Wizards

Source: Rangers close to deal for Berkman as DH

Source: Rangers close to deal for Berkman as DH

DALLAS (AP) A person familiar with the situation says the Texas Rangers are close to a deal with Lance Berkman to be their designated hitter.

Berkman's deal is pending a physical, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press on Saturday because the contract wasn't finalized.

Multiple reports, all citing unidentified sources, said it would be a one-year deal worth at least $10 million. The deal could also include a vesting option for 2014.

Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan has publicly expressed the team's interest in Berkman, who was limited by injuries to 32 games for St. Louis last season.

The 36-year-old Berkman spent the 11 1/2 seasons with the Houston Astros, the team for which Ryan previously worked.

Quick Links

Scott Brooks shuffles Wizards starting lineup, inserts Kelly Oubre Jr. and Thomas Bryant

kelly-oubre-wizards-clippers-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports

Scott Brooks shuffles Wizards starting lineup, inserts Kelly Oubre Jr. and Thomas Bryant

Scott Brooks has apparently reached a breaking point. For the first time in his three years on the job, the Wizards head coach has made significant changes to his starting lineup.

With Dwight Howard out on Tuesday against the Clippers due to his strained piriformis muscle, Brooks is calling on second-year center Thomas Bryant to start in his place. Kelly Oubre Jr. will also take Markieff Morris' spot in the starting lineup, as the Wizards aim to shake things up amid a disastrous 5-11 start.

This is the first start in Bryant's NBA career. The 21-year-old has played spot minutes in six games so far this season with the Wizards, who signed him off waivers this past summer.

Brooks usually goes with backup center Ian Mahinmi to start in Howard's place. But with his team lacking energy, he believes Bryant can provide it.

"He plays with a high motor and he plays with a lot of enthusiasm," Brooks said. "We need better effort. We need better energy and we need better play."

Brooks said he hopes Bryant's eagerness will rub off on the other starters. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. have been part of a Wizards' rotation that has far too often produced listless efforts this season, particularly on defense.

Bryant will have his shortcomings and a learning curve, but Brooks saw something in the team's game on Sunday he hopes translates to the starting lineup. Brooks emptied his bench with his team down big to the Blazers and Bryant helped key a near comeback.

There was one play in particular that caught Brooks' eye. Bryant threw down an alley-oop and ran over to the Wizards bench, smiling and pointing at his teammates. He was making the most of a rare opportunity to play, and he was having fun.

Oubre, 22, will get his first career start that wasn't created by an injury. He has made 26 starts in his four NBA seasons, but usually in the place of Porter or Morris when they were out.

Like Bryant, Oubre can infuse some much-needed life into the Wizards' lineup. He plays an emotional style and tries as hard as anyone on the team on the defensive end.

"Coach's decision," Brooks said of sitting Morris. "I just feel like we need to try a different lineup."

Morris is averaging just 6.9 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 34.7 percent in his last 10 games. He is being demoted mostly due to the simple need for a change and the fact he hasn't been playing well.

But Brooks believes Morris can help improve the bench by becoming a focus of their offensive sets.

"We're gonna try to stabilize that unit a little bit," Brooks said.

These are undoubtedly the most drastic lineup changes Brooks has made in his tenure so far in Washington. The team needed a shakeup, and this certainly qualifies as one.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Grading the champs: How have the Caps fared through 20 games?

capsreview.png
USA TODAY SPORTS

Grading the champs: How have the Caps fared through 20 games?

Monday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens was Game 20 for the Caps meaning we are officially one quarter of the way into the NHL season. That means it’s time to take a step back and look at just how the Caps have performed thus far.

Here are the first quarter grades and awards for the Caps:

Offense: B+

The Caps boasted the top offense in the NHL for a short stretch, but the numbers were being propped up initially by the explosive power play. When it comes to five-on-five play, the offense is a bit weaker than the power play would make it seem. Evgeny Kuznetsov, for example, has six goals and zero have come at even strength.

Not having Tom Wilson in the lineup for the first 16 games due to a suspension clearly hurt the offense and Todd Reirden was forced to shuffle the lines as best he could looking for a spark. Now that he is back, the offense looks much improved and much deeper. Plus, Alex Ovechkin continues to be Ovechkin even at the age of 33.

The offense has had its full lineup for less than two games this season, but even despite that, Washington still ranks seventh in the NHL with 3.35 goals per game. This is already a top-10 offense and it’s trending up.

Defense: C-

In hearing Reirden describe the team’s defense, it involves a lot of commitment. All five players are expected to back check and get into shooting lanes every time the opposition has the puck. Obviously, the defense is more nuanced than that, but at its basic core, this is what the Caps want to do. That sort of commitment is easy to get in the playoffs, but it’s harder to get a team to constantly jump into shooting lanes in November. As a result, this is where the team’s Stanley Cup hangover has been the most glaring.

The defensemen have had their struggles, particularly Dmitry Olrov and Matt Niskanen, which has led to a shuffling of the pairs. The offense also has not been as quick on the back check as you would like to see.

Most critically, however, has been puck management. The biggest defensive breakdowns for this team have been self-inflicted with bad turnovers and lazy passes. As glaring as they may be, however, they also should be correctable.

Goaltending: B

The first month of the season has been a scoring bonanza so Braden Holtby’s numbers are not where you would want them, but in recent weeks he has started to look like the dominant netminder who foiled opponents in the playoffs last season. There is no reason to think he will not continue to get better as the season goes along and he develops more of a rhythm.

The real story here has been Pheonix Copley who was largely an unknown commodity at the NHL level heading into the season.

Copley’s play was shaky to start, but when Holtby suffered an upper-body injury and Copley was forced to start all four games of their current road trip, he played very well for the most part. You can point to Monday’s game in Montreal in which he was pulled in the second period all you want, but in terms of whether this team has a backup it can trust to plug into a game 20-25 times this season, Copley has shown he is capable of providing that.

Special teams: C-

Yes, the power play is great and ranks fourth in the NHL at 29.7-percent, but it has cooled considerably in recent weeks. In the month of November, the Caps have scored on six of 29 opportunities, good for 13th in the league at 20.7-percent.

The real issue for Washington in terms of the special teams is the penalty kill.

Reirden wanted the penalty kill to be more offensively aggressive this season, but so far the Caps have not been able to do that without leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. The result is that their penalty kill now ranks 29th in the NHL at 73.3-percent.

Reirden’s goal here, I believe, is not so much to generate offense at the expense of the defense, but rather to force an opponent’s power play to be aware of Washington’s offensive weapons and to help kill time by keeping and holding possession of the puck in the offensive zone. Thus far, however, it hasn’t worked.

If the Caps are going to keep this philosophy on the penalty kill, then the coaches need to sit down and study film of the Arizona Coyotes who lead the league in both the penalty kill (91.7-percent) and shorthanded goals (10).

Pleasant surprise: Madison Bowey

Bowey has been a highly touted prospect within the organization since he was drafted in 2013. He made his NHL debut last season, but seemed to struggle with the transition from AHL to NHL. This year, he looks like the most improved player on the team and has played well in relief of an injured Brooks Orpik.

What’s more, Bowey is showing a lot more confidence in his play. He is a two-way defenseman, but no one would have been able to tell that from how conservative he was last season. This year, he is being more assertive in the offensive zone and it should translate into more points.

Needs improvement: Andre Burakovsky

Burakovsky has just four points this season in 20 games. Tom Wilson, by comparison, has five points in four games since returning to the lineup.

Burakovsky has tremendous skill, but he remains an incredibly streaky player. It was thought that confidence was the major issue for him and he saw a sports psychologist over the summer. The results? Both he and Reirden say they see a difference and say he is a more confident player, but it has not translated into more production.

Burakovsky is not a shutdown forward, he is not a physical grinder, he is not a penalty killer. If he is not producing, he just doesn’t add that much to the lineup.

MVP: Alex Ovechkin

At times it looked like John Carlson or Kuznetsov would be the MVP, but through 20 games just about every player on this roster has had the ups and downs typical of a season and especially of a Stanley Cup championship team that is realizing playing in October is not nearly as fun as it is playing in June. The only player who is consistently great on a night in, night out basis is the Great 8 who shows no signs of slowing down even at the age of 33.

With 15 goals, Ovechkin sits second in the NHL behind only David Pastrnak’s 17.

Overall: B

Let’s consider everything Reirden has had to deal with in his first season as an NHL head coach: Wilson’s 20-game suspension, injuries to Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Travis Boyd, Braden Holtby, Michal Kempny and Brooks Orpik, a backup goalie making the jump to the NHL and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Yes, the Caps have played below the lofty standards we have come to expect and do not yet have a win streak of over two games this season. But considering everything, the fact that this team still sits in third place in the Metropolitan Division and appears to be trending upward is a good sign for the direction this season is going.

This team has another level it has not yet reached, but they are getting there, slowly but surely.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: