Don't count out the New York Mets just yet.
The Nationals may be up nine games in the National League East, but their rivals from the Big Apple have slowly crawled their way back into the wild card picture.
The biggest reason why? The return of a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, who missed most of August with a quad injury. In the nine games since he’s been back, the 30-year-old outfielder has slashed .389/.450/.861 with five home runs, including Monday night’s extra-inning walk-off shot against fellow-wild card hopeful Miami Marlins.
"He's that kind of player," manager Terry Collins said via NJ.com. "You expect big things each and every time he goes up. He's one of those guys people pay to see him play. They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up."
After it seemed like the Mets were down and out, the Cespedes’ bat has resuscitated their playoff push. New York is 7-2 with Cespedes in the lineup since August 19, and its offense has averaged nearly six runs a game during that span. So just like 2015 postseason run, it's on Cespedes to lead the way.
“Every time I see Cespedes at home plate, I feel like he's going to hit a homer," third baseman Jose Reyes said. "That's the way I feel in the dugout. I'm sure the other guys feel the same way. They had the opportunity to see him get hot last year, and for me, seeing him this year, it's unbelievable what he can do on the baseball field. Basically he can do whatever he wants to.”
New York's mini-surge has happened at the right time, with the club just 2 1/2 games out of a wild card spot and nearly a month left in the season.
“We're going into September," Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us....now we're in a better position."
With training camp set to begin in about three weeks, the Capitals and restricted free agent Dmitry Orlov still have not agreed on contract extension.
But it also sounds as though it’s a matter of when, not if, a deal gets done, based on comments from Coach Barry Trotz on Monday.
“I think, obviously, [GM Brian MacLellan] is talking with Orlov’s agent all the time,” Trotz said at KCI. “Orly has got a great opportunity here.”
Trotz also reiterated that he sees big things for Orlov in 2016-17, perhaps even a steady spot in the top-4.
“I envision him playing with a [Matt] Niskanen or a [John] Carlson, probably more prime minutes as we try even out our defense a little bit in terms of [workload],” Trotz added. “It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s at the right age where he can really contribute. We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis. I just think it’s right for him.”
So what’s the holdup?
“It’s probably just timing, dollars, length,” Trotz said. “He’s right where he wants to be in his career, where he’s an up-and-coming player who is going to get a great opportunity here with a good team.”
Orlov, 25, earned $2.25 million last season while counting $2 million against the salary cap. The Capitals have $3.45 million in cap space available but cannot commit all of that to Orlov, a young player with big upside but an unproven track record.
Trotz said he intends to seek out Orlov soon. The two will cross paths next month when Team Canada faces Russia in a pre-tournament game in Pittsburgh.
“He’s playing at the World Cup [and] that level will be very, very high,” Trotz said. “I think it’s great experience for him. I think it will make him better and it will make us better.”
Capitals associate coach Todd Reirden, who oversees the defensemen in Washington, echoed Trotz’s sentiments about Orlov’s ceiling.
“I think we’re just touching the surface with this player,” Reirden said. “Him going through the World Cup experience will be outstanding for him, as well. …I’ve been in contact with him a few times this summer, just getting him in a really good spot mentally to come in and have a huge year for us. I think his opportunity is in his hands.”
Reirden said finding the right partner for Orlov will be critical. He also said eliminating the game-altering mistake—at exactly the wrong moment—figures to rank among Orlov’s top priorities.
“In terms of areas of improvement for him, it’s still eliminating the big errors in his game at crucial times,” Reirden said. "We need to continue to force him to make the right decisions at the right times. In terms of his risk-reward, he does really have the ability to swing a game offensively for us.”
Orlov had a career-high eight goals and 29 points in 82 games last season.
MORE CAPITALS: ALEX OVECHKIN TIES THE KNOT
The Redskins have let go of two high-priced veterans as they move towards reducing their roster to 75 by today’s 4 p.m. deadline, according to multiple reports.
Released were linebacker Perry Riley, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 and had been a starter since midway through the 2011 season, and defensive lineman Stephen Paea, signed as a free agent in 2015. CSNmidatlantic.com was able to confirm Paea and Riley took to Twitter to announce his own release.
Paea signed a four-year, $21 million contract last year. He was expected to step in and become a starter and a force on the defensive line right away. But he struggled and spent the last part of the season on injured reserve.
This year Paea was relatively healthy but he found himself down near the bottom of the depth chart and he never was able to climb back up. He was schedule to make a $3.3 million salary. His release saves the Redskins a net of $3.4 million this year but they will face a $2.5 million dead cap hit in 2017.
Riley wasn’t able to beat out Mason Foster for the starting job this year and apparently the team figured that his $4 million salary was too much for a backup.
Riley’s release saves the team $4 million against the cap with about $1.6 million in dead cap.
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