Redskins

Verlander once again struggles in World Series

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Verlander once again struggles in World Series

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Those postseason struggles that plagued Justin Verlander his first two trips to the postseason looked to be a thing of the past this year.

That all changed when he ran into Pablo Sandoval and the San Francisco Giants.

Verlander allowed two of Sandoval's record-tying three home runs, an RBI single to fellow pitcher Barry Zito and failed to make it past the fourth inning in the Detroit Tigers' 8-3 loss to the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

``This was a big-hyped game with Justin, probably a lot of pressure on him,'' manager Jim Leyland said. ``But I don't think it had anything to do with the pressure. His fastball command was not good, he got out of synch, he got on fast forward. He just did not pitch well tonight, it's that simple.''

Pitching for the first time in more than a week because the Tigers swept the New York Yankees in the AL championship series, Verlander never found his groove against Sandoval and the Giants.

He said he struggled to keep his fastball from tailing back over the plate, which proved to be his biggest problem.

``I know I was a little bit out of synch,'' Verlander said. ``Whether that was the layoff or just being out of synch, you can't expect to be perfect every time out.''

With two no-hitters, a Cy Young Award and an MVP to his credit, Verlander has been nearly perfect the past two seasons.

But all that success built on a fastball that hits triple digits on the radar gun and a devastating curveball and changeup hasn't translated on the big stage of the World Series.

Verlander struggled in two starts as a rookie against St. Louis in 2006 and was even worse against the Giants this time, falling to 0-3 with a 5.14 ERA in the Fall Classic.

``You could tell that his command wasn't there as far as his fastball,'' catcher Alex Avila said. ``From then on you try to make the adjustments for him to find it and still try to manage it and work with what he had. He relies so much on his fastball that when he can't command it it's tough for him.''

Verlander retired the first two batters and got ahead 0-2 to Sandoval before Kung Fu Panda drove a 95 mph fastball over the wall in right-center to give the Giants the lead. That was just the sixth homer Verlander had ever allowed on an 0-2 pitch, including in last year's ALCS to Nelson Cruz.

``I tried to elevate there and didn't get it high enough,'' Verlander said. ``Obviously I didn't quite know he was that locked in at that point, but he was seeing the ball pretty well today.''

After a 1-2-3 second, Verlander fell off the rails with two outs and nobody on in the third as he struggled to stop his usually dominating fastball from drifting back to the middle of the plate.

The rally started innocently enough when Angel Pagan fouled off three two-strike pitches before hitting a bouncer that hit directly on third base and changed directions, veering past Miguel Cabrera for a quirky double.

NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro fouled off a pair of 98 mph fastballs with two strikes before lining an RBI single up the middle to give the Giants a 2-0 lead.

With a 2-0 count on Sandoval, Jeff Jones came out to the mound and Verlander appeared surprised to see his pitching coach making a visit so early in the game.

``I wasn't mad he was coming out,'' Verlander said. ``It was 2-0. It was not like the wheels were falling off. I'm someone who likes to work off a rhythm. I usually know what I'm doing out there. When things are going wrong, I still know what I'm doing wrong.''

Whatever advice was imparted didn't work as Sandoval drove the next pitch over the left-field fence to make it 4-0, leaving Verlander to mouth ``Wow!'' as he watched it.

``I've seen enough balls off the bat to know when someone gets one,'' Verlander said. ``I definitely didn't think that was a homer off the bat. I turned around and saw Delmon (Young) standing at the wall. That's kind of where the `wow' came from because it was totally unexpected.''

Sandoval became just the fifth player ever to hit two homers in a game off Verlander, who will need to change something before his next start since Sandoval also hit a bases-loaded triple in this year's All-Star game, the only other time they faced each other.

Zito's two-out RBI single in the fourth inning provided a fitting capper to a rough night for Verlander, who had been dominant to get the Tigers to the World Series.

Verlander overpowered the opposition in the first two rounds of the postseason, going 3-0 with an 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 1-3 innings against the big-swinging Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees.

While those teams were strikeout prone, the Giants built their success on putting the ball into play. San Francisco combined that skill with Sandoval's homers to lead to Verlander's shortest outing since also lasting four innings in Game 1 of the ALCS against Texas last year.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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I put out a tweet correcting the Super Bowl ring count to two.

Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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