At the break, Yankees have MLB's best record

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At the break, Yankees have MLB's best record

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- Barely a month ago, the New York Yankees were just six games over .500. Now they head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball and the biggest lead in any division. To manager Joe Girardi, that's quite an accomplishment. "I'm proud of these guys because not only have we had injuries, we've had situations where things haven't gone our way," he said after New York's 7-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night. "We struggled with some pitching early on and we struggled with runners in scoring position but the one thing that this group has found a way to do is to win games," he said. The Yankees have done that in five of their last six games and are 21-8 since going 31-25 through June 7. They've succeeded despite injuries to pitchers CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and outfielder Brett Gardner. "In the beginning of the season we struggled," said Andruw Jones, who hit his fourth homer in three games, a two-run shot in the seventh inning. "Everybody (was) kind of saying we're old, we're not getting the job done. ... We kept battling and kept playing till we got in a groove." Ivan Nova (10-3) is back in his groove after striking out 10 in six innings while allowing two runs and six hits. He won for the first time in four starts after winning his previous five outings. The Yankees took three of four at Fenway Park and boosted their record to 52-33 and their AL East lead to seven games over Baltimore. The Red Sox (43-43) also have been beset by injuries with Carl Crawford sidelined all season so far, Jacoby Ellsbury missing most of the season and Dustin Pedroia and pitchers Clay Buchholz and Andrew Bailey on the disabled list. They dropped their sixth game in the last seven and fell into a last-place tie in the division with the Toronto Blue Jays, 9 1-2 games off the pace. Only three AL teams -- Minnesota, Kansas City and Seattle -- are below .500 at the break. Jon Lester (5-6), who won at least 15 games in each of the last four seasons, left with one out in the fifth after giving up five runs and nine hits. Until Sunday, the lefty had rebounded from early-season troubles and posted a 3.86 ERA in 13 starts. "I just have to go and relax and not think about my first half," Lester said. The Yankees scored in the first inning in all four games in the series, taking a 2-0 lead in the finale. "It's tough to be behind, that's for sure," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. The first three batters all hit safely on Sunday -- singles by Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson and an RBI double by Mark Teixeira. Granderson scored when Nick Swisher grounded into a forceout. The Red Sox got an unearned run in the bottom of the inning when Jeter dropped a routine popup by Cody Ross with two outs. The shortstop's misplay scored Pedro Ciriaco, who had singled and stolen second. New York made it 3-1 in the second on a double by Jayson Nix, a passed ball by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a sacrifice fly by Chris Stewart. Boston came back again with a run in the third on Ciriaco's single and David Ortiz's double. The Yankees drove Lester from the game in the fifth, scoring twice for a 5-2 lead. Teixeira started the rally with a single and scored on a triple by Alex Rodriguez. Jones then singled in Rodriguez. Nova would have gotten out of a first-inning jam had Jeter held on to the soft popup near second base. The righty even pumped his fist and started walking off the mound but stopped as the ball bounced out of Jeter's glove. Then Nova struck out the side in the second before escaping trouble in the third when the Red Sox scored a run and loaded the bases with one out. But Saltalamacchia struck out for the fifth time in seven at-bats and Ryan Sweeney grounded out. Nova fanned three of his last four batters and at least one in each of his six innings. "I'm getting aggressive, trying to get ahead on the count early and then trying to put them away," he said. Jones' homer was his 11th of the season and the Yankees' 134th, most in the majors. They're on a pace for a club-record 255. The 1997 Seattle Mariners hold the major league record with 264. NOTES: Girardi said Jeter had a problem with his shoulder but won't need tests and plans to go to the All-Star game. .. Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a double in the ninth, tying Jeter for the longest on the Yankees this year. ... Ortiz's double was his 373rd with the Red Sox, tying Jim Rice for sixth in club history. ... Nova had lost his last road start, ending a streak of 16 starts without a loss away from home. ... Jeter scored his 1,816th run in the first, tying Boston's Carl Yastrzemski for 16th on the all-time list. ... Red Sox 1B Adrian Gonzalez left the game in the third because of illness. He struck out in his only at-bat, ending his career-best hitting streak at 18 games. ... The Red Sox will honor Jason Varitek before their night game July 21 against the Toronto Blue Jays. The catcher retired in February after 15 seasons with the team. ... Ceremonial first pitches were thrown by Ted Williams' daughter Claudia (to Rice) and Babe Ruth's granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti (to Ortiz).

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Film study: Scheme or effort? Tale of 2 halves with Wizards' defense

Film study: Scheme or effort? Tale of 2 halves with Wizards' defense

The Jekyll and Hyde relationship that the Wizards have with defense never has been more pronounced than Monday's game with the Brooklyn Nets. They were getting buckets at will on offense to start the game and took defense for granted. 

They trailed 66-51 by halftime to a five-win team, but they put it in another gear out of the locker room to win 118-112. 

When coach Scott Brooks, and before him Randy Wittman, highlighted effort being the main culprit it seems cliche. It can even seem like a coach who could be blaming his players for his own shortcomings. The schemes didn't change for the Wizards in wiping out a 15-point deficit. The assertiveness did:

They began the first quarter this way to get into a hole:

-- Isaiah Whitehead gets into the lane after a handoff from Trevor Booker, getting around John Wall easily. That penetration forces Marcin Gortat to sink into help stop the layup which frees Brook Lopez for his first made three-pointer of the game.

-- This is an easy entry pass to Lopez as he's being defended by Gortat. Sean Kilpatrick meets no resistance as he cuts to the rim for the handoff. Bradley Beal is trailing the play and Gortat doesn't anticipate or help to stop the straight-line run to the rim. Handoffs are difficult to guard and require help, unless the on-ball defender can disrupt the play by getting a deflection before the ball changes hands. 

-- Booker meets no resistance and posts deep on Markieff Morris who is on the outside the wrong hip. Entry passes and finishes don't get easier than this. Either Morris is expecting help from Gortat, who can't because Lopez is spotting in the corner, or just fell asleep. He didn't do enough to fight his way back back into the play to three-quarter Booker and is pinned. When Gortat sees that Booker is going for the shot, he starts to cheat inside but it's too late. Booker makes a counter move away from potential help to get to his preferred left hand for the finish. 

The began the third quarter this way to turn the tide:

-- Gortat makes a quick show on Kilpatrick to contain the ball on the pick-and-roll to help Beal. His help defense, Otto Porter and John Wall, stop Lopez's roll to the basket by tagging him and sprint back to recover to their men as Gortat gets back in position on Lopez. Morris makes an immediate switch on Bojan Bogdanovic realizing he's the threat from the arc (originally Porter's man before he helped) and not Booker. Contested three way off. Shot clock violation

-- The ball pressure on Whitehead by Beal starts this. Porter tries to go over the top and get the deflection as Bogdanvic comes off this curl, but Morris helps to contest to stop the layup at the rim. Similar to handoffs, these can be snuffed out with help but it requires recognition ahead of time and the helper holding up that slasher for his teammate to recover or making the play on the ball. And when the helper vacates his frontline position, someone has to bump down on his man on the low block to prevent the extra pass or offensive rebound and putback.

-- Wall gets into the ball, and Gortat traps aggressively as they negate the screen-roll with Lopez. The moment Kilpatrick gets his back turned, Porter anticipates the only pass he can make out of this and that's to Lopez. Porter is on his blindside, too, and look how far he travels to get that steal and the breakaway. The tide has officially turned.

Fortunately for the Wizards, this was a five-win team. These sorts of sleepwaking episodes will result in losses against better opponents.

[RELATED: The 5 must-see moments from the Wizards' win over the Nets]

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Capitals Daily Quote: 'I’m creating, I’m skating'

Capitals Daily Quote: 'I’m creating, I’m skating'

Andre Burakovsky’s goal-less stretch now stands at 23 games—just two games shy of his longest drought last season.

Unlike last year, though, Coach Barry Trotz hasn’t scratched Burakovsky. Yet, anyway. But the warning signs are there. He’s pulled the 21-year-old off the power play and, on Tuesday, had him skating on a line with four forwards, which means one of them figures to take a seat in the press box Wednesday night.

I think I’m playing better overall than I did last year. I remember at this point last year, I didn’t really have any confidence in myself. I didn’t believe in myself at all at this point last year. I do [now]. I’m feeling good with the puck. I’m creating, I’m skating. I’m trying to do what I’m good at. But sometimes it’s just everything goes against you. It’s just how it is. It’s reality. Every game can’t be the way you want it to be or the game would be easy, right? I just have to keep grinding through it and eventually it’s going to come.  

Burakovsky hasn’t lost confidence in himself. But the question as the Caps prepare to host the surging Bruins, it seems, is whether Trotz has lost faith in the youngster—even if just temporarily.

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