Nationals

Rivera not sure if strong finish saves his job

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Rivera not sure if strong finish saves his job

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) While Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes a strong finish is crucial for his team's confidence heading into next season, he's not sure if winning three of the last four games will be enough to save his job.

``I think we have to keep going,'' Rivera said.

By that he means it's important the Panthers beat Oakland and New Orleans to finish the season 7-9, which would better last year's record by one game.

Carolina (5-9) enjoyed its first blowout win Sunday, crushing San Diego 31-7. That came one week after a decisive 30-20 upset win over Atlanta.

After Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney following a 1-5 start, he told Rivera the team needed to be ``trending upward'' the rest of the way for him to keep his job.

The Panthers are 4-4 since.

However, the latest stretch - one in which second-year Cam Newton has combined for 13 touchdowns in the last five games without a turnover - provides a bit of promise for the future and could convince Richardson to give Rivera another shot.

``This isn't about a couple of good wins or emotional wins,'' Rivera said of his own future. ``It's really about the whole body of work.''

Rivera said Monday that he's under the impression that Richardson, not the team's future GM, will make the decision on the coaching staff's future.

That could also factor into Rivera's corner since often times new GMs like to bring in their own coaching staff.

Rivera, who is 11-20 in two seasons in Carolina, said he's made some mistakes as a first-time head coach.

However, the former Bears and Chargers defensive coordinator believes he's improved in a number of areas, including delegating authority and managing coaches and players.

``I will put myself up against anybody in terms of Xs and Os,'' Rivera said. ``I feel very confident of that. But I've had to learn a lot about managing. When you're managing 26 people and five coaches (as a defensive coordinator) and then suddenly you're managing 61 people and 17 coaches it's a little different... So there's been a lot to learn and grow on.''

Rivera points out that because of the NFL lockout last year he's only had 16 months to get to know his players.

He didn't have the luxury of OTAs or minicamps last season.

Rivera said one mistake he might have made when putting together his coaching staff in 2011 was not hiring anyone with any significant NFL head coaching experience.

``In retrospect to have an older gentlemen that could have looked over my shoulder might have helped,'' Rivera said.

Still, the players remain staunch supporters of Rivera and some believe it would be a mistake to break up the cohesiveness that is beginning to form.

``We really have something outstanding going on here in this locker room,'' receiver Steve Smith. ``If we can continue to do the things we're doing now, we're going to have some great things to look forward to in the future.''

Newton refused to talk about the future, saying he's not done with this season.

``We aren't looking to the end of the season to prove ourselves,'' Newton said. ``We're trying to come out and practice to execute each and every day so come game time we can put a nice product out there on the field.''

Rivera said he believes finishing strong is important when it comes to carrying momentum into the offseason and then next year - even though that wasn't the case last season.

Carolina won four of its last four games in 2011 and seemed to ready to carry that momentum into this season.

Instead, their potent offense sputtered out of the game and the Panthers opened the season 1-6, crushing any hopes of a trip to the playoffs.

``It's a different set of circumstances this time,'' Rivera said. ``I believe this team is maturing a little more than last year. Hopefully going forward we will be able to better manage our expectations as a team. We have to realize that we have not arrived.''

Before the season three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil even took out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper promising fans a Super Bowl win.

Rivera said he likes Kalil's confidence, but said next time he'd like to see that kept in house and not made public.

He said it might have added undue pressure.

As for the pressure surrounding his own future, Rivera said ``there are a lot of things I feel good about here. But again, we'll see how it goes in two weeks.''

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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 as 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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