Nationals

Sooners, Longhorns trying to stay in Big 12 race

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Sooners, Longhorns trying to stay in Big 12 race

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) It's a college football experience unlike any other.

It starts with a bus ride into the State Fair of Texas, with fans thumping on the sides and cheering or directing insults and unfriendly gestures toward the riders. Then there's the walk down the Cotton Bowl field, the chance to stare down your bitter rival face to face before the game begins.

And no matter what's on the line beyond the Golden Hat trophy at the annual Red River Rivalry, it's always something special - even if the stakes are a little lower than usual.

No. 13 Oklahoma (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) and No. 15 Texas (4-1, 1-1) will arrive in Dallas on Saturday playing catch-up in the conference standings for a change. Instead of a showdown to get in the driver's seat in the Big 12, the rivalry is a crucial win both teams need to keep up with No. 5 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas State.

For the first time since 2007, and the second time since 1997, both teams already have a conference loss behind their names.

``It doesn't have any different feel,'' Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Monday. ``Not in my eyes.''

It'll be the 14th straight time Stoops has gone up against Texas' Mack Brown, with the two teams combining to win nine of the last 13 conference titles. The loser this time could end up two games back in the league standings.

So, could this be an early October elimination game?

``I wouldn't ever say that,'' Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin said. ``We don't want to get too high. We don't want to get too low.

``You never know what's going to happen in the Big 12 or in college football, period. We're definitely going to try to go out there and get this win, try and give it our all but we don't really think of the negatives yet.''

The potential is certainly there, though. Oklahoma lost on its home field last month against Kansas State, and Texas was beaten at home just last week by West Virginia. Don't forget that the Sooners must travel to face the Mountaineers, and the Longhorns finish the regular season at K-State.

``We can't afford to take any more losses and we can't afford to take any steps backward. We're trying to move forward in everything that we do,'' Oklahoma defensive end R.J. Washington said.

``But it's Texas. It's going to be high-energy. There's going to be an unruly crowd. Things aren't going to go your way, but you've just got to keep pushing. I think the first couple games we've had have helped us get through that. We've gone through some adversity. We've battled back from that.''

The Sooners are coming off of a 41-20 win at previously unbeaten Texas Tech, ending a three-game losing streak in Lubbock. Before that, they had off weeks bracketing the 24-19 loss to Kansas State, and Stoops thought all the down time stunted the team's development.

``Now, hopefully we can get in a rhythm. ... You really make your improvement, I think, when you're on the field playing in game situations, and hopefully we can take some strides and keep improving,'' Stoops said.

The only setback Monday was the news that backup offensive lineman Nila Kasitati was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

The Sooners have won the last two games in the series, including a 55-17 decision last season, after losing four of the previous five. After a weekend when three of the nation's top five teams lost, they're still harboring the grandest of hopes.

``We're trying to get to the national championship,'' Colvin said. ``We're trying to win big games. We definitely want to beat those guys just because it's such a big rivalry, but at the end of the day, we need this win for us.''

``You really never know with college football. ... We've still got a chance,'' he added. ``You never know what'll happen. If odds work out in our favor, then we'll be blessed to have that situation and we'll definitely go out there and play hard.''

For now, though, it's all about beating the Longhorns. Any chances at the Big 12 and national championships depend on it.

``It's anybody's game right now,'' Washington said. ``It could come down to the wire, so every game is as important as every other game. This just happens to be a rivalry game. There's always a little added incentive for that.''

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen is one of the weakest units in baseball this season. Fans in the nation’s capital have spent two months watching relievers cough up leads and put games out of reach, and the numbers speak for themselves. 

Washington’s team ERA among relievers is an unsightly 7.09 entering Memorial Day Weekend, nearly a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Orioles. As a unit, they’ve pitched fewer innings than any other bullpen, yet have allowed the second-most earned runs.

No one has been immune. Sean Doolittle, by far the best option in 2019, has seen his ERA balloon to 3.68. Justin Miller is the only other regular reliever with an ERA below 5, and he’s at 4.02.

It’s caused much consternation in the fanbase, and for good reason. Where did the Nationals go wrong in building this bullpen? What could they have done differently?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at four relievers who are experiencing various levels of success while no longer in Washington.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez has been lights out in Pittsburgh in 2019. He ranks top-10 among relievers in WAR (0.9) and top-12 in ERA (1.25). He holds the sixth-best K/9 (14.54) and is tied for the fourth-most saves in baseball with 13.

Every one of those numbers would lead the Nationals with ease. At 27, Vazquez has turned into one of the elite relievers in the sport. He’s been terrific all three years with the Pirates, and 2019 looks like his best season yet.

Of course, he wasn’t ready to be this guy in 2016 when the Nationals traded him for Mark Melancon. It was a necessary trade at the time, and one that worked out well in a vacuum. Melancon pitched well in Washington and didn’t allow a run in the 2016 postseason.

Right now, the Nats could really use a Felipe Vazquez, but the logic behind their trade at the time was sound.

Blake Treinen

Treinen has already allowed as many earned runs in 2019 (seven) as he did in all of 2018. It’s not a knock on his performance this season, where his 2.59 ERA would still lead the Nationals, but a recognition of just how dominant he was in 2018.

In the modern era of Major League Baseball, it’s just about impossible for a reliever to win the Cy Young. Even with just 80 innings pitched last year, Treinen finished sixth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. 

That’s right. He was so good, he got down-ballot votes for MVP. It was a sensational year.

His usually-elite ground ball rate is down this season, which has led to some regression, but it’s still notable he put together a 2018 season that far outshines any individual season the Nats have seen.

It was clear in 2017 he wasn’t capable of performing as the team’s closer, eventually earning a demotion before being traded to Oakland.

Despite his enormous success in the years since the trade, it’s hard to question the Nationals here. Not only did it seem apparent Treinen wasn’t going to figure things out in D.C., but the trade brought back Sean Doolittle, the lone consistently great reliever the Nats have had in recent years.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler pitched parts of two seasons in Washington, but ultimately spent exactly one year with the Nationals. In that year, he tossed 68.2 innings while striking out 43 batters and walking 18.

His ERA with the Nationals was 3.54, too high for a high-leverage reliever. He struggled mightily in 2018 after being traded to the Cubs, but has settled down this season to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings.

As is the case for just about any halfway-decent reliever, the current Nationals bullpen would benefit from having him, but this isn’t nearly the loss Treinen or Vasquez were.

Shawn Kelley

Kelley was up-and-down in his time with the Nationals. His ERA was below three in 2016 and 2018, but the 2017 season was marred with injuries, inconsistency, and a tendency to allow home runs (a whopping 12 in just 26 innings).

Of course, Kelley was pitching better in 2018, but it wasn’t performance that led to his departure. 

In a blowout Nationals 25-4 victory over the Mets in July 2018, Kelley allowed three earned runs, including a home run. After the home run, he slammed his glove on the ground while staring at the Nats dugout.

The next day, he was designated for assignment as a result of the outburst and never pitched for the Nationals again, traded away a few days later. 

In his 33.2 innings since the trade, Kelley has been terrific. He posted a 2.16 ERA with the Athletics in 2018 and currently holds a 1.59 ERA in 2019 despite pitching his home games in Texas. He’s even filled in at closer with the Rangers, recording five saves so far this year.

Though his removal wasn’t for performance issues like Kintzler's or to acquire proven closers like Treinen’s and Vasquez’s were, the loss of Kelley can be felt just as hard. As is the case with each of these relievers, Kelley’s numbers would lead the Nationals bullpen in just about every category.

For the most part, these moves made sense at the time, for one reason or another. But the Nationals have yet to adequately replace most of these arms, and the 2019 team is suffering as a result.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

Kick off your holiday weekend with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. One of the most obvious needs for the Ravens is help rushing the passer, and they're hoping to find some of that help on the interior in the form of free agent Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer DL visited Cleveland last week, but left town without agreeing to a contract.

Reportedly interested in playing for a contender, the former top-five pick is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Tuesday.

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still struggling to throw the ball, as he noted things aren't right yet when it comes to accuracy. Media members noticed the ball wobbling through the air on many throws, and Jackson told them he thinks his hand is too high on the ball. If he's going to successfully run Greg Roman's new offensive scheme, Jackson will eventually need to be able to hit his receivers in stride with greater regularity.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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