Believe it or not, this is the best team in the NL


Believe it or not, this is the best team in the NL

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Adam LaRoche grabbed a different bat and suddenly solved the enigma of R.A. Dickey. LaRoche hit a tiebreaking homer and the Washington Nationals handed Dickey his first loss in three months, beating the sinking New York Mets 5-2 Tuesday night behind Gio Gonzalez's seven crisp innings. At the suggestion of injured teammate Ian Desmond, LaRoche switched bats in the sixth to a lighter model that belonged to speedy outfielder Roger Bernadina. "I've been using a heavier bat and obviously it hasn't been working against Dickey, so I figured it was time to try something new," said LaRoche, who was 2 for 14 against the knuckleballer before his long home run. Gonzalez (13-5) gave up only two singles in a rematch of All-Star pitchers, five days after New York hit him hard to back Dickey during his 13th win. This time, it went the other way. "Just wanted to redeem myself from the last start," Gonzalez said. "You always want to bounce back as a pitcher. You don't want to feel down and out. A lot of these guys came up to me and gave me some positive energy, positive feedback. So the best I wanted to do was return the favor." Dickey (13-2) allowed five consecutive hits in the sixth, ending his 11-game winning streak, as the Mets lost their fifth straight and 11th in 12 games. Their lone victory since July 7 was Dickey's 9-5 win over Gonzalez last Thursday in Washington. In a mini shake-up before the game, New York demoted slumping right fielder Lucas Duda to the minors. "When you're not playing good baseball against teams like this, they exploit you pretty quickly," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "This stretch is not going to define us over the course of the year." Ryan Zimmerman kept up his tear at the plate with three hits and the Nationals won their fourth in a row to improve the NL's best record to 57-39. They are 8-3 against the Mets this season, winning all four series so far, and will go for a three-game sweep Wednesday at noon with ace Stephen Strasburg on the mound against rookie Jeremy Hefner. "I think we're clicking pretty good," LaRoche said. "It can get better, but it's pretty good right now." Sean Burnett got three outs in the eighth and Tyler Clippard fanned two in a perfect ninth, finishing the three-hitter for his 17th save. Gonzalez struck out four, walked two and did not allow an earned run in his longest outing since May 27. "It was a masterpiece," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He had something to prove." Jordany Valdespin set a Mets record with his fifth pinch-hit homer of the season. The rookie connected off Ryan Mattheus leading off the eighth, breaking a mark he previously shared with Mark Carreon (1989) and Danny Heep (1983). Dickey was 11-0 in his previous 16 starts since getting roughed up in a 14-6 loss April 18 on a rainy day in Atlanta. Trying to become the first 14-game winner in the majors, he was unable to stop New York's nasty slide. He yielded five runs -- four earned -- and eight hits in six innings. The 37-year-old right-hander tossed an inning of relief Saturday against the Dodgers to help an overworked bullpen, only two days after throwing 111 pitches over 7 1-3 innings in Washington. He has a 5.36 ERA in his last seven outings. "I had a good knuckleball," Dickey said. "I should have pitched into the eighth inning. I felt too good for that to happen." Dickey whiffed star rookie Bryce Harper all three times on knuckleballs ranging from 66-81 mph and was in command until the sixth, when he gave up five straight hits with two outs. Michael Morse singled and LaRoche drove a low knuckler into the upper deck in right, snapping a 1-all tie with his 17th homer. Danny Espinosa singled, Bernadina beat out a slow dribbler toward first and Jesus Flores hit an RBI single to left. Jason Bay's wide throw to the plate got away for an error that allowed Bernadina to score, making it 5-1. Espinosa's throwing error at shortstop led to an unearned run in the second. Ronny Cedeno hit an RBI single to right with two outs, giving New York its first lead in 42 innings since last Thursday, but was thrown out by Harper trying to stretch it into a double. Gonzalez retired his next 11 batters and did not permit another hit until Ike Davis' two-out single in the seventh. A switch-hitter, Espinosa batted right-handed against Dickey to get a better look at the knuckleball. The first time up, Espinosa struck out swinging. But in the fourth, his two-out double tied it 1-all after Zimmerman opened the inning with a bloop double. NOTES: Flores (back) was back behind the plate after sitting out two games. ... Washington is 9-1-3 in series against NL East opponents. ... Harper is 0 for 10 against Dickey with six strikeouts. ... New York released RHP Miguel Batista, designated for assignment Sunday.

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Wizards focus on posting up Wall, Beal against smaller guards

Wizards focus on posting up Wall, Beal against smaller guards

Sporadically, John Wall would post up smaller guards last season. It didn't become a staple of his game, however, and Bradley Beal didn't do much of it either when he was being defended by them. 

Scott Brooks is trying to change that immediately. In seven preseason games, that was one of many focal points for the offense.

Wall is a big point guard at 6-4 and physically strong. Beal isn't exceptionally big for a shooting guard, but he has gotten more size and grown an inch taller than his backcourt mate. When 6-footers such as Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors have to switch onto Beal, the Wizards are getting the ball to him quickly at the rim to force a rotation from a second player to help or clear out for Beal to go to work. 

“As we all evolve we’re going to have to push ourselves to play different spots on the floor. John has great size at his position," Brooks said. "For him to post up and be a playmaker from that spot, defenses are not used to that. There are not a lot of pure point guards who can post up. He has the strength and he has the quickness and obviously he has the passing ability. With Brad, they have to make a decision. Are they going to put a bigger guy on John? We’re going to have that opportunity with Brad also."


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Brooks, Beal impressed with Wizards' passing this preseason

Brooks, Beal impressed with Wizards' passing this preseason

With their regular season opener set for Thursday (6:30 p.m. on CSN), Wizards head coach Scott Brooks was asked after practice this week what has impressed him the most about his new team now that their seven-game exhibition schedule is over. Brooks was quick to point out what has been an established strength for the Wizards in recent years.

"If I had to pick, our offense and our passing has been really, really good," Brooks said. "We're a very good passing team. I thought throughout this exhibition season that has been displayed."

The Wizards have ranked no lower than seventh in assists per game among NBA teams in the last three seasons. It certainly doesn't hurt to have John Wall at the helm of their offense. Wall, 26, has averaged at least 10 assists per game in the past two years. He ranked third in basketball last season with 10.2 per contest.

Wall, in fact, is seventh all-time in career assists per game (9.0) among players with at least 400 NBA games logged. Four of the six ahead of him on the list - Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas - are Hall of Famers. The other two - Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul - are also good names to be associated with. 

Paul, for one, will likely join the others in the Hall someday. He's the only NBA player with more assists than Wall since the latter entered the league in 2010.

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Brooks spoke glowingly about Wall's abilities and his rare his combination of speed and court vision.

"It's uncanny, his speed with the basketball and that he's able to make good decisions at that speed," Brooks said. "He sees it slow motion as he's going fast and that's very rare."

Wall isn't the only one passing the rock, of course. Brooks hopes shooting guard Bradley Beal can get more involved in the cause. Beal has a 3.0 assists-per-game average in his career, but his new coach thinks Beal can average four or five.

That may come naturally, given Beal's thoughts on the subject. He believes the Wizards' offense reached a new level this preseason.

"That's probably the best we've passed since I've been here," Beal said. "That's just everybody having fun and not caring about who scores, just getting the best shot available. When we play like that, it's fun for everybody. It's fun for coaches, it's fun for the players, fun for guys coming in the game with momentum and energy."

The Wizards as a team notched 33 assists in their preseason finale against the Raptors in Friday night. Beal alone had nine of them and no turnovers, to boot. 

That's exactly what Brooks likes to see and he hopes it carries into the regular season.

"We have to continue to trust the pass," he said. "I think our passing has been impressive. We need to continue that."

[RELATED: Brooks learning Wizards roster an ongoing process]