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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-3 win over Washington

Posted on 11 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their preseason opener in a 23-3 final over Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I made my feelings clear about the Ravens defense at the conclusion of draft weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Playing fast and physical, Baltimore held the Redskins to a measly 47 yards and four first downs in the first half. You could see the potential.

2. Brent Urban was the best player on the field, bringing inside pressure and consistently penetrating the backfield against the run. He finished with two forced fumbles, a sack, and four tackles to lead a revamped defense. Not bad for his debut as the starting 5-technique defensive end.

3. With eight key players sitting out, I’m not sure what anyone could have reasonably expected from the Ravens offense. The running game wasn’t overly productive at 3.6 yards per carry in the first half, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stuck with it and the group played turnover-free football.

4. Those absences aside, Ryan Mallett did nothing to silence his detractors by averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per pass attempt. John Harbaugh said Mallett played “winning football” after the game, which was reminiscent of Brian Billick’s descriptions of Kyle Boller after the many defense-led wins of yesteryear.

5. The start of the game certainly felt familiar with the defense forcing a three-and-out, the offense going three-and-out, and Sam Koch placing a punt inside the 5-yard line.

6. After a miss from 43 yards that was negated by a penalty, Justin Tucker later restored order to the universe with a 59-yard field goal to end the first half. Yes, he’s missed a few more in camp than I recall in previous summers, but I’ll guess he’ll be OK.

7. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had an strong debut with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and solid all-around work at outside linebacker, but fellow rookie Tim Williams struggled to set the edge and remains a work in progress as anything more than a situational pass rusher for now.

8. Rookie free agent Jaylen Hill showed why coaches have been impressed with him in practices as he defended the deep ball effectively and picked off Colt McCoy late in the first half. His night would have been even better had he not whiffed on a corner blitz.

9. Tim White made a superb adjustment on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum late in the third quarter and looked capable as the return specialist in the first half. The rookie free agent’s speed has stood out since organized team activities in the spring.

10. Keenan Reynolds returning a punt 46 yards was the feel-good moment of the night as Harbaugh’s smile on the sideline epitomized how much everyone is rooting for the former Navy star. He still has a long way to go to crack the 53-man roster, but he’s improved from last year.

11. The best news of the night was the Ravens seemingly escaping the game without any major injuries. In contrast, Washington lost linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Su’a Cravens to knee injuries. Coaches hold their breath every second of the preseason.

12. First-round pick Marlon Humphrey went through a rigorous pre-game workout and appears poised to return to practice after a week-long absence. However, Breshad Perriman was nothing more than an observer and doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a hamstring injury.

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Ravens sit multiple offensive starters for preseason opener

Posted on 10 August 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Drawing many conclusions about the Ravens offense in Thursday’s preseason opener against Washington won’t be easy.

Dealing with a number of injuries and wanting to keep other veterans out of harm’s way, head coach John Harbaugh held nine key offensive players out of Thursday’s exhibition contest with the Redskins. Quarterback Joe Flacco (back), wide receiver Breshad Perriman (hamstring), and projected starting offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder), Alex Lewis (undisclosed), and Austin Howard (shoulder) were all sitting out for health reasons, but veteran wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace, running back Danny Woodhead, and tight end Benjamin Watson joined them on the sideline as healthy scratches.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore defense was suiting up its full assortment of healthy players as the likes of linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley and defensive backs Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith were all going through pre-game warmups. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Sheldon Price, and Maurice Canady were the only notable defensive players who weren’t suited up to play.

Other players out for Thursday’s game included wide receiver Kenny Bell (hamstring) and linebacker Lamar Louis (undisclosed).

The Ravens were wearing white jerseys and white pants while Washington donned burgundy tops with gold pants as these NFL neighbors were meeting in the preseason for the 10th time since 2003. Baltimore holds a 6-3 advantage in preseason encounters.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 09 August 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are set to begin their 22nd preseason after one of the more tumultuous starts to training camp in team history.

Having already lost seven players to season-ending injuries, retirement, or suspension since the beginning of June, Baltimore is still without starting quarterback Joe Flacco while other impact players have missed substantial time in camp. The injuries create a balancing act between keeping valuable assets out of harm’s way and the desire to take advantage of live-game reps against Washington on Thursday night.

“We’ll work it out as we go. We’ll see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Some guys will play, some guys won’t. You just have to play it by ear. We have a plan, but I’m just not really into it right now as far as sharing it. It can change. We have a plan until the shooting starts; then plans change.”

Especially with Flacco unavailable, the Ravens will likely focus on the evaluation of their running game after hiring senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in the offseason to revamp the league’s 28th-ranked rushing attack in the offseason. Of course, that could prove to be difficult with an offensive line that’s currently less than 100 percent.

The final result means little, but the first preseason game provides context for evaluating players who’ve only been practicing against each another to this point. The coaching staff will eagerly be watching how young players respond to the bright lights of a game after settling into the familiar routine of camp workouts.

“They are ready to go play against somebody else, and they have been playing against each other now for almost two weeks,” Harbaugh said. “These are pretty tough practices and tough drills. They know each other pretty well right now, so they are ready to get in that environment and play a game and cut it loose a little bit and see where they are.”

Thursday marks the 10th time these NFL neighbors have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding the 6-3 edge over Washington, but the Redskins won a 16-10 regular-season contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October, which prompted the firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman the next day.

Baltimore has a 24-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: QB Joe Flacco (back), OT Austin Howard (shoulder), WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring), WR Kenny Bell (hamstring), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed), CB Maurice Canady (knee), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OL Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Tavon Young (knee)
DOUBTFUL: OL Alex Lewis (undisclosed), CB Marlon Humphrey (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (undisclosed), CB Brandon Boykin (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Ryan Mallett

Expectations should be realistic for a backup, but the Ravens wasted no time re-signing Mallett to a one-year, $2 million contract at the start of free agency, suggesting they have some level of confidence in him to be a suitable No. 2 option. His first few practices of training camp were brutal, but the 29-year-old has rebounded to play at a more acceptable level in recent days, perhaps a product of the Colin Kaepernick discussion dying down. With Flacco’s return still expected to be sooner than later, Mallett showing command of the offense with at least some modest production should quell some concerns.

OLB Matt Judon

Used as a situational pass rusher as a rookie, Judon has received most of the summer reps as the starting strong-side outside linebacker, a spot shared by Albert McClellan and Elvis Dumervil last season. In order to be more effective in pass coverage, the 2016 fifth-round pick dropped weight and is strikingly leaner while still showing enough strength to set the edge and rush the passer. Judon ranked third on the team with four sacks in 2016, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees would prefer to see him double that total as the Ravens try to turn the heat up on a pass rush that was underwhelming a year ago.

C Ryan Jensen

The Ravens traded veteran starter Jeremy Zuttah in the offseason, but the sudden retirement of John Urschel at the start of training camp short-circuited the expected competition at center and left Jensen as the default starter. He brings the size and physicality that should work better in Roman’s downhill blocking schemes, but Jensen has only nine career starts under his belt, prompting many to continue clamoring for a Nick Mangold signing. General manager Ozzie Newsome spent most of his few remaining cap dollars on new right tackle Austin Howard, so Jensen needs to show he can do the job.

DL Patrick Ricard

Asking about individual players during training camp is often pointless because coaches are rarely anything but positive in their remarks, but you pay attention when a player’s name is mentioned without being prompted, something that’s happened more than once with Ricard. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound rookie free agent from Maine has lined up all over the defensive line and has stood his ground while making plays, putting himself in the roster conversation in a deep position group. Ricard will need to show the same promise in games, but he has looked the part of a solid rotational NFL defensive lineman.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo

The undrafted Ole Miss product is a bit of a mystery as his good speed and 6-foot-3, 197-pound frame didn’t translate to a standout college career, but he has turned heads, beating the likes of even Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr to make long catches in practices. Of course, making plays in camp workouts isn’t the same as producing in games, but he should receive ample opportunities with veterans such as Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace unlikely to make more than a cameo Thursday. After failing to develop so many late-round wideouts over the years, the Ravens would sure love to get lucky with Adeboyejo.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of preseason opener

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens counting down to their preseason opener against Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens won’t dare exhale until Joe Flacco is back on the practice field without incident, but a solid performance from Ryan Mallett against Washington would quell some short-term concerns. He’s practiced better of late, but a poor outing will only spark more questions about the still-unsigned Colin Kaepernick.

2. Flacco has already missed nearly two weeks of practice, which is substantial for an offense that was tweaked in the offseason. He also hasn’t been able to build much rapport with Jeremy Maclin. The lost time isn’t insurmountable, but it certainly sets up for some early-season growing pains.

3. The Ravens having strong defensive line depth is nothing new, but it’s impressive to consider the upside at such little cost beyond standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Surprising rookie free agent Patrick Ricard has only complicated what could be some tough roster decisions.

4. The fullback position remains a work in progress with running backs coach Thomas Hammock offering a lukewarm assessment of Lorenzo Taliaferro’s performance at his new spot. This spot takes on more significance with the losses sustained at the tight end position since the spring.

5. Tony Jefferson is impressive when playing downhill toward the line of scrimmage, but he looks rather ordinary in deeper coverage. I like the idea of using him as a dime linebacker in passing situations, but injuries at the nickel have forced Lardarius Webb to play there instead of at safety.

6. As if rookie free agents Quincy Adeboyejo and Tim White haven’t received enough early-camp attention as receivers, Jerry Rosburg loudly praised their efforts as gunners on the punt team during Tuesday’s practice. Standing out on special teams would boost their roster chances even more.

7. To this point, Brent Urban hasn’t been seriously challenged for the 5-technique spot as he’s played the run well and has served as an inside rusher in sub packages. Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley have their work cut out for them to crack the game-day rotation.

8. Buck Allen was one of the bigger disappointments of the 2016 campaign, but he has run with more confidence and aggression this summer. The Kenneth Dixon injury created an opportunity, so it will be interesting to see whether he takes advantage in the preseason.

9. A major point of emphasis for the running backs has been pass protection as the Ravens were forced to use former fullback Kyle Juszczyk in single-back sets last year because their young tailbacks struggled mightily. Terrance West and Allen need to be much better in that area.

10. Jimmy Smith missed a few practices with an undisclosed injury, which reminded just how critical he is to the defense. Yes, having Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey should prevent a 2016-like collapse, but this defense needs to be special and likely won’t be if Smith can’t stay on the field.

11. Kamalei Correa is the favorite to start at the inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, but keep an eye on the nickel package where Patrick Onwuasor has also received some reps. The dime package could come into play as well if they don’t find a reliable three-down linebacker.

12. I recommend Robert Mays’ recent piece on Marshal Yanda, who quietly continues building his case as one of the best five or six players in franchise history. A couple more Pro Bowl selections would put the 32-year-old in the Hall of Fame discussion at the very least.

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 10) – Syd Thrift, Confederate money and the new Oriole Way of 21st century

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Nestor Aparicio

(Author note: This is Chapter 10 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend.)

 

10. Syd Thrift, Confederate money and the new Oriole Way of 21st century

 

 

“Mr. Angelos feels the term general manager is obsolete and I agree with him. We’re going to keep working to turn this thing around and we’re all going to be working together.”

Syd Thrift

Orioles Director of Player Personnel

January 2000

 

 

BY NOW ONE OF THE biggest problems Peter G. Angelos was discovering was his inability to lie or buy his way out of the dilemma of the very public and ongoing accountability of running a Major League Baseball team. By all accounts, those around him would say that he had very little natural interest in baseball at all before he bought the Baltimore Orioles. He was a boxer as a kid and a bookish, nerdy, difficult, know-it-all political aspirant who was least likely to get a player autograph or spend a free day at a lowly baseball game on 33rd Street as a kid.

 

Mr. Angelos was far more interested in ruling the world than being a peasant local sports fan.

Angelos was much more serious and interested in law, government, politics and pontificating for anyone who would deem him significant enough to listen to him drone on about his expertise in the world and his world view. Buying the baseball franchise bought him an audience to listen, and an initially fawning media that hung on his every word. Angelos was once called a “windbag” by a rival politician during his City Hall-aspiring days and six years into his reign of terror with the sputtering Orioles, his many words and lack of success with people would lend some credence to that claim.

Now, with an evolving track record and many knee-jerk executive decisions, his fingerprints were all over every aspect of the Orioles and the fan experience. His check and report card was coming due in the media. There was no way to avoid the humiliation and daily soap opera of despair that the team generated – on and off the field.

Angelos wanted everything his way.

And, now, he had his wish.

And he couldn’t handle how miserably his strategy – if you could call it that – was failing. And how unpopular a guy who was wrecking baseball for lifelong Orioles fans could actually become and how quickly the “Marylander of The Year” accolades could be under siege from the fan base and a media that was simply reporting the bizarre nature of every unorthodox transaction, while watching competent baseball people come in the front door of The Warehouse and get pushed out the side door like yesterday’s rubbish.

The franchise was without a true leader, without a plan and without a clue. But the team still had a legion of disappointed and disillusioned fans. Tens of thousands of Orioles fans turned to the team on a daily basis as they’d done with their parents and in some cases their parents’ parents. Baseball in Baltimore felt like a birthright, like an appendage or a member of the family.

For local fans, the franchise was a “we” not a “them.”

That was the lure and allure that drew Peter G. Angelos to the team to begin with – the significance and royalty of the Baltimore Orioles. It wasn’t his love of a spring afternoon at a baseball stadium or a hot summer night in a pennant race. It wasn’t because he loved a well-pitched game or keeping score with a No. 2 pencil. It wasn’t because he had memories during his formative years with Brooks Robinson or Jim Palmer or even Jim Gentile and Gus Triandos. It wasn’t because he entered debates about Eddie vs. Cal or Frank vs. Brooks.

Angelos bought the team to be loved. He certainly didn’t need the money. He craved the power, the status it would bring. He sold the very concept that ONLY a local owner could make the franchise better and

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 5) – King Peter silences Jon Miller and anyone else who doesn’t bleed Orioles orange

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Nestor Aparicio

(Author note: This is Chapter 5 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend.)

Chapter 1 is available here.

Chapter 2 is available here.

Chapter 3 is available here.

Chapter 4 is available here.

Chapter 12 is available here.

Chapter 13 is available here.

 

5. King Peter silences Jon Miller and anyone else who doesn’t bleed Orioles orange

“Now, wait a while. Number one, every fan has a right to criticize the team condemn ownership, say that Davey Johnson should be fired or given a million dollar pay raise and so on and so forth. What I’m saying is, that if you’re a part of the Orioles organization and you’re broadcasting Orioles games, it’s not your prerogative to knock the Orioles team. Everyone in this room works for some organization. They are not expected to go around knocking the organization that they’re working for. That’s a fundamental proposition. You don’t hear these baseball writers who work for The Sunpapers knocking The Sunpapers do you?

 Peter Angelos – March 1997

 

 

 

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG after the massive disappointment and loss to the New York Yankees in the 1996 American League Championship Series for Peter G. Angelos to get back involved in ways to make the Orioles experience better for himself and to further alienate longtime fans of the team.

In January 1996, he made sure John Lowenstein was no longer doing the Home Team Sports broadcasts of Orioles baseball. By then, the franchise had eliminated all public references to itself as the “Baltimore Orioles.” The team was simply “The Orioles,” Angelos said, out of respect to the regional nature of the franchise. That’s the way the phones were answered at The Warehouse and that’s the way the letterhead read in its primary logo. It’s the way every broadcaster on the Orioles team was to refer to the club in any reference.

Just “Orioles.”

Never, the Baltimore Orioles.

Angelos’ next target for improvement came in October 1996 in the aftermath of the Orioles loss to the New York Yankees. This time, it was the beloved voice of the Orioles on WBAL Radio and throughout the team’s vast radio network: Jon Miller.

Baltimore has always been a city with a strong association to its media, celebrities and voices. With a strong history of legendary radio and television personalities, sports broadcasters in the Charm City were afforded “family” status because they were the storytellers and vision creators for the games in the 1950s and 1960s when the Colts, Orioles and Bullets were taking shape and recruiting fans to their teams and sports.

Chuck Thompson had just entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York after beginning with the Baltimore Orioles in 1955. His staccato voice and genial “everyone’s uncle” quality was synonymous with Baltimore, despite being a Philadelphia native. He was simply beloved over two generations and had passed the “Voice of the Orioles” torch to Jon Miller, who was on his way to his own Hall of Fame career after joining the Birds in 1983. Radio partner WFBR-AM 1300 general manager Harry Shriver, who helped create the marketing message of “Orioles Magic” in 1979, recruited Miller to Baltimore. It couldn’t be overstated to proclaim that part of the charm of the Orioles over the years were the broadcasts which were homespun, informative, more than mildly provincial, entertaining and made the game of baseball completely transportable on summer nights in Baltimore.

Chuck Thompson coined the phrase, “Ain’t The Beer Cold” in the 1960s. In Baltimore, it still lives on long after his departure from the planet. That’s the power of Orioles broadcasts in the local vernacular.

Radio dramatically helped sell and market the Orioles brand for four decades. Great, gifted broadcasters helped get the team over with the locals and spread the gospel of

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Finale of Orioles-Nationals series postponed due to rain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will have to wait to conclude their 2017 season series with the Washington Nationals after Thursday’s game was postponed due to rain.

The game will be made up on June 8 at 7:05 p.m. with tickets for Thursday’s game at Nationals Park being honored on that date. Baltimore will squeeze in that makeup game between a two-game home set with Pittsburgh and a three-game weekend series at Yankee Stadium beginning on June 9.

Though clubs never want to lose a scheduled off-day, Thursday’s postponement doesn’t come at the worst time for a pitching staff that’s endured plenty of hardships over the last two weeks. From the abbreviated starts turned in from Kevin Gausman and Wade Miley last week to the unfortunate recurrence of All-Star closer Zach Britton’s left forearm strain, the Orioles have answered plenty of challenges to continue to hold one of the best records in baseball. However, an undermanned bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings of Wednesday’s 7-6 defeat to the Nationals.

The Orioles prevailed in the first two games of the series at Camden Yards earlier this week.

The inclement weather also allows Thursday’s scheduled starter Dylan Bundy to receive an extra day of rest, which isn’t a bad idea for a young pitcher currently ranking seventh in the American League in innings pitched and still in his first full season as a major league starter. With Bundy starting the opener in Kansas City, Chris Tillman’s second start of the season has now been pushed back to Saturday and Kevin Gausman will start the finale on Sunday afternoon.

A roster move could also be coming on Friday as The Virginian-Pilot’s David Hall reported that left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino was scratched from his Thursday start for Triple-A Norfolk and would be joining the Orioles in Kansas City.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 win over Washington

Posted on 10 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles earning their sixth straight win in a 5-4 final over Washington in 12 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles snatched a comeback victory from the jaws of defeat when Mark Trumbo singled in the winning run. It’s been a rough start to 2017 for the major league home run champion from a year ago, but the liner into left was his second walk-off hit of the season.

2. Trumbo’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible if not for J.J. Hardy tying the game with an RBI single with two outs in the ninth. The shortstop’s offense hasn’t been pretty, but he came through in a big way after stranding two in scoring position in his previous at-bat.

3. Logan Verrett is making a name for himself in extra innings as he tossed three scoreless frames less than two weeks after pitching two scoreless in an 11-inning win at Yankee Stadium. Unlikely contributions from pitchers on the Norfolk shuttle continue to make a big difference.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez deserves plenty of credit for pitching into the eighth inning against the best offense in baseball so far this season. Considering the defending NL Cy Young Award winner was dealing on the other side, he answered the challenge and then some for his club.

5. It’s fair to question Buck Showalter leaving Jimenez in to surrender a pinch-hit three-run homer to Adam Lind, but he’s trying to preserve the long-term health of a bullpen without All-Star closer Zach Britton and already a pitcher short overall due to a five-man bench. It just didn’t work out.

6. You have to feel for Max Scherzer, who was brilliant over eight innings for Washington. Amazingly, that was the 10th time he’s taken a no-hitter into the sixth since joining the Nationals in 2015. His slider is a thing of beauty and fetched 13 of his 22 swinging strikes.

7. Just when it looked like the Orioles were in real danger of being no-hit, Seth Smith delivered a one-out home run to right-center to tie the game in the sixth. I continue to be impressed with how consistently calm he is at the plate to have great at-bats.

8. It didn’t feel like it mattered much at the time, but Adam Jones homering off Scherzer in the eighth put the Orioles in better position to tie the game an inning later. He also got a great read going first to third on Manny Machado’s single in the 12th.

9. Considering the bullpen was short and it took great execution on Bryce Harper’s throw home to Matt Wieters in the 11th, I didn’t have nearly as much of a problem with Bobby Dickerson sending Hardy — as slow as he is — as most fans reacting on social media.

10. Even with Britton expected to miss more than a month and the real danger of overworking the likes of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens, I’d still happily take the Orioles’ relief concerns over the Nationals bullpen. What a mess for an otherwise great team.

11. Daniel Murphy’s home run in the second gave the Orioles their first deficit since the fourth inning of last Thursday’s game at Fenway Park. It doesn’t get much better than that over a six-day period.

12. Despite their well-documented problems and so much weirdness to start the season, the 2017 Orioles currently have the best record in baseball and are 12 games above .500 faster than any other club of the Showalter era. Talent is paramount, but never question their intestinal fortitude.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-4 win over Washington

Posted on 09 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their season-best fifth game in a row in a 6-4 victory over the Washington Nationals, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With the recent challenges for his pitching staff, Buck Showalter wanted to see Kevin Gausman go deep into the game and couldn’t have asked for much more against the best statistical offense in the major leagues. This was the Gausman we saw over the final two months of 2016.

2. Gausman had his best fastball command of the season, especially over his first four innings as 41 of his first 53 pitches were fastballs. He had some difficulty with it leaking to his arm side after that, but he finished strong with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

3. His seven innings, 116 pitches, and eight strikeouts were season highs, but the most encouraging statistic was only one walk issued. His 5.2 walks per nine innings over his first seven starts were unseemly for a pitcher who rarely had control issues over his first four seasons.

4. After hearing about how potent the Washington offense has been so far, the Orioles hit three home runs in the first to remind us of their firepower. Staking any pitcher to a 4-0 lead is a plus, but it meant more for one who’s struggled over the first five weeks.

5. Mark Trumbo would be the first to tell you that the result didn’t stem from a conventional approach or pitch location, but his first-inning tomahawk shot was nothing short of amazing to watch.

6. Caleb Joseph collected his first four-hit game since Aug. 31, 2014 and his fourth RBI of the season. Regular playing time has certainly helped his cause with Welington Castillo on the disabled list, but he’s beginning to show respectable offense more in line with what he did in 2015.

7. I can’t help but wonder if having Joseph behind the plate is a positive for Gausman right now. It’s not a knock on Castillo, but someone with more familiarity catching the struggling young pitcher might have been just what he needed to get back on track.

8. Gio Gonzalez entered Monday with the best ERA (1.64) among qualified NL starters, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him against the Orioles. The six earned runs and three homers surrendered by the Washington lefty were one shy of his season totals in each category.

9. Of course Trey Mancini was going to hit a long home run on his T-shirt giveaway night at Camden Yards. His production continues to be critical with Trumbo and Chris Davis not providing their usual power in the middle of the order so far.

10. Brad Brach turned in a shaky ninth inning, but he still converted his eighth save in nine chances. Before panicking too much, remember he’s filling in for a closer who was in the midst of a historic stretch. That’s an unfair standard for someone still adjusting to a new role.

11. Even if you’re not familiar with the TOOTBLAN acronym, you won’t see worse baserunning than what the Nationals exhibited in the ninth inning to bail out a pitcher on the ropes. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, right?

12. Matt Wieters received the great reception that he deserved in his return. A video tribute in the first and a standing ovation for his first at-bat were perfect. He never became the next Johnny Bench, but he helped leave the Orioles much better off than they were when he arrived.

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Johansson’s OT Tally Wins the Series for the Caps

Posted on 24 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It took six close games, five of them decided in overtime, for the Washington Capitals to finally extinguish the Toronto Maple Leafs with Marcus Johansson tallying his second goal of the night to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 6:31 into the extra session. The Caps will now move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two, starting on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, in what is a rematch of last spring’s second round battle.

Like game five, this was another tight defensive battle with strong goaltending. Neither team scored through 40 minutes, with the Leafs owning the lead in the shot attempt totals, at 47-38, but the Caps had the better of the scoring chances, especially their second line.

In the third period, it was anyone’s game, but Washington started to take over with their depth. The Capitals had several good scoring chances, but then a weird bounce and a missed defensive assignment cost them the first goal.

Morgan Reilly dumped the puck in to the Caps end and it took a crazy carom off of the glass into the slot. Auston Matthews, who is already a star in this league at age 19, jumped on the puck and went in alone on Braden Holtby (37 saves). The kid from the desert went top shelf on the Holtbeast to make it 1-0 just 7:45 into the final frame. It was a fortuitous break for Toronto, but the goal was preventable. Had Evgeny Kuznetsov kept skating instead of gliding at the Caps defesnsive blue line, he could have beaten Matthews to the puck. It’s a good lesson for #92 and the whole team to learn in the playoffs – a single missed stride can cost your team a goal.

In the past, the Matthews tally might have devastated the Caps bench, but not this year. No, this team amped their game up and started taking the play to the Maple Leafs and just over five minutes after #34 had all of Yonge Street thinking there was going to be a game seven, the Caps tied it up.

Lars Eller made a strong offensive zone entry on the left wing boards and he fed a streaking Johansson in the slot. Marcus pushed the puck ahead to escape the Leaf defender and then he pinballed one in off of Frederik Andersen (34 saves) into the net with just 7:09 remaining. It was a monstrous tally and it came because the Capitals started to push the play.

Washington would continue to do that and then in the overtime, they took their game to 11.

The Caps had no thoughts of sitting back on Coach Mike Babcock’s squad and they thoroughly outworked and dominated a young Leafs team in the overtime. They had several scoring chances, Comcast’s Alan May had it 7 to 1, with Jojo getting his second of the night and the series winner on a play where he simply did what he had done all season long to score a career high in goals (24), he went to the front of the net.

A Leafs icing forced Babcock to leave a tired crew on the ice, which included game one goat, Martin Marincin, as well as his fourth line (Kasperi Kapanen-Brian Boyle-Matt Martin). Coach Barry Trotz took his third line off and inserted Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Mr. Clutch, Justin Williams. Kuznetsov, who like many other Caps centers struggled on draws all game, won a huge face off against Boyle. When Stick received the puck from John Carlson on the right wing half wall, he smartly fired it on net. Jojo was parked in the slot above the paint and he appeared to tip the initial shot into Andersen’s pads and then fought off Marincin to bury the game and series clincher.

Wow, what a game and what a performance by the Caps once they were down, 1-0! They pushed the play and looked like the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. It’s the way they’ll need to play in the second round if they want to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the first round is always the toughest; ask any hockey player, coach or executive and they’ll back me up. It was even harder for Washington because everyone picked them to win quickly and the Leafs had nothing to lose. Simply put, there was a TON OF PRESSURE on the Capitals to win this series and move on to face the Penguins for the rematch from last spring.

As Coach Barry Trotz told me, Nestor Aparacio, and the great crowd at Greenmount Station back on March 20th, every series takes a piece out of you. Toronto took some pieces out of the Caps. Karl Alzner didn’t play after game two due to an upper body injury, Nazem Kadri put a cheap shot on Alex Ovechkin and knocked Ovi out for two plus minutes of game five (but the Russian Machine Never Breaks), and Leo Komarov put a dirty hit on Nate Schmidt late in game six (but the 88 car also returned to play four shifts after the hit, including being on the ice for the game winner).

Luckily the Gr8 and Schmidt, plus T.J. Oshie, who I could see mouth “I’m all right” to Caps trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith after blocking a shot right before the winning goal, should be ready for Thursday night’s game one against the Penguins at the Verizon Center. The Leafs may have taken some pieces out of the Caps, that’s still to be determined how much, but in my book, Washington was able to ramp their game up to a tempo they’ll need to be at against Pittsburgh. I’m not sure they get to that pace level in a series against the Bruins or Ottawa. So I’m still glad the Capitals faced the Leafs. It was a very hard series, but they overcame an inordinate amount of pressure and persevered.

Anyways, the Penguins series should be one heck of a rematch. The Caps have waited a whole year for it, but we’ll talk more about it as the week progresses, but let’s hope there’s a Rocky 2 type of ending this spring.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 70-67, for Washington. It was all Caps after the Leafs marker…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including seven on goal, in 22:45…the Caps lost the face off battle, 39-22, but they won some key ones, including right before the series winning tally. Kuznetsov was 6-8 (best Caps percentage)…Oshie had another strong game with five shots on goal in 19:35…the Caps were shorthanded for just 22 seconds and they had 2:22 of power play time…the Holtbeast was outstanding in this tilt, which included a huge save on Komarov, who was all alone after he took his run at Schmidt and #88 limped to the bench…Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:38 and his partner, Matt Niskanen, logged 25:15. They played the hard minutes and that allowed Carlson and Schmidt to help the Capitals drive the play when they were on the ice…the Caps won the last three games of this series, which came after Coach Trotz tweaked his forward lines right before game four (bumped Tom Wilson up to the third line).

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