Nationals

No major surprises through Week 1 at Aussie Open

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No major surprises through Week 1 at Aussie Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Nearly a week into the Australian Open, the only major surprise is that there have been, well, not many surprises at all.

The year's first Grand Slam is historically fraught with injury withdrawals or top players not yet up to speed in the new season and losing in the first few rounds.

But with the third round complete for the leading players at Melbourne Park, only one of the first eight men's seeds did not advance: No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro. Six of the eight top women were through.

Second-seeded Roger Federer was the last of the main contenders to advance to the fourth round, beating Australian Bernard Tomic 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1. Federer trailed 4-1 in the tiebreaker but rallied for six of the next seven points in front of a full house at the 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena.

``I had a few more chances than he did, but I thought the tiebreaker was going to go his way,'' said Federer. ``I think overall we played a great match, he really got the best out of me tonight.''

The four-time Australian Open champion will next play big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who beat No. 17 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4.

Del Potro was a 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 3-6, 6-3 loser to France's Jeremy Chardy earlier Saturday in the biggest upset so far in this tournament.

Those still around have advanced fairly impressively.

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray haven't dropped a set in three matches, although Murray had his difficult moments in Saturday's 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win over Lithuanian qualifier and sometimes hitting partner Ricardas Berankis, while fourth-seeded David Ferrer has lost just one set.

``I was struggling, he was making me feel pretty uncomfortable on the court,'' Murray said.

Chardy broke 2009 U.S. Open champion del Potro's serve in the final set to go up 5-3, then served out the match in 3 hours, 45 minutes.

``I played some tennis I never would have thought I was capable of playing,'' Chardy said.

Seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Slovenian Blaz Kavcic 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 and will meet countryman Richard Gasquet, who beat Croatian Ivan Dodig 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-0.

Andrea Seppi of Italy beat Croatia's Marin Cilic 6-7 (2), 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to also advance to the fourth round.

In women's play, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka had her problems against injury-affected American Jamie Hampton and needed three sets to advance on Saturday, but No. 3 Serena Williams has not dropped a set despite an injured right ankle.

``There's always two ways - your opponent plays good and you can also make your opponent look good,'' Azarenka said after her 6-4, 4-6. 6-2 win.

Williams, aiming for a third consecutive major title, recovered from a break down in the second set to win six straight games and beat Japan's Ayumi Morita 6-1, 6-3. She later combined with older sister Venus to win a second-round doubles match.

Williams surprised herself with another serve at 128 mph in an afternoon match in Rod Laver Arena, matching a career best that she hit earlier in the tournament.

``I tried to hit it really hard. I hit 207 (kph) the other day and I thought it was luck,'' she said. ``But I did it again and I was like, `Whew! I'm going to try to go for 210.' We'll see.''

The other half of the women's draw, which didn't play Saturday, is more impressive: No. 2 Maria Sharapova dropped only four games in three rounds - including consecutive 6-0, 6-0 wins to start her tournament, while No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska is on a 12-match winning streak after capturing tournaments in Auckland and Sydney ahead of her three wins here.

Azarenka appeared frustrated at times, but overcame an early break and fended off triple break point in the seventh game of the deciding set before clinching the match in 2 hours, 9 minutes.

Hampton needed a medical timeout for a lower back problem before she served out the second set. She winced in pain, frequently on the verge of tears, throughout the third but still managed 41 winners to keep the Belarusian under pressure.

``She played incredible, went for every single shot. I felt it was touching every single line,'' Azarenka said. ``She took a medical timeout but she rips winners all over the place and I was like, `Can I have a back problem?' I'm feeling great, but I'm missing every shot.''

After wasting two set points on Azarenka's serve late in the second set, Hampton had to leave the court for nine minutes to have treatment on her back.

Even with the pain of two herniated disks, the 23-year-old Hampton went down swinging - making 47 unforced errors to go with the winners that caught Azarenka off guard and had her asking, loudly at one point, what she could do to counter them.

If results go according to rankings, Azarenka and Williams will meet in the semifinals. Williams has won the Australian Open five times and is on a 19-match winning streak - and she has lost only one match since her first-round exit at the French Open last year.

Considering Azarenka has lost 11 of their 12 meetings, including all five in 2012, it's a potential matchup where Azarenka will have to play better than ever. But they both have to advance to the last four, something Williams failed to do here last year when she was knocked out in the fourth round.

In this year's fourth round, the 31-year-old American will meet No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, who beat No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (4), 6-3. Azarenka next plays Elena Vesnina, who beat 16th-seeded Roberta Vinci of Italy 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova advanced with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win over Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro and will next play former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who had a 6-4, 6-3 win over Lesia Tsurenko.

Sloane Stephens beat Laura Robson 7-5, 6-3 in a matchup between the only teenagers left in the women's draw.

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen is one of the weakest units in baseball this season. Fans in the nation’s capital have spent two months watching relievers cough up leads and put games out of reach, and the numbers speak for themselves. 

Washington’s team ERA among relievers is an unsightly 7.09 entering Memorial Day Weekend, nearly a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Orioles. As a unit, they’ve pitched fewer innings than any other bullpen, yet have allowed the second-most earned runs.

No one has been immune. Sean Doolittle, by far the best option in 2019, has seen his ERA balloon to 3.68. Justin Miller is the only other regular reliever with an ERA below 5, and he’s at 4.02.

It’s caused much consternation in the fanbase, and for good reason. Where did the Nationals go wrong in building this bullpen? What could they have done differently?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at four relievers who are experiencing various levels of success while no longer in Washington.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez has been lights out in Pittsburgh in 2019. He ranks top-10 among relievers in WAR (0.9) and top-12 in ERA (1.25). He holds the sixth-best K/9 (14.54) and is tied for the fourth-most saves in baseball with 13.

Every one of those numbers would lead the Nationals with ease. At 27, Vazquez has turned into one of the elite relievers in the sport. He’s been terrific all three years with the Pirates, and 2019 looks like his best season yet.

Of course, he wasn’t ready to be this guy in 2016 when the Nationals traded him for Mark Melancon. It was a necessary trade at the time, and one that worked out well in a vacuum. Melancon pitched well in Washington and didn’t allow a run in the 2016 postseason.

Right now, the Nats could really use a Felipe Vazquez, but the logic behind their trade at the time was sound.

Blake Treinen

Treinen has already allowed as many earned runs in 2019 (seven) as he did in all of 2018. It’s not a knock on his performance this season, where his 2.59 ERA would still lead the Nationals, but a recognition of just how dominant he was in 2018.

In the modern era of Major League Baseball, it’s just about impossible for a reliever to win the Cy Young. Even with just 80 innings pitched last year, Treinen finished sixth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. 

That’s right. He was so good, he got down-ballot votes for MVP. It was a sensational year.

His usually-elite ground ball rate is down this season, which has led to some regression, but it’s still notable he put together a 2018 season that far outshines any individual season the Nats have seen.

It was clear in 2017 he wasn’t capable of performing as the team’s closer, eventually earning a demotion before being traded to Oakland.

Despite his enormous success in the years since the trade, it’s hard to question the Nationals here. Not only did it seem apparent Treinen wasn’t going to figure things out in D.C., but the trade brought back Sean Doolittle, the lone consistently great reliever the Nats have had in recent years.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler pitched parts of two seasons in Washington, but ultimately spent exactly one year with the Nationals. In that year, he tossed 68.2 innings while striking out 43 batters and walking 18.

His ERA with the Nationals was 3.54, too high for a high-leverage reliever. He struggled mightily in 2018 after being traded to the Cubs, but has settled down this season to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings.

As is the case for just about any halfway-decent reliever, the current Nationals bullpen would benefit from having him, but this isn’t nearly the loss Treinen or Vasquez were.

Shawn Kelley

Kelley was up-and-down in his time with the Nationals. His ERA was below three in 2016 and 2018, but the 2017 season was marred with injuries, inconsistency, and a tendency to allow home runs (a whopping 12 in just 26 innings).

Of course, Kelley was pitching better in 2018, but it wasn’t performance that led to his departure. 

In a blowout Nationals 25-4 victory over the Mets in July 2018, Kelley allowed three earned runs, including a home run. After the home run, he slammed his glove on the ground while staring at the Nats dugout.

The next day, he was designated for assignment as a result of the outburst and never pitched for the Nationals again, traded away a few days later. 

In his 33.2 innings since the trade, Kelley has been terrific. He posted a 2.16 ERA with the Athletics in 2018 and currently holds a 1.59 ERA in 2019 despite pitching his home games in Texas. He’s even filled in at closer with the Rangers, recording five saves so far this year.

Though his removal wasn’t for performance issues like Kintzler's or to acquire proven closers like Treinen’s and Vasquez’s were, the loss of Kelley can be felt just as hard. As is the case with each of these relievers, Kelley’s numbers would lead the Nationals bullpen in just about every category.

For the most part, these moves made sense at the time, for one reason or another. But the Nationals have yet to adequately replace most of these arms, and the 2019 team is suffering as a result.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

Kick off your holiday weekend with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. One of the most obvious needs for the Ravens is help rushing the passer, and they're hoping to find some of that help on the interior in the form of free agent Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer DL visited Cleveland last week, but left town without agreeing to a contract.

Reportedly interested in playing for a contender, the former top-five pick is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Tuesday.

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still struggling to throw the ball, as he noted things aren't right yet when it comes to accuracy. Media members noticed the ball wobbling through the air on many throws, and Jackson told them he thinks his hand is too high on the ball. If he's going to successfully run Greg Roman's new offensive scheme, Jackson will eventually need to be able to hit his receivers in stride with greater regularity.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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