Nationals

No. 4 Kansas State grows better with each game

201210201952715779397-p2.jpeg

No. 4 Kansas State grows better with each game

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) A battle for Big 12 supremacy left Kansas State and West Virginia heading in opposite directions.

No. 4 Kansas State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) is rolling through a tough conference schedule and turning away all challenges. The latest victim: the Mountaineers.

``I'm very proud of our guys and how we've been able to hang together in adversity and prosperity,'' quarterback Collin Klein said. ``And we just have to keep moving forward.''

That means returning home for games against No. 15 Texas Tech (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday and Oklahoma State on Nov. 3.

Kansas State went 3-0 over a four-week stretch of road games that included wins at No. 8 Oklahoma and Iowa State. The Wildcats seem to be improving with each game.

West Virginia? Things are going downhill fast. The offense is broken down, the defense is nonexistent and the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) have plummeted from No. 5 to No. 25 in The Associated Press poll in two weeks.

Against West Virginia, the Wildcats made it look easiest of all, scoring on their first eight possessions and winning 55-14 Saturday night.

``I think we all felt comfortable,'' Klein said. ``The coaches did a great job of building a game plan and putting us in positions to succeed.''

That Kansas State succeeded on offense wasn't big news. The Mountaineers had surrendered an average of 53 points over its past four games, and they let Klein throw for a career-high 323 yards and three touchdowns and run for four scores.

What was surprising was how West Virginia's offense - so explosive in its first five games behind Geno Smith - came up with a dud for the second straight week.

Kansas State has not allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points all season. And the Wildcats forced Smith to throw his first two interceptions of the year.

Smith now has been limited to a touchdown pass apiece against two straight solid defenses after picking apart teams such as Marshall, Baylor and Texas, all among the worst defenses in the country.

``I'm not going to sit here and point fingers at anyone else,'' Smith said. ``I'm the leader of this team, the leader of the offense, and as an offense we didn't do enough. Those guys score points, so what? We've got to go out there and match it, and that's our job. And as an offense you can't be worry about what's going on with the defense.''

That will be up to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. They will use a bye week to see what repairs can be made to a defense that has yet to improve in any phase.

Holgorsen and DeForest insist there's nothing wrong with the way the 3-4 defense is drawn up. They just want execution and overall effort. In the least, they would like a leader to emerge from an inexperienced group.

``It's hard, because you want someone to step up, grab the team and say `Come on, follow me,''' DeForest said. ``But we don't have that on defense. And until we do, we'll struggle. It's up to us as coaches to try to find leaders, but it's up to the kids to be leaders. You can't always lead as a coach; you've got to have someone from within to pull them with you. It's part of it.''

West Virginia will need to win the rest of its games, starting with TCU at home on Nov. 3, to keep alive any hope of a BCS bowl bid.

And after one of West Virginia's worst home losses in school history, attention about the Heisman Trophy shifted from Smith and toward Klein. That race still has a lot of playing out to do, but Klein's leadership is turning more heads.

``He played a great game,'' Smith said. ``Hats off to that guy and their team.''

Quick Links

With trade deadline creeping, Nationals’ needs and situation remains the same

With trade deadline creeping, Nationals’ needs and situation remains the same

The Nationals left Atlanta on Sunday in the same place as they entered: 6 ½ games behind the first-place Braves.

A four-game split without Max Scherzer is palatable. A 5-4 overall road run since showing up in Philadelphia after the All-Star break is acceptable, though an easy argument could be made the results should have been better. Chances to sweep both in Philadelphia and Baltimore slipped.

What changed in the first nine games since the break? Nothing for the Nationals. They need bullpen help -- still. They remain in a solid position to make the playoffs -- still. Their health -- outside of a new heel flareup for Ryan Zimmerman -- remains decent. Scherzer’s lobbying to pitch Sunday night failed. However, he’s expected back on the mound Thursday against Colorado, which would put him on turn to face the Braves on July 30.

That Scherzer start would arrive a day before the trade deadline. This year, July 31 is it. No more post-deadline deals, no more scrapping pieces after a couple more weeks of testing the waters for a truer read on outcomes. It’s get it done by July 31.

Like their standing in the National League East, nothing changed over the weekend for the Nationals when it comes to need. They need another reliever. Probably two. And, they need to get in line.

Sunday night, reports began to percolate about Boston being interested in San Diego closer Kirby Yates and Toronto closer Ken Giles. The Red Sox are 11 games out of first place and three games out of the wild card. They, of course, are traditionally a go-for-it organization in such instances. As are the Nationals. The questions will be who else is joining them to drive prices and who will be willing to pay them.

Take Yates. He’s the National League’s best closer this season. He is ultra-low-cost. The salary-tracking site Spotrac pegs him as the best relief bargain in baseball. San Diego has another year of control and expects to improve next year. Is he someone it really trades? If so, how epic is the cost? Would the Nationals ever meet it with a higher-end prospect out of a sagging farm system?

What is San Francisco thinking now? It’s 2 ½ games out of a wild-card spot. It is suddenly -- somehow -- a .500 baseball team with 50 wins. The Giants are 22-10 in one-run games. That typically represents two things: a good bullpen and unsustainable results. The Giants’ bullpen has the seventh-best ERA in baseball. Three of the teams ahead of them currently hold a playoff spot. None of the other three are more than a game out of a playoff spot. The group is legit and seemed to be the basis of a pending sell-off from San Francisco (along with, possibly, Madison Bumgarner). But, now? They have to decide, and everyone waits.

Among the Giants’ would-be trade pieces is closer Will Smith. He has moved from a decent reliever to an excellent one the last two seasons. He knew at the All-Star break what might be ahead for him. Smith was the Giants’ lone member of the National League All-Star team.

“I don’t really pay attention to [trade rumors],” Smith told NBC Sports Washington. “I think that’s a distraction, kind of.... I don’t try to think too much into it, really. I play for the Giants right now. I’m going to play as hard as I can for as long as they want me to. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, oh well, I still get to play baseball. It’s kind of a win-win for me.”

Smith has been traded four times. The first time was as a 21-year-old minor-leaguer. He was stunned and disappointed. 

“I thought I was in trouble,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

By now, he’s moved to a more Zen approach.

“Now -- the whole control what you can control, it really applies to this,” Smith said. “There’s nothing you can do about this, so why even try to drive yourself crazy.”

The potential playoff pile has tempered movement. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acquired reliever Kelvin Herrera on June 18 last year. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson arrived on July 16, 2017. If he can, Rizzo has shown a willingness to pull in problem-solvers well before the deadline. If pushed to the edge, like he was for Mark Melancon on July 30, 2016, he’ll move then, too. He’s yet to find a bullpen solution this year -- just like everyone else.

Yates, Smith, Giles and Detroit’s Shane Greene are assumed to be destined for new teams.  Four teams are within 2 1/2 games of the National League’s second wild-card spot. Washington holds the top spot by a mere half-game. Demand is high. Stock is low. Going for may get you in. Holding may send you home. In those ways, nothing has changed for the Nationals.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Washington Nationals Roundup: Ryan Zimmerman re-injures right foot in loss to Braves

Washington Nationals Roundup: Ryan Zimmerman re-injures right foot in loss to Braves

Though the Washington Nationals lost to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday night, Washington took home the series 2-1 and remains atop the NL Wild Card race. 

Check out the latest news and notes surrounding the Nationals.

Player Notes: 

SP Max Scherzer, who had been out of the rotation since July 13 with a back strain, is on track to return to the mound later this week. The right-hander is set to throw a full bullpen Monday, and baring any setbacks is likely to be cleared to start Thursday. 

Though the Nationals fell 7-1 to the Braves on Sunday, catcher Kurt Suzuki amounted for a third of Washington's offense (which only put up six hits). Suzuki went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, the only player to have a multi-hit game.

SP Joe Ross suffered his second loss of the season Sunday night, when he went 5 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on eight hits, though he struck out six. Washignton recalled the right-hander from Triple-A Fresno to start in place of RHP Austin Voth, who was placed on the 10-day inured list with right biceps tendinitis retroactive to Thursday, July 18. 

1B Ryan Zimmerman exited the game early on Sunday, after he re-injured his right foot. Throughout this season Zimmerman has battled plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which caused him to miss two months of play earlier this year. 

Injuries: 

SP Austin Voth: Shoulder, 10-Day IL, status uncertain

1B Ryan Zimmerman: Foot, sidelined, status uncertain

SP Max Scherzer: Back, 10-Day IL, out until late July

RP Jonny Venters: Shoulder, 10-Day IL, out indefinitely 

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely 

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, 10-Day IL, out until mid-July 

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely 

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, 10-Day IL, out indefinitely 

Coming Up:

Monday 7/22:  Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park

Tuesday 7/23:  Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park

Wednesday 7/24: Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park

Source: Rotoworld

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: