Nats bullpen shines in win over Cardinals

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Nats bullpen shines in win over Cardinals

From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rookies in the postseason, the Washington Nationals played like poised veterans.The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, pinch hitter Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth and Washington beat the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Sunday in an NL playoff opener.The Nationals, who had never come close to making the playoffs since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season, overcame a wild start by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.Reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.The NL East champion Nationals led the majors with 98 wins this season, and brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.The Cardinals made it to the best-of-five division series by beating Atlanta in the wild-card matchup Friday. But St. Louis wasted a 10-strikeout gem by Adam Wainwright, failing to capitalize enough on Gonzalez's career high-tying seven walks and frustrating its towel-waving fans.A standing room crowd of 47,078, among the largest at 7-year-old Busch Stadium, bundled up for a game that began in 54-degree chill and featured kaleidoscope late-afternoon shadows that bedeviled hitters for several innings.Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma misplayed Michael Morse's grounder for an error to open the eighth and set up the Nationals' go-ahead rally. Ian Desmond followed with a single off Mitchell Boggs for his third hit of the game, putting runners at the corners.Danny Espinsoa sacrificed, leaving runners at second and third, and Kurt Suzuki struck out. In a series of moves, the Nationals sent up Chad Tracy to pinch hit, the Cardinals switched to lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Washington subbed in Moore, who had two of their three pinch homers this season.Moore poked an outside pitch to right field and both runners scored easily.Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts since Bob Gibson also fanned 10 to beat the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series.Wainwright was a 14-game winner coming off reconstructive elbow surgery that sidelined him all of 2011, with 10 of the wins coming at home. He's been a postseason ace with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 1-3 innings.He fanned Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman twice each and seventh-place hitter Espinosa all three times.Gonzalez allowed just one hit in five innings, on David Freese's full-count bouncer between third and short to start the fourth. But he had trouble finding catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove.The second inning was Gonzalez' shakiest when he allowed the Cardinals to score twice and take the lead without a hit. Gonzalez walked four of the first five hitters, putting St. Louis in position to score one run on a wild pitch and a second on Jon Jay's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth robbed Daniel Descalso of a two-run homer off with a leaping catch to keep it at 2-1 in the sixth. Descalso had a fielding gem of his own in the seventh, ranging far to his left to glove Harper's grounder and then throwing him out by a few steps.

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Dmitry Orlov in talks with KHL team, why it doesn't mean anything

Dmitry Orlov in talks with KHL team, why it doesn't mean anything

Dmitry Orlov was given a prove it contract heading into the 2016-17 season and he did just that, providing the best season of his NHL career. It looks like the Capitals were not the only ones to take notice.

Orlov is in talks with KHL team CSKA, as Igor Eronko reports and the president of CSKA announced Friday. The Russian defenseman played in the KHL for Metallurg Novokuznetsk from 2008 to 2011 before heading to North America. His rights were traded to CSKA in 2013.

So what does this mean for the Caps? Absolutely nothing.

RELATED: 20 questions: Should the Caps re-sign Williams?

These types of talks happen frequently between players and the KHL in the offseason and rarely does anything come of it.

The NHL and KHL have an agreement saying the leagues must honor each other’s contracts. As a restricted free agent, the Caps still own Orlov’s rights in the NHL, but that does not mean anything to CSKA. That makes this the perfect time for the team to try to convince Orlov to jump ship and return to Russia.

As far as the player is concerned, talking with the KHL is a bargaining chip to use when it comes time to negotiate a new contract in the NHL. Orlov does not have many cards to play as an RFA. Talking to CSKA is about the only leverage he has short of signing an offer sheet – which is considered taboo – and demanding a trade.

What also doesn’t help is the fact that the KHL is dealing with serious financial issues.

Remember Orlov’s first KHL team, Metallurg Novokuznetsk? Well, it is not in the KHL anymore. It was one of two teams removed from the league this offseason and KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko has announced the league will remove another three teams after next season. He also revealed the league is dealing with over $17 million worth of wage delays to its players, some of whom have not been paid in over six months.

Orlov is poised to play on a top pair on a team in the best hockey league in the world. It seems unlikely he would abandon that opportunity after climbing the ranks from Hershey to the top of the Caps’ depth chart to go back home to a league dealing with financial delays and an uncertain future.

But if everyone knows these talks are for show, then why bother?

Two reasons. First, Orlov’s past two contracts were for two years and one year respectively. Negotiating his last deal dragged on throughout the summer until right before training camp was set to start. He will likely be looking for something a bit more long-term this go around. The second issue is the Olympics.

The NHL has announced that it will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, something the players, especially the European ones, have taken issue with. Barring a reversal by the NHL, leaving for the KHL is about the only avenue Orlov would have to represent his native Russia.

But would that be enough to entice him to ignore the glaring problems with the KHL? That seems pretty doubtful.

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Who are the 5 most fun to watch D.C. athletes? A philosophical debate

Who are the 5 most fun to watch D.C. athletes? A philosophical debate

D.C. sports fans are lucky. Please hear out the argument before you start throwing shoes (that means you, Caps commenters). Washington-area teams might not always have success in the playoffs, but wow do they have stars. 

Big ones with generational talent. The players that opposing fans hound for autographs as soon as they get off the bus. Really, if you think about it, D.C. is home to some of the most entertaining names in their respective sports. 

John Wall and Bradley Beal. Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer. Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby. Josh Norman and Jordan Reed. How could you ever decide who's the best? 

Inspired by a tweet from The Washington Post's Chelsea Janes, SportsTalk Live's Rob Carlin and Brian Mitchell decided to try ranking the top 5 D.C. athletes they love to watch most. 

That criteria is interpreted here as the athletes you most enjoy watching play their sport, both for their incredible talent and the personality they bring to the game. For the sake of argument, let's not include players solely on the basis of quotability, otherwise Markieff 'F--- This Ankle' Morris would take all five slots. 

Here's Rob's list with his reasoning for each pick transcribed below. 

5. Josh Norman, CB, Redskins
“He’s going to make it a show. He’s going to shut down the best wide receivers in the game. And he’s probably the most influential defensive player this team has had since Sean Taylor? Probably, he’s that kind of guy. That kind of defining talent. I think he’s the only Redskin to make this list for me.”

4. John Wall, PG, Wizards
“It’s tough because John’s so electrifying. He's the face of the franchise and he's made the Wiz as interesting as they are right now. There’s no one, probably, more fun in the open court to watch. I’ve never seen anyone go that fast with the ball on the dribble, but there’s just a couple of other superhero-type guys in the D.C. market, so John’s great, but the other three are just greater for me.” 

3. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals
“He built the Capitals. The Rock the Red is Alex Ovechkin. [Verizon Center] is one of the great arenas in hockey because of Alex Ovechkin. He had a down year, right? Everyone’s saying that he’s slowing down. T.J. Oshie just reached 30 [goals] for the first time and we’re like, ‘Sign him! Sign him long-term!’ Ovi ties him for the team lead and we’re like, ‘Trade Ovi he can’t score anymore.’ It’s because we’re accustomed to him putting up 50 every year and being the greatest natural goal-scorer on the planet.” 

2. Max Scherzer, P, Nationals
"When he starts that little [woofing sound] and he gets into it, right? It’s just, ‘Gimme the ball. I’m gonna throw it and I’m gonna strike out [everyone]. I’m going to walk around the mound. I got attitude.’ So I grew up on Long Island, I was a big Mets fan. Every time Dwight Gooden went on the mound, I thought, ‘Well, he’s either going to throw a no-hitter, a perfect game or strike out 20.’ It’s kinda at that point with Max Scherzer.

“When he starts that walk [around the mound], I always say there are demons right behind the eyes. Plus he’s got two eyes that are different colors. It’s weird to begin with and then the demons behind the eyes, it is all completely crazy but completely dominating.” 

1. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
“To me, it’s Bryce Harper. It’s the reason he’s going to be a $500 million free agent, either with the Nationals or someone else. Someone’s gonna start that with a 5. To me it’s must-see TV. If I walk by a Nats game and Bryce Harper’s up, I’m stopping to watch because he might hit the ball 450 feet to dead center, he might hit it 475 feet into the upper deck in right field. Or he might throw from right field from the warning track and get a guy out at home. He’s electrifying, and to me, that’s my No. 1 athlete to watch.” 

RELATED: Why the Capitals will not trade Alex Ovechkin this offseason

Brian Mitchell's list has some overlap, but not a single Redskins player. Here's his top 5. 

5. Bradley Beal, SG, Wizards

4. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals
“I love what this guy’s been doing a long time, Alex Ovechkin. Still is exciting. Didn’t have as many goals this year, but I like watching him because he does more than just score goals now. He plays the whole game.” 

3. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
“They say chicks dig the long ball. I dig it, too. Baseball is slow for me, ok, it’s slow. But when he gets up [to the plate] or whenever he’s out in the field, I like to watch him because he does a little bit more than the ordinary baseball player.”

2. John Wall, PG, Wizards
“John has evolved into probably the best pure point guard in the league and I like the fact that he attacks. He cares about it, he gets emotional. And he holds grudges. If you go at him, he’s going to come back at you. I like that aspect of him.” 

1. Max Scherzer, P, Nationals
“He’s a pitcher, and normally pitchers don’t have personality, you don’t really talk about it. He gets you excited when he’s going to pitch because ... he’s going to have a career-type game when he gets out there. And I asked, ‘When you start walking around the mound, what are you [thinking]?’ He said, ‘I’m starting to feel it.’ And I like watching him play. The last guy way back when, Nolan Ryan, the batter ran out there and he’d be like, ‘Come on’ [punching motions]. They have a different mindset."

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A few things that jumped out at me from these lists: Only one Redskin appears; Wall didn't take No. 1 in either; and people get excited over baseball. 

It's hard to argue this topic without introducing my own opinion because there's no 'fun factor' stat proving anyone right or wrong. So first let me share my top 5, then tell you why it's the best one. 

5. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins
Huge, fast and deep down the field, Reed is on the receiving end of Kirk Cousins's most exciting passes. If Reed makes a play, it's thrilling by definition. That's the reason I have him here instead of Josh Norman, who's at his best if no one ever throws his way and then he gets to talk about it afterwards. 

4. Braden Holtby, G, Capitals
Holtby under fire is the most mesmerizing showcase of reflexes I've ever seen. And his Vezina-level emergence on a team that went so long without a top netminder makes watching him even sweeter. 

3. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals
Greatest Russian NHL player ever? Greatest goal scorer in the NHL right now? Of all athletes on this list, Ovi is by far the most accomplished. He's a legend in his own time. If expectations weren't so out of control (50 goals per season isn't the measuring stick for anyone but him), Ovi's 2016-17 season wouldn't be viewed as a disappointment. The only reason he's not No. 2 on this list is because he's not as demonstrative, which is part of the entertainment factor for me. 

2. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
Perhaps more than any other D.C. athlete, Harper has most potential to be a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He's already won an MVP, but the talk around Harper always focuses on what he could become, not what he already is. That's part of the joy of watching him play, the knowledge that you never got to see Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson, but that one day your grandkids might lament that they never got to see Harper.

He's a home-run mashing, outfield-to-home throwing, big-as-the-ballpark player. Harper's on a mission to make baseball fun again, which it so desperately needs. The Yankee way is boring. Give me crazy beards, bat flips and pimping homers any day. Oh, and a cool $500 million to spend on keeping Harper here. 

1. John Wall, PG, Wizards
Wall is arguably the most athletic player pound-for-pound in the NBA. I'd probably take him in a straight-up foot race against anyone in the league, but it's his speed moving the ball that really drops jaws in a game setting. Only rightful MVP Russell Westbrook is in the same conversation. Add strength and leaping ability to that speed and you'll see how Wall became a chase-down block artist on par with the big fellas. The All-Star's court vision also makes him one of the most acrobatic passers in the game. Instead of having one incredible specialty, Wall has highlights reels of circus shots, passes, dunks, steals and chase-down blocks.

It's hard to overstate the entertainment value of fast, strong, coordinated and airborne.

Also consider that no sport puts its star more front-and-center for fans than basketball. Wizards fans get to see Wall for 36.4 minutes per game. He's handling the ball 8.9 minutes per game, tied for most in the league with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. How often in the course of a Nationals game is Bryce Harper touching or hitting the ball? Jordan Reed? Ovechkin and Holtby handle the puck a lot, but still not close. It's not their fault that their positions are more specialized, but it means more idle moments and less entertainment. 

Not only is Wall the most explosively athletic player in D.C., but also his sport gives him the most exposure to entertain fans. Add to that his incredible competitiveness, the jawing, the stare-downs and that one time he jumped on the scorers' table. There's really no one even close to as fun as Wall. 

RELATED: 10 best games of the Wizards' 2016-17 season