Nats set to face inconsistent Wainwright

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Nats set to face inconsistent Wainwright

With 2012 Cy Young candidate Kyle Lohse having pitched in the N.L. Wild Card game, the St. Louis Cardinals will trot out right-hander Adam Wainwright against the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS. Wainwright was once one of the games best young pitchers, but returned this season from Tommy John surgery and has yet to regain his form as an ace.

Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season due to the surgery and watched from the dugout as the Cardinals won the World Series without him. He had finished in the top three of National League Cy Young voting in the previous two seasons and their victory without him was a testament to their organizational depth.

Wainwright finished 2012 with a winning record and a sub-4.00 ERA despite struggling for much of the year. The Cardinals showed great patience in sticking with him after a terrible start to the season. Wainwright allowed at least four earned runs in four of his first seven starts and sat 2-4 with a 6.16 ERA on May 12.

The 31-year-old saved his season by going 7-3 with a 2.75 ERA through July and August. Still, over the course of this season he has shown he isnt the same dominant pitcher he once was.

The differences in the old Wainwright and the new one lie in pitch selection. Wainwright has adjusted to throw more off-speed pitches after a slight dip in velocity with a career low fastball usage at 41.8.

Wainwright uses a cut fastball now much more than he did in the past, throwing it 14.2 of the time. His primary breaking ball is the curveball, which he uses for almost a quarter of pitches.

In 2012, when Wainwright won he was dominant and when he lost it was at times ugly. In losses this season Wainwright allowed 56 earned runs in 69.0 innings, good for a 7.30 ERA. In games he won Wainwright held a 1.94 ERA with just 13 walks in 97.2 innings pitched.

Wainwrights two starts against the Nationals in many ways exemplified his season as one was great and one was quite the opposite.

On August 31 the Nationals handed Wainwright one of his worst starts of the season and it came in the middle of perhaps his hottest stretch. Wainwright had allowed two runs or less in eight consecutive starts before a complete disaster in Washington. The Nationals dropped six runs in 2 23 innings before Wainwright was yanked as he earned his 11th loss of the season in a 10-0 blowout at Nationals Park.

Wainwright rebounded nicely against the Nationals at Busch Stadium in his final start of the season. He worked six innings of one run ball and set the Cardinals up for an eventual 12-2 victory. The right-hander allowed just six men on base in his 14th win of the season.

His solid showing against the Nationals was a nice close to his regular season after a rough month of September overall. Wainwright had allowed at least four earned runs in three of his previous five starts.

The Nationals will face Wainwright where he had his best start against them and where he fared better for much of the season. Wainwright went 10-6 with a 3.73 ERA in St. Louis, markedly better than his 4-7, 4.20 line on the road.

One thing that may work in the Nationals favor is the fact that Wainwright hasnt pitched since seeing them on the 28th. He was much better this season on four or five days of rest as with at least six days off between starts he posted a 5.21 ERA in three games.

Wainwright missed the postseason last year, but has appeared in ten playoff games in his career. He has one career postseason start, an eight-inning outing against the Dodgers in the 2009 NLDS. Wainwright allowed just one earned run on a homer to Andre Ethier in the game, but the Dodgers ended up winning in the second game of their three game sweep.

The Nationals have had mixed results against Wainwright this year, but the pitcher may have the advantage at home if his 2012 stats hold up. But looking at how inconsistent he has been overall, they may know early which Wainwright has shown up for Game 1.

No. 20 Creighton gets revenge on Georgetown at home

No. 20 Creighton gets revenge on Georgetown at home

OMAHA, Neb. -- Marcus Foster scored a career-high 35 points and No. 20 Creighton broke open the game early in the second half in an 87-70 victory over Georgetown on Sunday.

Creighton (22-5, 9-5 Big East) shot 53 percent while avenging a 20-point road loss to the Hoyas on Jan 25. Georgetown (14-13, 5-9) shot just 38.5 percent in its first game since Feb. 11 and was 3 of 22 from 3-point range.

Isaiah Zierden added 13 points and Justin Patton and Cole Huff had 10 apiece for the Bluejays.

L.J. Peak, held to two points over the first 16 minutes, finished with 23 to lead Georgetown.

Khyri Thomas, scoreless in the first half, blocked Peak's shot from under the basket and then hit a 3-pointer during a 19-6 run that gave Creighton a 60-44 lead. The spurt also featured two 3s by Foster and a couple of dunks by Patton, who was on the bench for the last 8 minutes of the first half with two fouls.

The Hoyas looked to be gaining momentum as they pulled within 66-55, but then they went scoreless for nearly 4 1/2 minutes.

Rodney Pryor added 16 points and Jessie Govan had 12 for the Hoyas.

Foster was 13 of 19 from the field and finished his big game with a 3-pointer in the final minute.

The Bluejays rode the shooting of Foster and Huff to a 41-33 halftime lead. Foster and Huff combined for 25 first-half points on 11-of-16 shooting. The Hoyas were 1 for 8 from 3-point range and committed 10 turnovers in the first half.

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Although the Caps lost, it's apparent that they're starting to find their game

Although the Caps lost, it's apparent that they're starting to find their game

NEW YORK—As disappointing as Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden was for the Caps, Coach Barry Trotz and his players emerged from the visitors’ dressing room heartened by how the team played over the final two periods.

Indeed, there was a distinct difference between the first 20 minutes, during which the Caps were outscored 1-0 and outshot 19-10, and the final 40 minutes, which saw the visitors battle back and threaten to steal a point on the road from a good, well-rested rested opponent.

“We were atrocious in the first,” Trotz said. “We played poorly and [backup goalie Philipp Grubauer] was outstanding. It could have been 5-0 in the first, not 1-0. But we were able to get through that. In the second and third, we had the better chances and [carried] the majority of the play.”

Sunday marked the Caps’ second game back from their six-day bye week. On Saturday, they started slowly and lost to the Red Wings in a shootout. Including that defeat, teams are 3-12-4 in their first game after the mandatory hiatus.

“For us, it was hard to come back after [the] break, have one practice and [then] play,” said Alex Ovechkin, who scored Washington’s lone goal against the Rangers. Saturday’s game in Detroit started at 2 p.m. “and today we played at 12:30. It was kinda tough with no morning skates.”

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Prior to the bye, the Caps had won six games in a row, rolling up five or more goals in all but one of those contests.

It’s too early to say definitely whether Ovechkin and Co. are back. They are, after all, 0-1-1 since returning. But they certainly looked a lot more like their previously dominant selves after doubling the Rangers up in shots, 22-11, over the second and third periods in an entertaining matinee on Broadway.

So what was the difference between the first period and the rest of the game? Trotz didn’t mince his words.    

“We were engaged in the second and third,” he said. “We were winning our battles. We were managing the puck much better. And we really didn’t give up much. Grubi really got all of his work for the most part in the first period and then after that he didn’t have much.”

From where he was standing, Grubauer said he could see the timing and cohesiveness slowly returning to his teammates’ collective game.

“The break was long,” Grubauer said. “Sometimes you have to find that chemistry.”

He added: “That’s not how we wanted to start, giving up those many scoring chances. But we did a pretty good job coming back [and] dominated the second and third periods.”

Defenseman Matt Niskanen agreed with Grubauer’s assessment.

“The second two periods were a lot better than the first [period], and a lot better than yesterday,” Niskanen said. “So it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Caps will take Monday off and then return to practice Tuesday morning in Arlington before heading to Philadelphia for a Wednesday night showdown with the Flyers.

“It was a lot better, that’s for sure,” Nicklas Backstrom said of the final 40 minutes at the Garden. “I thought the first period was not how we play. But we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to get back to the way we played before. We’ll have another practice before the next game, so we’ve just got to get back at it.”

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