September 12, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
On Sunday, the Washington Nationals became the first major league team to officially clinch a 2017 postseason berth. First, the Nats beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 in an impressive outing for Stephen Strasburg, who pitched eight shutout innings and struck-out 10. Then, the Marlins lost to the Braves in extra innings to send Washington to their second straight division title.
The Nationals (88-55) have the second best record in the league, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers (92-51) by just four games. LA has lost 15 of their last 16 games, including 10 straight. They will face the Nats next weekend in a series that could potentially determine the top seed — and home field advantage — in the National League playoffs.
“It is not easy to win baseball games at the major league level. It is not easy to win division championships,” said General Manager Mike Rizzo. “To look at the amount of games that we’ve won, the amount of days we’ve been in first place, the amount of divisions that we’ve won, it’s really mind-boggling to think about.”
Washington has won the division four of the last six years. Yet they’ve had trouble advancing past the first round. They are hoping that, after being eliminated in the divisional round three of the past five years, they are hopeful this year will be different.
“Look, I get it. We’re not satisfied,” Rizzo said. “We want to do more. We expect to do more.”
The Washington Redskins’ preseason concerns carried into Week 1, as a sluggish and ineffective team fell to the Philadelphia Eagles 17-30.
Kirk Cousins finished the day 23-of-40 for 240 yards, and one touchdown. But his red zone interception and late game fumble were the lasting images from the game, in which Washington’s offense struggled mightily. Off-season acquisition Terrelle Pryor Sr. had several dropped balls, while the team produced just 64 yards on the ground.
In his post-game conference coach Jay Gruden refrained from calling out a specific player, but admitted his offense had room for improvement.
“I am not up here to bash any individual,” the Washington coach said. “We know that as an offense that we have to play better. Line has to play better, tight ends have to play better, backs have to play better, our receivers have to play a lot better, our quarterback has to play better.”
After their disappointing season opener, the Skins will travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams, along with a familiar face. LA’s new head coach is Sean McVay, who was a Redskins tight ends coach from 2010-13 before serving as their offensive coordinator the past two years. Upon his hiring as the Rams new head coach earlier this year, the then 30-year-old McVay became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.
If the Ram’s first game is any indication — they routed the Colts 46-9 — then the Redskins may be in for a tough week.
“They’ve got enough weapons they can hurt you,” Gruden said of his upcoming challenge. “We have a good idea of what McWay likes to do, but you just don’t know when he’s going to do it.”