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

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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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First Redskins player cracks top half of 2017 NFL Top 100 list

First Redskins player cracks top half of 2017 NFL Top 100 list

Watch a lot of football and few would argue Trent Williams is the best player on the Redskins. As a tackle, his position does not lend itself to many statistics, but listen to players inside and outside of the Redskins locker room and it's easy to understand just how good Williams is.

The proof came when Williams landed 47 on the NFL's Top 100 list, as voted by NFL players.

Named to the Pro Bowl the last five seasons, Williams missed four games due to suspension in 2016 but was rated as the best left tackle in football by Pro Football Focus. 

Williams joins Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed and Josh Norman on the Top 100 list. Cousins landed 70th on the list, Reed at 65 and Norman at 59.

Last week, Jay Gruden explained that Williams was not present at Redskins OTAs but the head coach expected his tackle was working out on his own.

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

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ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Capitals re-sign Karl Alzner?

20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Capitals re-sign Karl Alzner?

Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.

Karl Alzner has been a rock on the Capitals’ blue line since 2010, appearing in a franchise record 540 consecutive regular season games. He’s been a good player and a good soldier, often suiting up despite injuries that might have sidelined someone else because, well, he knew his steady presence on the blue line was needed that night. And now, after everything he’s been through in Washington, the Caps’ fifth overall pick in 2007 is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time. And although he recently said that he’d like to stay, he also acknowledged that he’s not sure what outcome to expect. Which brings us to today’s debate: Is there a deal to be had? Or do both sides need a fresh start?

Today’s question: Should the Caps re-sign Karl Alzner?

Sorenson: I think this question really depends on money. I would absolutely want to sign him to return to Washington. The problem is, how high are the Capitals willing to go, and how low is Karl Alzner willing to go?  If there is a way to make re-signing Alzner work within the confines of building around a core, then the Caps should make this a priority. I believe Alzner will get more than a few offers with some good money, and the potential of being a part of a shutdown top pair. As evidenced by his Ironman streak, his overall attitude, his winning of the media’s “Good Guy Dave Fay” award last year, and his stability on defense, Alzner is a no-brainer for any roster. He is open to growing his game and we saw some increased offensive output from him, especially two years ago, and I believe he has not reached his ceiling in that regard. I don’t think the question is whether or not the Caps should sign Alzner- I believe they should. I believe the question is, whether or not Alzner would be willing to take less money to stay for the possibility of winning a Cup with the Caps.

RELATED: Tom Wilson approves of Bryce Harper's fighting

El-Bashir: Like most tough business decisions, it’s important to separate what the heart wants and what the head knows is necessary. The heart wants Alzner to finish his career as a Capital. The head knows that No. 27 will be able to get more money and term on the open market. Let’s look at the pros and cons of what figures to be another difficult decision for GM Brian MacLellan and Co. First, the pros: Alzner is a pro’s pro. He logged top-4 minutes on the NHL’s stingiest team this season, anchored the league’s seventh best penalty kill and blocked more shots than any other Cap. Now, the cons: Alzner acknowledged that he’s still working his way back to full health from the groin and sport hernia injuries that plagued him at the end of the 2015-16 season. The negative effects of that protracted recovery were, at times, evident in his play this year. That, to me, is a bigger red flag than the subpar analytics. You’ve also got to consider fit vs. cost. If the top-four next season is, as some expect, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Nate Schmidt, where does Alzner factor into that equation? That fit becomes even harder to find when you consider the fact that he’s likely to command significantly more than the $2.8 million he earned this season and potentially a long-term commitment, as well. My take: I never expect players to take less than market value, and I don’t expect Alzner to do so, either, no matter how much he likes it here. I suspect he’ll find his fit (and significant payday) elsewhere and the cap-strapped Caps will use the space saved to retain other free agents who are in need of raises.

Regan: The reality of today’s NHL means the Caps can’t sign Karl Alzner to a big money deal, it means they can no longer give him a top-four role and it means they can’t bring him back unless they move Brooks Orpik. Alzner is a stay at home defenseman and great shot blocker, but in today’s NHL puck moving defensemen are more important. Alzner will be 29 at the start of next season, the age when players look for their “big deal,” but Alzner was frank at breakdown day saying he was not looking forward to free agency. Maybe he saw what happened to Kris Russell, another stay at home defenseman who wanted to get his big deal last summer. Instead of cashing in, Russell had to settle for a one-year contract for $3.1 million from the Edmonton Oilers. Maybe Alzner would be willing to sign for cheap to stay in Washington. That brings us to the second sticking point. If you want to have a stay at home defenseman on your team, fine, but I am not comfortable going into next season with two spots in the top six committed to Alzner and Orpik. I also am not comfortable with Alzner taking playing time away from players more suited to today’s NHL like Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. I am only considering re-signing Alzner if two things happen: First, he would have to take a very team friendly contract and second, the team would have to move Orpik.

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