Morning Roundup: Nats Cool Off, Varly Likely To Sign With KHL

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Morning Roundup: Brooks Laich #mancrush

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Morning Roundup: Nationals Start Johnson Era With Extra Inning Loss

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Episode #123 3/3 - Grab Bag: NFL Lockout, Capitals, Wizards

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Episode #123, Segment 3/3 The Wolfman comments on the NFL lockout, Capitals recent moves and the Wizards draft.

Episode #123 2/3 - UFC on Versus 4 Recap

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Episode #123, Segment 2/3 The first few seconds were accidentally cut. Blame Kevin.

Episode #123 1/3 - Nationals & Orioles

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Episode #123, Segment 1/3 Nationals & Orioles

Morning Roundup: Nationals Win 5th Consecutive Series

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Morning Roundup: Nats Bats Cool Down, A Terence Morris Sighting

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Morning Roundup: No Manager, 3 Blown Saves, No Problem

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Nats Winning Ways Interrupted by Riggleman's Abrupt Exit

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Ok, so its been a while (and admittedly too long) since my last Nats blog post. Grad school and work have gotten the best of me over the past few years, but with the former now completed, I hope to contribute to the DC Sports Guys more frequently. Plus, I promised Kevin that I'd have something to say about the Nats (as you'll see below, I certainly do), so here goes.

Yesterday afternoon, Washington Nationals fans saw something they haven't seen since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. A promising team with a +.500 record in June. Coming into Thursday's game against Seattle, the last time the Nationals had played .500 ball this late in the season (and yes, I know its only June) was 2005, when the team was leading the NL East heading into the All-Star break and despite a precipitous fall in the second half, still managed to finish at 81-81 on the season, albeit in last place.

Thursday afternoon's game was a good one, with the Nats completing a three-game sweep of Seattle, a similarly young team with a similar record to the Nats, on Layne Nix's walk-off sac fly in the bottom of the ninth. Walk-off wins have become a regular occurrence at Nats park in recent weeks, with Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos both recording walk-off home runs during the Nats recent winning streak.

To provide some further perspective, I attended two of last week's games at Nationals Park, Tuesday's come-from-behind win against St. Louis and Thursday's game, when the Nats blew a lead yet won the game on Espinosa's 10th inning jack. Having attended many Nats games over the past few years, I noticed something different during both of those games. More fans in the seats, paying attention and getting on their feet for key pitches and at-bats. It was the first time in a while that I sensed that the Nationals are starting to establish an identity, and fans really began to embrace this.

So as you are reading this, you're probably thinking that things are looking up for the Nats. Indeed, over the long run they probably are. But unless you've been living under a rock for the past 15+ hours, you have undoubtedly heard the news of manager Jim Riggleman's abrupt resignation over his contract status following yesterday afternoon's win.

Riggleman, who took over for a fledgling Manny Acta in 2009, had a contract that was set to expire at the end of this year, with a team option for the 2012 season. Reports have differed thus far, but most signs seem to indicate that Riggleman was earning a roughly $600,000 salary for serving as the Nats skipper. With anger swelling and his team playing well, Riggleman appeared to choose yesterday as his day to issue an ultimatum to GM Mike Rizzo. Saying that he would not join the team on its trip to Chicago this weekend unless his contract status was discussed, Riggleman followed through and tendered his resignation following the game.

Another fitting moment for the Washington Nationals. As with the come-and-gone excitement of Stephen Strasburg's debut last year (followed by his prompt exit to have Tommy John surgery), Riggleman's departure couldn't have come at a worse time. The Nats now go into the final stretch of interleague play (a 6 game road trip against the White Sox and Angels) uncertain of who their on-field leader will be for the remainder of the season.

Over the past half a day, various stories have surfaced and rumors have swirled over which side is to blame in this debacle. Rizzo has already made statements to the media asserting the selfish nature of Riggleman's departure as a classic case of "me first, team second" attitude. Riggleman, who spoke to reporters immediately following his resignation, claimed that he was "too old to be disrespected" and said that he merely wanted to have a conversation about his contract status over the next few days. Clearly, Rizzo wasn't ready to have that conversation.

Riggleman is a baseball veteran, having managed the Cubs, Padres and Mariners prior to taking over the Nats on-field operations in 2009. Riggleman has compiled a lifetime record of 662-824 (note, just one undefeated 162-0 season away from .500!) and appears to be one of those guys who is an admirable replacement manager, a one or two year sustainer, but not a long-term hire like a LaRussa, Leyland or Girardi. He stuck by his guns, made his decision, and felt that he had done all that he could to deserve a longer-term contract with the Nats. Yet in this day in age, even long-term manager contracts are not really that lengthy, and often times don't work out. Rizzo reacted in a way that a responsible GM should, not responding to an ultimatum that could have had adverse consequences for a team roster that he has put together himself over the past few years.

Time will tell what happens with the Nats, but for now, its on to Chicago to attempt to keep the ball rolling.

Morning Roundup: Wizards Draft, Riggleman Quits, Harper Drives A Big Ass Truck

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LIVE D.C. Sports Guys June 27 at 8pm

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Time Change: 8:30pm

Go to http://www.dcsportsguys.com/p/live-video.html to watch The D.C. Sports Guys live, Monday June 27 at 8pm 8:30pm.

Before the show you can send an email to mailbag@dcsportsguys.com or leave a message on the D.C. Sports Guys Rant & Rave line, (202) 642-2591, with any questions, comments or topics you would like the guys to discuss.

Morning Roundup: Nationals Just Keep Winning

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Morning Roundup: O's Take Care Of The Pirates, Varly Would Like To Play In America

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  • Nationals
    • Hello, America. Meet The Washington Nationals... America's Team? [Federal Baseball]
    • Morse team's MVP for the first 70 games - Byron Kerr [MASNsports.com]
    • Nationals haven’t talked extension with Jim Riggleman yet [Nationals Journal]
    • Sizing up Danny Espinosa's Rookie of the Year chances - The Goessling Game [MASNsports.com]
  • Orioles
  • Redskins
  • Ravens
  • Capitals
  • Terps Basketball
  • Worth Noting
    • Introducing The Grantland Comments And Corrections Desk [Grantlandia] [Deadspin]
    • Charlie Davies and the Real Salt Lake penalty [D.C. Sports Bog]
    • It's Time For Fox To Sit Joe Buck For MLB Coverage [Awful Announcing]
  • Video Reel

Episode #122 3/3 - Battle of the Beltways

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Episode #122 Segment 3/3 The guys re-cap the Nationals vs. Orioles series in Washington.

Episode #122 2/3 - US Open

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Episode #122, Segment 2/3 Big J and Kevin talk about attending the US Open.

Episode #122 1/3 - Grab Bag: Soccer, NHL & NBA Finals

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Episode #122, Segment 1/3 TJ and Kevin start with the Grab Bag segment waiting for Big J. to arrive.

Morning Roundup: O's Even Up Season Series With Nats, McIlroy Dominates US Open

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  • Nationals
  • Orioles
  • Worth Noting
    • McIlroy wins U.S. Open with record 16-under par [Examiner Sports RSS]
    • CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011: USA 2, Jamaica 0; Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey Send U.S. Into Gold Cup Semifinal [SB Nation DC - All Posts]
    • Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix results: Quick reactions to 'Overeem vs Werdum' fight card largely negative [MMAmania.com]
  • Video Reel
    • VIDEO: Henrik Stenson Spices Up His 2011 U.S. Open Sunday By Breaking Club, Injuring Himself [SB Nation DC - All Posts]

Morning Roundup: Washington Nationals - Hottest Team In Baseball

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Some People Never Learn

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Host Kevin M. was lucky enough to score tickets to Friday’s round of the U.S. Open at Congressional. In his infinite wisdom, he chose to spend part of his time there following one of the marquee groups of the opening rounds (he also spent part of his time there learning that his golf swing is beyond the help of humans and computers combined). It consisted of two of the great, young up and comers in the game today, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy - two players who have seen their names at the top of a lot of leader boards in Majors lately. Rounding out the group was a precocious young whippersnapper by the name of Phil Mickelson - or as he is known to his legions of loyal followers, simply Phil. It is a testament to his hard work and ability that Phil is one of the few athletes (outside of Brazil) that are recognized by only one name. Another athlete that fits that bill happens to play the same sport as Phil. But while Tiger has been Tiger since he was banging home puts in that goofy hat in his dad’s home videos, Phil has had to earn his title over the long haul. And he earned it by brushing aside another title that has seen lesser golfers crumble under its weight – Best Player Never to Win a Major. Four Major Championship Titles later, Phil finds himself at the top of his sport. The problem is... he should have twice that number. And his failures can be entirely linked to one utterly frustrating flaw: his complete inability to dial it back even one notch, ever. Ask a Phil follower and they’ll tell you that’s why they love him. He’s always true to himself. He’s always going to play the game his way, consequences be damned. But that’s also what drives me completely INSANE.

Why I Hate Phil

I hate the underdeveloped physique. I hate his stupid striped pants. I hate the dorky half fist pump celebration. I hate the long and overly introspective answers to post round questions. I’m sorry. That’s just how I feel. I know most of you out there love him. You only need to listen to the galleries at Congressional this week to know that. While his playing partner was busy blowing away the field, the loudest roars were still reserved for Phil. As Kevin pointed out via the Twitter (how he did so is a mystery since cell phones are STRICTLY prohibited on the course), even when Rory and Phil hit the exact same shot - roars for Phil… polite golf clap for Rory. I get it, OK. Maybe you are like my father, a confirmed Tiger hater, and you look at happy-go-lucky Phil as the antithesis of everything Eldrick. Or maybe you fell in love with him back when we was the lovable loser – cell phone in bag, ready to drop everything and jet off at a moment’s notice to witness the birth of his first child, despite the fact that he was in contention to win the U.S. Open, and despite the fact that he was still carrying the dreaded BPNTWAM tag. But just when I find myself pulling for the guy, he does something… so… so incredibly STUPID.

Phil is arguably the most talented player currently playing. (Young Rory might be trying to overtake him but he’ll need to do something about that nasty hook that seems to crop up under pressure.) He has the ability to pull off some of the most remarkable shots the game has ever seen. Two years ago, at the Masters, Number 13, Par 5, second shot, behind a tree, off the pine straw, he somehow knocked it to within five feet. He went on to win this third Green Jacket. Everyone remembers that shot. It is, perhaps, the signature shot of his career. My thought? WHY ARE YOU EVEN TRYING TO HIT IT ON THE GREEN THERE? The fact that he pulled it off does not excuse the fact that the shot, as conceived, was completely CRAZY.

But it’s a different shot at Augusta, a year earlier that sticks in my mind. Phil had just finished one of the greatest front nines in Masters’ history to put himself back in the tournament. The 12th hole is a 155 yard Par 3. It is a simple 9 iron or wedge for someone with Phil’s length. But Phil never makes things easy on himself. He chose to hit a 6 iron, three quarter punch. He fatted it and put it in Rae’s Creek. The announcers and I were baffled by what he was even trying to do. In his attempt to keep the ball below the tree line and out of the tricky wind that victimizes many players on that hole, Phil chose to hit a shot not even conceived of by another player. That’s the thing with Phil, he’s constantly outthinking himself. Sometimes it works – putting two drivers in the bag at Augusta in 2006. Sometimes it doesn’t – no driver in the bag at the Torrey Pines in 2008. (Or hitting practice shot after practice shot out of the rough at Oakmont to the point of injuring his wrist!) When he wins, it’s only because he got out of his own way long way enough to avoid tripping over his own two feet. After the shot the cameras showed Phil with an almost embarrassed look on his face. He looked like a scolded child who knew what he attempted was wrong. But unlike a child, Phil NEVER SEEMS TO LEARN.

His most famous blow-up came at the 2006 U.S. Open at Wingfoot. Standing on the tee box of the 72nd hole, holding a one shot lead, needing only a par to secure victory, Phil chose to hit driver. His tee shot was so far left, it ricocheted off the corporate hospitality tent. Still, he attempted to go for the green on his second shot. It hit a tree and did not advance more than 50 yards. His next shot plugged in the green side bunker. He wound up with a double bogey and finished tied for second. Afterwards, Phil famously said, “I am such an idiot.” It is statements like this that fool some people into believing that Phil is learning; that he’s evolving as a player. But here is where we arrive at the crux of the problem. I would bet you a thousand dollars that put in that position again Phil would do that exact same thing. He would still hit driver. He would still try to go for the green. My proof? I’m glad you asked.

Fast forward to Friday. A quick glance at the score card shows the Phil and Rory each carded double-bogies on the 18th hole. But the way they arrived at that score could not have been more different. Rory ended up in the green side pond because he pulled his second shot that was meant for the front right of the green – a perfectly safe play gone wrong. Phil ended up in the water because after his drive went way left (where have we heard that before), his slicing line drive, from the gallery, between two trees, skipped 100 yards down the fairway and into the pond. Andy North commented, “That was a foot from being an incredible shot.” Yes Andy. It was. And I might have been impressed if that shot didn’t bring back memories of all the other shots Phil has hit that have made me exclaim, “WHY IS HE EVEN TRYING THAT!?” Oh right. Because he’s Phil. And he never learns. And that’s why I hate him.

Morning Roundup: Nats Top O's - Win Streak At 7

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Morning Roundup: Nationals Crush Cardinals, Stay Classy Vancouver

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Of Futures or Lack There Of

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The impetus for this piece came from my wife. While it physically pains me to credit her, I would be remiss if did not mention that I would not be sitting here typing if it were not for her (well her and a 5 hour flight to Phoenix). You see, in our household, the only times when I can pry the remote from her icy grip, is for a sporting event. These times are brief and usually pass with her sitting on the couch, poised to reclaim what she considers rightfully hers when I inevitably grow tired of watching whatever horrible team I’ve been cursed to root for by growing up in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. One sport she will usually tolerate more than most is soccer, specifically the U.S. National Team. She grew up playing the sport and we bonded over it back in the early years of our relationship.
Back then, I thought she knew a lot about sports. Being a simple man, this of course impressed me and was part of what initially attracted me to her. My world was shattered, however, the day she asked me, “Which ones are the linebackers?” I like to give her a hard time about that to this day, claiming our relationship is built on a foundation of lies. Good times. Seriously though, she knows way more about sports than a girl probably should. This is one of the many reasons that the Big J tells her, “You can be such a guy sometimes.”
When my wife and I watch a sporting event together, she often makes a number of off the cuff comments. Most I do my best to ignore, as they are based on some irrational bias she has developed from god know where – on this day, her hatred for Clint Dempsey could not be quenched – but some can be quite insightful. While we watched a U.S. squad toy with an overmatched Canadian squad in the first round of the CONCACAF Golf Cup, I thought to myself what a difference 3 days makes. It was 3 days earlier that a young and inexperienced (at least on the international stage) U.S. squad was thoroughly dismantled (thrashed, destroyed, annihilated, humiliated, and de-balled would also work here) by the reigning World Champions from Spain. Seriously, if the Spaniards had so chosen, they could have won that game 12-0. I honestly believe that.
A quick aside on this match: What was the point of scheduling this game? Was it to tune up for the Gold Cup? If so, it might have been helpful to actually feature players that would be playing in the tournament. But that was impossible with the start of said tournament only 3 days away. Was it to break in new players? I guess throwing players with only a pittance of international experience up against the best team in the world is one way to break them in (or just break them). And was that really the time to be evaluating new talent? If U.S. Coach Bob Bradley really holds this iteration of the Gold Cup in as high esteem as it seems he does, shouldn’t he be doing everything within the realm of possibility to prepare for it? Instead, it seems the U.S. chose to half-assedly cram two goals into one poorly scheduled match. The result was as I described above and with little to no benefit to the U.S. National Team’s goals, either short term or long term. Perfect. But I digress…
It was as I was in the middle of this thought, feeling good about what a U.S. team can do with all the players they count on on the field, that my wife uttered the following sentence, “Yeah, it will interesting to see what they do when their big guys aren’t playing anymore.” It’s not unusual for my wife to take the Buzz Killington approach. Our glasses cannot be more differently half filled. But usually, I have enough positive energy to overcome her inherent negative-nanciness. On this occasion, however, I became troubled by her statement. I was even more disturbed when I actually went and looked at the U.S. roster. Without a doubt, this team is built around 4 key players: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard. When these 4 players are humming at top gear the U. S. can play some effective, dare I say attractive, and sometimes spectacular soccer. But we have seen how this team plays without them in the lineup (first half of the Spain game) or when they don’t all show up (first half of the Panama game). Now take a step back and ask yourself who on this roster will be contributing when the next World Cup rolls around in 4 years? Are you ready? Michael Bradley. That’s it. If this team is still running a 33 year old Donovan and a 32 year old Clint Dempsey out there and expecting them to carry the load, they are in dire straits. Tim Howard will be 36. And that’s if these guys don’t retire from International Soccer before that. Soccer is a year round sport and it takes a serious toll on the body. That’s why you have guys like Thierry Henry (33) and David Beckham (36) just trying to hang around in MLS. The greatest player of the last generation, Zinedine Zidane, was done at 34. But as far as I can tell, that’s what the plan is (at least if Bob Bradley is still the coach).
A word to Bradley: What’s with the slow starts Bob? This is way past becoming a habit. I fully expect this team to be down 1-0, 6 minutes in when they play Guadeloupe tonight. Whatever you do in the planning and run-up to games is just not working. Maybe try a George Costanza and do the opposite. Or pull out some tapes of those sweet pregame speeches Lou Holtz used to do on College Game Day. Those were NICE!
I will not claim to know enough about the U.S. National Team development program to tell you which young hot-shot is going to be next the Landon Donovan. Hell, Landon Donovan wasn’t even LANDON DONOVAN until he stepped on the field against Portugal at the 2002 World Cup. I can just tell you that it worries me that I’ve been waiting 30 years for the first dominant striker to emerge for the U. S. Jozy Altidore could be that guy but he hasn’t shown me enough yet. And I’m still not sold that heading over to play in Spain was the best thing for his career development. He can talk to Freddy Adu and Oguchi Onyewu about how being stuck on the bench at a big name club can derail a career. I’m still waiting for the first play-making central midfielder since Claudio Reyna to show up. I hear good things about Mix Diskerud. Maybe he’s the answer. Maybe. The point is there are far more questions than answers about this team as currently constructed. The biggest may be just who is going to coach them in 4 years. I hope that younglings like Diskerud, and Joe Gyau, and Teal Bunbury are able to live up to their hype. I hope Stuart Holden can stay healthy for more than 5 seconds. I hope that Charlie Davies can somehow recapture his form from 2 years ago. I’m less sold on the last two statements than the first which should tell you something about just how not optimistic I am about this team. Who knows? The U. S. only seems to thrive when there are absolutely no expectations placed on them. So maybe in 3 years when they are really and truly terrible, they’ll actually be good.

That last line made my head hurt.