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Verlander is armed and dangerous for postseason

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Verlander is armed and dangerous for postseason

DETROIT (AP) Justin Verlander's introduction to postseason baseball six years ago left him dazzled and exhausted.

Worn down toward the end of his rookie season, he made his playoff debut at Yankee Stadium. A couple weeks later, he was on the mound for Game 1 of the World Series.

``It was such a whirlwind, really, that entire season. I remember standing on the mound in old Yankee Stadium ... and growing up as a kid you see all of the postseason games and all of the magic that had happened in that stadium, and it was kind of a surreal moment for me,'' the Detroit ace said.

``I feel like I have pitched in big games now and understand what my body's going to be going through and what my mind is going to be going through and I am able to rein it in a little more and use it more to my advantage.''

Verlander is now 29 and he returns to the Fall Classic a more mature pitcher than he was in 2006. His last two seasons have been nothing short of phenomenal, and now he's adding another line to his resume with the first truly outstanding postseason stretch of his career.

In three playoff starts against Oakland and the New York Yankees, he's allowed all of two runs - a pair of harmless solo homers that did little to slow Detroit's march to the American League pennant. On Wednesday night, he'll pitch Game 1 against San Francisco.

``He's learned to handle these situations. He's learned how to stay pretty calm throughout the game in these big-game situations,'' manager Jim Leyland said.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander can make pitching look remarkably effortless. Verlander will often settle into an early groove without necessarily reaching back for his triple-digit fastball until the later innings.

``I think you can help to build your natural ability,'' said Verlander, who led the majors in pitches thrown in 2011 and 2012. ``I think a lot of the work I do in the offseason in my lower half and my core allows me to stay strong throughout the game so that I don't start to break down when I get to 100 pitches.''

Verlander went 24-5 in 2011, sweeping the AL MVP and Cy Young awards. Although he won only 17 games this year, his ERA was still a sparkling 2.64 and he came within two outs of throwing a third career no-hitter against Pittsburgh in May.

About the only thing he can't seem to do is hit. Verlander is 0-for-his-career at the plate, although if he breaks that drought in the World Series, it's fair to assume his teammates and manager will never hear the end of it.

After appearing on Conan O'Brien's show and promoting a video game with model Kate Upton, Verlander's newfound celebrity status doesn't seem to have affected his pitching. He's looked as focused as ever this postseason.

Detroit is trying to win its first World Series since 1984. Verlander will oppose Barry Zito in the opener.

``I had the opportunity to pitch in the World Series before,'' Verlander said. ``I don't think I really appreciated the magnitude of how hard it is to get there.''

In 2006, Verlander started Game 1 of the World Series, and the Tigers lost to St. Louis 7-2. Verlander gave up six earned runs and made an error on a pickoff attempt, and Detroit couldn't break through against Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes.

``No offense to him, because he beat us and all that, but we didn't swing the bats well,'' Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. ``I got a little worried right off the bat.''

Verlander threw two wild pitches and made another crucial error to help the Cardinals wrap up the series in the fifth game.

Those travails are all but forgotten now. With the season on the line in Game 5 of this year's division series against Oakland, Verlander tossed a four-hit shutout and struck out 11 in one of the best games ever pitched by a Tiger in the postseason. Detroit then swept New York in four games in the AL championship series.

Verlander allowed a homer in the ninth inning in Game 3 of the ALCS, falling just short of becoming the first pitcher to throw consecutive shutouts in the postseason since Orel Hershiser did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. Detroit won anyway, 2-1.

On Wednesday night, Verlander will go back to work, with his usual businesslike attitude and tireless approach. He's well aware that no matter how talented you are, anything can happen in October.

``This is the game of baseball,'' he said. ``I don't think myself nor the Tigers take anything for granted, no matter who's on the mound.''

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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USA Today Sports

10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon. or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.