Mystics aim Sky high for season opener

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Mystics aim Sky high for season opener

With their season set to tipoff Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Mystics can truly put the 2011 campaign behind them.That's a good thing. After finishing tied for the best record in the WNBA's Eastern Conference in 2010, the Mystics win total plummeted. Beset by injuries and inexperience, the recorddropped to a dismal 6-28. Not surpisingly, massive changes followed; only four players return, including all-star forward and former University of Maryland star Crystal Langhorne.The new roster put together by second-year coach and general manager Trudi Lacey boasts size plus veteran presence up front and in the backcourt. The first chance to see what the revamped squad is all about comes at 7 p.m. against the Chicago Sky. Here's what else you need to know about the new-look Mystics:Who's back: It all starts with Langhorne, who led the Mystics in scoring (18.2), rebounding and field goal percentage last season. The 6-foot-2 forward's scoring average has risen in each of first four WNBA seasons despite being the constant focus of opposing defenses. Help on the wing comes from the return of small forward Monique Currie (Bullis), who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury. In 2010, the crafty scorer averaged 14.1 points and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc. In the Mystics preseason finale, Currie tallied 19 points and sank both of her 3-point attempts. Good sign indeed.Matee Ajavon took over the off-guard last season and finished second in scoring behind Langhorne. Dealing with a sore knee limited her during training camp while rising second-year point guard Jasmine Thomas missed time with knee tendinitis.Who's new: Seven of the Mystics 11 roster spots are filled with new faces. The acquistion of 6-foot-5 Michelle Snowstands out as the most prominent. The 10-year pro, along with former Seattle Storm shot blocker Crystal Robinson, will provide Langhorne protection inside plus a fiercer presence in the paint and on the glass. Center LaToya Pringle and forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton round out the frontcourt.Dominque Canty's 13-years of WNBA experience puts the quarterbacking of the Mystics up-tempo offense into veteran hands. She will also serve as mentor to Thomas, a first-round pick last season. Three-point threat Noelle Quinn and Natasha Lacy add punch off the bench.Then there is rookie Natalie Novosel, one ofthe Mystics twofirst-round picks, but the only one to make the final roster. The gritty anddurable5-foot-11 guardkeyedNotre Dame's run to thenational championship game and she will earn minutes as a defensive stalwart. Novosel also shot 41 percent from 3-point range combined over her last two seasions with the Irish.Where's Alana: After two injury plagued seasons, Alana Beard, the Mystics' all-time leading scorer, moved on during free agency.Beard signed with the Los Angeles Sparks, where she will be reunited with former Mystics Marissa Coleman and Nicky Anosike.The opponent: Like the Mystics,the Skyalso missed the postseason last year. Like the Mystics, the Sky also did not stand pat, adding former all-stars Swin Cash and Ticha Penicheiro. Like the Mystics, it all starts inside for the Sky with the reigning WNBA defensive player of the year and 2012 Olympian Sylvia Fowles. The 6-foot-6 center averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds last season. Speaking of last season, the Sky swept the Mystics in four games.What's the outlook:If Lacey has her way, this team will run more, play sharing is caring basketball and offer greater resistance on the defensive end. The coach said 15 of the team's losses last season came down to thefinal two or three possessions. With all the new but experienced hands, well, on hand, expect better results in the clutch. Barring the unforeseen, don't count on another six-win season. Then again, the East is stacked so even noticeable improvement on the court might not lead to the playoffs. Then again, change is in the air.

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Orioles starting rotation ranked near the bottom of MLB

Orioles starting rotation ranked near the bottom of MLB

BY TYLER BYRUM

Coming into the 2017 season, the Baltimore Orioles are looking to build off a Wild Card appearance last year that ended in disappointment. 

In the off-season the team needed to address numerous issues along their roster, especially the team’s starting pitching.  Without any major moves during the winter, the Orioles will start the season with the 24th best starting rotation in the majors according to USA Today.

Last year the team’s rotation was not that great and a majority of them are returning to the squad this season. Behind Kevin Gausman (3.61 ERA) and Chris Tillman (3.77), the remaining six regular starters averaged a 5.35 ERA. Only one of those pitchers had a sub 5.00 ERA and that was right-hander Dylan Bundy (4.02).

He started the season primarily as a reliever but towards the end of the year he was consistently in the five-man rotation. In the games he started, the right-handed pitcher finished with a 8-5 record. None of the other starters, excluding Chris Tillman, finished the season with a winning record. 

Based on essentially no pitching moves by the organization, it appears that the 24-year-old Bundy will be called on to be the third man in the rotation.

READ ALSO: Orioles projected to have a down season

The next rotation spot is lining up for Wade Miley, a starting pitcher the Orioles acquired last season from the Seattle Mariners. Starting in 11 games for Baltimore he only registered two wins.

Leaving only one rotation slot open, returner’s Ubaldo Jimenez, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Wright will be fighting for the spot. Jimenez, who gave up the homerun that ended the 2016 campaign against the Toronto Blue Jays, initially looks to be one of the pitchers to fill in.

While the free agent class was not stellar this off-season, it included two World Series champions Jason Hammel and Edinson Volquez. Other notable free agents were Ivan Nova, R.A. Dickey, and Rich Hill.

Of all the minor transactions the team made in the past three months only one pitcher, Tomo Ohka, has notable experience as a starting pitcher. He turns 41 in March.

RELATED: Manny Machado ranks high among third basemen

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Jakub Vrana reassinged to Hershey as Zach Sanford makes the most of his oppotunity

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Jakub Vrana reassinged to Hershey as Zach Sanford makes the most of his oppotunity

The Capitals reassigned forward Jakub Vrana to Hershey on Sunday following their game against the New York Rangers. Vrana and Zach Sanford were both recalled when the Caps returned from the bye week.

With Andre Burakovsky out of the lineup with a hand injury, the team needed to recall two players: One to insert into the lineup, the other to serve as the 13th forward in case of an unforeseen injury. With two of the team's top forwards recalled, it looked as if Vrana and Sanford would get a chance to compete for Burakovsky's spot on the third line while the he recovered. If that was the case, Sanford appears to have won that competition...for now.

RELATED: Despite loss, Caps starting to find their game

Vrana, a first-round draft pick from the 2014 draft, is seen as having the higher ceiling than Sanford. Sanford, however, scored the game-winning goal in Washington's final game before the bye week against the Anaheim Ducks. That, as well as his strong play in Hershey, earned him the first crack at the lineup.

“He went down after scoring his first goal, traveled all morning, played an afternoon game in [Bridgeport] and was the [Bears’] best player,” Trotz said at practice Friday. “So he should get the first crack at that position.”

Sanford took full advantage as he scored again on Saturday. With Vrana's reassignment, it now appears Burakovsky's spot on the third line is Sanford's to lose.

But Vrana's reassignment could be a temporary one.

The Caps have a day off on Monday, then return to practice on Tuesday and play in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The team has not been shy about moving players back and forth between Hershey in between road games. They may choose to recall Vrana or another forward prior to Wednesday's game.

For now, however, Sanford appears to have earned himself at least a temporary spot in the lineup.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps can't solve Henrik Lundqvist