Nationals

No. 14 Clemson looks to get back to form at Wake

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No. 14 Clemson looks to get back to form at Wake

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Maybe this is what Clemson's high-flying offense needs to get clicking again: a matchup with the Atlantic Coast Conference team it beats most often.

The 14th-ranked Tigers (6-1, 3-1) are coming off a game in which they had season lows in every meaningful offensive stat but the final score. They're headed to Wake Forest on Thursday night looking to get back to their norms of big yards and big points.

The league's best passing offense was held to 160 yards through the air and also finished with 135 yards rushing and 295 total yards in a 38-17 win over Virginia Tech. Those numbers would be considered mediocre at best for most teams, and a definite cause for concern for a Tigers team that averages 493 total yards behind big-play threats Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

``If you don't play well and are still able to win a ballgame, that's a good day,'' Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. ``But for us to achieve our goals we have set here, we have to play better than that. ... I think our (offensive) guys might have been signing too many autographs. We had to put the Sharpies up this week.''

They hope to get well against Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3). Clemson has beaten the Demon Deacons 59 times - only South Carolina (65) has more losses to the Tigers - and has won three straight and five of six in the series.

Wake Forest doesn't expect Clemson's offensive struggles to continue, not with so many playmakers throughout the depth chart. Boyd threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns and Andre Ellington rushed for 98 yards and two scores against his team last year, but the Tigers needed a last-second field goal to avoid overtime and claim a 31-28 win.

``If you miss an assignment, they will make you pay for it and they probably will score because they've done that all year,'' linebacker Riley Haynes said. ``People get out of their gaps, Andre Ellington's going to take it to the house. If you miss a coverage, Sammy Watkins or DeAndre Hopkins is going to find it and they're going to score and they're going to make you pay. ... They do a couple things that mess with you mentally a little bit, so it's huge to be mentally sound and prevent the big plays as much as you can to have a chance at slowing them down.''

At least the Demon Deacons will have a big-play threat of his own in their lineup: receiver Michael Campanaro is expected to play after missing two games with a broken right hand. Campanaro, who had an ACC-best 38 catches when he was hurt Sept. 29 against Duke, returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown last year against the Tigers.

His return should help a Wake Forest offense that is coming off a subpar performance of its own. In a 16-10 win at Virginia, the Demon Deacons gained just 213 total yards - their lowest total in an ACC victory since 1966. And it certainly can't hurt quarterback Tanner Price, a normally reliable passer who completed just 35 percent of his attempts in two full games without Campanaro.

``We've got a skeleton crew around him, and those guys aren't in a great position because they know if they play better, we've got a shot,'' coach Jim Grobe said. ``So there's a lot of pressure on all these guys with the injuries that we've had to move the football and score points. It's not easy on anybody - coaches or players - but that's where we are. You've just got to move forward and get after it. Find a way.''

The Demon Deacons have only beaten Clemson once since 2005 - but that game had some powerful aftereffects.

Wake Forest's 12-7 win at home on a Thursday night in 2008 wound up being the last game for Tommy Bowden as the Tigers' coach. He stepped down a few days later while Dabo Swinney was elevated from coaching receivers to interim head coach. He got the job permanently after the season.

Four years later and preparing for another weeknight in Winston-Salem, Swinney says the historical significance hasn't been lost on him.

``Sometimes I sit and reflect and am blown away how quickly life can change,'' Swinney said. ``Looking back four years ago, we've come a long ways, and hopefully we can continue to get better.''

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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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.

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