Nationals

Seattle's 2012 draft class paying off on the field

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Seattle's 2012 draft class paying off on the field

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Everyone knows about Seattle stealing quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of last April's draft and perhaps finding the franchise quarterback so many NFL teams seek.

Getting less attention are the other rookies the Seahawks drafted in April who are making a significant impact in their first NFL seasons.

From defensive end Bruce Irvin to linebacker Bobby Wagner to running back Robert Turbin to a pair of seventh-round picks who made the 53-man roster, the Seahawks can look on the 2012 draft with pride for some of the gems they uncovered. Seven of the 10 players the Seahawks selected have become major contributors.

``I think coach (Pete) Carroll and the GM John Schneider did a tremendous job of getting guys who love to play the game and who will do everything they can to play at their best level,'' Wilson said. ``Coach Carroll talks about competing at the highest level and our rookie class here for the Seahawks, we're doing our best job to try and be great every Sunday and to work at it and learn and just understand how we can improve.''

The philosophy of relying on younger players is something Carroll embraced when he returned to the NFL after seeing the success of playing freshmen during his time at USC. So when the Seahawks drafted Russell Okung and Earl Thomas in the first round of the 2010 draft, the pair was instantly thrown into the starting lineup.

In that same draft, Seattle got current starters wide receiver Golden Tate in the second round and safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth round, and No. 2 tight end Anthony McCoy in the sixth round. The next season, Seattle drafted current starters K.J. Wright (fourth round) and Richard Sherman (fifth round).

While that first draft created a foundation and 2011 unearthed a pair of defensive gems, the 2012 draft is the one that's appeared to have the most immediate impact.

The most notable has been giving the Seahawks a key player in Wilson, the starting quarterback coming out of training camp. He's on pace to challenge the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes and is the first rookie quarterback since 1970 to win his first six home games.

At the same time that Wilson was named the starter, the Seahawks also decided Wagner would be capable of taking over as the organizer of the defense at middle linebacker. Wagner currently ranks third among all NFL rookies with 109 tackles.

Irvin, the Seahawks' first-round pick, currently leads all NFL rookies with eight sacks, and Turbin is coming off the first 100-yard rushing game of his career and looks like a suitable backup to spell Marshawn Lynch at running back without the Seahawks losing their punishing style of running.

Carroll said he noticed near midseason that Wagner and Irvin both went through the typical rookie swoon of getting used to playing so many games. That wasn't the case with Wilson.

``With those other kids there was a time about eight, nine games in, they had already played 12 to 13 games, and it was hard on those guys,'' Carroll said. ``Russell did not fall into that category; he just continued to progress the whole time. Why he has is because of the way he's prepared himself. He's just worked so hard and he will not back off. He continues to push, but not only does he continue to push and try hard, he's getting better.''

While those first four picks Seattle took in April have proved worthy of their selections, contributions have also come from players taken deeper in the draft. Sixth-round pick Jeremy Lane has been a standout on special teams and saw his first action on defense last week at cornerback. He could see even more playing time this week with starting cornerback Walter Thurmond nursing a hamstring injury.

And in the seventh-round, Seattle nabbed defensive tackle Greg Scruggs and guard J.R. Sweezy, a converted defensive lineman. Sweezy started the season opener against Arizona at guard and Scruggs has become a major part of Seattle's defensive line rotation.

Wilson said it was made apparent during the first rookie minicamp in May that this group would get an opportunity to have an influence on how good the Seahawks were this season.

``We said we wanted to be the best draft class,'' Wagner said. ``We just have to go out there and prove it.''

Notes: Seattle WR Sidney Rice (foot) did not participate in practice for the second straight day but was no longer wearing a protective walking boot on Thursday. ... Thurmond (hamstring) did not practice and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Lane and Byron Maxwell were being worked in Thurmond's place.

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

WASHINGTON --  Progressively, the lines of desperation and declined price will have to intersect.

At least it would seem. Craig Kimbrel’s demands reportedly are receding during his extended unemployment. The needs of contenders in the National League East’s rock fight continue to increase day by day. The sides should be on a path to merge. Right?

Take this week. 

Atlanta announced closer Arodys Vizcaino underwent right shoulder surgery. He’s out for the season. This the day after his would-be replacement, A.J. Minter, gave up three earned runs in ⅔ of an inning. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged he heard the chants from Braves fans Tuesday night demanding he sign Kimbrel.

Philadelphia placed reliever David Robertson on the 10-day injured list because of a flexor strain (initially labeled elbow soreness). It used Hector Neris to close Wednesday afternoon. He entered with two runners on base. Neris struck out the first batter, gave up a soft single, hit Wilson Ramos to load the bases, then struck Keon Broxton to end the game. That’s an interesting path to the end.

The Mets are living similar to the Nationals. They have a closer -- Edwin Diaz -- who can be relied on. It’s getting to him which has been such a challenge. Seth Lugo (5.06 ERA), Jeurys Familia (6.48) and Robert Gsellman (3.48) are often dispatched to drag New York to the ninth inning.

All five members of the National League East are in the bottom half of bullpen ERA entering play Friday. Philadelphia is 15th, Atlanta is 22nd, Miami is 24th, New York is 27th and Washington remains last by a wide margin -- almost a run-and-a-half worse than 29th-ranked Baltimore.

The Nationals’ bullpen toiling around with the have nots is endangering the team’s season as a whole, the $190 million payroll investment, the demands of the Lerner family to be better than first-round playoff exits. But, few paths are available to fix it without relinquishing a commodity -- whether human or financial.

Multiple reports claim Kimbrel’s asking price has come down in both years and cash. It may never reach a point of intersection with the Nationals if team ownership remains steadfast against surpassing the competitive balance tax threshold for the third consecutive year. Passing the $206 million roster mark would result in a 50 percent tax on every dollar spent from there on. 

Kimbrel would also cost the Nationals a compensation draft pick and international draft money because he declined a qualifying off from Boston. In all, four layers of cost exist around Kimbrel: salary, luxury tax, a draft pick and international money.

Financial stances can change when circumstances do. Though, the Nationals’ leverage with Kimbrel has evaporated. Owning the league’s worst bullpen is not a promising negotiation point for a team preferring to restrict this final portion of spending. Imagine their pitch: “We’re desperate for your services, but don’t want to spend much.” 

Whichever lagging bullpen signs Kimbrel still needs to subsist until he is ready. In Washington’s case, it continues to hunt for solutions ahead of a six-game road trip which starts Friday in Miami. Trevor Rosenthal’s lost early season, a better way to match up with left-handed hitters, help in the middle and a way to use closer Sean Doolittle less -- he’s on pace for 86 appearances -- are all on the docket. 

“Things haven’t gone the way we envisioned them coming out of camp,” Doolittle said this week. “Part of being a reliever -- you don’t get to this level without having taken some lumps; without having taken some punches. So guys, they might be in the jungle a little bit right now, but they know how to get through this. We’re working on it. Guys are talking to each other about things they can do, whether it’s pitch selection or mechanics or straight up execution to try to get things smoothed out. 

“We’re in it as a group. As a reliever, you can’t have an ego. You have to be ready for whatever the team needs, whatever the group needs and be ready to pick your teammate up.”

Doolittle’s words could have come from the leader of any NL East bullpen. Four contenders with the same problem populate the division. One big name looms. Day by day, the tussle for a fix and leverage goes on. 

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes tie series with Caps, Blues take series lead, Sharks avoid elimination

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes tie series with Caps, Blues take series lead, Sharks avoid elimination

As the first-round starts to head into the final games, each matchup is getting more and more critical, as was evident Thursday. Not only did the Carolina Hurricanes have the chance to even up the series with the Washington Capitals in Game 4, but the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets were playing for the 3-2 series lead and the San Jose Sharks found themselves in a must-win situation in order to avoid elimination against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Thursday's slate of games proved to be crucial and ultimately, played out well for the Hurricanes, Blues and Sharks. Here's how each series stacked up Thursday.

Hurricanes tie series against Caps with narrow 2-1 win

It was a close matchup between Washington and Carolina Thursday, but thanks to a couple of key goals and a big night for Petr Mrazek between the pipes, the Hurricanes were able to take Game 4 with a 2-1 victory.

Warren Foegele opened the scoring for Carolina just 17 seconds in, crashing the net and scoring on a lay-up that beat Braden Holtby. It was his third goal of the playoffs and the fastest playoff goal for Carolina in franchise history.

Alex Ovechkin was able to even the score in the second period with a one-timer on the man advantage, putting an end to 11 straight penalty kills for the Canes. The goal was Ovechkin's second of the playoffs, with both tallies coming on the power play. However, just before the second period came to a close, Teuvo Teravainen returned the lead for Carolina to make it 2-1.

Petr Mrazek made 30 saves on the night, including eight in the third period to guarantee the victory for the Hurricanes, while Holtby made 22 saves on 24 shots. Washington also lost T.J. Oshie to injury late in the game after he was hit from behind by Warren Foegele. The series is now tied 2-2.

Blues edge Jets with comeback victory, take series lead

Although the Jets were up 2-0 over the Blues heading into the third period, Winnipeg surrendered three unanswered goals as St. Louis took a 3-2 victory.

Adam Lowry scored just 12 seconds into the opening frame for the Jets' fastest playoff goal in franchise history to make it 1-0, and Kevin Hayes added a goal a little over halfway through the first to make it 2-0.

The lead would carry over until the final 20 minutes of regulation, where the Blues kicked it into full gear. Ryan O'Reilly beat Connor Hellebuyck on the power play a little over a minute into the third to pull the Blues within one. With about seven minutes to go, Brayden Schenn would tie the game at 2 with his first goal of the playoffs.

With the final minute winding down, it appeared that the game would be headed to overtime; however, Tyler Bozak was able to knock the puck loose and find a wide-open Jaden Schwartz in front, who fired the puck past Hellebuyck with just 15 seconds remaining to make it 3-2.

With the victory, the Blues now hold a 3-2 series lead and can eliminate Winnipeg in Game 6 Saturday.

Sharks stay alive with statement 5-2 win over Golden Knights

Thursday's game was a must-win for the Sharks, and thanks mainly to the effort of Tomas Hertl, they were able to dominate on home ice with an impressive win over Vegas.

A little over a minute in, Tomas Hertl jumped on a pass from Erik Karlsson and scored his third of the playoffs to make it 1-0 early. Later in the period, Logan Couture would beat Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Sharks up by two, but with 30 seconds to go in the opening frame, Reilly Smith was able to pull Vegas within one with his first of the postseason.

While it looked like Vegas would be able to shift the momentum with their end to the first, Barclay Goodrow redirected a Justin Braun shot past Fleury and the Sharks regained their two-goal lead.

Jonathan Marchessault would strike for the Golden Knights on the power play over halfway into the third to cut the lead to one, but Hertl soon after scored his second of the night on the rebound of a Joe Pavelski shot to make it 4-2. With less than two minutes to go in regulation, Pavelski scored on the empty net for his second point of the game, which ultimately sealed the deal for the Sharks.

Martin Jones, who had been struggling but was given the start regardless, proved his worth with 30 saves on 32 shots, and Erik Karlsson also put up a multi-point performance for San Jose in the win.

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