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.
CHICAGO—The Capitals tried to move up a couple of times on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, but those deals did not materialize.
Instead, GM Brian MacLellan and his staff used the four picks they began the day with...and continued a trend the organization has established in recent drafts: selecting defensemen.
In fact, three of the players the Caps drafted Saturday at United Center were blue liners—Switzerland’s Tobias Geisser in the fourth round, Sweden’s Sebastian Walfridsson in the fifth and Minnesota high schooler Benton Maass in the sixth. (Winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen was the team’s seventh round pick.) Going back to last year's draft, Maass' selection marked five straight defensemen drafted by the Caps.
“It’s not a conscious effort,” MacLellan said of using three of the team’s four picks on defenseman. “The philosophy has been to take the best player available and our amateur staff liked these guys here today.”
Assistant General Manager Ross Mahoney added: “It comes down to taking the best player that was available to us, and there happened to be defensemen that we liked that were still on the board, so we took them.”
Conscious or not, the trend is tough to ignore.
Dating to the 2015 draft, the Capitals have chosen defensemen with nine of their 15 picks during that span. Among them are highly regarded prospects Lucas Johansen (first round in 2016), Jonas Siegenthaler (second round in 2015) and Connor Hobbs (fifth round in 2015).
Mahoney acknowledged that have a surplus of blue liners in the pipeline can be a good problem to have.
“It is for sure,” he said. “Teams are always looking for defensemen. There’s no problem having extra defensemen in the farm system.”
Mahoney also said that as the game gets faster, finding and developing smart, puck-moving rearguards will become even more critical.
“You want your defensemen to be able to skate and have good sense and be able to make quick decisions because the game is so fast now,” he said. “The forwards get on the defense really quickly, so you want to make sure you get guys that can skate and move the puck well.”
None of the Caps’ draftees were in attendance. It was unclear as of Saturday afternoon if any of them will attend next week’s development camp at Arlington.
CHICAGO—As excited as Barry Trotz was about retaining T.J. Oshie’s goal production, he was just as pleased to keep all the intangibles the 30-year-old brings to Washington's lineup.
“For us, that was the highest priority,” Trotz said of re-signing Oshie. “Obviously, Osh means a lot to us.”
Earlier in the day, the Caps locked up the high-scoring winger to an eight-year, $46 million contract extension.
“I think it sends a great message to not only our team [but] our fans,” Trotz said. “You see what Osh did the last two years. He’s a big part of our culture, a big part of our success.”
Oshie has put up back-to-back career highs in goals, scoring 26 in 2015-16 and 33 last season. He’s also a lead-by-example type who plays bigger than his 6-foot, 189-pounds.
“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”
The Caps now have four of their top-6 forwards from last season under contract, with Oshie joining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, is expected to re-sign, while Andre Burakovsky figures to round out the top two lines. Burakovsky is also a restricted free agent.
“We knew we were going to lose some guys,” Trotz said. “We still feel we’re going to be a high-scoring team. Obviously Osh had a career year last year. We’re hoping that he can build on that and have other people step in and fill some roles.”
MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan: Caps likely done signing own UFAs