Eight questions for every baseball fan

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Eight questions for every baseball fan

From Comcast SportsNetThe Baltimore Orioles began the week with the best record in the majors, with Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals close behind. Albert Pujols was slumping, Bobby Valentine was getting booed and Derek Jeter was hitting nearly .400.Signs of the season, or mere mirages? A quick look at the big questions so far in baseball:-------- Can the Orioles stay atop the AL East? Cleveland teased fans last spring, Pittsburgh stuck around until summer. Sure looks like a charmed year in Charm City, too, coming off DH Chris Davis' improbable stint on the mound. Buck Showalter has the Birds believing, bolstered by a shutdown bullpen. The O's haven't had a winning season since future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar led them to a division title in 1997 -- let's watch the next two weeks when Texas, Tampa Bay and the Yankees visit Camden Yards. The call: The Orioles fall back a couple spots before the All-Star break.-------- How many home runs will Albert Pujols hit? After ending the longest power drought of his career, the three-time NL MVP was still hitting in the .190s. He's in a new, better league, facing many pitchers he's never seen, playing in a park that's not ultra-homer friendly. His 240 million contract draws a lot of attention, but these are the numbers worth noticing -- 47 homers in 2009, down to 42 in 2010, down to 37 last year with St. Louis. The call: Pujols drops again, and finishes with 33.-------- Will Washington win the NL East? All eyes are on Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals right now. They're fresh, fun and full of rising talent. Plus, they're winning minus injured closer Drew Storen. Manager Davey Johnson provides a steady hand, and the Nats will do OK while Jayson Werth's broken wrist heals. The last time a baseball team from the nation's capital reached the postseason was 1933, when FDR was in office. It might be time for President Barack Obama to begin warming up his left arm. The call: The Nats just miss the playoffs.-------- What will Derek Jeter hit? In recent years, the Captain has become perhaps the most polarizing player in the majors. Really, try to find a single fan who stays anywhere near neutral when talking about the Yankees star. At this point last year, Jeter seemed washed up at the plate and in the field. Since homering for his 3,000th hit right before the All-Star break, he's completely rejuvenated. Manager Joe Girardi is being diligent in giving the 37-year-old shortstop proper rest, and the results appear to be showing. The call: Jeter hits a robust .321.-------- Can Bobby Valentine survive the season? This sure isn't what Bobby V had in mind when he returned to the big leagues. Battered bullpen, banged-up roster, mini-feud with popular Kevin Youkilis and angry crowds at Fenway Park. Many fans in Boston wondered how much worse it could get after last year's collapse. Well, last place isn't looking so great. That said, he won't be the first manager to get chopped in 2012 -- that's much more likely to be Kansas City's Ned Yost. The call: Red Sox management will preach patience, Boston starts playing better and Valentine makes it through the year.-------- How many more no-hitters will there be? Jered Weaver, OK, maybe some could've foreseen that. But Philip Humber's perfect game, no way. Predicting no-hitters is a tricky business. A lot of people claim they're more possible nowadays, with hitters in the post-Steroids Era. Maybe a pair of gems in less than two weeks means more are on the way. Even so, all it takes is a checked-swing blooper to wreck a bid. The call: One more this year, pitched by Matt Cain.-------- What's in the future for Mariano Rivera? The greatest closer of all-time is holding out hope that he'll pitch again this year. Such comebacks from torn ACLs have occurred, although not with 42-year-old ballplayers. If the Yankees reach the playoffs, look for daily stories on how Rivera is close to rejoining them. Mo' likely, a return in 2013. The call: "Enter Sandman" blasts away at Yankee Stadium next season as Rivera, with almost a full year to rest his arm, loses very little off his cutter.-------- Who will win the World Series? Tampa Bay looks sharp with all its pitching, St. Louis has done well as the defending champion and Miami is starting to play well under Ozzie Guillen. And how magical it would be if Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers captured the crown? The call: There can be just one champion, and that team is Texas. With Yu Darvish on his way to winning 20 games and Josh Hamilton leading a beastly lineup, the Rangers will shake off the disappointment of losing two straight World Series and hammer whichever NL team dares to get in their way.

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Jay Beagle capitalizes on rare overtime opportunity

Jay Beagle capitalizes on rare overtime opportunity

Jay Beagle wears a lot of hats for the Capitals, such as No. 1 penalty killing forward and face-off specialist.

On Saturday night, he added ‘overtime hero’ to his list of roles.

Beagle scored the game-winner 19 seconds into extra session to lift the Capitals to a 4-3 victory in Dallas—their first win over the Stars since 2008.    

As big as the goal was for the Caps, it was just as significant for Beagle.

His 10th goal of the season, it matched the career-high he established in 2014-15. The fourth line center now has 36 games left to set a new personal best. (He’s already equaled his career high for assists with 10).

RELATED: Caps snap Dallas curse with overtime thriller

“Obviously, it’s something I’ve been trying to do,” Beagle told reporters when asked about the improvements he’s made to his game each year. “But I’m playing with great players. Something like [the winner] where [Evgeny Kuznetsov] gives me a pass like that. And [Daniel] Winnik and [Tom] Wilson; I’ve been with them almost all year. We have great chemistry and the line’s rolling. It’s unreal playing with them. I can just jump on board.”

Beagle's goal at American Airlines Center was arguably his biggest of the year as it helped the Caps complete their comeback from a 3-1 deficit against a team they rarely beat.

It was also interesting that he even got the chance to score it.

Beagle helped the Caps beat Toronto in overtime earlier this month by winning the all-important opening faceoff and then heading to the bench to change for Alex Ovechkin. This time, however, Coach Barry Trotz instructed Beagle to stay on the ice.

“He kept us in the game early” with his penalty killing, Trotz explained. “He won a lot of big draws. I felt like he deserved that opportunity.”

The result was a dramatic game winner.

“I haven’t played much 3 on 3, but Coach told me go out there and stay out there,” Beagle said. “Kuzy called it right off the hop—he said we’re scoring. He made an unbelievable play, put it right on my tape in front. With his speed you just have to go to the dirty area and he’ll get you the puck.”

Indeed, Beagle made a bee line for the net, where he stopped and snapped Kuznetsov's slick pass from behind the net past Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen.

Of Beagle’s 10 goals this season, seven have come against Central Division opponents (four vs. the Blackhawks and one apiece vs. Jets, Blues and Stars).

“I can’t, no,” Beagle cracked, asked if he could explain why he’s so successful against the Central. “I didn’t know that stat.”

Beagle, however, didn’t have any trouble explaining the Caps’ comeback in Big D.

“Our power play got some chances and got two big goals,” he said, referring to Washington’s second and third tallies, both scored on the man advantage early in the third period. “It was never in doubt. We’re playing good right now. We’re playing confident. We came in here in the second intermission and said, ‘We’re taking this game over and we’re going to win.’”

The Caps are now 11-0-2 in their last 13 games and 31-1-5 all-time when Beagle scores a goal.

MORE CAPITALS: Bloody Brett Ritchie leaves ice after fight with Tom Wilson

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Capitals snap curse of the Dallas Stars with overtime thriller

Capitals snap curse of the Dallas Stars with overtime thriller

It took a two-goal comeback and overtime, but the Caps walk away the 4-3 winners over the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

How it happened: Andre Burakovsky and Adam Cracknell traded goals in the first period, but things seemed to get away from the Caps in the second. Patrik Nemeth backhanded an innocent looking shot on net, but Phillip Grubauer fumbled it leaving a juicy rebound at the top of the crease which Patrick Eaves roofed. Jamie Benn then put the Stars up by two with a controversial goal that was reviewed for goalie interference. Washington responded in the third period, however, as both Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie struck on the power play to force overtime. Jay Beagle finished the game off just 19 seconds into overtime with his 10th goal of the season.

What it means: The win was Washington’s first over Dallas since 2008, snapping a nine-game losing streak to Dallas. The Caps have now won 11 in their past 12 games. Washington also maitained their two-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets after Columbus' win over Carolina earlier Saturday.

Starting strong: It should come as no surprise that Burakovsky got the scoring started on Saturday since he’s made a habit of that lately. Since getting scratched three games for his lack of production, Burakovsky has scored seven goals. Five of those were the first goal of the game. Burakovsky now has scored the first goal in four straight games and the Caps have scored first in 10 straight.

First period fisticuffs: Things got chippy in the first period as Tom Wilson dropped the gloves with Brett Ritchie and just three seconds later, Daniel Winnik was locked in a fight with Dallas agitator Antoine Roussell.

Goal or no goal?: Dallas' third goal came in controversial fashion. As Grubauer shifted to his right, his left skate was clipped by the skate of Benn that appeared to briefly knock Grubauer off balance. Grubauer recovered to make a save on an Eaves deflection, but the puck bounced to Benn for the easy tap in. The goal was waved off immediately, but after a review, the goal was awarded to Dallas. The issue is whether Grubauer had enough time to reset after the initial contact from Benn. At least, that's what we thought the issue was. The NHL's explanation of the review stated, "After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line."

Clutch save: Locked in a tie game in the third period, Tyler Seguin had what looked like an easy goal, but Grubauer got over just in time for the incredible blocker save. Watch it here.

The curse continues: Despite the win, Washington still has not won in regulation in Dallas since Oct. 17, 1995. They will have to wait until next season to get another shot.

Look ahead: Washington returns home for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday before heading out on another road trip starting Tuesday. On that trip, the Caps will visit the Ottawa Senators and  New Jersey Devils before breaking for the All-Star break.