Nationals

Schwartz decisions dissected in disappointing year

Schwartz decisions dissected in disappointing year

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Over their last three home games, the Detroit Lions have been good enough to be ahead of some of the NFL's better teams - Green Bay, Houston and Indianapolis - with less than 2 minutes to go.

They lost every one of those games, leaving the Lions with twice as many losses as wins with four games left - including Sunday night at Green Bay - and putting coach Jim Schwartz's decisions squarely in the spotlight.

``After every game, we go through the whole game plan and what we'd do different if we had a chance again,'' Schwartz said Thursday. ``We're very self-critical.

``You just live with decisions,'' he added. ``You're always critical, you're always analytical, trying to see where you can do better - whether you're a coach or a player - but you can't lose confidence in your abilities whether you're a player or a coach.''

Schwartz's infamously made one big mistake, challenging a Texans touchdown that would've likely been overturned if he didn't lose his cool, and his coordinators have made some calls that didn't work out during three straight setbacks by a combined nine points.

Schwartz owned up to the Texans gaffe, saying he ``overreacted'' and cost his team a touchdown.

``Yeah, he threw the challenge flag, but I think a lot of coaches would've in the same situation because the guy was down,'' Lions guard Rob Sims said. ``As far as his other decisions, people who criticize them should go into coaching if they think they can do better. I think Jim has done a good job by leading us the right way and putting out fires when needed.''

Schwartz, a former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator and first-time head coach, lets Scott Linehan call plays on offense and Gunther Cunningham set up schemes on defense without telling them what they should do during any given possession. Schwartz seemed to make all the right moves last year when the Lions won 10 games for the first time since 1995 and snapped their 11-season postseason drought.

``Someone told me the other day, `You guys broke 23 franchise records last year on offense,'''' Linehan said. ``And I said, `I know, that probably elevated expectations pretty high.'''

Yes, they did.

The Lions (4-8) have fallen short of expectations in large part because they have blown legitimate chances to have a 7-5 record, one that would give the franchise a shot to make two straight playoff appearances for the first time since the mid-1990s.

In pivotal moments in the last three games, the wrong decisions were made and they haven't always been the same ones.

The Lions had chances to put Green Bay away in a 24-20 loss, but had to settle for a field goal and a six-point lead with 4:25 left when a touchdown would've sealed the win. Blame the combination of a lackluster running game and a problem with receiver Titus Young on an incomplete pass on a third-and-goal from the 9.

The Lions had chances to overcome Schwartz's ill-timed challenge flag that negated a review of Justin Forsett's 81-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of the 34-31 overtime loss to Houston. Instead, conservative play-calling to set up a game-winning field goal in overtime backfired when Joique Bell lost a combined 1 yard on two runs up the middle and Jason Hanson missed a 47-yard kick.

On the previous drive inside Houston territory, Matthew Stafford ended the possession with three straight incomplete passes - none toward Calvin Johnson - and Detroit had to punt just as it did when Stafford was sacked trying to pass on third downs on snaps from the Texans' 36 in the fourth quarter.

In the latest setback to Indy, nothing worked for Detroit when it mattered most.

Linehan called for a running play with a third-and-5 at midfield with 2 minutes left. Mikel Leshoure, who averaged less than 3 yards a carry in the game on 21 carries, was stopped for a 1-yard gain.

``Hindsight everything's always,'' Schwartz said. ``The whole idea is it has to work. If we run the ball there and we get a first down, the game's over.''

One poor punt and some Andrew Luck plays later, and the Colts were in position to win the game on fourth down with 3 seconds left from the Detroit 14.

Cunningham chose to rush just four against the rookie Luck, who moved up in the pocket to make a short pass to Donnie Avery just inside the 10. The Lions' linebackers and defensive backs were all in the end zone and couldn't even touch the receiver before he scored the game-winning TD in the 35-33 win.

What about overruling his coordinators at key points?

``Most of my stuff comes between series,'' Schwartz said. ``Hey, let's think about this next series; hey, let's have more man-to-man; hey, let's start running it more; hey, we need some more play-action.''

The Lions are the first team to lose three straight games when leading with 2 minutes left in regulation since San Diego did it in 2000, and the first since at least 1983 to blow leads that late in three home games in a row.

``You're judged by wins and losses and unfortunately, we haven't won much so of course a lot of negatively is going to go his way because he's the head man,'' defensive end Cliff Avril said. ``But players play the game, and we haven't made the one play to win games lately.''

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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