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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Need to Know: How many Redskins roster spots are up for grabs in 2017?

Need to Know: How many Redskins roster spots are up for grabs in 2017?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 19, 18 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.  

Timeline

Days until:

—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 10
—NFL Combine (3/2) 11
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 57
—NFL Draft (4/27) 67
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 203

Sunday morning quick hitters

How many spots up for grabs? A quick mid-February look down the final 2016 53-man roster shows about 20 players who may not be on the roster for Week 1 this year. This includes players who may depart as free agents and others who just won’t make the team. They probably won’t turn over that many spots but it does show that a lot of jobs are up for grabs.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk Podcast - It's tag day

How many draft picks? The Redskins have nine draft picks, their own in rounds 1-6 and extra picks in rounds 4, 5, and 6. It’s easy to say that Scot McCloughan may turn that into as many as a dozen picks, especially with all the roster spots that may be open. But remember that last year the Redskins wound up with just seven picks with no pick in the fourth and two in the seventh. McCloughan may intend to stockpile more picks but it depends on how the draft unfolds.

1st-round RB a bad idea: Yesterday JP and I posted on the topic of Rob Kelley as the Redskins’ prime running back this season and it drew quite a bit of discussion on Twitter and on Facebook. I think that they should try to get an upgrade over Kelley but I don’t think they should use their first-round pick to do it. There are just too many other, higher priority needs.

More Redskins: NFL Mock Draft 3.0

A turnaround for Matt Jones? Last year Trent Murphy broke out after two mediocre seasons to register eight sacks. Can Jones do the something similar in this, his third season? The rough equivalent of Murphy’s performance would be Jones rushing for 800 yards. It’s as much a matter of him holding on to the ball as anything. Jones was on pace to rush for over 1,100 yards before losing his grip on the starting job, literally and figuratively.

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Posted by Rich Tandler on Saturday, February 18, 2017

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Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Morning tip: Paul George prefers starting 5 like one Wizards have

Morning tip: Paul George prefers starting 5 like one Wizards have

NEW ORLEANS -- The Wizards are where the Indiana Pacers, who eliminated them in the 2014 playoffs, want to be. They still have one of the game's best two-way players in Paul George but they're severely lacking in one area that's already been solved at 601 F Street.

George, who defends three positions on the perimeter, wants an Otto Porter or Markieff Morris next to him. 

"We definitely need shooters, somebody that can defend and stretch the floor for us a little bit more. Just go with the trend what the NBA is doing," said George after the East team practiced Saturday at the Superdome. "A lot of teams have stretch bigs or playing four perimeter guys that can shoot the ball. We got to follow the trend and put oursevles on that level to compete against those stretch teams."

It's such a vital part of a team's success, the Wizards traded a 2016 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Morris last year before the deadline. They were better with him but still failed to qualify for the postseason at 41-41.

With a full season to get acclimated, Morris has taken off. Seven of his eight double-doubles have come since Jan. 8. With coverages shading towards John Wall, Bradley Beal and now Porter, he's often found himself wide open and has elevated his three-point accuracy to a career-high 36.7%. And the Wizards gave up a pick in a draft that was regarded as shallow outside of the top 10 selections (Georgios Papagiannis was taken 13th by Phoenix with Washington's pick).

When coach Scott Brooks goes to a smaller lineup, he'll shift Porter as a "stretch" option at the four spot. He's shooting an NBA-leading 46.5% from three-point range.

[RELATED: DeMarcus Cousins says Wall is NBA's best point guard]

George has been running out of gas. After having to defend LeBron James and play 36 minutes in a 113-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednedsay, George drew the assignment on Beal the next night. 

Porter made his first four three-pointers and George was tasked with tracking him instead. Beal was able to get free in the meantime and go 4-for-7 from deep. George only had 17 points in 37 minutes. In those two games combined, George shot 10-for-38, or 26.3%.

That's the value of having a stretch option such as Morris, who can face up bigs and beat them off the dribble, post up smaller players or shoot over them easily, or Porter. He's too quick for traditional bigs. He's too long for undersized players. 

"I don't complain about it. It's what made me," George said of the burden of being the best offensive and defensive player for the Pacers for 82 games. "I look forward to playing both ends of the floor but it gets exhausting. It's hard night in, night out to go from guarding a LeBron who is strong and physical, who is going to wear you down and then chasing a Bradley Beal. It takes a toll on you. Getting other teams' best defensive guys who are going to be physical, just getting hit, taking contact, it's draining. It's a phsyical toll. If we can get some more guys who can alleviate some of that we'll be much better off."

The Wizards (34-21) have won the season series 3-1 with Indiana (29-28).  The Pacers were a difficult out in the past with George. Washington pushed the then-No. 1 seed to six games in the East semifinals.

That's when the Wizards had Nene, a tradition 7-foot big who played 15 feet out. There were spacing issues with him occupying the low block with Marcin Gortat. 

Then the Wizards failed with a small-ball lineup last season, starting Kris Humphries and later Jared Dudley as at the "stretch" forward and bringing Nene off the bench. George and C.J. Miles responded by shooting 15-for-17 from three-point range in that blowout Nov. 24. 

With Morris, the Wizards have found the size and strength with finesse. Their guards have more room to roam. The shots come easier and the Wizards are a more explosive offense, averaging 108.1 points per game which is seventh-best in the NBA.

"You really don't see traditional center-power forward lineups. It's a couple teams that do it. They're really going away from that," George said. "They want to speed the game up. They want more possessions. In order to keep up with those teams you have to have a lineup that can match up and compete against those kind of teams."

[RELATED: Carmelo on getting final All-Star spot: 'It was a downer']