From Comcast SportsNetMINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- All King Felix needs is one.Felix Hernandez struck out five in a five-hitter and Eric Thames hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to lift the Seattle Mariners to a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.Hernandez (13-5), who picked up his 23rd career complete game and ninth shutout, hasn't lost a decision since June 12. He is 4-0 in 1-0 games this season, becoming just the third pitcher since 1969 to be that successful in 1-0 ballgames."He's the real deal. That's why he's King Felix," Thames said. "That's why he's got the Cy Young, the perfect game, all that stuff. I'm officially a believer. I'm glad he's on my team."Franklin Gutierrez went 1 for 2 with two stolen bases in his first game since being sidelined June 28 because of a concussion.Liam Hendriks (0-7) was almost King-like, but it wasn't quite enough to get him his first career victory. He gave up three hits and struck out six in nine outstanding innings, his only blemish the homer to Thames."It was a good feeling, especially to know that it gave Felix a lead and once he has a lead, he's light's out," Thames said. "It's awesome."Joe Mauer had a single and Justin Morneau had a triple for the Twins, who have lost 14 of their last 17.Hernandez's brilliance came as no surprise. The Venezuelan has long been one of baseball's best pitchers, and he's on a roll these days even by his sterling standards as he chases a second AL Cy Young award. In his last 14 starts, he is 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 100 strikeouts, 17 walks and a perfect game. He's allowed one earned run or fewer a staggering 16 times in 27 starts this season."I've been consistent the last two months," Hernandez said. "I've been trying to throw strikes, been trying to get ahead of every hitter and mix all my pitches. That's the key right now, throw strikes."To watch Hendriks, a 23-year-old Aussie who hasn't picked up a win in 14 career starts and has been sent back down to Triple-A twice this season, match King Felix pitch for pitch through seven innings was something entirely unexpected. He needed just 68 pitches to get through six innings against the free-swinging Mariners before Thames got him in the eighth.Gutierrez singled in the first inning, a welcome sight for a Mariners offense that has missed his right-handed bat in the lineup and his glove in center field. But the mental part of his recovery from the concussion he suffered when he was hit on the ear by a pickoff attempt against Boston is ongoing.When Hendriks tried to pick him off two pitches later, Gutierrez gingerly scurried back to first base, protecting his head with his right hand. Later in the sixth, Hendriks buzzed him with a pitch up and in that appeared to hit Gutierrez on the hand, and the outfielder wasn't happy as he stomped off to first base."Every time he was throwing over, I was having flashbacks," Gutierrez said. "I think it's going to take time. Every time I remembered what happened. It's going to take a while to forget about that. Every time I go to first base, you're going to see me try to protect my face and whatever I can. It's going to take time."He took an extra-base hit away from Trevor Plouffe in the third, ranging to the wall in left-center and leaping to grab it as Plouffe just shook his head. Hernandez grinned as he watched his center fielder haul it in, hinting that another magical night could be in the offing.Not exactly perfect, he walked Josh Willingham in the second inning, but he was carving up the Twins and kept a no-hitter going until Mauer singled with two outs in the fourth inning. The Twins had two on in the fifth and Morneau led off the seventh with a triple before Hernandez steeled himself and got Ryan Doumit, Plouffe and Jamey Carroll to ground out and keep Minnesota scoreless."That's why he's one of the best, if not the best, in the league," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.NOTES:Ferguson Jenkins in 1974 and Bert Blyleven in 1976 are the only other pitchers since 1969 to have four wins in 1-0 ballgames in a season. ... It's the second nine-decision win streak of Hernandez's career. The only other Mariners pitcher to have two win streaks of at least nine decisions is Randy Johnson. ... Mauer passed Earl Battey for the most games caught by a Twins player, catching his 832nd on Monday night. "It's a pretty neat little deal," Mauer said. ... LHP Scott Diamond (10-5, 3.04) will start on Tuesday for the Twins against RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (4-3, 3.64). Diamond is appealing a six-game suspension handed down after he was ejected from his last start for throwing behind Texas OF Josh Hamilton. Iwakuma is 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in his last seven starts.
When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.
In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.
Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.
What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games.
The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.
As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.
The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.
Let us know what you think in the comments.
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Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.
—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105
Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.
Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016
(originally posted January 28)
As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.
The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.
The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.
The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.
While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.
Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.
The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.