Nationals

Mularkey keeps Jaguars playing hard in tough year

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Mularkey keeps Jaguars playing hard in tough year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has seen scores and highlights from around the league in recent weeks.

A blowout here, a lopsided loss there. In all, four games over the last three weeks decided by a combined 180 points.

The Jaguars (2-13) haven't been involved in any of them, and Mularkey believes it says something about how his players are handling the worst season in franchise history.

Jacksonville played arguably its best game all season in a 23-16 loss to playoff-bound New England on Sunday.

The Jaguars finished with 436 yards and 22 first downs, and had two decent chances to pull within a 2-point conversion of winning the game in the closing minutes.

``It kind of confirms what you've been saying all along that if you respond in this fashion, in a positive way, a win will come.'' Mularkey said Monday.

With nothing left to play for except pride, Mularkey's team has been mostly competitive over the last half of the season.

The Jaguars played Green Bay tough on the road in October, went to overtime at Houston in November, upset Tennessee and have been in tight games the last three weeks.

Sure, they lost by three touchdowns last week at Miami. But anyone who saw that one knows it would have been considerably closer had Jacksonville not failed to convert three fourth-down plays inside the Miami 15-yard line.

The Jaguars had even more trouble near the goal line against the Patriots.

Jacksonville had the ball inside the New England 25 seven times, but came away with a touchdown and three field goals. Josh Scobee missed a 43-yarder, and Chad Henne ended the final two drives with interceptions.

``Obviously you want to make more plays out there, but I thought the guys fought hard and showed what kind of team we really are,'' said Henne, who completed 29 of 51 passes for 348 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions.

The Jaguars might seem close to turning things around, but the reality is they lack talent on both sides of the ball. Throw in several key injuries, and it's been a recipe for disaster.

Jacksonville has lost 11 of its last 12 games, including four in a row, heading into Sunday's season finale at Tennessee (5-10).

But somehow, someway, Mularkey has kept his team focused and playing hard.

``It certainly would be easier if you had some wins because your energy, anything that's positive is going to recharge you,'' Mularkey said. ``But fortunately I have an excellent staff that's had a lot of energy, especially at this time of the year. Even the teams that are heading to the playoffs are fatigued. Our guys, I have to give them credit. They have come to work. They have worked on game plans diligently to put our guys in position.''

Mularkey took a unique approach to Sunday's home finale.

When he spoke to the team Saturday night, he used the phrase ``lay the wood,'' and when players arrived the next morning for the game, Mularkey had wooden baseball bats in each locker with the words ``violent, physical, relentless'' etched into the barrel.

It nearly worked as the players sacked Tom Brady three times and pressured him much more often.

``We've been talking about physical, finish, relentless play all year long, and I just thought that might be good when they walk in and see this is what needs to be done,'' Mularkey said. ``I hope they know I am trying to constantly send messages to reconfirm what we talk about all week.''

Much of the talk lately in Jacksonville has been about the future of the franchise. Owner Shad Khan has to decide whether to keep general manager Gene Smith, the architect of the roster the last four years, and Mularkey. Mularkey's first season has been rough, with the offense and defense ranked 31st in the league.

Still, it would be feasible that Khan would consider the team's close-but-not-quite performances down the stretch when evaluating whether to clean house and start over.

``We have been fighting the whole year,'' defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ``I hate to say I'm proud of the guys after a loss, but I am because we fought to the end. That was a good football team. They are a really good football team and they just did escape. If we come to play like that every week, the sky is the limit.

``I have a really good feeling this is the quiet before the storm. There is a lot to learn from, a lot to get better at and a lot of things to evaluate. I have a good feeling about this group of guys in this room.''

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite clear anymore. 

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jerome Robinson

School: Boston College
Position: Shooting guard
Age: 21
Height: 6-5
Weight: 188
Wingspan: 6-7
Max vertical: N/A

2017/18 stats: 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 48.5 FG%, 40.9 3PT% (2.3 3PT/5.7 3PA), 83.0 FT%
Player comparison: Danny Green
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 29th, NBADraft.net 16th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 17th

5 things to know:

*A three-year player at BC, Robinson developed into a big-time scorer before making the leap to the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points as a sophomore and then 20.7 points as a junior while improving his shooting percentages across the board. He went from 42.3 percent from the field as a sophomore to 48.5 in 2017-18.

*Robinson turned himself into an excellent three-point shooter. After shooting just 33.3 percent as a sophomore, he got that up to 40.9 percent as a junior and on 5.7 attempts per game. That trajectory bodes well for Robinson's chances at the next level.

*He has a quick release on his jumper, giving him the ability to be effective on catch-and-shoot plays off screens. Robinson could develop into a reliable scorer who doesn't need the ball in his hands as a primary focus of the offense. He also showed the ability to throw down some powerful dunks and finish with creativity at the rim. He didn't record a vertical leap at the NBA Combine, but playing above and around the rim didn't appear to be a problem in college.

*Though it didn't show in his last season at Boston College, Robinson was adept at forcing turnovers in his first two years. He averaged 1.6 steals per game across his freshman and sophomore seasons and 16 times in his career had three steals or more in a game.

*Questions for Robinson would include his versatility and speed. Some draft evaluators wonder if he will be able to get separation off the dribble at the NBA level. Also, he put up decent rebounding and assists numbers in college but didn't exactly stand out in either category.

Fit with Wizards: Robinson would give the Wizards depth at the shooting guard position and they need that. He could help Bradley Beal pare down his minutes and offer a scoring punch off the Wizards' bench. The Wizards could use a reliable shooter to help space the floor for Kelly Oubre, Jr. and others in the second unit.

The problems with Robinson's fit would be his lack of positional versatility and what appears to be a relatively low ceiling. He's not the freak athlete that some of his counterparts are at shooting guard. If the Wizards are choosing between Robinson and guys like Zhaire Smith and Lonnie Walker IV, they could view the latter two as more enticing because of their potential. Robinson would represent a safer pick while others could pay off big-time and have a greater impact on the franchise in the long-term.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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