Lance Berkman: “the AL is Mickey Mouse”

Lance Berkman: “the AL is Mickey Mouse”

A day after saying that the Cardinals lineup was more dangerous than the Giants, Lance Berkman wades back into analysis. His initial take: that the Tigers should be favored because their rotation is set up while Cain and Vogelsong won’t get to pitch until the series goes back to Detroit and they have to face…

Capitals vow to keep pounding the rock

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Capitals vow to keep pounding the rock

Barry Trotz is a big believer that if his players plays the right way for long enough periods of time, the hockey gods will reward them with a series victory over the Penguins. 

“Pounding the rock” is the expression he likes to use.

In Game 3 on Monday night the Capitals pounded that rock with 49 shots on rookie goaltender Matt Murray. But instead of a wellspring of goals, the Caps only got a late trickle with a pair of third-period goals in a 3-2 loss.

So how does Trotz convince his players to keep pounding that rock? He provides evidence – like the game tape from Monday night, where he could show a 49-23 advantage in shots and a 58-25 edge in hits.

“The result wasn’t what we wanted,” Caps center Jay Beagle said. “But we woke up confident and watched the video today. We played the right way and you’ve got to be happy when you’re playing the right way.  

“I think you get in trouble when you start to get away from the plan because we didn’t get the result we wanted. Then that starts to become a problem.”

RELATED: OVECHKIN IMPOSING HIS WILL ON PENGUINS

Beagle should know. Before the arrival of Trotz, the Capitals were known as a team that would veer off the tracks when things didn’t go their way. They would cheat for chances offensively and leave themselves vulnerable defensively. Trotz is convinced that won’t happen in this series, even though the Capitals trail two games to one.   

“When things didn’t go our way, we would change the plan, everybody would go on their own plan,” Trotz said of his early experiences with the Caps last season. 

“And I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well. 

“If you do that, it will turn your way. Guys are not going to change their plan. They all knew we played a pretty darn good hockey game last night. They’re not going to go, `We have to do something totally different because we didn’t win.’ 

“I think that’s where this team has matured. We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years. …

``When we went into this we expected it to go long. We’re OK with that. We’re built for that.’’

In the first two games of their series against the Pens the Capitals were outshot 80-59.But in Game 3 the tables were turned with the Caps holding a 49-23 shot advantage.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby cited a few reasons why. 

“We didn’t get enough zone time,” Crosby said. “We were off the rush and done pretty quick. When you do that, they have the puck longer and they have a lot more energy to play offensively. That was the big difference from the first two in Washington.

“We won (Game 3), but we can’t expect to play like that and continue to win. I think we all understand that and we know we need to better for Game 4.”

If you believe Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals are bigger and stronger than the Penguins and they expect to continue their physical assault on their second-round opponent. The goals eventually will follow, they believe, and so will the wins.

“Every hit matters,” said Caps right wing Tom Wilson, who has 12 of them in this series. “Players will be the first to tell you that when they have a sore shoulder they’re more hesitant to make a play. It’s a physical sport, guys are hard on each other and that’s why people love the game.”

Since Trotz’s arrival last season the Capitals have gone into every playoff series expecting, maybe even hoping, to go seven games. So far, two of the three series he’s coached have gone the distance.

“We’re prepared to go to Game 6, Game 7,” Beagle said. “We love the battle. We’ve talked about it all year and we’re in a good battle right now.”

MORE CAPITALS: HOW WILL LETANG'S SUSPENSION ALTER GAME 4 LANDSCAPE?

Britton feeling much better, looks to pitch this week

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Britton feeling much better, looks to pitch this week

BALTIMORE – Zach Britton had an MRI on his left ankle Monday, and no damage was found, and three days after injuring the ankle, he says he’s nearly ready to return. 

“I feel good today, walking a lot better. So, pretty much normal. I’m going to go out there and play catch. Just take it easy, baby steps. If it feels good playing catch, maybe I can progress to flat ground,” Britton said. 

He’d like to pitch on the homestand that concludes Sunday. 

“I think this week is a good timeline. It’s not going to be today, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be tomorrow or the next day,” Britton said.

Britton wasn’t available for comment after he injured the ankle on Saturday night, and looked a lot better than he did on Sunday when he used crutches and a soft boot.

“I feel a lot better. I think flexibility, range of motion is back. It’s just swollen. It’s got some bruising but as long as i can manage the pain. It think that’s going to be the biggest issue right now is does it hurt me doing baseball things? Covering first, fielding a bunt, or whatnot. Those are things that I’m going to have to test out. Whether it’s today, I’m not sure. I’m just going to go out there and play catch and see how it goes,” Britton said.

RELATED: WILL MACHADO MOVE TO SHORTSTOP WHILE HARDY IS OUT?

NOTES: Hunter Harvey, the Orioles No. 1 draft pick in 2013 who hasn’t pitched competitively since July 2014, underwent sports hernia surgery in Philadelphia. He’s expected to be out from four to six weeks. 

Manager Buck Showalter isn’t concerned about Harvey’s long absence from pitching. 

“I think if he pitches from June, July on and finishes up strong like we think he can, I think he’s OK. But you’d really like to see him get the ball every fifth day at some point there and kind of get some of that experience he needs to finish off some things,” Showalter said.

-Yovani Gallardo, who’s been on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder and rotator cuff tendinitis, is improving. 

“He’s doing good. I’m very optimistic on the return we’re going to get on some of the things he’s doing. He’s moving towards throwing before too long,” Showalter said.

-LHP Jeff Beliveau, who labrum surgery a year ago, has been assigned to Frederick. Beliveau, who pitched for the Cubs and Rays, has intrigued Showalter, and could pitch for the Orioles later this season. 

-INF/OF Jimmy Paredes is batting .318 in six rehab games for Bowie and Frederick. Paredes’ rehab stint for his left wrist injury ends on May 15.

MORE ORIOLES: HARDY WON'T PUT DATE ON EXPECTED RETURN

NL East: Phillies manager Mackanin believes his team's solid start is for real

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NL East: Phillies manager Mackanin believes his team's solid start is for real

Making sweeping judgments just one month into the Major League Baseball season is always a risky proposition. After all, we're talking about a small sample size — not even one-fifth of the 162-game slate — so it's hard to tell exactly which early-surprise teams will be out of the running down the road. 

But at 15-11, the Philadelphia Phillies so far are showing that they're not laying down just because they were widely expected to struggle in 2016.

Just ask the Nationals. The suddenly youthful Phillies' three-game sweep of the NL-East leaders last week felt like a head-scratcher for Nats fans, but it was a series that showed that Pete Mackanin's club might no longer stuck in the seemingly perpetual quagmire of a rebuild. 

"Every time we play somebody, I get the same question, but it's a good question because of course we [believe in ourselves]," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said via MLB.com. "We played the Mets, we played them well. We just got done sweeping the Nationals and that was one of those teams where we wanted to gauge how good we were."

Of course, the Phils had already been hard a work trying to retool the roster under the direction of new President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail. Once known for a core featuring stars like Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Philly's now getting major contributions from the likes of Vince Velasquez, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola — not exactly household names, but potential building blocks that are all under 25. 

So, can this last? Are the Phillies ahead of schedule?

Well, though they're winning, the Phillies certainly aren't exactly dominating any one area of the game. Their better-than-expected pitching staff owns a so-so 3.93 ERA, which is helping to keep this team afloat. The staff will need to keep this up, because the offense is currently ranked 29th in the majors in on-base percentage (.289) and 28th in OPS (.651), which explains why this team can have a winning record despite a minus-23 run differential. 

As the Phillies fight to show that they aren't a mirage, the one thing that does seem real for the team and its fans is that there might finally be light at the end of the tunnel. The rebuilding plan appears to be paying dividends early on, and perhaps sometime soon, this club could pose as a serious threat to the Nats and the rest of the NL East for the division crown. 

"The players should feel proud of what they've done so far this season, no matter what happens down the road," Mackanin said. "The biggest thing for me was how we reacted after going 0-4 at the beginning of the season. What have we gone, 15-6 since then? It's a good feeling."