Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

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Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a bright, sunny afternoon, R.A. Dickey had the Washington hitters swinging at shadows. The knuckleballer baffled the Nationals, limiting them to four singles over 7 1-3 scoreless innings and leading the New York Mets to a 3-1 win Thursday. Dickey (9-1) extended the longest shutout string of his career to 24 2-3 innings -- a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats. "Literally, when I go out there, the only streak I care about is getting that hitter out," he said. "It doesn't change the mentality because there's a run of scoreless innings." Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season, backed by Lucas Duda's fifth homer in eight games. Dickey also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support. "I'm getting more swings and misses. Other than that, I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said. "I'm trying to induce them into hitting pieces of the ball, not getting solid contact," he said. Nationals teen Bryce Harper fanned twice. He awkwardly chased strike three in the first inning, then casually flipped his bat. No luck today, rookie. "He throws it hard, throws it soft. Sometimes, it starts at your face and goes down through the strike zone. He's a pretty unbelievable pitcher. It was pretty fun to face him, but going 0 for 4 is not fun," he said. "You're just trying to look for something up in the zone or just trying to swing as hard as you can or something. I don't even know. This is my first time really facing a knuckeball guy like that," he said. Duda hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2). Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single. The way Dickey has been pitching lately, those three runs were more than enough. He struck out eight and walked two, and most of the outs were soft ones. When Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment. Mets manager Terry Collins said nice weather has been a factor in Dickey's good fortune, allowing him a better grip and therefore better command. "When you get in that batter's box, you better be ready to hit something that's fluttering," he said. Dickey credited a harder knuckleball -- thrown in the low 80s mph, up from the mid-70s -- with giving him a later, better break on the pitch. "I feel comfortable with where I am with the pitch," he said. "And look: It's a knuckleball. It can be fickle." Washington never got a runner past second base when Dickey was on the mound. He worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh and left after Jhonatan Solano's one-out single in the eighth. Reliever Bobby Parnell walked Rick Ankiel and after the runners moved up on a grounder, Harper grounded out to end the threat. Frank Francisco gave up Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff home run in the ninth before closing for his 15th save in 18 chances. The win stopped the Mets' three-game losing streak heading into the Subway Series that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Mets had lost the first two at Nationals Park in the series. Wang allowed eight hits in 5 1-3 innings in his second start of the season. The Mets won for just the second time in 10 meetings with Washington since last September. There wasn't a whole lot for Nationals fans to cheer about on a bright afternoon until Zimmerman's third homer. Midway through the game, however, there was a ripple of applause throughout the crowd of 32,096 when clouds briefly blocked the glare.

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HOUSTON (AP) -- David Freese struck out three times in the first six innings Thursday night. He more than made up for it over the last three. Freese hit his first career grand slam and a two-run homer and rookie Lance Lynn struck out a career-high 11 in earning his ninth win as the St. Louis Cardinals cruised past the Houston Astros 14-2. It was the first career multi-homer game for Freese and his six RBIs tied a career-high. "A typical night. Start slow and finish fast," Freese said with a laugh. Freese's slam in the seventh inning was the third homer of the game for St. Louis. He added a two-run shot in the ninth as the Cardinals scored a season-high. Carlos Beltran connected on his National League-leading 16th homer in the fifth and Shane Robinson added a two-run shot in the seventh to help the Cardinals take the series. Lynn's nine victories are tied with R.A. Dickey of the Mets for most in the NL. Lynn (9-2) allowed six hits and two runs to continue his mastery of the NL Central. He is 7-0 with 60 strikeouts in 15 career appearances in the division. "You could tell he felt really good today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The ball was jumping out of his hand he was blowing fastballs pretty good." Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-6) allowed five hits and four runs with five walks in 4 2-3 innings. The Cardinals were up 5-2 before piling on seven runs in the seventh. St. Louis batted around in that inning with 11 Cardinals coming to the plate. Rafael Furcal singled with two outs in the seventh before consecutive walks to Beltran and Matt Holliday. Allen Craig hit an RBI single before Freese's shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field cleared the bases. Jed Lowrie gave Houston a 1-0 lead with a homer to the first row of the Crawford Boxes in the first inning. Brett Wallace doubled in the second on a ball that sailed over a leaping Craig and into the far corner of right field. Chris Johnson followed with an RBI double down the right field line to make it 2-0. Chris Snyder hit a one-out single and Jordan Schafer drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Lynn limited the damage by striking out Jose Altuve to end the inning. The Astros couldn't get much going offensively after that while the Cardinals heated up. Tyler Greene got the Cardinals' first hit -- a single to start the third inning. Happ then battled Robinson to a 12-pitch at-bat before walking him. Greene and Robinson both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lynn before Greene scored on a bunt by Furcal to cut the lead to 2-1. "When as a team you're fighting at the dish and he goes up there and has a 10-plus pitch AB, you feed off that," Freese said of Robinson's at-bat. "I think every team feeds off that. "The good teams that end up winning the division and getting in the playoffs, one through nine, they battle in the box. The goal as an offense is to not let the pitcher have an easy inning." A sacrifice fly by Beltran tied it at 2-2, before Holliday walked. Craig's broken-bat RBI single to shallow right put St. Louis up 3-2. Happ finally got out of the inning when he struck out Freese on his 40th pitch of the frame. Beltran's first-pitch homer to left center came with one out in the fifth to push the lead to 4-2. Robinson singled in the sixth and scored on a single by Furcal with one out. Houston manager Brad Mills made some strange changes in the ninth inning when he put outfielder Brian Bogusevic in to pitch and moved Johnson, the third baseman, to right field. Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher, but had never pitched in a major league game and it was Johnson's first career appearance in the outfield. "It's something that is probably the last thing that a manager likes to have to go through, but to put that together to get through it, that's what we had to do," Mills said of the ninth-inning changes. Bogusevic allowed three hits and the home run to Freese in one inning. "It felt kind of strange, but once I knew I could throw strikes, I was more comfortable," Bogusevic said. Freese felt like hitting the homer off him was payback for one he took from him with a leaping catch in the stands on the Cardinals' last trip to Houston. "I don't like it. It's weird," Freese said of facing him. "But Bogusevic robbed me the last time we were here, so I'm going to count that one."

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Scouting the Stanley Cup Final: Possible Caps’ Free Agent Targets from the Nashville Predators

Scouting the Stanley Cup Final: Possible Caps’ Free Agent Targets from the Nashville Predators

Yesterday, JJ Regan took a look at pending free agents on the Stanley Cup-bound Penguins that could be of interest to the Caps.

Today, I’m taking a look at Nashville’s expiring contracts and evaluating whether anyone could be of help to Washington as the team looks to retool on the fly this offseason.

(All contract info via www.capfriendly.com)

Mike Fisher

Position:C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:37
Last contract:2 years, $8.8 million/$4.4 million annual cap hit
Season stats:18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games

Fisher, the Preds’ second line pivot and team captain, enjoyed a bounce-back season after struggling through a down year in 2015-16. In addition to racking up 42 points, his highest total in four years, Fisher plays on both special teams units. He does the little things, too. He led all Predators’ forwards in hits (160), ranked second in blocked shots (66) and won a career-best 54.9-percent of his draws. Long respected for his work ethic and leadership, Fisher was give the ‘C’ last year after Shea Weber was dealt to Montreal for P.K. Subban. He’s also married to country music star Carrie Underwood. The bottom line is Fisher has been a good player for a long time in the NHL. But given the fact that the Caps have three centers under contract for next season (Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle) and are likely to ink Evgeny Kuznetsov to a long-term extension, there’s simply no fit here in Washington. Not to mention, it wouldn’t seem likely that the Preds would want to lose their captain two summers in a row.

RELATED: Caps to host Leafs in outdoor game at Naval Academy

Vernon Fiddler

Position:  C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:37
Last contract:1 year, $1.25 million
Season stats:2 goals and 2 assists in 59 games with the Devils and Predators.

A solid fourth liner who returned to Nashville via a trade from New Jersey in February, he’s good defensive player, can kill penalties and is effective in the faceoff circle. Although he’d likely come cheap, I don’t see a fit with the Caps. It’s also possible he’ll retire following the season. Fiddler did, however, play his first six NHL seasons under Barry Trotz in Nashville and remains a favorite of the Washington coach.

Harry Zolnierczyk

Position:  LW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:30
Last contract:1 year, $575,000.
Season stats:2 goals and 2 assists in 24 games.

A depth player who spent 24 games in the American Hockey League this season, the bottom-six winger made his postseason debut last month and has drawn into the Predators’ playoff lineup eight times (1 goal, 1 assist, 9:05 of average ice time). There could be an opening on the left side of the fourth line if the Caps don’t re-sign Daniel Winnik, and Zolnierczyk, who has an economics degree from Brown, would come cheap. The Caps, however, can fill that role with a younger player who’s already in the organization.

P.A. Parenteau

Position:  RW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:34
Last contract:1 year, $1.25 million
Season stats:13 goals and 15 assists in 67 games with the Devils and Predators

Acquired by Nashville in March from New Jersey to provide postseason scoring depth, Parenteau is one of the game’s most well-traveled players. In fact, he’s played for eight teams since 2006, never spending more than two seasons in the same city. He’s played in one game in each of the three playoff rounds this spring but has not recorded a point. Again, Parenteau would likely come on the cheap but the Caps will have younger options.

Yannick Weber

Position: Defense
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:29
Last contract:1 year, $575,000
Season stats: 1 goal, 7 assists in 73 games

Weber is a third pairing D-man for the Predators who doesn’t see time on special teams. That said, he’s a reliable vet, a right shot and wouldn’t cost much. And the Caps have a lot to sort out on the blue line.

MORE CAPITALS: Report: New deal for Oshie is 'all but done'

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Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

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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