Capitals

Red Sox look for innings in Dempster

Red Sox look for innings in Dempster

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Red Sox have the reliable starter they sought in Ryan Dempster.

He's pitched at least 200 innings in four of the past five seasons, impressive to general manager Ben Cherington but not so special to Dempster.

``That's your responsibility as a starting pitcher in the big leagues,'' Dempster said Wednesday at a news conference after his $26.5 million, two-year deal was finalized. ``The norm used to be 300 and somehow we worked it down to like 200. Even 180 seems to suffice.''

He said he works hard to stay in shape ``so that I can take on that workload.''

Boston had just one starter reach the 200-mark this year, with Jon Lester pitching 205 1-3 innings.

``It's important,'' Cherington said. ``Ryan's got a history of being very effective and a really good pitcher. The consistency he's shown in taking the ball every fifth day was important to us. I think as a team when you start having to fill in for guys, if we don't have a reliable rotation and you start filling in with guys from down below or guys from the bullpen or whatever, it's not so much that move but you've inevitably weakened another area of your team.''

Dempster gets $13.25 million a year and would earn an additional $250,000 each season for pitching 190 innings.

``We went into this offseason wanting to add a proven starter to the rotation, someone that has a history of success, reliability and someone who we thought would embrace coming to Boston and everything that comes with pitching and playing in Boston, on and off the field,'' Cherington said. ``We think Ryan is the perfect fit for that.''

The 35-year-old right-hander adds experience to a rotation that underachieved this year as the Red Sox went 69-93 and finished last in the AL East in their only season under manager Bobby Valentine. He was fired and replaced by John Farrell.

``Obviously there's a lot of room to go up,'' Dempster said. ``Ben and the organization have done an incredible job of adding a lot of really good players and good baseball guys. So we're just going to go into spring training and work as hard as we can and go out there every day and leave it all on the field and play as hard as we can to get the best out of each other.''

Lester and Clay Buchholz had disappointing years and John Lackey returns after missing the season following elbow-ligament replacement surgery. Left-hander Felix Doubront was in the rotation for most of the season.

Dempster reached the major leagues in 1998 with the Florida Marlins and has a 124-124 record with a 4.33 ERA. A Canadian, he said he is undecided about playing in the World Baseball Classic.

But he is confident the Red Sox can reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

``That's why we play,'' he said. ``The money and things like that in baseball are great. But I came here because I believe this team has a chance of winning as much as anybody else. I've always believed that should be your mentality going into any season. Because it's proven day in, day out every team's going to win 50 games, every team's going to lose 50 games. It's what you do with the other 62 that matter.''

He went 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA this year. After starting 5-5 with a 2.25 ERA in his ninth season with the Chicago Cubs, he was traded to the Texas Rangers and went 7-3 with a 5.03 ERA. That was his first stint in the American League.

``It's going to be a little bit different not being able to hit,'' he joked. ``They're going to miss my bat in the lineup, but we'll get through that.''

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A more aggressive Caps team is looking for more offense from the defense

A more aggressive Caps team is looking for more offense from the defense

In the 2017-18 season, the Washington Capitals finished dead last in the NHL in shots on goal. While the modern wave of analytics stressed possession as measured by shot attempts, the Caps bucked that trend and elected to focus more on generating high-quality shots even if it meant shooting less. The result was a lot of frustrated fans, but 3.12 goals per game -- good for 9th in the NHL -- and a Stanley Cup.

Since the 2017-18 season, however, the offensive mindset in Washington has changed and that is evident by how much the defense has been involved in the offense this season.

“When you get more pucks on net, it's more chances you're going to get to score,” Dmitry Orlov said.

That represents a significant mindset change from the team just one year ago.

“It doesn't make a ton of sense for me to take a wrist shot from the blue line if there's not a screen,” Matt Niskanen said in October 2018. “Maybe one out of 300, 400 is going in, especially with my shot. You can shoot to create if there's traffic around and stuff, but just in general, shooting just to shoot isn't a good philosophy I don't think. That kind of gets lost in the analytics crowd. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to just waste it."

But an offensive philosophy that places such a high degree of emphasis on high-danger opportunities limits the offensive role of the defense since defensemen are much less likely to find themselves in those high-danger areas of the ice. Most shots from defensemen are going to be the type Niskanen was referring to.

The team has gradually softened its stance since then which has led to more involvement from the defense and more shots.

In the 2017-18 season, Washington ranked 30th in the NHL with 3,607 shot attempts at 5-on-5. In 2018-19, the team improved to 17th with 3,713 5-on-5 shot attempts. It may be a small sample size just 11 games into the season, but the Caps currently rank 16th in the league in 5-on-5 shot attempts per game (38.3).

One difference is more perimeter shots including from the blue line.

"We're switching more to shooting the puck whenever you have a chance or a lane," Jonas Siegenthaler said. "A couple years ago, you were always looking for the next play or a green shot."

While Niskanen seemed not to be a fan, the defensemen seem to enjoy the opportunity to try to contribute offensively.

"I like that more, personally," Siegenthaler said. "Pretty sure the guys like it too. If the D gets the puck up on the blue line, if he sees the lane he shoots, we have two guys in front of the net. I think the forwards they like that too. It's never a bad play."

But the main tweak to the offense this season is the emphasis on the defensemen to pinch in the offensive zone. Basically the defensemen are encouraged to move up deeper into the zone and join the attack if they have an opening to do so.

"Our style of defense is taking time and space, be hard on people," Michal Kempny said. "You can now short in on the short side, like pinching. It's kind of a little change instead of least season, but I think we are getting more and more comfortable every game and just keep it up."

This change led to Kempny, a player who previously had scored only 11 goals in his NHL career, scoring a goal in his first game after returning from injury. It also is a factor in John Carlson’s offensive surge to start the season. Even a player like Siegenthaler can often be found deep in the zone joining the attack.

"The whole system is more aggressive," Siegenthaler said. "I think somehow it kind of translates to the D-men. You're always moving so you're not afraid to join the rush or go up to the play with the forwards."

"It's a little bit of our aggressive mindset that you've heard me discuss from the beginning of the year," head coach Todd Reirden said at practice Saturday. "As opposed to major, major systematic adjustments, a lot of it's been our mindset. Yeah, there's been some tweaks and some different things there, but it's something that we're able to do this year. ... I think we've kept pucks alive a lot more in the offensive zone and our D are in a spot where they're able to help with keeping those pucks alive."

This philosophy is not without risk. Whenever a defenseman moves up it can leave the team more vulnerable to a quick breakout or counter attack. The players have to be in constant communication so the forwards know when someone has to move back to the blue line in order to compensate for a defenseman moving up.

"We have to have a forward back to cover for them," Reirden said. "I think our forwards have done a really good job of, when our D have been active, of covering for them. It's not perfect yet, but it's something that we're working on. We've obviously given up a couple goals along the way through the learning process of trying to be a little bit more aggressive in that way, but I think the benefits for me outweigh the negatives right now."

The Caps’ began to shift their philosophy last season with more shots on goal. This year, they incorporated a larger offensive role for the defense, one that meshes well with the team’s more aggressive mindset.

Just 11 games into the season, it seems to be working.

Washington ranks third in the league with 3.73 goals per game while Carlson leads the entire NHL with 20 points.

"We're really playing on our toes more, we're using our skating to be more of a factor keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone," Reirden said, "And then whenever we're able to convert on them, that's always a bonus."

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Redskins at Vikings Week 8: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Redskins at Vikings Week 8: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has had Thursday's date circled on his calendar for a long time.

Cousins will face the Redskins for the first time on Thursday since leaving the franchise that drafted him. In 2018, the Redskins allowed him to walk in free agency after two straight seasons playing under the franchise tag.

It's no secret that Washington has struggled to find stability at the quarterback position since Cousins left town. Since his departure, the Redskins have started five different signal-callers (played six) in 23 games, and have a cumulative record of 8-15. 

While the Cousins storyline will grab many headlines, Redskins quarterback Case Keenum may feel that he has something to prove, too. Keenum led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in 2017, but Minnesota signed Cousins the following offseason, allowing Keenum to walk. He signed with the Broncos, and was traded to Washington earlier this year after one season with Denver. 

Thursday marks Keenum's return to Minnesota. The last pass he threw in U.S. Bank Stadium miraculously landed in the arms of Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, connecting on a 61-yard touchdown pass as time expired to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.

Redskins running back Adrian Peterson has also been looking forward to Thursday's clash. It's not his first time back in Minnesota, as he returned in 2017 when playing with the Saints, but he's eager to play against the franchise he spent a decade with and became one of the best running backs in NFL history. 

The all-time series is tied 13-13, but the Vikings have won three of the last four contests between the two. Here's everything you need to know.

REDSKINS at VIKINGS WEEK 8

Who: Washington Redskins (1-6) vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

What: Game 8 of the 2019 NFL regular season

When: Thursday, October 24, 8:20 p.m.

Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV Channel: FOX, NFL Network

Live Stream: NFL.com/watch and pregame and postgame coverage streaming on NBCSportsWashington.com

Radio: Redskins Radio Network

Spread: Vikings, -16

Over/Under: 42.0

Weather: 42 degrees, partly cloud (U.S. Bank Stadium is indoors)

REDSKINS at VIKINGS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 p.m.: Redskins 100

6:30 p.m.: Redskins Nation

7:00 p.m.: Redskins Kickoff Live

11:30 p.m.: Redskins Postgame Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)

REDSKINS 2019 SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Redskins at Eagles (L, 32-27)

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Cowboys at Redskins, (L, 31-21)

Week 3: Monday, Sept. 23, Bears at Redskins, (L, 32-27)

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Redskins at Giants, (L, 24-3)

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Patriots at Redskins, (L, 33-7)

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Redskins at Dolphins, (W, 17-16)

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, 49ers at Redskins, (L, 9-0)

Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 24, Redskins at Vikings, 8:20 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Redskins at Bills, 1 p.m.

Week 10: BYE

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Jets at Redskins, 1 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Lions at Redskins, 1 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Redskins at Panthers, 1 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Redskins at Packers, 1 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Eagles at Redskins, 1 p.m.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Giants at Redskins, 1 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Redskins at Cowboys, 1 p.m.

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