Washington Capitals

The 49ers are one scary team right now

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The 49ers are one scary team right now

From Comcast SportsNetSAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The San Francisco 49ers stymied 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, then record-setting Matthew Stafford in Week 2.This stingy, opportunistic defense is again making its mark as one of the league's best facing the top offenses and most prolific passers -- and that you can shake on.The Niners denied Stafford another milestone, Vernon Davis caught touchdown passes of 21 and 23 yards from Alex Smith, and San Francisco beat the Detroit Lions 27-19 on Sunday night in a September showdown of NFC powers that hardly lived up to its hype.Smith completed 20 of 31 throws for 226 yards and extended his franchise-record streak of passes without an interception to 216. He led the reigning NFC West champion Niners (2-0) to their ninth straight win in the series since the Lions' last victory on Sept. 25, 1995. Smith took a hard hand to the helmet from John Wendling late and bloodied his nose.The 49ers ran their home winning streak against the Lions to 12 games since Detroit's last victory at Candlestick Park on Nov. 2, 1975.And no heated greeting after this one. Coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz met each other with a friendly hello and handshake during pregame warmups, then an uneventful shake and half-hug when time expired.Frank Gore carried 17 times for 89 yards and a 1-yard touchdown, just missing his fifth 100-yard game in as many career meetings with the Lions.Calvin Johnson caught eight passes for 94 yards, but that was hardly enough as the Lions (1-1) never got closer than the 20 until their final drive on a cool, windy night by the bay. San Francisco's secondary kept Megatron from catching a touchdown pass for the second straight matchup, forcing Stafford to rely heavily on the running game.Another impressive outing by a defense that shut down Rodgers in a 30-22 win over the Packers last week at Lambeau Field.Stafford finished 19 for 32 with 230 yards, one touchdown and an interception, missing a chance to become the first player in NFL history to throw for 350 yards in five straight games. Drew Brees of the Saints also did so in four consecutive games last season.Stafford threw for 355 yards in last week's 27-23 win over St. Louis at home but also had three interceptions before halftime for the first time -- and said he couldn't do that again for the Lions to win. He never got in sync.The 49ers dominated on both sides of the ball 11 months to the day after rallying for a 25-19 win at Ford Field to hand Detroit its first defeat following a 5-0 start. It ended with excitable Harbaugh's firm handshake and backslap that ignited Lions coach Schwartz -- and they had to be separated leaving the field.There were some hot tempers Sunday, too. After Davis and Delanie Walker drove Cliff Avril to the sideline while blocking on a running play, Avril kicked Walker in the helmet. Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown pushed and shoved after a big hit by Patrick Willis on Johnson in the first quarter.Smith exploited Detroit's depleted, frustrated secondary at every opportunity. On his TD, Davis easily beat Wendling, starting as regular safety Louis Delmas recovers from knee surgery.Smith hit Michael Crabtree on the left sideline for a 17-yard gain, then Davis scored on the next play. The Lions were without rookie cornerback Bill Bentley because of a concussion sustained last week and cornerback Chris Houston with an ankle injury.David Akers kicked field goals from 36 and 48 yards for San Francisco a week after connecting from 63 yards to tie an NFL record.Jason Hanson finished with field goals of 38, 41, 40 and 48 yards. He also missed one off the right upright on a 40-yard attempt late in the second quarter. The Lions scored their lone touchdown on Stafford's 9-yard TD pass to Brandon Pettigrew with 1:29 remaining.The 49ers ended their streak of 26 quarters spanning six straight regular-season games without a turnover, and 36 consecutive quarters without a lost fumble since Davis lost one Nov. 6 last year at Washington. San Francisco was trying to match the 2010 Patriots for the NFL record of seven games without a turnover.After Hanson's first field goal, Kendall Hunter fumbled the kickoff return after being stripped by Tahir Whitehead and Kassim Osgood recovered. It marked the first career lost fumble in 18 games for the second-year halfback.But Ahmad Brooks batted down a pass on third down in the ensuing series as the Lions had to settle for another field goal.San Francisco's defense delivered again on Detroit's next series. On third-and-6 from the 20, Stafford threw down the middle of the field with nobody even close and safety Dashon Goldson jumped in for an interception.A special teams blunder hurt the Lions late in the first quarter when Drayton Florence, another fill-in cornerback, was flagged for running into Akers. That gave the Niners first down at the 12, and Gore scored three plays later 3 seconds into the second quarter.San Francisco's defense kept Detroit out of the end zone on the Lions' first drive despite a big penalty. Chris Culliver received a debated pass interference from the replacement officials when he tipped a pass intended for Titus Young for a 33-yard penalty.

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

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USA TODAY Sports

Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

The Caps dressed a young defense for their preseason home opener and the St. Louis Blues took advantage. The Blues scored twice in a 39-second stretch in the first period and rode that to a 4-0 win over Washington on Friday.

Here is who stood out:

Thumbs up

Mathias Bau: Bau was a player to watch coming into this game because of his size (6-foot-7). He was not supposed to play in the preseason, but his play in camp caught Barry Trotz's notice which led to him dressing on Friday. He quickly showed he was more than just a gigantic human. Bau set linemate Tyler Graovac up twice with great feed passes that could easily have turned into goals. He is a better skater and stick-handler than you would expect for someone of his size. He certainly will not make the Caps roster, but he has shown he is someone the team should keep an eye on in Hershey.

Tyler Graovac: Centering the fourth line, Graovac was the Caps’ best offensive player on the night. He showed good speed and drove the net very well, generating the team's best scoring opportunities. He finished the game with a team-high four shots on goal.

Lars Eller: Eller was one of the few veterans who took advantage of playing against youngsters. He had a strong night offensively and on the penalty kill with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts.

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Thumbs down

The defense: It was a very rough night collectively for the Capitals’ blue line. With a defensive lineup that featured only two players from last year’s NHL squad, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney, Washington looked completely overmatched by a youthful St. Louis squad in the defensive zone. Apart from a few good hits from Tyler Lewington, none of the defensive prospects fighting for a roster spot did anything to help their stock at all.

Anthony Peluso: Given the level of competition, Peluso should have been able to contribute more than two shot attempts and two penalties. The days of the enforcer are over. Players need to be able to do more than just drop the gloves. Peluso looks to be Washington’s response to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of Ryan Reaves, but he needs to show he can provide the Caps with something other than just fists. The fact that he could not do that against a non-NHL roster is a bad sign.

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Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

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USA Today Sports

Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

The regular season is winding down and there is no drama in the nation’s capital.

With a stranglehold on the National League East for the entire season, the Washington Nationals were the first team in baseball to earn a playoff spot and their division. Since June, the Nationals’ lead has been hovering around 20 games. Their record against the division is 44-26 with three NL East series forthcoming.

Beyond that, positioning has not been a factor in the National League either. It was a near forgone conclusion that the Nationals were going to earn the No. 2 seed in the NL side of the postseason. There was a slight chance last week that Washington could pass the Los Angeles Dodgers with them losing 16 of 17 games. Alas, the Dodgers took two out of three in their series, solidifying their No. 1 seed hopes.

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Dusty Baker then basically threw in the towel for that race. He spread out his rotation to six pitchers and gave his players consistent rest. Focusing on the postseason more than the playoff race, he does not appear to care about their positioning.

With that, the Nationals are all but guaranteed to finish second behind the Dodgers. Floating between four and six games back, there is no sense of urgency.

There is no worry about the team in third either. The Chicago Cubs, as of September 22, sit seven games behind the Nationals and are in the thick of a Divisional race.

Either way, even if the Nationals were to collapse and the winner of the National League Central was to rocket up to second, the Nationals will play against whoever wins the division in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 match-up.

The Central has actually been the Nationals Achilles heel this year. They finished with a 17-13 record vs. NL Central teams. It is not the whole division the Nationals have to worry about though, just the one that comes out.

Entering Friday’s action the Cubs are well on their way to winning the division, according to fangraphs.com. Below are the current odds to win the division:

Chicago Cubs                     97.8%
Milwaukee Brewers          0.9%
St. Louis Cardinals            1.3%

This is slightly misleading though, because the Central could completely flip before the postseason. The lead is 4.5 over the Milwaukee Brewers and 5.0 over the St. Louis Cardinals. However of their final 10 games, three are against the Brewers, four against the Cardinals, all seven on the road.

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In the five-game NLDS the Nationals will face one of these teams. Even if it is the defending World Series Champions, you have to like the Nationals’ odds.

CHICAGO CUBS PREVIEW

Current record: 85-67
2017 Record vs. Washington: 2-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Jon Lester (11-8), Jake Arrieta (14-9), John Lackey (11-11), Kyle Hendricks (7-5), Jose Quintana (6-3)
Top position players: Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 28 HRs, 69 RBIs), Anthony Rizzo (.278 BA, 32 HRs, 107 RBIs)

If these two teams were to meet up, it would be easily the best starting pitching match-up in the National League. Likely the Cubs would only go to four guys, maybe three if they get desperate. With Jake Arrieta on the mind, that would be a dicey move to start the postseason. They have not played to the level that the 2016 did a year ago, but a majority of the position players are still in place and can still put together a run.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS PREVIEW

Current record: 81-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Zach Davies (17-9), Chase Anderson (11-3), Brandon Woodruff (2-2), Brent Suter (3-2)
Top position players: Domingo Santana (.281 BA, 28 HRs, 80 RBIs), Travis Shaw (.274 BA, 30 HRs, 96 RBIs)

As one of the hottest teams in the first half of the season, the Brewers are only relying on their early success. Their team has quickly cooled off and their number two starter Jimmy Nelson is out the remainder of the season. The rest of the roster is shaky at best as they are trying to stay relevant in the postseason chase. If the Nationals are fully prepared for the playoffs there should be no worries if Milwaukee represents the Central.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS PREVIEW

Current record: 80-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-3
Last head-to-head postseason series: 2012; Cardinals won 3-2 in NLDS
Starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright (12-5), Carlos Martinez (12-11), Lance Lynn (11-7), Michael Wacha (12-8), Luke Weaver (7-1),
Top position players: Yadier Molina (.276 BA, 18 HRs, 82 RBIs), Tommy Pham (.311 BA, 21 HRs, 168 RBIs)

With both the Brewers and Cubs you know what you are getting, with the Cardinals it could be anything. The starting pitchers have a history of success, just not in 2017. Also how Wainwright comes back will be a huge factor in how the Central race will play out and how their odds in the postseason increase. With a mix of a young and aging line-up, the Cardinals can both win with the long ball and piece runs together by playing small ball. St. Louis is easily the most interesting team of the three and could be the scariest if the Wainwright comes back at 100%.

Both the Brewers and the Cardinals have to rely on each other to win the NL Central. They cannot do it on their individual series's alone.