Yankees have “preliminary discussions” with Raul Ibanez

Yankees have “preliminary discussions” with Raul Ibanez

Raul Ibanez was mostly not very good this year before going nuts in the playoffs, but Dan Martin of the New York Post reports that the Yankees “have had preliminary discussions” about re-signing the 40-year-old free agent. Ibanez played this season on a one-year, $1.1 million contract and hit .240 with 19 homers and a…

Ross dominates, Nats hit four homers in win over Phillies

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Ross dominates, Nats hit four homers in win over Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

How it happened: Daniel Murphy wasn't signed by the Nationals to be a home run hitter, but that's exactly what he's become through two months of the 2016 season. And after his power surge last October, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Murphy has looked like a completely different player since late last fall and the Nats are now gladly reaping the benefits.

Murphy homered for the second straight night on Tuesday in the Nationals' 5-1 win over the Phillies. That capped off the best month of his career and one of the best months in franchise history.

Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew also homered, and Joe Ross turned in seven strong innings as the Nationals moved to 4-4 against the Phillies on the season.

What it means: Winners of three straight, the Nationals moved to 32-21 on the season Tuesday night. They now have a chance on Wednesday to win four in a row for the first time since April 29-May 2. They can also get their first sweep since they beat the Cardinals three times in a row April 29-May 1. A sweep of the Phillies would put them 12 games above .500 for the first time this season.

Danny Ballgame does it again: Murphy's homer was his ninth of the season and his seventh in the month of May alone. The only time Murphy has hit seven homers in one month was last October during his postseason tear with the Mets. Murphy is now on pace to club 27 home runs this season. Over his last 81 games played - including the 2015 postseason - Murphy has hit 20 homers, 59 RBI and a .366 batting average. That's not quite his .394 average for this year, but it's pretty darn good for what equates to half an MLB season.

Murphy ties franchise record: Murphy also reached on a single in the eighth for his 47th hit in the month of May. That tied a Nats/Expos franchise record for hits in a month. Al Oliver did it in August of 1982 and Marquis Grissom accomplished the feat in June of 1994, both with the Expos of course. Murphy now has 26 multi-hit games in 51 total outings this season. He gets multi-hit games more often than he doesn't. Murphy, by the way, is now batting .397 and we're officially two months into the season.

Ross keeps rolling: Ross was dominant through seven innings of one run ball with three hits and two walks allowed. The right-hander now has a 2.37 ERA on the season, which is best on the Nats and 10th-best in the majors. This was the second straight outing for Ross where he went seven innings and only allowed one run. The lone score the Phillies got off him was on an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez in the third. Hernandez scored Lough all the way from first and it was on a line drive to right-center that may have been fielded by Ben Revere if the Nats had not been in an outfield shift. 

Werth also homers: Werth hit his eighth homer of the season and his second in the last three games. It was a solo shot that put the Nationals up 1-0 in the first inning. It was Werth's second homer off Nola, as he also got him on Sept. 14 of last year. 

Up next: The Nationals and Phillies close their three-game series with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch on Wednesday night. Max Scherzer (5-4, 4.05) will get the start for the Nats opposite Phillies lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67).

Boston's Mookie Betts hits three home runs against Orioles

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Boston's Mookie Betts hits three home runs against Orioles

BALTIMORE—Mookie Betts hit three home runs in Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles. 

The Boston Red Sox right fielder led off the game with his 10th home run off Kevin Gausman, and hit a three-run shot in the second inning. 

With one out in the seventh, Betts hit his third home run of the night off Dylan Bundy. 

It was Betts’ first three-homer game of his career, and the first Orioles opponent to hit three in a game since Ryan Zimmerman on May 29, 2013. 

Josh Hamilton hit four in a game against the Orioles on May 8, 2012.

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Kevin Durant appears headed down same path as Dirk Nowitzki

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Kevin Durant appears headed down same path as Dirk Nowitzki

The propensity to call everything a “choke,” especially in the postseason, has gone overboard when it comes to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

They didn’t choke. They lost a seven-game series to the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA playoffs in the Golden State Warriors, a team that won a record 73 regular-season games, has the two-time MVP in Steph Curry, the deadliest shooting guard in the league in Klay Thompson and that jack-of-all-trades tweener that 29 other teams covet in Draymond Green. The 2015 Finals MVP Andre Igoudala is a good chip to have in the back pocket, too.

Yes, the Thunder still should’ve won. They led 3-1 and in their last two losses, winnable games in the crunch, reverted to who they’ve been for years -- an isolation team that lacked the discipline under the duress.

This is vindication of sorts for Scott Brooks, who was fired before this season for unspecified reasons though he had one NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

Billy Donovan didn’t achieve better results for his No. 3 seed Thunder but they wore down the 67-win San Antonio Spurs in six games (Brooks accomplished this, too) and stole home-court advantage from Golden State in Game 1. They showed what they could be when at an optimum level but maintaining that posture is even more difficult.

The Thunder had the size to go with that versatility to push the Warriors in ways that seemed unthinkable. Durant and Russell Westbrook were unstoppable. They were able to switch bigs such as Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams onto Curry and Thompson and it worked. Then the clock struck midnight and the carriage leading them to the NBA Finals turned into a pumpkin. The Splash Brothers figured out how to exploit the matchups as three-pointer after three-pointer blazed the nets. 

For his part, Durant didn’t recognize that he was being led into a traps as Igoudala defended him man-to-man while Green was playing zone coverage. What appeared to be clear paths to the basket turned into dreadful shot attempts.

The Thunder didn’t have a single turnover in the final 12 minutes of Monday’s series-defining 96-88 loss – only three in the second half in all -- but the errant shots that had no prayer of going into the basket might as well have been.

In a Game 6 loss, Oklahoma City shot just 5 of 19 (26.3%). Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot 3 of 14.

Durant is an MVP (2014). Westbrook, who tied an NBA record set Magic Johnson with 18 triple-doubles, was in the discussion and garnered more votes than his teammate for the award after the 2015-16 regular season.

They still weren't a match for history. Regardless of whether or not these Warriors could’ve beaten the Michael Jordan-led Bulls that won 72 games in a seven-game series, they're a special group. If it were so easy to replicate what they're doing, they would've lost more than nine regular-season games and surely wouldn't have stood a chance at coming back from a 3-1 deficit.  

The cliche questions about Durant as he enters unrestricted free agency will grow louder: Can a team win a championship with him as their best player? Does Durant shrink when the moments get bigger? 

After completing his ninth NBA season, he better get used to it. It happened to Dirk Nowitzki, who won a championship for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, four years after his MVP season on a 67-win team ended in a first-round playoff exit. It took Nowitzki 13 years to get there and he left with the MVP trophy by disposing of LeBron James.

Julius Erving played 12 years as a pro, including ABA, to win an NBA crown and his failures that preceeded it were every bit as heartbreaking. His Philadelphia 76ers led the Boston Celtics in the East finals 3-1 and they lost the next three games by a total of five points.

For some, that moment of redemption will never come like this. It could be that Durant and Westbrook can't maximize their greatness with each other because of their styles. As important as having talent is when it comes to winning titles, so is that talent being the ideal fit with each other. 

What would Durant look like next to a more traditional pass-first point guard such as a Mike Conley or John Wall? Unless there's a shakeup in Oklahoma City or he leaves in free agency to find that out, we'll never know.

But this is what is known: Losing in seven games of the conference finals to the best team for the last two years in the NBA isn't a choke but rather a hiccup. And hiccups can be cured.