Capitals

Strong 2nd half, Headley's season give Padres hope

201209301723626375163-p2.jpeg

Strong 2nd half, Headley's season give Padres hope

SAN DIEGO (AP) A strong second half, fueled by Chase Headley's breakout season, showed that there's promise for the low-budget San Diego Padres.

That hope was strengthened when the Oakland Athletics, who have baseball's lowest player payroll, won the AL West.

General manager Josh Byrnes said the TV in the Padres' clubhouse was tuned to the A's game against Texas on Wednesday.

``Seeing Oakland, if that doesn't sort of get your attention, big market or small, our players were riveted watching that game,'' Byrnes said Thursday. ``I thought it was a great achievement. We want to be that team.''

The Padres, who had the second-lowest payroll, went 42-33 after the All-Star break. While far better than their awful start, it wasn't enough to prevent them from finishing 76-86, their fourth losing record in five seasons. They were fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the San Francisco Giants.

San Diego hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006.

The Padres believe they have most of the pieces in place to contend next year under manager Bud Black. Byrnes said they'll need to add starting pitching, mostly because their rotation was hit with a rash of injuries early in the season that contributed to the team winning only 17 games through May and being 22 games under .500 - 24-46 - on June 20.

``I do think the personality of who we want to be, the mix in there of Buddy, players, coaches, is very good,'' Byrnes said. ``So I think we've taken a big step in kind of the personality we want. To me, from a personnel standpoint, I think our starting pitching needs to get better. Even the winning we did over the last 100, 110 games, wasn't on the backs of our starting pitching. At times, even in September, we kind of ran out of gas. But it's a tough area to address and a lot of our good ones are hurt, so projecting when they return next year, how many innings we can count on are unknowns and will make the planning tricky. But as far as things we're trying to go get in the offseason, the focus will be on starting pitching.''

The Padres had only two pitchers throw more than 100 innings, lefty Clayton Richard with 218 2-3 and Edinson Volquez with 182 2-3. Besides Richard and Volquez, 22 pitchers threw at least 16 innings.

While the pitching was an issue, Headley's season was phenomenal. He won the NL RBI title with 115. Among his other career-bests were 31 homers, 173 hits and 95 runs scored.

The Padres have given several players long-term deals, but Headley isn't among them. Byrnes said the team has discussed a multi-year deal for the third baseman, but the Padres control his rights for two more seasons. At the very least, Headley will certainly cash in via arbitration.

Asked if the Padres were wrong for not extending Headley, Byrnes said: ``Probably, yeah.''

Byrnes pointed out that the extensions the team has given were either to players approaching free agency - left fielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street - or younger players including center fielder Cameron Maybin, pitcher Cory Luebke and catcher Nick Hundley. Luebke was among several Padres pitchers who required surgery and Hundley struggled after getting his deal and later was injured.

Byrnes said Headley falls in between those two groups.

``The good news is, two years is a long time,'' Byrnes said. ``If having such a good year makes negotiations difficult, we've got a lot of time. He's a home-grown guy, he's invested in this franchise, but the system is designed for a reason. It protects him, because he's going to get a nice raise because he had such a nice year, and it protects us because we control him for at least two more years.''

Until this year, Headley hadn't put up the power number expected of a third baseman. The switch-hitter said he worked hard at elevating the ball on the pull side.

On that topic, Byrnes and Black said they support moving in the fences in certain parts of Petco Park. Byrnes said the club is still discussing the matter and that no decision has been made.

``I think there are certain parts of the park that play a little bit extreme, that I think will help balance out some well-hit balls,'' Black said. ``In simple terms, if you hit a ball a long ways, and hit it well, it should be a home run.''

Black said the areas that need to be addressed are right-center, which has flummoxed Padres hitters since the park opened in 2004, and a bit in left-center.

``My sense is it wouldn't be a drastic change,'' Byrnes said. ``I think the extreme parts of the park would be corrected. ... We know when a ball's really crushed, the park has been a bit unfair.''

The Padres were purchased in August by a group headed by the O'Malley and Seidler families and local businessman Ron Fowler. They haven't said what their target player payroll is for 2013.

Quick Links

Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

To call it a hit is generous. To call it a huge play is accurate. 

Capitals forward Tom Wilson backed into a loose puck along the boards in the defensive zone of Friday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He waited for a hit sure to come from behind. 

Colin Wilson, the Avalanche center, moved in to dislodge the puck. Instead he got dislodged from gravity. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tom Wilson, barely moving and braced for contact, used his own leverage to launch Colin Wilson into the air, arms and legs akimbo. 

By the time Colin Wilson crashed to the ice, Tom Wilson had chipped a blind backhand pass to center ice, where Alex Ovechkin stopped it with his skate, dropped it to teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who gave it back as they entered the offensive zone. Ovechkin crossed from left to right and ripped a shot past former teammate Philipp Grubauer in goal for Colorado. 

It was a wonderful pass from Backstrom, who put the Avalanche on their heels. Ovechkin’s shot was a bullet that left little chance for Grubauer. But make no mistake – it all started with Wilson, who was prepared to take a hit to make a play. It is those little things that the Capitals missed during Wilson’s 16-game suspension by the NHL. It was the little things that helped them to a 3-2 overtime victory.  

“[Wilson] brings so much energy to this group,” Backstrom said. “He’s everywhere out there. That’s what we need. He’s playing PK, he’s playing power plays, he’s doing everything. He’s a valuable guy in this group so we’re happy to have him back.”

The game-winning goal in overtime by Backstrom was a perfect example. Wilson took a drop pass from defenseman John Carlson 12 seconds into overtime with Washington on a 4-on-3 power play. That’s when he went to work. 

For six seconds Wilson and Avalanche center Carl Soderberg did battle along the right boards high in the offensive zone. Just as Wilson was knocked to the ice, he slipped a pass back to Backstrom alone at the point. 

With Soderberg on top of him and both out of the play, Wilson watched Backstrom take advantage of the extra space in what effectively became a 3-on-2. He passed to Carlson in the right faceoff circle and then got the puck back in the high slot and beat Grubauer blocker side for the win. That doesn’t happen without Wilson. 

“When you’re playing with good players, you just try and keep it simple, win your battles and they’ll do the rest,” Wilson said. “And that’s exactly what happened on both those plays. At the end there, I thought about throwing it across the ice a couple times, but I’m not that comfortable out there yet so just kind of ragged on the wall and waited. Nicky got open for me and made it easy, I just threw it over to him and it was in the back of the net.”  

The Ovechkin goal put Washington ahead 2-1 at 18:29 of the second period. The Backstrom winner came 22 seconds into overtime. Wilson, in his third game back after his original 20-game suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator, played a career-high 24 minutes, 24 seconds. He moved to the power play for 4:19 with T.J. Oshie out with an upper-body injury and contributed 1:35 on the penalty kill – a little less than usual. 

Wilson played on the PK for 5:23 in his first game back Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. He scored a goal in that game, too, by driving the net hard and has been a jolt of energy for a team that was scuffling coming into a difficult four-game road trip. The Capitals are 2-1-0 with one game left Monday at the Montreal Canadiens. 
 
“Tom is one of those guys that was vocal in our room, vocal on the bench that we’re fully in control of that game still even though we gave up the late goal,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “But that’s a tough start [after the suspension], three in four, and then add in the altitude and the minutes that we’re counting on him playing because they aren’t easy minutes. And then obviously having to chase around that top line tonight from Colorado is no easy task. Just really happy with the fact that we got him back a little earlier than was originally set up for us. It’s been a good bounce for our team.” 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Tic-Tac-Toe

The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.


Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.


A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: