drove in two runs for Baltimore. The Orioles completed a sweep and went 13-5 against Boston, their most wins in a single season versus the Red Sox since 1970 (13-5).Joe Saunders (3-3) allowed three runs, eight hits and no walks in 7 1-3 innings for Baltimore. Obtained in a late-August trade with Arizona, Saunders has yielded a total of 12 earned runs in his last six starts.Jim Johnson worked the ninth for his 50th save.Cody Ross and Daniel Nava homered for the last-place Red Sox, who have dropped five straight and 16 of 22. Boston (69-90) last lost 90 games in 1966."We haven't had a good season," manager Bobby Valentine acknowledged.Zach Stewart (0-2) gave up five runs and seven hits, including two homers, in 2 2-3 innings. In three starts this season he's surrendered eight home runs.After being beaten and bashed by the Orioles, who hit seven homers in the three-game series, the Red Sox now head to Yankee Stadium.A sunny, breezy fall afternoon couldn't have started much better for the Orioles. After the video board showed the Yankees and Angels losing early, McLouth hit the fourth pitch from Stewart over the left-field wall."After that just trying to do damage control," Stewart said. "Try to keep it at that score. Obviously I didn't do that."Hardy and Davis followed with singles before Stewart hit Jones with a pitch to load the bases. After Matt Wieters bounced into a run-scoring 4-6-3 double play, Thome followed with grounder up the middle that beat the shift and rolled into the outfield, scoring Davis for a 3-0 lead.Boston wasted doubles in the second and third innings before Hardy led off the bottom of the third with his 22nd home run. Jones singled with one out, and Thome chased Stewart with an RBI single.Ross homered in the fourth to get the Red Sox to 5-1. Davis connected off Clayton Mortensen in the fifth, his 31st homer of the season and fourth in four games.Nava homered in the seventh with a man on.NOTES:Jones was chosen Orioles MVP in a vote among media covering the team, the second straight year he's won the award. "It is given to me, but I think the whole team deserves it," he said. ... Boston hit three doubles and now has a major-league leading 214 for the season. ... Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, who's 2-4 with a 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees, starts Monday night against CC Sabathia. Rookie Wei-Yin Chen (12-10) starts for Baltimore in Tampa Bay against Alex Cobb (10-9). ... The top three players in the Baltimore lineup -- McLouth, Hardy and Davis -- combined to go 6 for 10 with three HRs and five runs.

Quick Links

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

capture_reirden.png
USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE:

Quick Links

Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

usatsi_9814395.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE: