The Curse Lives On; Nationals Lose to Cubs

Put a “Curly W” in the books for the DC Curse… and another “L” for the Nationals.

This may be the most gut wrenching of them all. For a team that’s suffered 3 straight NLDS game 5 losses before tonight, including one in which they led 6-0, that’s telling. Of course, in true tragic and familiar fashion the Nationals took an early lead as the offense finally woke from its slumber to put up a 4 spot in the second. The hero of that second inning was Michael Taylor, who in consecutive at-bats going back to game 4 was responsible for 7 RBIs. While Gio Gonzalez labored through 3 unimpressive innings, the thinking was that this time, our deep bullpen would carry us through. Well….think again.

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The relief efforts started innocently enough as Matt Albers came on and pitched a scoreless top of the fourth. Then, it was Max time. Scherzer had pitched brilliantly in game 3, throwing 6 hitless innings before giving up his first hit in the seventh and being pulled. He retired the first two hitters in game 5, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who happen to be the Cubs best hitters. From there, disaster struck. Three hits, an intentional walk, a passed ball, a dropped third strike, catcher’s interference and a hit by pitch — all with two outs and suddenly the 4-3 lead had turned into a 7-4 deficit in a hurry. A lead washed away, an electric crowd silenced in disbelief.

Somebody must have it out for Dusty Baker. The 68-year-old manager of the Nats has seen enough heartbreak on the baseball field to last two lifetimes. Now (seemingly) 0-10000 in elimination games, everything he does in these types of games always seems to backfire. Even his good moves go against everything we’ve come to count on and expect. Start Jayson Werth in the 2nd spot again? He gets on base 4 times and has the best at-bats on the team. Everything else? That’s the story of the misery of Dusty Baker in the postseason. Starting with Max’s incredibly unlikely outing, everything fell apart for Dusty and the Nats. Brandon Kintzler and Sammy Solis combined to give up 2 more runs when they needed shutdown innings in the worst way. So, even after the Nats score 3 runs in the 6th and 7th, they still trailed 9-7 heading into the bottom of the 8th.

The bottom of the 8th might go down as the opening scene in the Dusty 30 for 30. The inning started beautifully as Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon drew leadoff walks to bring up the pitcher spot (switched into the 7th hole) and everyone’s favorite blonde, Adam Lind. Sticking to the tragedy script, Lind of course grounded into a double play on the first pitch. What followed the double play is beyond words. After Taylor singled in Murphy (8 RBIs in 2 games, never buying a beer in DC ever again) Jose Lobaton singled up the middle. Lobaton, the backup to starting catcher Matt Wieters had been inserted as part of a double switch an inning earlier. This after Dusty had the chance to pinch-hit for Wieters with Lind or Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded, but instead watched as Wieters flew out to end the inning.

Back to the bottom of the 8th inning; Taylor on second, Lobaton as the go-ahead run and Trea Turner up to bat against a laboring Wade Davis. As Turner worked the count in his favor 2-1, Lobaton drifted too far off first trying to get a secondary lead and Wilson Contreras almost picked him off. As the bang-bang play was replayed, Lobaton appeared to slightly lose his footing on the bag and Joe Maddon promptly challenged, and of course won, because he’s not Dusty Baker. Just like that, the inning was over and Davis was spared. 3 outs later in the bottom of the 9th, the Cubs advanced and the Nationals were bitterly sent home for the winter once again.

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It’s too soon to ask, where do we go from here? A loss like this is going to be very hard to move past for a long time. It’s understandable if you want to blame Dusty or the bullpen or the lineup, but the blame game has been played before and we’ve still lost in Division Series 4 consecutive times. While you can’t say Dusty was the sole reason the Nats lost the series, his moves over the course of the 5 games will be justifiably questioned throughout the offseason. With his contract up, it will be interesting to see what the Lerners and Mike Rizzo decide to do. For now, we’re left with the same depressed feeling as D.C. sports fans, another year where we’re left saying the familiar phrase, “well there’s always next year”. What a disappointing way to end such a promising season. The Curse lives on!

Nationals Lose to Cubs; Season Ends; DC Curse Lives On

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This may be the most gut wrenching of them all. For a team that’s suffered three straight NLDS game five losses before tonight, including one in which they led 6-0, that’s telling. Of course, in true tragic and familiar fashion the Nationals found yet another way to lose in spectacular fashion; painful fashion. Where do we go from here? Mat, Stevie, and Joe discuss on a depressing end of season podcast as the Nationals fall to the Cubs at home. This was it DC, our best shot at defeating the curse, but just like the Wizards losing in an elimination game, Captials too, and Redskins losing a win-and-your-in game last season, the Nationals couldn’t pull out a win when the city needed it most. This SUCKS! Listen and share… (Photo Credit: New York Post)

49ers at Redskins – Game Preview

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Stevie and Joe discuss what the Redskins need to do to win/dominate the 49ers on Sunday and what the issues will be if they lose. With Shannahan and Garcon returning to face their former team both will be hungry to get the 49ers into the win column for the first time in 2017. The Redskins are the better team, they should win, but this is DC after all and the city is still disoriented after another game five Nationals loss at home… a Redskins win would be the perfect chaser to get us all feeling just a little bit better. Two life-long 49ers fans join the show as well, but ultimately the general thought is the Redskins should win. Stevie like this to be a high scoring game, Joe thinks the opposite… time will tell! Hail to the Redskins! (…looking ahead, don’t miss FP and LP covering the game live from FedEx Field including a post-game fan call-in show to wrap up things on Sunday night.)

USA Fails to Reach World Cup; This is 1986

Three years ago, in the summer of 2014, the US Men’s National Team captivated the entire country. Crowds got larger with each game. The country stood still as we watched the US go toe to toe with Belgium, in what would end up being a heartbreaking loss in the round of 16; a match they should have won ( here’s looking at you, Wondolowski) There was so much hope for US Soccer. Russia was supposed to be our breakout party. There was so much optimism about the future; Deandre Yedlin, Julian Green, John Brooks and not to mention the youngster tearing up the ranks Christian Pulisic. Jurgen Klinsmann was going to have these kids ready for Russia. All that hope, all that optimism, they are gone now! Imagine being promised the latest and greatest Playstation and instead getting a Commodore 64. Go ahead, look it up. I’ll wait.

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It may seem like a bit of a stretch, but in reality, the US did something they have not done in over 30 years. That’s right, that’s when Commodores were HOT! The last time USMNT missed a World Cup was in 1986. At that time, only two teams from CONCACAF made it to the World Cup, and one was automatically Mexico because they were hosting the thing. Of all the players on the USMNT roster, the last time the US missed a World Cup, only Tim Howard was alive. Many of us have only ever known a world where the US and Mexico were guaranteed to take two of CONCACAF’s spots in World Cup. Two days ago, our world changed. USMNT has undone 30 years of soccer progress.

Ok, let’s tone down the dramatics for the moment. CONCACAF is improving. No, seriously. In 2014 CONCACAF sent four teams to the Cup (US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras). Three of those four made it to the round of 16. Only CONMEBOL had a better percentage of teams getting out of the group stages. Costa Rica even made it to the round of 8, and lost to the Netherlands (another country bemoaning their men’s soccer team performance) on penalty kicks. CONCACAF held their own on the world stage. Ok, enough sensibility.

It has been 48 hours since the final whistle blew and the stink still lingers. Without question, this loss was the worst loss in the history of USMNT. Trinidad and Tobago had won only one match prior to this game (1 -0 win vs. Panama). Let’s not lie to ourselves either, this team struggled all through the hexagonal. They looked so bad, they cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job. Bruce Arena was supposed to change this group. They didn’t want to play for Klinsmann, he was out of touch with US Soccer. He touted that the US game was not good enough to hang with Europe or South America. He was right about that, but that’s for another day. Arena came back and he was going to return US Soccer back to its glory. To be fair, things got bad under Klinsmann. The US got throttled by Mexico and Costa Rica in the first two games and something had to change.

It seemed that all that ails US Soccer of late came to a head on one night. I won’t accept an excuse about the pitch, because T&T had to play on the same pitch. The reality is, the backline failed at their job. The US had no cohesiveness to their offense. T&T dominated the pace in the first half and had a 2-0 lead. The first goal was an own goal by our very own Omar Gonzalez. The second goal a fluke 30 yarder that caught Tim Howard off guard and had him unable to get his footing. Other than the Pulisic goal and a shot off the post by Dempsey, there was nothing to point to of value, or of hope or of optimism. It was supposed to be an easy game for the US and they labored through it, as if they were completely unprepared. Teams that play for the draw lose, and that was so true on this night. On this night, US Soccer lost more than this game.

Of course, no one thought that both Mexico and Costa Rica would lose on the same night. Some might argue they had nothing to play for, they had both already clinched. Dare I suggest that the four nations colluded to keep the US out of the WC? Their own proverbial wall, if you will. This is no place for politics and this loss was not about that. This loss was about a soccer program that lost its way. No youth in the pipeline, a lack of creativity on the pitch, an aging roster, and so much more. I go back to the matter of US players playing in MLS. Who are they playing against, they are playing against members of the roster of T&T and Panama, and Honduras. This is not a bad thing, but these nations no longer fear US Soccer, they play with the all the time. Bradley, Altidore, Dempsey, Howard, Guzan were all congratulated for taking big steps in their careers and coming back to MLS. Yes, US Soccer has a responsibility to help MLS but it should also make their top-flight players play in top-flight leagues. Of the 25 men on the roster, four play in Europe (Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron) FOUR! That’s just insane. Call me a Euro snob, but I have always agreed with Klinsmann on this point, and he is probably feeling a bit justified at the moment.

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Where do we go from here? Keep Pulisic, he’s truly special and scrap the rest of it. Truth be told, he is the only player on the US roster who might be recruited to play at one of the top Euro clubs. There was a day you might say that for Howard, Bradley, and even Dempsey, but those days are gone. Start with Sunil Gulati and work your way down the chain of command. I don’t know if I’m disappointed or embarrassed for US Soccer. This should have never happened. When Germany missed the Euros in 2004, they put a 10-year plan together to win the WC and that’s exactly what they did. That sounds laughable to think that US Soccer is any position to do that today based on what we saw. However, we are the same country that went from the Commodore to the Macbook to the iPhone. It’s going to be hard to watch the next WC, but I won’t want to miss what real soccer looks like. Make sure you record every game Lionel Messi plays in. A truly once-in-a-lifetime talent, who may one day, when he retires from Barca, cross the pond and play in MLS way passed his prime. Sadly, that’s likely the only chance of talent influx for US Soccer today. It’s going to be a very long four years.

Gearing up for the Caps Season

We made it Caps fans. The regular season for the Capitals starts tonight, October 5th, when our team faces off against the Ottawa Senators. Its been a rough offseason. Aside from that bitter, yet familiar taste of losing in the playoffs to the Penguins, this offseason was full of turnover and let downs.

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Roster turnovers and Replacements: The Capitals this offseason needed to replace two of their top six forwards, and oh yeah, two of their top six defensemen. We knew that Karl Alzner wasn’t going to stick around (signed with Montreal Canadiens –dumbest name ever) and we also lost Kevin Shattenkirk (signed to the NY Rangers). The stinger was Vegas taking Nate Schmidt.

So where does that leave us? The young guns on ice needing to step up. Bowey, Ness, Djoos stuck around after roster cuts. The hope here is some youth and speed will help shore up a defense that at times looked a bit tired.

Holtby, you’re the goalie. It’s supposed to hit you: (Shout out to the Mighty Ducks) Holtby was a stud last year. Heck for the past 3 years he’s had 40-win seasons. Side note: Grubauer showed he was a solid backup.  However with the roster changes on defense and the number and quality of shots that Holtby may face this year, our goalie knows it’s gonna take a little bit more:

“What we needed the last couple years was just consistency and not letting in goals that changed the momentum of the game, staying that steady, calming influence,” Holtby said. “Who knows? We might still have that again. If we don’t, sometimes you need the big saves. You need to make a lot of them at different times in the game, and it’s a different mentality sometimes.”

Ovenchicken new and improved? Too many times last year, the guys on the DTC podcast would constantly ask me why we still have Ovechkin and if he was our biggest liability in the playoffs. Yes last season he went from consecutive 50-goal seasons to almost career low 33. The reason? The Capitals had scoring depth. Sadly with Justin Williams gone and Marcus Johansson being traded, Ovechkin will need to step back up. I personally think he’s up to the task.

In addition to Ovechkin picking up the slack, the scoring opportunities for Burakovsly, Connolly, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson will be increased. The bigger roles hopefully will translate into more goals.

October Sucks: When the season schedule comes out for the NFL, analysts and fans are quick to break down the opponents and take a guess at their teams record. With baseball, basketball and hockey, its not that big of a deal. There are so many games, you focus on the key match-ups, the rivalries and biggies. This year however, the start of the Capitals season is rough. 8 of their first 12 games will be on the road.  3 of the 4 remaining home games, will be against teams that made it to the playoffs (Penguins, Maple Leafs, Canadiens).

If the Caps can get through October, and more importantly our new guys can step up and play some solid hockey, it should be enough to calm everyone down after such a sad looking pre-season.