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Slumping Dolphins again headed in wrong direction

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Slumping Dolphins again headed in wrong direction

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) From the start of his first year as coach of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Philbin stressed the need for steady improvement. Instead, a late-season tailspin has the team headed yet again in the wrong direction - toward a long offseason.

The Dolphins (5-8) have lost five of their past six games, ensuring that for a fourth consecutive year they'll finish .500 or worse. Going into its game against Jacksonville (2-11), Miami is virtually assured of missing the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.

Following a 27-13 loss Sunday at San Francisco, Philbin attributed the skid not to a lack of talent but to a ``lack of playmaking'' at critical times.

``It's correctable,'' he said Monday. ``There were some plays there to be made on both sides of the ball that we didn't do. There were some opportunities we didn't capitalize on.''

For the second straight week, the Dolphins remained in contention against a division leader until the final minutes. But against both the 49ers and New England Patriots, fourth-quarter rallies came up short.

Feeble offense and a takeaway drought have doomed the Dolphins in recent weeks. The offense has totaled three touchdowns in the past four defeats, and the defense has forced only one turnover in the past six games.

Getting better from week to week has been a Philbin mantra, but the Dolphins aren't doing it. They rank fourth worst in the NFL in yards, and are tied for fifth worst in points at 18.5 per game, with productivity declining of late.

``I don't know exactly what the answer is,'' rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. ``But we have to make the plays that are there. You can't win in this league scoring as few points as we are. It's frustrating.''

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman concurred.

``I would agree with what Ryan said,'' Sherman said. ``I would probably say `expletive frustrating.' We feel like we're close, but not close enough.''

At San Francisco, as has been the case in several games, the Dolphins played their worst at crunch time. On their final possession, trailing by a touchdown, Tannehill went 0 for 5.

Facing one of the NFL's best defenses, Tannehill did throw for a score - his eight touchdown passes rank 30th. But he averaged only 4.5 yards per attempt, and reinforced a budding reputation for failing to deliver late.

``He played better in the first half,'' Philbin said. ``At the end of the game, where statistically he didn't perform as well as he would have liked, there were a lot of factors that contributed to that. It wasn't just him. There wasn't as much separation in the route-running. It wasn't like there were wide-open guys he was flat-out missing.''

The absence of a deep threat remains Miami's glaring weakness. Top receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have combined to make 123 catches, but they've totaled only two touchdowns.

A lack of defensive playmakers has hurt, too. With 12 takeaways this year, the Dolphins are on pace to set a franchise record for fewest in a season.

No linebacker has an interception. While opponents have fumbled 17 times, Miami has just three recoveries, which is tied for last in the league. And the problem's getting worse: Over the past six games, the Dolphins have just one takeaway.

``That's not good,'' defensive end Cameron Wake said. ``You look at every statistic we have in football, and that's the one that determines your success.''

Wake might be the only Miami player to make the Pro Bowl. He notched three sacks against the 49ers, increasing his season total to 14, which matches a career high.

But he's on the verge of his fourth losing season in four years with Miami.

``I would give away every sack I got for a winning record and opportunities that we are not capitalizing on,'' he said. ``It is hard to contribute with that kind of stuff when we are stinking it up.''

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Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

RELATED: TREA TURNER'S SWING HAS TAKEN TIME TO ADJUST WITHOUT REPLAY ACCESS

He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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