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MONTREAL — Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau is making a solid first impression on his teammates after one pre-season game.

The 20-year-old Primeau stopped 16-of-17 shots, including a pair of highlight-reel saves, to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night in the exhibition opener for both teams.

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Primeau, Montreal’s seventh-round draft pick in 2017, came into the game at the halfway mark in relief of Carey Price.

“Some of those saves were ridiculous,” said forward Max Domi. “It’s great to see. He’s going to be one hell of a goalie for a long, long time. Obviously to learn from Pricey, I’m sure he’s licking his chops to watch him. He had a great night tonight.”

Primeau spent the last two seasons at Northeastern University (NCAA) where he put up impressive numbers. The New Jersey native is primed to become the top goaltender for the AHL’s Laval Rocket this season.

The Canadiens prospect did his best Price impression on Monday night.

Besides a goal on an unlucky bounce, Primeau was solid in net for Montreal. His biggest save was on Blake Coleman with the glove on a 2-on-1 in the second period.

“I knew I had to respect the shooter, especially at this level,” said Primeau. “It looked like he was going to pass it all the way. So I got ready, kind of just blacked out and pushed over as hard as I could.”

Fans at the Bell Centre chanted his name in appreciation.

“I couldn’t help it but crack a smile,” said Primeau of the fan reaction. “There were so many emotions. It was unbelievable. This was my first time experiencing something like this. First pre-season game was something special.”

With the score tied 2-2 in the third, Primeau shut the door on Kyle Palmieri who came crashing hard to the net with the Devils on a power play.

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“He brought life back into the crowd,” said coach Claude Julien. “He had a great game. He handled himself well.”

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Jake Evans scored the short-handed winner with 2:28 remaining in the game when he stole the puck from a Devils player at his own blue-line and beat Evan Cormier top shelf on a breakaway. Cormier made 11 saves in relief in the third.

Nick Cousins sealed it with an empty-net goal in the final minute of play.

A handful of regular NHL players suited up for both teams, which is not always the case in early exhibition matches.

Domi, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin dressed for the Canadiens. Top prospect Ryan Poehling did not play.

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Nico Hischier and Palmieri were on the ice for the split-squad Devils while P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes remained in New Jersey to face the Boston Bruins in another exhibition game at Prudential Center.

The Canadiens scored twice on four shots in the game’s opening eight minutes.

Artturi Lehkonen got the first at 2:29 when he redirected Weber’s slap shot from the point past Mackenzie Blackwood, who stopped 11-of-13 shots after two periods.

Montreal went up 2-0 through Nate Thompson’s rebound goal following a bad angle shot from Cousins at 8:14.

Will Butcher cut the deficit for the Devils at 18:25 of the first with a precise top-corner shot on Price’s stick side. Price conceded one goal on nine shots

After a scoreless second, a wicked bounce off the side boards gave Michael McLeod a wide open net at 1:55 of the third while Primeau waited for the puck behind the net.

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“We want to have a good pre-season and a good winning record,” said Drouin, who had an assist. “Usually you feel good coming into the season when you have some good wins in pre-season. It’s nice to see the young guys come in and have fun and work hard.”

It was the first of seven pre-season games for the Canadiens, who travel to Bathurst, N.B., to play the Florida Panthers in exhibition play on Wednesday.
A day after their scrimmage at the Bell Centre, the Montreal Canadiens are right back to action tonight as they host the New Jersey Devils.

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The Devils will have a split squad lineup, with P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes playing in Newark while Nico Hischier is among those making the trip to Montreal.

For the Canadiens, Cayden Primeau and Carey Price will be the goaltenders. Jake Evans will make his NHL pre-season debut after missing all of last year’s camp. Among the regulars for tonight’s game are Shea Weber and Victor Mete on defence and the line of Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, and Artturi Lehkonen.

Voici les formations pour le match de ce soir entre les Canadiens et les Devils.

Here are the lineups for tonight’s game between the Canadiens and the Devils at the Bell Centre.#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/ijDC11iMvG

— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) September 16, 2019
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. as most weeknight home games have been moved up 30 minutes compared to a year ago. The preseason will allow people to get used to this change.

This is the first of seven pre-season games for the Canadiens this season. Game thread to come later today.

Another piece of news is that Liam Hawel, the lone tryout at camp, was released from training camp. It remains to be seen if he will sign an AHL contract or be an invite to Laval Rocket training camp.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey wants out of Jacksonville.

Ramsey’s agent, David Mulugheta, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen on Monday that he asked the Jaguars to trade his client. League sources also told ESPN that the Jaguars have had talks with teams and are asking for at least one first-round pick but would like more than that in return for the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback.

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Another league source said he believes a trade could happen as early as this week because of the damage to the relationship between Ramsey and head coach Doug Marrone after Ramsey’s sideline outburst during Sunday’s loss to Houston. Ramsey yelled at Marrone as he walked by on the sideline, and moments later, players and coaches had to get between Ramsey and Marrone near the bench.

The incident Sunday wasn’t the first time Ramsey’s discontent with the team spilled over into the public. He and fellow defensive backs Tashaun Gipson and Davon House were unhappy with the way they were used during the 2016 season. Ramsey, who was a rookie that year, and Gipson complained of being limited by the scheme, and Ramsey advocated for a clean sweep of the defensive coaching staff.
Jalen Ramsey lines up against DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday. He was incensed that Doug Marrone didn’t challenge a completion to Hopkins that led to a field goal. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Ramsey also was critical of the team’s defensive calls in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against New England after the 2017 season.

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Ramsey, the fifth overall pick in 2016, also wants a new contract. He said in the offseason that the team wasn’t going to get a hometown discount after the Jaguars told him they were not going to work on a contract extension for him this season. Ramsey, who showed up to training camp in a Brinks truck, is in the fourth year of his rookie contract, and the team has picked up his fifth-year option for 2020.

Marrone said Monday that the team isn’t going to discipline Ramsey. He downplayed the sideline incident, which was caught by CBS cameras, in which Ramsey yelled at Marrone because he was upset that Marrone did not challenge a completion to Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

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Marrone downplays sideline spat with RamseyJaguars coach Doug Marrone addresses his Week 2 altercation with Jalen Ramsey, saying heated exchanges are commonplace in competitive environments.
“Those things, they happen all the time,” Marrone said. “They really do. I think now they’re a little bit more publicized, but ever since I played, there’s always stuff that goes on during the course of the game. I know when I was a line coach they didn’t see a lot of them, though, because no one was really in on them. But those things occur, and it’s a high-intensity profession. There’s a lot of emotion that goes on.

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“… We knew it was going to be a tough game, going to be on the road. We wanted to match that intensity with the Texans coming off that tough loss that they had, and we were all jacked up.”

Marrone said he did not speak to Ramsey about the incident after the game or Monday. Ramsey left the postgame locker room after declining to speak to the media. The players had Monday off but will be back in the building Tuesday to prepare for Thursday night’s home game against Tennessee.
Ramsey was guarding Hopkins on a 3-yard completion that converted a third-and-2 late in the first quarter. Ramsey immediately jumped up and signaled incomplete toward the Jaguars sideline and wanted Marrone to challenge the play. Marrone didn’t, and Ramsey was irate when he came the sideline after the Texans took a 3-0 lead on a 39-yard field goal six plays later.

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Ramsey stormed past Marrone, and cornerbacks coach Tim Walton wrapped his arms around Ramsey and guided him to the bench. Marrone came over to the bench and exchanged words with Ramsey before safety Ronnie Harrison and strength and conditioning coordinator Tom Myslinski got between the two. Harrison walked Marrone away.

Marrone said Monday that he went to the bench to tell Ramsey to calm down and focus on the rest of the game. “I wanted him to move on from it,” Marrone said. “I mean, that was over plays ago. Move on from it. Let’s go. We’ve got a long way to go in this game. Get that behind you.

Jacksonville Jaguars star defender Jalen Ramsey and head coach Doug Marrone were seen yelling at each on the sidelines during their game against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The heated moment took place in the first half of the game. The two had to be separated by teammates, with Jaguars safety Ronnie Harrison managing to pull Marrone away from his standout cornerback before things truly got ugly.

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FALCONS’ JULIO JONES HITS 20 MPH DURING TOUCHDOWN RUN

It’s unclear what made Ramsey and Marrone start jawing at each other. But, according to ESPN, Ramsey appeared unhappy Marrone opted not to challenge a pass in the first quarter ruled a catch on the field. Houston ended up kicking a field goal and going up three points.
John Breech

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You know things are getting crazy on an NFL sideline when the head coach has to be pulled back. Apparently, Jalen Ramsey already melting down and it’s not even halftime #Jaguars #Texans

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The star cornerback did not address the incident with reporters afterward. Marrone told reporters he couldn’t “recall” what led to the argument, according to ESPN.

“It’s a lot of emotion on that field,” Marrone said.

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The field goal that may have been at issue ended up being consequential: Houston scraped by Jacksonville, 13-12.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Kirk Cousins stood behind an elevated lectern after the Vikings’ 21-16 loss to the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field and made no excuses. He had on slacks, a dress shirt and a perfectly knotted brown tie, but his soul was bare as he discussed throwing an interception that turned potential victory into another big-game defeat.

The situation: After trailing 21-0 in the second quarter, the Vikings rallied to cut the deficit to five midway through the third quarter. Then, after Green Bay and Minnesota punted the ball back and forth over the next five possessions, the Vikes took over at their own 40-yard line with just over 10 minutes to play and ran the ball on seven of eight plays to set up a first-and-goal at the 8. With the go-ahead score in sight, Cousins play-actioned to his left, rolled right and forced a ball to wideout Stefon Diggs despite three defenders being in the vicinity. The result was disastrous, as Packers CB Kevin King jumped in front of Diggs and intercepted the ball in the end zone with 5:10 left in the game.

“It’s not going to justify it, but my thought was: Diggsy was running along the back end line — let me put one out near the back such that it’s either his or it goes out of bounds, that kind of deal,” Cousins said. “Obviously, the ball was thrown in such a way that the DB was able to make a play and stay inbounds. If you’re going to [underthrow] it that way, you can’t throw it. That’s the kind of stuff you say Day 1. You just can’t do that.”

Was any consideration given to checking out of the play and running the ball, considering the Vikings had gained 47 of their 52 yards on the ground on that possession?

“Certainly you say that on the sideline afterward, but I shouldn’t put our coordinator in that position,” Cousins said. “I should throw the ball away and move to the next down.”

But this kind of play in that area of the field is nothing new for Cousins. Just check out this nugget courtesy of Pro Football Focus: Since 2017, Cousins ranks 27th out of 27 qualifying QBs in passer rating (76.5) from the opponents’ 10-yard line and in. He’s completed just 44.6 percent of his passes under these conditions, averaging the lowest yards per attempt (1.6) among qualifying signal-callers.

We are now 18 games into Minnesota’s expensive Cousins experiment, which means there is a large enough sample size to question whether the veteran quarterback has given the Vikings reason to believe he’s the right guy to lead them to a Super Bowl. The front office and staff believed it to be true last year when they lured him from Washington with a fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million contract. The insinuation was that he was the missing piece to get Minnesota over the hump after the team had lost in the NFC Championship Game the previous January with journeyman Case Keenum under center.

But Cousins is now 9-8-1 since changing ZIP codes. More concerning: He has not consistently capitalized in big games when plays have been available to him, partially explaining why the Vikings were 1-6 last season against teams that finished with winning records.

The narrative in 2018 was that the line was porous, the running game inconsistent and the play-calling leaned too heavily on the pass. But Sunday affirmed that those were excuses — not credible explanations — for justifying a free-agent deal that raised countless eyebrows when it was signed. After all, Cousins was 26-30-1 as a starter in Washington. He lost his only playoff start — a Wild Card Weekend showdown against Green Bay in January of 2016 — when he fizzled late after a torrid start, allowing the Packers to notch a 35-18 road win.

The Vikings thought their stingy defense and Zimmer’s desire to lean on the run needed only a complementary quarterback who could make a critical play when needed. To date, that has not happened with regularity — which is not to say Cousins is a bad quarterback. It is to say he’s a quarterback who makes just enough plays and puts up enough pretty statistics to entice you into believing there is more to be had, when, in reality, there is not. Sunday marked the 30th career game Cousins has started against a team that carried a winning record into kickoff. The 31-year-old quarterback has only prevailed in just nine of those contests. After the latest setback under these circumstances dropped Minnesota to 1-1, I asked coach Mike Zimmer why he’s so confident that Cousins is the quarterback to lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl.

“Well, today he made a couple of mistakes, but the guy made some great throws, as well — the throw to Diggs (for a 45-yard score),” he said. “So he’s got all the talent — we just need to continue to coach him the way that we want him to play.”

The irony is Cousins is most effective when the Vikings limit his dropbacks. He attempted just 10 passes in a season-opening win over the Falcons. And last year, after coordinator John DeFilippo was fired following a Week 14 loss at Seattle on “Monday Night Football,” Cousins threw six touchdown passes against only one interception while averaging just 27 attempts over the final three games.

There’s no question the Vikings are at their best when the offense runs through third-year back Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries Sunday, marking the first time in his career he has logged back-to-back 20-carry games. (Cook racked up 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 totes in the opener.)

But at some point, Cousins will have to make a play to win a crucial game. And to this juncture, he has given no reason to believe he is up for the challenge.

Mike Zimmer held his tongue Sunday, but not on Monday.

After watching the tape, the Vikings coach was vocal in his displeasure with some officiating decisions in Sunday’s 21-16 loss at Green Bay.
Zimmer disagreed with the decision to overturn a 3-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs late in the first half because of a pass interference call on running back Dalvin Cook. With this being the first year pass interference can be reviewed, the score was nullified by a replay official in New York.

“It was a bad call,” Zimmer said. “It got replayed, and I still think it was a bad call. Dalvin was not trying to block anybody. He was trying to get out of the way.”
After watching the tape, Zimmer said he saw some pass-interference penalties that should have been called.

“There were some offensive pass interference penalties that they missed in the game that I’m watching, so they need to start being more diligent with what they’re doing,” he said.

Zimmer isn’t too enthralled with the NFL changing the rules to allow for the review of pass interference following a controversial no-call against New Orleans in the 2018 NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams.

“I think maybe they decided that they were going to fix the play in the championship game and there’s been some unintended consequences from it, and that’s just how it is,” Zimmer said. “Just got to play by the rules and do what we’re supposed to do.”

The Vikings trailed 21-7 when Diggs’ touchdown was taken off the board. They had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
BAILEY’S MISSES
After a so-so season in 2018, Bailey is not off to a great start in 2019.

In the opener against Atlanta, Bailey made all four of his extra-points and didn’t attempt a field goal. Against the Packers, Bailey missed two kicks.

Bailey was wide left on a field goal in the first quarter and had an extra-point attempt pushed back to 48 yards because of a penalty blocked in the third quarter. In the second quarter, he make the 31-yard field goal and his other extra-point attempt.

“I wish I could have it back, but that’s the nature of this deal,” he said of the missed field goal. “I feel like I put a good hit on it, so alarms aren’t going off on this end.”

Bailey said there were protection issues on the blocked extra point. That came after Diggs was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for removing his helmet.

“We had a breakdown in protection… They were just coming really hard on the edges, so maybe we can clean that up a little bit,” he said.

SEEKING FAST START
Vikings defensive players are putting a premium on having a much better start Sunday against Oakland at U.S. Bank Stadium.

That sure didn’t happen against the Packers. The Vikings trailed 21-0 a minute into the second quarter before shutting out Green Bay the rest of the way.

“We’ve got to start faster,” safety Harrison Smith said. “It goes back to execution, so just running and hitting, reading our keys and playing how we’re coached to play.”

By Monday, the Vikings were trying to put the loss behind them.

“You come in the next day and you get on the film and see how you did and then you move on,” safety Anthony Harris said. “You can’t let it drag into the next week.”

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Vikings’ Dalvin Cook almost carried the day in loss to Packers
BRIEFLY
— Dalvin Cook, who had a career-high 154 yards at Green Bay, leads the NFL with 265 yards rushing. Zimmer is seeking a second rushing champion in his six Minnesota seasons, the first being Adrian Peterson in 2015. “I do think the running game is good,” Zimmer said. “I think Dalvin Cook is tremendous with the things he’s doing and the way we’re blocking.”

— After being penalized eight times for 100 yards Sunday, the Vikings have 21 penalties in two games. Zimmer called it “very” frustrating and noted Diggs, wide receiver Adam Thielen and center Garrett Bradbury each had two penalties at Green Bay. “They’ve got to start playing within the rules, and they know the rules,” he said.

— Zimmer said Sunday that Diggs’ unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was “dumb” and “selfish.” Zimmer was asked Monday what he has said to Diggs, who taunted fans at Lambeau Field after taking off his helmet. “I’ll keep it to myself what I talked to him about,” he said.

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Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo will have his sprained right ankle immobilized in a boot for five to seven days and then will be evaluated, keeping open the possibility that he will play again this season.

Rizzo had to be helped off the field Sunday after turning his ankle while fielding a sacrifice bunt. He underwent an MRI on Monday that revealed a moderate lateral right ankle sprain, according to the team. X-rays on Sunday did not reveal a fracture.

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“I have every intention of doing everything I can with the training staff to be back on the field with the boys,” Rizzo told reporters before the Cubs beat the Reds 8-2 on Monday night. “I think in a few days, really, will tell us a lot more.”

Victor Caratini was in the lineup at first base Monday. Manager Joe Maddon said that Ian Happ, who replaced Rizzo on Sunday, will also see time there.

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Playing for October, Cubs preach ‘next guy jumps in’ mantra with Rizzo, Baez out
Rizzo, who is known for charging hard on bunt attempts, broke toward the plate in the top of the third inning when Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams squared to bunt. As he neared the ball, Rizzo’s foot appeared to dig into the turf and his right ankle turned.

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After being tended to by a Cubs trainer and Maddon, Rizzo was helped to the dugout, not putting much weight on the right foot.

“We’re gonna miss Riz, we already miss Javy, but I really believe the rest of the group is up to the task,” Maddon said, referring to Chicago’s postseason pursuit already being hindered by a fractured-thumb injury to shortstop Javier Baez.

The Cubs hold the second wild card, one game ahead of the Brewers. They trail the Nationals by a half-game for the first wild card and the Cardinals by two games for the NL Central lead. They play St. Louis seven times down the stretch.

Cubs president Theo Epstein said the team will know more about its options for Rizzo once he is out of the walking boot.

“Once we get past that period of time, then we can see if there are ways to manage the discomfort,” Epstein said. “If there are ways through taping to give him some stability to give him at least a chance to contribute in some way down the road.

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“We’re not shutting any doors but we’re realistic that this was a legitimate injury that under ideal circumstances would take some time to heal.”

The owners of the Chicago Cubs have locked up long-term financing on their massive redevelopment of the area outside Wrigley Field.

A venture of the Ricketts family, which owns the team, last month replaced its construction loan for the Gallagher Way plaza and Hotel Zachary across the street from the historic ballpark with a $140 million mortgage, Cook County property records show.

The move solidifies the Ricketts venture’s long-term ownership of the development, part of the family’s larger strategy of revamping and controlling the real estate assets around the ballpark to help generate new revenue, structure fans’ game-day experience and keep people coming to Wrigleyville when the Cubs are away or during the offseason.

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The family took a key step toward that goal in 2011 when it paid $20 million for the 1-acre property across Clark Street from the stadium that was then occupied by a McDonald’s restaurant and a parking lot. The Ricketts family’s development venture, Hickory Street Capital, has since redeveloped the property into the Hotel Zachary as it built the plaza—now known as Gallagher Way under a sponsorship deal—on a triangle-shaped property adjacent to the ballpark.
Hickory Street took out a $130.2 million construction loan from Wintrust Bank in November 2015 to build the open-air plaza, a 173-room hotel and a six-story mixed-use building that houses the team’s offices, meeting space and a series of ground-floor shops. The venture modified that into a $151.9 million loan in July 2017, public records show, before refinancing it with a fixed-rate $140 million loan from real estate investment firm Barings. A Hickory Street spokesman said the Ricketts family paid down nearly $12 million in principal on the modified construction loan.

“Their intent is to be very, very long-term neighbors in Lakeview and Wrigleyville,” said Jones Lang LaSalle Senior Managing Director Danny Kaufman, who along with JLL Director Chris Knight represented Hickory Street Capital in securing the new loan. “Their goal with this real estate is to plant a sturdy, stable set of properties in the heart of Wrigleyville and operate them well.”

Gallagher Way is one of the focal points of the Cubs owners’ recently completed renovation of Wrigley Field and redevelopment of its surroundings, a project that far surpassed more than half a billion dollars of investment, according to the team.

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The Cubs hold year-round programming such as concerts, movies and an ice-skating rink in winter in the 30,000-square-foot Gallagher Way plaza and allow fans with tickets there during games.

Separately, public records show ventures of the Ricketts family in recent years have spent more than $25 million to buy many of the rooftop properties across Waveland and Sheffield avenues from the stadium to better control ballpark advertising and ticket sales at those venues.

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For the first time in a while, the Mariners weren’t playoff-adjacent in 2019. Depending on your point-of-view, over the last decade the Mariners have either been the worst playoff contender or the greatest also-ran in baseball. Rarely a thoroughly dreadful team, the mid to late 2010s Mariners were a fringe playoff threat in most seasons, typically flirting with contender status before staying home to listen to old Morrissey albums. It’s now been 18 years since the last time Seattle played postseason baseball. Team executive VP/GM Jerry Dipoto is banking on the notion that the organization can remedy that state of affairs with a quick retooling, initiated before the team reached the direst of straits.

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The 2018 Seattle Mariners played baseball quite adequately, winning 89 games, the team’s most since 2003. It wasn’t enough to punch a ticket to October, thanks to the Houston Astros winning 103 games and it taking a 97-win season merely to tie with the second wild card team, the Oakland A’s. The Mariners made it interesting and were able to stay close to the Astros for most of the year. The team’s divisional deficit didn’t permanently stretch to more than five games until late August. They scared Houston for a while, grabbing sole possession of first-place for part of June. Perhaps most impressively, the Mariners did it with bandaids and duct tape; former cornerstone players Félix Hernández and Kyle Seager were no longer stars, and second baseman Robinson Canó missed most of the midseason thanks to an 80-game suspension for a banned substance.

After the season, the Mariners made a rare decision for an 89-win team: they blew it up. The decision to enter a rebuild is a hard one, typically resulting in multiple years of struggle. But one of the advantages of going this route is that the Mariners were better able to control their destiny. Unlike the Orioles or the pre-Luhnow Astros, Seattle wasn’t forced to take a long view by having a system devoid of talent at the major and minor league levels.

For an extremely active executive like Jerry Dipoto, having a lot of options is important. The 2018-2019 Mariners were still able to find someone interested in Canó, and rather than treating a closer as a player you build around *coughRedscough*, they bundled Edwin Diaz with some cash and were able to land Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. In addition to getting two of their top five prospects from the Mets — both ranked 50 or better by THE BOARD — the Mets picked up some spare baubles in Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista. Even Jay Bruce, mostly brought in to make the cash work, has been occasionally useful in recent years.

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In the space of just a couple of weeks, the Mariners shipped out James Paxton, Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio, Alex Colomé, and Carlos Santana. Santana may be the best example of the velocity with which the Mariners made moves over the winter; his brief stint in Seattle was even shorter than the notorious Piazza-as-Marlin week. Santana never played a game as a Mariner, the equivalent of one of those Star Trek episodes where they accidentally change history and then someone disappears from the timeline because, well, they have to get everything back to normal because the hour is up.

Seattle’s general strategy was to start a quicker retooling and keep fan interest up, though the fans have been unusually supportive of a team that has largely treaded water and gone so long without October baseball. While a lousy 2019 was inevitably going to hurt attendance that had stayed relatively steady, turning it around quickly could mean the team only experiences a slight blip in terms of fan support.

The Projection
ZiPS saw the Mariners as a much-weakened team coming into 2019, but at a mean projection of 76-86, they were still close enough to have a 1-in-25 chance of making the playoffs. A 3.9% postseason probability isn’t the most exciting thing by any stretch of the imagination, but think of it this way: in the majors in 2019, a home run has been hit in 3.7% of plate appearances. Are you shocked and awed when someone hits a home run in 2019? Well, unless you’re a Marlins fan?

Despite the trades, Seattle’s 2019 position wasn’t immediately bleak, and I maintain that the playoff hopes were as reasonable as the projections thought. 2018’s outta-the-blue star, Mitch Haniger, was still on the team, and Bruce, Edwin Encarnación, and Domingo Santana all had the potential to make up at least some of the missing offense. Kyle Seager and Félix Hernández weren’t so far removed from productive years, and the Mariners also added NPB veteran Yusei Kikuchi to help counteract the loss of Paxton.

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This team wasn’t obviously doomed going into the season.

The Results
For a brief, shining moment, it looked like the Mariners were going to crush expectations. They swept the two-game series in Japan against the Athletics on the back of an emotional farewell to Ichiro Suzuki, and started the year winning 13 of 15 games. That was good enough to establish a four-game lead in the AL West, and, as I always remind people, there’s a starting position at which anyone can beat Usain Bolt in a footrace. Through these 15 games, the Mariners had seven hitters with a wRC+ north of 120 (and typically by a significant amount), and a team ERA below four.

As you may have surmised if you’ve looked at the standings at any point in the last three months, it didn’t last. From the team’s high-water mark in April until June 2, when Bruce was sent packing in the first of a long series of June trades, the team went 12-36. April’s playoff hopes were a faded memory by the end of May. During this stretch, nearly a third of an entire season, the team’s ERA of 5.74 was the worst in baseball. The pitching staff even managed to allow more home runs than the Orioles over that span, squeezing out a 92-90 edge. The offense didn’t experience quite as stark of a breakdown, but a triple-slash of .225/.300/.414 and a bottom-third in the league finish in runs scored isn’t a highlight for the newsletter.

With a long shot playoff run not coming together, Dipoto started trading off some of talent that was unlikely to be around in the long-term. Bruce, Encarnación, Mike Leake, Hunter Strickland, and Roenis Elías all moved on to sunnier climes in July.

Despite the record, the Mariners found out a lot of interesting things about their talent in 2019, so even the losing has been relatively productive. Omar Narváez might be a good enough hitter to compensate for his rather bland, ineffective defense behind the plate. Daniel Vogelbach might not be the second coming of Matt Stairs after all, but Tom Murphy and Austin Nola are looking like amazing scrap-heap additions, and Kyle Seager actually isn’t done. Seattle became the latest team to rob a solid reliever from the Nationals, bringing in Austin Adams after the Nats couldn’t be bothered to take a real look at him.

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In the end, the Mariners can hang their heads high that unlike other teams residing in baseball’s dark, moist cellar, doom wasn’t preordained.

What Comes Next?
Seattle’s been slowly moving money off the books and now only have around $80 million already accounted for in 2020. Felix Hernandez is their only significant free agent — Arodys Vizcaíno, like Carlos Santana, was only a “paper Mariner” — and as sad as it is, King Félix is no longer a significant major league contributor. Most of the team’s arbitration-eligible players are in their first year, and the ones who aren’t non-tendered won’t break any banks. Additional cash comes off the books in 2021 with the Jay Bruce deal disappearing and Mike Leake’s payoff decreasing. While we can argue that most teams in baseball can spend more than they claim to be able to, the Mariners will likely be able to spend quite aggressively a couple of years from now, even with their self-imposed constraints.

Ranked eighth on the board, the Mariner farm system is in better shape than at any time I can remember. Kiley and Eric had the Mariners 15th in an earlier 2019 report. Going back further, and using Keith Law as a stable long-term reference for Seattle’s rank, that was already up from 22nd. Law ranked the Mariners 30th before 2018, 28th before 2017, and 28th before 2016. In other words, there’s far more young talent on the Mariners’ farm than there has been at any point in recent years.

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That the team has reached this point with only one year (so far) in the wilderness is a testament to the work Dipoto has already done to repair the flaws of the Jack Zduriencik regime.

The Absitively, Posilutely, Way-Too-Early ZiPS Projection – Kyle Lewis
In the decade since drafting Kyle Seager, the Mariners have had little luck drafting hitters, with the best-drafted hitter since then being current Dodger Chris Taylor. Thanks to tearing most of the things in his right knee after a 2016 home plate collision while playing for Low-A Everett, Kyle Lewis’s prospect status looked in real danger. 2018’s comeback season wasn’t a thrilling one, with Lewis hitting .244/.306/.405 after his May return. 2019 was encouraging, as Lewis stayed healthy and continued to develop as a hitter; this was in the Double-A Texas League, so his improved offensive numbers aren’t due to the Triple-A leagues now using the flubberball. And since joining the big league roster, he’s been on a homer tear, hitting four long balls in his first six games as a Mariner. Lewis will have to continue to improve his plate discipline and develop his power, but he now has a real chance to succeed where other Mariners middle-order prospects haven’t. This is especially important as it’s unlikely Lewis plays centerfield all that often in the majors.

ZiPS Projection – Kyle Lewis
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2020 .246 .309 .388 529 62 130 29 2 14 65 47 164 3 90 7 1.2
2021 .243 .310 .390 515 61 125 30 2 14 64 49 166 3 91 6 1.3
2022 .243 .312 .396 515 63 125 30 2 15 65 51 167 3 93 6 1.4
2023 .237 .311 .386 510 62 121 29 1 15 65 53 169 3 90 5 1.2
2024 .236 .312 .388 369 45 87 21 1 11 47 40 125 1 91 4 0.9
2025 .237 .312 .387 380 46 90 22 1 11 48 41 124 2 91 4 0.9
While I wouldn’t call this projection “good,” it also represents a significant change in outlook for ZiPS from its preseason forecast. Before 2019, ZiPS saw Lewis as a player who likely wouldn’t peek far above replacement-level at any point. Now it sees him as a realistic, if limited, contributor to a winning team. He now peaks as a 15-homer hitter instead of one who hits around 10, and ZiPS thinks he’s made enough progress in his plate discipline to walk 50 times a year. That’s real progress.

It has been a long and often painful road watching the Mariners’ relievers this year. To be clear, this was expected as the bullpen was not an area of focus in year one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild plan, but there appears to be at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for the bullpen going forward.

Drayer: Kyle Lewis’ torrid start a reminder why he was an M’s top pick

Of the 33 pitchers who have thrown innings in relief this year – position players and one Justus Sheffield “headlining” outing excluded – a good number have emerged as possible bullpen pieces going forward. This will provide a different look next year for the Mariners in spring training.
While before under Dipoto the bulk of the Mariners’ bullpen arms brought into camp were attached to names most were not familiar with (usually relievers from other organizations signed to minor league contracts), most of the relievers in Peoria next spring should have the ability to hit the ground running as the Mariners will already have history with them.

“It’s huge,” said manager Scott Servais. “It’s not just getting the guy from waivers from another organization – you get ’em in here, introduce them to coaches, our process, here’s what we value, our catchers. It takes a while as a catcher to get to know this guy can actually execute these pitches in this spot or he can’t. Knowing our guys, having our group together in spring training, it’s really going to change what we have been doing the last few years and I am really excited about that. The continuity, the familiarly the guys have with themselves, it really helps.”
Dipoto’s philosophy with the bullpen this year was to go with numbers and see what shook out. Relievers that he thought could benefit from Mariners coaching – which included diving into the biomechanics of the pitcher and an analytical breakdown to maximize pitch usage – were claimed off waivers at an almost frenetic pace. Some saw improvement, some did not, but in the end the Mariners are left with an interesting group that has the potential to be at least the base of a more permanent bullpen with bigger pieces to be added later.

Servais listed Matt Magill, Anthony Bass, Sam Tuivailala, Dan Altavilla, Taylor Guilbeau and Erik Swanson as relievers who have at the very least at times been pitchers he has liked what he has seen from. With all of them there is more to be learned as none have spent a full year on the Mariners’ roster, and the potential for further development should exist.
Adams brings the second-best strikeouts per nine innings rate in baseball for relievers who have thrown 29 innings or more. What does he look at 55 innings?

There is no question Altavilla has good stuff – very good stuff. Command has always been the question. Have recent changes with his delivery helped?

Guilbeau, a left-hander, was thought by many to be a left-on-left guy only, but in his first 12 innings in the big leagues his splits have been pretty close to neutral.

Matt Wisler shines as an opener, fades in true relief. What value does he bring?

It appears the determination that Swanson is a reliever and not a starter has been made, so what adjustments can he make in his new role?

Brandon Brennan will have survived his Rule 5 year and along with Swanson will be able to be optioned to the minors next year, perhaps giving the Mariners more flexibility than they had in 2019.

On its own, the Mariners’ crop of relievers is not a group you would look to take into a season in which you expect to compete for the playoffs, but that will not be the Mariners goal next season. A solid pen, however – one with more known quantities – could help push them closer as well as help with development, giving a young offense and most likely two young starters a better chance at winning games by holding up their end of bargain.
It is still a work in progress, but the semblance of a bullpen as opposed to a season-long open tryout has the potential to come into focus.

“We are starting to get there,” said Servais. “We’ve also got some really interesting guys coming that aren’t here yet. I think we will have a very, very competitive spring training for a lot of those spots.”

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Alexander Nylander and Adam Boqvist both scored and recorded an assist for the Blackhawks in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Capitals on Monday at Capital One Arena.

Collin Delia made 25 saves on 29 shots (0.862 save-percentage), offseason trade acquisition Aleski Saarela tipped in the first goal of the Blackhawks preseason, the penalty kill was 2 for 3 and Ryan Carpenter won 61.5-percent (8-of-13) of his faceoffs.

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How it Happened
The Nylander – David Kampf – Saarela line made an immediate impact. Nylander forced a turnover at the Capitals blue line and started a 2-on-1 with Kampf, but his backdoor pass to Nylander was deflected away.

Delia looked strong early and was able to bail out defensemen Carl Dahlstorm and Slater Koekkoek after turnovers in the defensive zone, which swung the momentum the Blackhawks way.

Chicago’s first goal of the preseason started in the defensive zone after a strong breakout pass by Erik Gustafsson to Nylander, who protected the puck into the neutral zone. Nylander slowed the play down and made a slick sauce pass to Kampf on the opposite side. Kampf swung around the Capitals net and dropped the puck to Dennis Gilbert, who was skating down the wall. Gilbert found Nylander, who escaped the Capitals defender with a couple quick changes in direction, and then set up Gustafsson for a one-timer. Saarela tipped the shot and was credited with his first Blackhawks goal.

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Saarela, along with defenseman Calvin de Haan, were acquired from the Hurricanes for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg in June.

Near the start of the second period, the Capitals tied it up 1-1 following a whiffed shot from the high slot that ended up on Damien Riat’s stick backdoor.

Not much later, the Nylander – Kampf – Saarela line struck again. Saarela won a puck battle and swung it around the boards to Kampf, who one-touched it to Boqvist for a quick wrister toward the net. Nylander intercepted the shot, quickly moved it to his backhand and buried his first goal with the Blackhawks:
Then the Capitals took over.

They were all over the Blackhawks and scored two unanswered goals, a power play tally by Travis Boyd and another on a rebound by Aliaksei Protas that Kampf did a fly by on and Dahlstrom was caught puck watching:
Boqvist’s magic shifted momentum. Anton Wedin made a nice area pass to Matthew Highmore to enter the offensive zone. Dylan Sikura got the puck from Highmore, then circled in the high slot and fired a shot toward the net. The puck was deflected and Boqvist impressively settled the bouncing puck down to his stick. He then wrapped around the net and sniped a shot right below the the crossbar.
The third period saw the Blackhawks get their first power play of the game. Gustafsson quarterbacked the first unit with Nylander and Sikura on the half walls, while Boqvist controlled the blue line on the second unit.

Chicago took a too many men penalty with just under three minutes to go. Carpenter and Kampf started the penalty kill and the Blackhawks were able to get the game to overtime.

In 3-on-3 overtime, Carpenter had the best chance for the Blackhawks off a breakaway pass from Gustafsson, but Pheonix Copely denied him. Not much later Tom Wilson picked up the puck in the defensive zone, easily sped by Sikura, drove the net and buried the game winner:
Three Stars
1. Aliaksei Protas (WSH) – 1 G, 2 A

2. Adam Boqvist (CHI) – 1 G, 1 A

3. Alexander Nylander (CHI) – 1 G, 1 A

What’s Next?
The Blackhawks take on the Red Wings in their second preseason game at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena.

The Red Wings left Traverse City after Monday’s practice, concluding a training camp that began Friday and christened yet another hockey season.

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Players have “tweaked” muscles, the hockey clichés are rolling, prospects are being compared to Hall of Famers, and the sight of Steve Yzerman wearing a Red Wings’ jacket is again quite comfortable after not seeing it for so many years.

But it’s definitely time for the next phase: Exhibition games.

The Red Wings have their first Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena, scrimmaging (which is essentially what it is) against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The next phase before — the regular season — begins in October.

But before then, let’s take a look at the some developments from the past few days here in Traverse City, which remains a fine spot to get hockey underway.

Seider-mania
Can defenseman Moritz Seider make the jump from playing hockey in Germany to the NHL?

It’s not likely to happen immediately. But it might not take nearly as long as maybe originally thought.

You see North American 18-year-olds who’ve played against stronger competition than Seider has struggle to simply adjust to the minor pro leagues here, never mind the NHL.

It will be intriguing to watch Seider these next two weeks against NHL competition getting ready for this season.

Seider’s approach to the game, his demeanor, and size and talent, are beyond most 18-year-olds. That should serve him well in the years ahead.

You have to think Seider is best served by playing, at least for a while, in Grand Rapids and getting acclimated to North American pro hockey.

But with the maturity and poise of this kid, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Seider fairly soon.

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More Red Wings coverage
Autopsy: Ex-Red Wings center Greg Johnson died of self-inflicted gunshot wound
Red Wings training camp: Sept. 15
Oliwer Kaski sports ability to provide Red Wings new dimension on defense
Oliwer Kaski on joining the Red Wings
Moritz Seider warming to life in Michigan, adjusting to pro hockey

Rasmussen’s crowded path
It was interesting listening to coach Jeff Blashill on Sunday talk about 2017 first-round pick Michael Rasmussen.

The Wings have decided that long-term, Rasmussen’s best position is center, where he spent most of his time in junior. The Wings envision a big, 6-foot-6, shut-down center who can also provide offense around the net.

But with that switch, Rasmussen’s chances to opening the season in Detroit are slim.

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“If you looked at Ras’ long-term outlook, he’s a center,” Blashill said. “Those guys can be really, really hard to play against because they’re so good defensively. If he’s a guy who can shut down other teams’ best players, that’s a real positive.”

“His ability to score net-front is a real positive. But ultimately, he’s going to have to beat out (Dylan) Larkin, Fil (Valtteri Filppula), (Frans) Nielsen, Glennie (Luke Glendening), Ehner (Christoffer Ehn), (Jacob) de la Rose.”

Unless there are injuries, Rasmussen isn’t likely to pass that many players on the depth chart.

But, it would help Rasmussen, also, to play in Grand Rapids and reclaim some confidence lost during a tough rookie season in the NHL.

Busy schedule
The Wings play 82 games during a long six-month (plus a week, or two) NHL regular season.

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But they’ll play nine preseason games in the next two weeks.

It’s a game more than usual because of the Wings’ participation in the NHL’s Hockeyville event in Calumet, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Along with keeping the coaching, training and equipment staffs busy, there will be players who get plenty of chances to show what they can do.

Nobody will play all nine games, obviously. But young players on the brink of the NHL likely will get about five or six games to show they deserve an opportunity.

This schedule is perfect for them.

Red Wings forward Filip Zadina spent most of last season in the AHL.
Red Wings forward Filip Zadina spent most of last season in the AHL. (Photo: David Guralnick, Detroit News)

Zadina’s future
Filip Zadina, the 2018 first-round pick, didn’t meet the largely unrealistic expectations fans had for him last season.

Zadina spent the majority of the season in Grand Rapids and had 16 goals.

“It’s part of hockey life,” said Zadina, of last season’s education. “No one has an easy way to the NHL. I was glad I could spend one year in the AHL. It opened my eyes to what I have to do better.

“I worked the whole summer and I’m a better player.”

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In some ways, this is the last meaningful regular season series for the Dodgers as they play the Tampa Bay Rays for two games starting on Tuesday evening.

The Rays are close but not yet eliminated from the AL East division title race and as of this morning, the Rays have a 1½ game lead over the Indians for the second AL Wild Card position. Tampa Bay is 1½ games behind the Athletics in the race for the first Wild Card spot.

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While the Dodgers will still manage workload and injury recovery, they will still likely be playing most of the regulars as they are still trying to secure overall home field advantage in the National League playoffs. Also, there is the unwritten code that teams playing teams in contention will try their best to win instead of playing nine rookies.

The Dodgers have already secured home field for the National League Divisional Series and they will start their 2019 postseason at Dodger Stadium on Thursday October 3rd.

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After this series, the Dodgers will host the Rockies for three games starting Friday. It will be their final regular season series at home.

Beginning a week from tomorrow, the Dodgers will go to San Diego and play three against the Padres. Finally, the Dodgers will go to San Francisco for a three-game series against the Giants over the last weekend of the regular season.

Tuesday: Ross Stripling (4-4, 3.40 ERA) vs. Blake Snell (6-7, 4.28 ERA)
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. PT // YouTube
The Dodgers will open their final regular season home stand with Ross Stripling making his 15th start of the season. Stripling has pitched a little more than “opener,” pitching three innings in his two prior starts this month since his return from the injured list.

Stripling pitched well in those starts, giving up one run and five hits while striking out four. Roberts should have a full complement of relievers to back Stripling given the work his starters did in New York and today’s off-day.

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LOS ANGELES — Travis d’Arnaud didn’t do much for the Dodgers during the five days he spent with them in early May. Were they to welcome him back with a video tribute Tuesday, they could actually show his entire career in Dodger blue: One pinch-hit at-bat, grounding out to short.

But what the Dodgers did for d’Arnaud, that’s a different story.

First, in signing him — and bringing him home — when he needed something good to happen after being surprisingly released the week before by the Mets, an unjust reward for his hard work to make it back after missing most of 2018 due to Tommy John elbow surgery.
And, much more so, in turning around and trading him to the Rays, who were desperate for catching help due to injuries and could give d’Arnaud what he needed most, the opportunity to get back on the field and play.

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“I definitely appreciate that,” d’Arnaud said.

RELATED: Join our Rays Fever Facebook group for conversation, polls, story links and more

So do the Rays, as d’Arnaud has turned out to be one of their best and most valuable players since taking a red-eye flight to join them at the Trop on May 11, and a key reason they are competing for a wild-card playoff berth at 89-62 with 11 games left.

What d’Arnaud has done on the field has been extremely obvious and immensely important.

He ranks among the team leaders in homers (16) and RBIs (63) while hitting a solid .266 with an .815 OPS. He has come through more than anyone in the clutch, with a Rays-high .349 average with runners in scoring position, 17 go-ahead and 11 game-winning RBIs.

“He’s at his best at the biggest moments,” said hitting coach Chad Mottola. “You can see, he’s been to the playoffs, he’s played for the Mets on that big stage. Where some of the other guys get sped up, he just kind of locks in that much more.”

Plus, he quickly learned their diverse pitching staff and different ways of doing things to merge with his experience and solidify the catching position, especially given Mike Zunino’s struggles, while also filling in handily at first base. “He’s just very easy to pitch to,” said Blake Snell, who returns to the mound Tuesday.

 

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Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis d’Arnaud (37) high fives the team after their win against Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 7 at Tropicana Field. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
But what they rave about even more in the clubhouse is what a tremendous teammate d’Arnaud is, how he’s always positive and encouraging, makes clear winning is his top priority, is willing to share his experience and knowledge, especially among the less experienced pitchers, while being accommodating. (Or, as Snell called it, “the confident swag that he has to him.”)

“Just a great person, a great human being, a great person to be around,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “He’s a great player, a selfless teammate. He’s been in the league a while, so he’s got that experience. We have fun out there with him.”

“You don’t know where you would be without somebody like that,” starter Charlie Morton said, “but I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be in as good of a spot.”

RELATED: Rays get another big hit from Travis d’Arnaud, another big win

With the Mets paying all but $500,000 or so of d’Arnaud’s $3.515 million salary, the Dodgers signed d’Arnaud as somewhat of an accessory. They were set with two catchers but needed a right-handed bat and had some thoughts of turning him into a super-utility type who could play first, third and leftfield.

The transition wasn’t going particularly well, and when the Rays called in their frantic scramble after losing Zunino and Michael Perez to injuries, the Dodgers felt it was the right thing to do for d’Arnaud.

It probably didn’t hurt that Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers chief of baseball operations, used to run the Rays and has remained close with their current staff.

Plus, the Dodgers, who got only $100,000 from the Rays for him, weren’t acting totally out of benevolence, as such moves are noted by players and agents around the game, and can lead to residual or reciprocal payoffs down the road.

“Travis is a really good player who has experienced quite a bit of bad luck in his career,” Friedman said. “At the moment we traded him, his opportunity with us was more as a bat off the bench and we didn’t want to stand in his way when he had the opportunity that unfolded for him with the Rays. It has been fun watching him make the most of his opportunity.”

D’Arnaud, understandably, is thrilled with how it has worked out.

Signing with the Dodgers was in a way therapeutic, allowing him to enjoy the experience of actually playing for the team he grew up watching, usually from seats in the outfield. “I wasn’t just driving to the games, I was going into the players’ (parking) lot and taking the elevators (down to the clubhouse),” he said.

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With the 2019-2020 season almost here, many are not expecting much from the Memphis Grizzlies. But there are some reasons to believe, and the Grizzlies might just outplay everyone’s expectation.
With a little more than a month left before the 2019-2020 NBA season tips off, the Memphis Grizzlies are projected to have one of the league’s lowest win totals this season, with some sources predicting as few as 27.5 wins for the Grizzlies. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be an insane prediction; the Grizzlies play in arguably the toughest top-to-bottom division in the NBA, the team lost its franchise point guard and center in the past eight months, and for the fourth time in seven years, a new head coach will take the sideline in Memphis.

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However, as the rebuild begins in all earnestness in the Bluff City, the wheels are moving much faster in the small-market franchise than the rest of the sports world cares to acknowledge. As soon as the Grizzlies traded Mike Conley to Utah this summer for a massive haul of players and draft picks, the NBA scuttlebutt centered around how the Jazz had just become a championship contender in the West. The Grizzlies have been content to fly under the radar since then, accepting the predictions that they will once again find themselves scouting lottery picks in March. Here’s why those predictions are wrong.

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The 2019-2020 season is just over a month away. Now, it’s time to look at the various aspects of the Memphis Grizzlies, and preview how their season is set to go.

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The Memphis Grizzlies saw a huge overhaul in the last eight months or so. They lost the last remaining pieces of the Grit ‘N Grind era in Mike Conely and Marc Gasol, they took on a piece that they’ll eventually have to trade in Andre Iguodala, and they got more in young potential than they did in legitimate star power over the summer.

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Now, the Grizzlies are thought of as a team with a lot of potential, but not a lot that’s going to carry them through the season. Most places project their over/under at 27.5, and to some, that number may even seem a little too high.

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Still, things are looking bright for Memphis. Those young stars have the ability to be the centerpieces of a young and dangerous Grizzlies team in just a few short years. But today, we’re not looking at the team in a few years. We’re looking at the team right now, as is, and preview the 2019-2020 season for the Memphis Grizzlies.

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FRISCO — The Stars will be without defenseman Stephen Johns for the foreseeable future.

Johns did not practice during the first day of training camp on Friday, and general manager Jim Nill said the organization wouldn’t be answering any questions about Johns until there is an update on his status.

“Stephen will not be on the ice, and moving forward, I want the focus on the players here in training camp, we will not be answering anymore questions,” Nill said. “If there’s an update, I’ll update everybody as soon as I get my information. But other than that, no other questions moving forward. I want the focus on the players here.”

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Johns missed all of last season with post-traumatic headaches and he began to feel symptoms after training camp in Boise. When healthy, Johns is a top-four defenseman for the Stars and an ideal partner for Miro Heiskanen.

But Johns hasn’t practiced with the team in nearly a year, save for two days during development camp when he skated with the Stars prospects. Development camp offered optimism for the Stars, a potential development that would make an already deep defense deeper and push players like Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak to roles that suited their skills.
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Instead, the Stars might be proceeding like they did last year: under the assumption that Johns won’t play.

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“I just want the focus to be on the team,” Nill said. “That’s the important thing. We’ll work with Stephen behind the scenes, but I just want to make sure the focus stays on the team.”

Without Johns, the Stars remain in a good position on the back end. Andrej Sekera was paired with Heiskanen on Friday and that duo could be one that Jim Montgomery rolls out when the regular season opens in less than three weeks.

The Stars signed Sekera over the summer after Edmonton bought out the final two years of his contract with a cap hit of $5.5 million. Dallas will pay him $1.5 million this season and potentially $500,000 more in performance bonuses.

Sekera missed time each of the last two seasons with knee and Achilles injuries and was limited to 24 games last year. He is a left-handed defenseman who can play both sides, Nill said.

“You talk about [Corey] Perry and [Joe] Pavelski, I think people are going to be surprised with what he brings,” Nill said. “He had some major injuries that take a year to heal. People are judging these guys off of two, three months when they’re not up to 100 percent. He feels fine now and he’s ready to go. He’s in a good spot.”

When the Stars signed Sekera on July 1, coach Jim Montgomery was pleased with the signing, noting two months ago that he could be a top-four option for Dallas. So what impresses him about Sekera?

“Intelligence, poise,” Montgomery said. “I’m watching him in the offensive zone and he’s so smart shooting the puck. He doesn’t shoot it all that hard, but it gets through and he just missed a couple opportunities for screened tips or goals themselves. And then his communication on rush defense. He’s a very intelligent athlete, very intelligent hockey player.”

The Stars’ defense could look like this without Johns:

Esa Lindell – John Klingberg

Miro Heiskanen – Andrej Sekera

Jamie Oleksiak – Roman Polak

Taylor Fedun

Joel Hanley, Emil Djuse, Gavin Bayreuther, Ben Gleason, Reece Scarlett and Dillon Heatherington could also be battling Fedun for a roster spot.

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He opened the scrum with a handful of noteworthy updates on three players in particular.

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To start things off, defenseman Stephen Johns will not skate or participate in training camp. Johns missed all of the 2018-19 regular season and postseason while trying to recover from post-traumatic headaches and entered the 2019 offseason on an uncertain note. While he participated in development camp with Stars prospects and skated on his own a handful of times, his status for camp, the preseason, and the 2019-20 regular season was still up in the air.

In addition, Nill stated that no more questions would be accepted or answered regarding the status of the 27-year-old defender.

“Stephen Johns will not be on the ice and moving forward, and since I’d like to focus on the players here at training camp, I will not be answering any more questions,” Nill said. “If there’s an update, I’ll update everyone as soon as I get the information. But other than that, no other questions moving forward. I want the focus on the players here and we’ll go from there.”

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Johns was a relatively regular starter on the Dallas blue line from the end of the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season and was in the middle of a career year under head coach Ken Hitchcock before suffering a concussion near the end of the season. He posted eight goals, 15 points, and a +10 rating in 75 games during the 2017-18 season and earned a three-year contract extension in the summer of 2018 as a result. But his last NHL action came on March 29, 2018, and he’s been dealing with injuries and setbacks since.

“I just want the focus to be on the team,” Nill said. “That’s important for me. We’ll work with Stephen behind the scenes, but I want to make sure the focus stays on the team because that’s what we’re here for.”

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Nill followed the update on Johns with a note on 23-year-old defenseman Julius Honka. The former first-round pick was assigned to Group A prior to the beginning of training camp, but was not on the ice during their session on Friday morning. The Dallas GM provided an update on why.

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“I talked to Julius Honka’s agent last night – as you probably see, he’s not on the ice – and he’s asked to get traded,” Nill said. “I’ve told his representatives that we’ll see where that goes. I’ve been talking to teams and we know their stance. Julius felt that it was probably not proper to be here and be a distraction, so I respect that. But that’s where we stand.”
Honka was selected 14th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2014 NHL Draft and made his NHL debut with the team in Nov. 2016. But through three different coaching staffs and various NHL stints over the past three seasons, he’s yet to cement a spot in the starting lineup.

“I think there’s probably things on both sides,” Nill said about why Honka couldn’t find a fit in Dallas. “Did we handle him right at times? Yes and no, we don’t know. It’s on the player, too. You get an opportunity, and sometimes things don’t work out. There’s different personalities, but that’s sports and that’s life. Some people fit in and some don’t.”

The defender last played a game for the Stars on Jan. 15 against the Tampa Bay Lightning before serving as a healthy scratch for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. He finished the season with no goals and four points in 29 games played.

Trade rumors involving Honka arose during the 2019 NHL Draft and have stayed prevalent throughout the summer. Now, Nill is simply looking for a trade partner.

“I’ve been talking to teams and we talk all the time. Right now, the League is in a real, I guess you could say shutdown mode. All of these restricted free agents that haven’t signed have really slowed the League down. Right now, teams have their hands tied. There are teams that I have talked to that might have interest, but until they know what they can do with their RFAs, they can’t make any moves. We’ll play this out and see where it goes. In the end, I just have to make sure I do what’s right for the organization.” –Jim Nill on what goes into trading Honka
To top off the updates, Nill stated that Corey Perry would miss the next two weeks with a small fracture in his foot. He will be re-evaluated two weeks from now and is expected to start skating then, assuming everything heals properly.
“Corey Perry has a small fracture in his foot and he’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks,” Nill said. “He should be skating after that, but it depends on how it heals. He will not be on the ice for probably two weeks and we’ll do another image on it in two weeks. He took a fall on his foot and tried to get his skates on, but couldn’t do it. He’ll be missing the first part of camp. This happened on Wednesday.”

Perry was signed by the Dallas Stars as a free agent on July 1 after spending the first 14 years of his career with the Anaheim Ducks. He missed the majority of the 2018-19 season with an MCL and meniscus injury that he sustained while warming up in a preseason game. The 34-year-old played in 31 games this past season, tallying six goals and 10 points.

“I’m not too concerned,” Nill said about Perry’s status. “Corey Perry has been around a long time and he’s trained hard this summer. He wants to play as much as anybody, but it is what it is. We can’t control it and it’s happened, so we move on and go from there. But he’s in great shape, he already knows the system well, and he’s been skating with these players for the last two or three weeks anyways, so he’s got a good feel for them. Like I said, it’s something we can’t control, so we just move on.”

Perry is expected to be a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Dallas Stars. His resume is covered in various awards and accolades (as well as a Stanley Cup championship) and he’s proven to be a determined winner in his time in the NHL.

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And while there’s a chance that he will be ready for opening night, Nill is excited to see the Stars’ younger players and prospects take advantage of the open spot in the roster.

“I think it’s another opportunity for a younger guy. [Perry] may be ready for the start of the season, but we’ll know after two weeks. It all depends on how the bone heals. It’s a small bone in the foot and nothing major. But it’s an opportunity for other players. We just got back from Traverse City at the prospects tournament, and our players played very well there. I’m excited about the youngsters coming up, the kids we signed as free agents, and the guys coming up from Texas. I think we’re in a good spot. We have as much depth as we’ve ever had and now we have to go do it.” –Nill on the opportunity presented to younger players
Two weeks from Friday would pin Perry’s re-evaluation around Sep. 27. That’s six days before the Stars open the 2018-19 season against the Boston Bruins, so his status for game one could fall either way.

NEXT: Setting The Bar For Ben Bishop’s 2019-20 Campaign
The weekend is off to a fast start at the Comerica Center in Frisco as the Stars prepare for the 2019-20 regular season, and things are just getting started.

 

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With two weeks left in what was supposed to be a fun season for the Philadelphia Phillies, the team is 4.5 games out of the second wild-card spot and facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs.

The Phillies’ situation got even worse on Sunday, when they lost 6-3 to the Boston Red Sox at home at Citizens Bank Park. Not around for the end of the game was star outfielder Bryce Harper or manager Gabe Kapler, thanks to a wonderfully petty series of events.

Bryce Harper ejected in costly loss for Phillies
The $330 million man was rung up in the fourth inning after home-plate umpire Gabe Morales punched him out on a fastball that looked clearly inside. Thing is, Harper’s ejection didn’t come after an argument immediately following the call.

No, Harper had to double-check something before he was ready to completely call out Morales.

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From MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand:

“I disagreed with that call, kind of looked back at him and said, ‘Hey, that’s not a strike,’” Harper said. “He kind of looked at me like, ‘Yeah, all right, stupid.’ Just that look. I went back and thought, ‘Maybe he’s right.’”

Harper raced back to the video room to take another look, but the video only reinforced his belief that Morales had blown the call. Harper returned to the dugout during Rhys Hoskins’ at-bat, during which he barked toward the plate, “Not even [expletive] close,” prompting Morales to eject him immediately.

Few sequences can capture Bryce Harper’s energy as much as that.

An incensed Kapler was then ejected after giving Morales a piece of his mind.

Bryce Harper’s day ended early Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Bryce Harper’s day ended early Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Harper was unsurprisingly unamused by the incident after the game, saying Morales simply needs to be better at his job:

“Especially in these games right now, you have to be better back there,” Harper said. “You’ve got to be better. It’s not like they’re not going to make mistakes; I miss heaters down the middle, too. It’s part of it. Just in these games right now, you have to be better.”

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It was a tough day overall for the 76-72 Phillies, who lost a game in the wild-card standings due to the Chicago Cubs’ 16-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had only a 2.1 percent chance of making the playoffs entering Sunday, according to Baseball Prospectus, and might have lost a solid chunk of that.

If they want to mount some kind of miracle run, a hot streak from Harper is probably one of the best ways to do it. They just need him in for the whole game to make that possible.

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With the Phillies’ remote wild-card chances being further vaporized Sunday, Bryce Harper and Gabe Kapler got ejected in the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox.

Harper didn’t agree with a called third strike from home-plate umpire Gabe Morales. After expressing his displeasure, Harper returned to the dugout and appeared to continue hollering at Morales, who booted him from the game.

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Kapler charged onto the field to defend Harper got immediately tossed. Before leaving the field, Kapler gestured emphatically at Morales.

The Phillies were trailing 5-1 at the time. Left-hander Jason Vargas, who entered with a 5.01 ERA and no wins in eight starts since being acquired in a July 29 trade with the New York Mets, gave up a grand slam to Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez in the third inning.

It marked Harper’s 13th career ejection and second of the season. The other came in New York on April 22, also over a called third strike. After that game, a 5-1 loss to the Mets, Phillies starter Jake Arrieta criticized the star right fielder for losing his cool.

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“He’s got to understand we need him in right field,” Arrieta said. “I don’t care how bad the umpire is. He wasn’t great for either side. I’m out there trying to make pitches, and he misses some calls. So what? We need him out there. I need him in right field, I need him at the plate, and he wasn’t there. So that hurts.”