Mystics trying to block out the Sun

Mystics trying to block out the Sun

The matchup: The Washington Mystics return home Tuesday night, attempting to avoid something they havent done since last season by doing something they havent done all season. Currently on a five-game losing streak, the only way for the Mystics (5-21) to not reach a season-high sixth straight loss is by defeating the Eastern Conference leading Connecticut Sun for the first time this calendar year.The two sides are meeting for the fifth and final time this regular season with the Sun looking for the series sweep for the second straight year. Connecticut has won eight straight over Washington and four straight at the Verizon Center, site of two victories this season including the narrowest contest. Despite Crystal Langhorne pacing five double digit scorers with 15 ;points and Michelle Snow notching 10 points and 11 rebounds, Washington fell 77-70 on July 10. The next day Connecticuts Olympic frontcourt duo of Asjha Jones and Tina Charles combined for 39 points and 16 rebounds in an 85-73 win. Washington, owners of the worst record in the league, hasn't lost six straight games since dropping nine in a row August 13-30, 2011. The first setback in that skid came against Connecticut.Jones 22 points stands as her season-high, but she has missed several games with an Achilles injury including Sundays 87-80 loss to Atlanta. Connecticut leads Indiana by 1.5 games. Charles (19.0 points against the Mystics) has been more than a handful, though the same can be said of the Sun dealing with Langhorne, who is averaging 17.5 points and shooting 56.4 percent (31 of 55) against Connecticut. Last time out: Leading New York 20-15 late in the first quarter, Washington surrendered the final seven points of the first quarter and then wound up on the wrong end of an 11-0 second quarter run, ultimately losing to the Liberty 79-73 on Saturday.Monique Currie led the way with 20 points and combined with Langhorne (19) and Jasmine Thomas (18) to score 57 of the Mystics 73 points. Thomas made 8 of 12 field goal attempts, but committed six of Washingtons 17 turnovers.Grasping for Griner, dreaming of Delle Donne: With eight regular season games remaining and the Mystics five games behind Chicago and New York for the final playoff spot, its not unrealistic to start pondering the future. In this case, by future we mean the WNBA Draft and more specifically, the draft lottery. Taking it even further, we mean what are the chances the Mystics land Baylors franchise-altering center Britney Griner, Delawares high-scoring forward Elena Della Donne or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, the projected jewels of the 2013 class.The four non-playoff teams are part of the lottery process, one that NBA fans are familiar with. Last year Tulsa finished with the leagues worst record and had a 44.2 percent chance of landing the number one overall pick. At their current trajectory, the Mystics will find themselves in that position. If there is ever a year for a team to find itself in that position, its this year.Griner, the 2011-12 National Player of the Year spearheaded Baylors 40-0 campaign last season which ended with a National Championship. The 6-foot-8 interior dominator force on both ends of the court averaged 23.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.1 blocks. Della Donne, a 6-foot-5 power forward with range, led the nation in scoring with 28 points per game.As Notre Dame's point guard, the 5-foot-9 Diggins directed the Fighting Irish to last year's National Championship game, sharing the backcourt with Mystics' rookie Natalie Novosel.

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Orioles look to rebound after losing 8 of last 11

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USA Today Sports

Orioles look to rebound after losing 8 of last 11

BALTIMORE  -- Dylan Bundy will try to rebound on Tuesday after his first non-quality start of the season. It will not be an easy task for the Baltimore Orioles right-hander.

Bundy (5-2, 2.97 ERA) will face Minnesota Twins ace Ervin Santana (6-2, 2.07) in the middle game of a three-game series at Camden Yards. Bundy has lasted at least six innings of each of his nine starts, but he did not give up more than three runs until his last outing.

The Detroit Tigers touched him up for six runs in six innings on Thursday in a 6-5 victory over the Orioles. Still, he made it through the sixth, which gave a tired Baltimore bullpen a break.

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Bundy has pitched just once against Minnesota, throwing a scoreless inning last year. The Orioles will need his help after the Twins scored 12 consecutive runs and rallied from an early five-run deficit to post a 14-7 victory in the series opener Monday.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter wants his team to shake off the loss.

"If you're tough mentally. I don't think guys dwell on it," Showalter said. "But as long as they feel like there's a silver lining there, something that's coming that's going to get better, (that's good)."

Santana also is trying to rebound from a defeat. He gave up five runs on six hits in seven innings on Thursday, taking the loss against the Colorado Rockies.

Still, that was the fifth time in nine starts that Santana went at least seven innings. The 34-year old right-hander certainly has earned the respect of manager Paul Molitor.

"He's a poised pitcher who's not intimidated," Molitor said. "Since he's been here, he's pitched good baseball for Minnesota. In a very bleak season (last year), he was one of our lone bright spots. He's a guy who attacks with his fastball."

Santana, who is 4-5 with a 4.87 career ERA against the Orioles, ranks first in the majors in lowest opponents' batting average this year (.144).

The Orioles still are battling a number of injury issues. Manager Buck Showalter said before the game Monday that Ryan Flaherty, on the disabled list due to a strained shoulder, was getting a plasma-rich platelet injection before going out to do rehab work in Florida.

Manny Machado played on Monday after X-rays on his left hand were fine, and he went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI double. He was hit in the hand by a pitch on Sunday, and Showalter said the hand still was not perfect a day later.

The Orioles also recalled right-hander Tyler Wilson for some bullpen help on Monday after optioning right-hander Miguel Castro back to Double-A Bowie following the Sunday game. Wilson allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits in 1 1/3 innings Monday and took the loss.

Baltimore also reinstated right-hander Gabriel Ynoa (right hamstring strain) from the disabled list Monday and immediately optioned him back to Triple-A Norfolk.

The Twins, meanwhile, recalled right-hander Kyle Gibson (1-4) to start the series opener, and he allowed six runs in five innings but still got the win. He snapped a nine-start winless streak.

Thanks to a four-run fifth inning and six-run sixth, Minnesota improved its road record to 12-5.

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What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

What's next for the Caps? There's no real consensus among players or coaches

After another early playoff exit, the Capitals find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. With multiple expiring contracts and an aging core that has yet to carry this team past the second round, what direction is this team headed? Do the Caps need to make drastic changes to fix what ails them or makes just a few tweaks to finally get them over the hump?

It’s not an easy question to answer and there was no real consensus from the players at team’s breakdown day.

“I don't know if minor cosmetic changes are going to change anything really,” Matt Niskanen said.” It's pretty clear that this group didn't get it done so what changes and how many or what level of changes, I don't know what the answer is. Talent wise and our potential was clearly there. That's all fluff now. We need results.”

“I think any time you underachieve at what you're trying to do, you know there's going to be changes,” Brooks Orpik said. “That's just part of the business that we're in.”

“Obviously it's not working,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I'm sure the organization will figure that out and try again.”

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Given this team’s history, especially in the Ovechkin era, it seems hard to argue that something significant needs to change because the formula there does not seem to be working. But not everyone agrees.

“I still think there's a window next year,” Lars Eller said. “I think there will be enough of the core intact that you could still make a play. First thing is you have to get into the playoffs, once you're in the playoffs you have a chance to win.”

“We’re going to be good again,” Tom Wilson said. “There's a lot of great pieces that are here that are core guys that have long contracts still that instill the right things in the group.”

“I think we're in the right position for sure and I think we will be stronger next year for sure,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said.

Then there are the guys who just don’t know, the guys who think the team will try to win but that the team’s chance of winning the Cup may now be in the rearview mirror.

“The nice thing is that we all know the organization does what it takes to put a good product on the ice and try to win," Karl Alzner said. "Whether there's a lot of changes and new faces next year, it's still going to be a team that is trying to win and that's a nice thing. … But yeah, this is a pretty good window that we had here and unfortunately, it's not there anymore.”

For his part, you can put head coach Barry Trotz down as someone who wants to see the team make only minor changes and try again next season.

“I know people talk about the window closing, the window doesn't close, it just changes a little bit because the window of all those pieces that have been here for six, seven years or whatever, they're going to change doesn't mean that you can't add pieces that may even be better. You see that all the time.”

Sure, you could file this down as a “What is he supposed to say?” comment. Major changes can often mean a coaching change so it’s not surprising to see him advocate against rebuilding. But Trotz was also adamant that the team was close to reaching its championship goal and cautioned that now was not the time to turn over the roster.

“This league is so unpredictable and sometimes so random that it's hard to grasp sometimes even as an organization or fans or media, to grasp how close you are from winning and how close you are from losing. You talk about inches, it might be millimeters. That's how close it is. Changes in momentum, a big save here, a fortunate goal here or a timely goal changes a series or momentum swing.”

“We're disappointed that we didn't reach our goal,” Trotz added, “It doesn't mean that we're not going to keep striving for our goal.”

But even if general manager Brian MacLellan agrees, there are going to be several players who will not be returning to Washington next season. Even after advocating minor tweaks, Trotz also acknowledged, “Group's going to change. That's just the financial part of it.”

With 11 free agents on the active roster heading into the offseason, as well as 14 more among their prospects and minor league players, and not enough cap space to pay them all, MacLellan is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding who to bring back and who to let go. Whether he agrees with those advocating for major changes or those who believe only minor tweaks are necessary will determine how he approaches the team’s free agents.

As much disagreement as there is within the team, there seems to be one thing everyone can agree on: The Caps are going to look like a very different team next season.

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