Nationals

Tested Michigan to play South Carolina in Outback

Tested Michigan to play South Carolina in Outback

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan will face a lot of talent - especially when it tries to block South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney - in the Outback Bowl.

The 19th-ranked Wolverines, though, have just about seen it all.

They're the only team since at least 1996 to go into the postseason after facing the top three teams in The Associated Press poll. They lost each game to No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State.

``I think it's always a benefit when you play good football teams whether you win or lose,'' Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday. ``You learn how you have to play. We have to do a better job of taking care of the football, have to run the ball better.''

Michigan (8-4) also lost to No. 23 Nebraska, leading Hoke to vote for his team No. 15 in the coaches' poll, which ranked the Wolverines 22nd on Sunday. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who was replaced by Hoke, and Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly were the only other ones to vote for Michigan as high as Hoke did in the coaches' poll.

``I think we're a good team,'' Hoke said, explaining why he voted his team as high as he did. ``You look at the opponents that we played compared to other schedules that are out there. It would be easy to play a lesser schedule. But I think this has helped us grow as a program and a team.''

Michigan's banged-up quarterbacks should be helped by the long break between losing Nov. 24 to the rival Buckeyes and playing the Gamecocks on New Year's Day in Tampa, Fla.

Denard Robinson missed two-plus games with nerve damage in his right elbow and then was limited by the injury - that prevented him from throwing in a game - for the last two games of the regular season.

``I feel pretty good, to be honest with you,'' Robinson said. ``When we start practicing, I can have more say. I'm not throwing how I want to throw, but I'll get there.''

Devin Gardner replaced Robinson under center late in the season and had an ankle injury against Ohio State that was serious enough to place him in a walking boot.

Hoke insisted Gardner would be ready to practice with his teammates Friday and Saturday and said the time off the field will help every player on the roster.

``They go through that grind, it's good for all of them to heal up a little bit,'' Hoke said. ``To get them away from the pounding helps them all.''

When the Wolverines work on their inconsistent running game, they'll be without one player whose role was to help pave the way.

Junior fullback Stephen Hopkins has left the team and Hoke wouldn't - or couldn't - provide reasons for the decision.

``You'd have to ask him,'' Hoke said.

Hopkins certainly didn't lash out in a message posted to his Twitter account Monday afternoon: ``I love the University of Michigan and everything it means to be a Michigan Man. I look forward to getting my degree.''

Hopkins started in four of eight games this year and didn't get the ball once.

Rodriguez recruited Hopkins from Double Oak, Texas, to Michigan in 2010 and he had 151 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 37 carries as a freshman. Hopkins was handed the ball 11 times for 43 yards last season, in Hoke's first year, and caught one pass for 28 yards.

Robinson acknowledged being ``a little bit'' surprised that Hopkins is leaving the team.

``We support him,'' Robinson said. ``That's still a brother to me. I would never say anything bad about him.''

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter:http://twitter.com/larrylage

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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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