Didinger's wild-card round scouting report


Didinger's wild-card round scouting report

Breaking down this weekends NFL wild-card games:
Cincinnati at Houston(Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NBC)
Key stat: The Cincinnati defense allowed an average of 12.8 points per game in the final eight games of the regular season.Hot and cold: The Texans cooled off at the wrong time. They were 11-1 at one point but they werent the same after their 42-14 drubbing in New England. They lost three of their last four in the regular season.Momentum: The Bengals have won seven of their last eight games.Intangibles: The Bengals have revenge on their side. They lost to Houston in the wild-card round last season, 31-10. Quarterback Andy Dalton was intercepted three times.Player to watch: Houstons J.J. Watt was the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL this season. He led the league with 20 and batted down 15 passes. He made the big play in last seasons win over the Bengals, intercepting a Dalton pass and returning it for a touchdown.Prediction: Houston stumbled down the stretch and quarterback Matt Schaub is in a funk (one touchdown pass in the last four games), but I still believe they are the better team and will bounce back at home.Texans 20, Bengals 17.Minnesota at Green Bay(Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC)
Key stat: The Vikings are not a great team on the road (3-5 in the regular season) and all three wins came in domes -- Detroit, St. Louis and Houston (roof closed). Now they have to play on the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field.Hot and cold: The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-teens for the 8 p.m. kickoff. There was a time when the Vikings loved playing in those conditions. That is not true anymore. They are just another dome team now.Momentum: You would have to say the Vikings have the edge in this department since they defeated the Packers on Sunday, 37-34. Prior to that, the Packers had won five in a row against the Vikings.Intangibles: This will be the third meeting between these division rivals in 34 days. I have a feeling the Green Bay defense is getting really tired of seeing Adrian Peterson.Player to watch: Clearly, it is Peterson. He had 55 carries for 409 yards in two games against Green Bay during the regular season. He won the rushing title with 2,097 yards, falling just short of Eric Dickersons single-season record. He carried the Vikings to the postseason on his shoulders.Prediction: Viking quarterback Christian Ponder looked good last Sunday against the Packers, but this is the playoffs and Charles Woodson will be back in the lineup. I cant see Ponder outdueling Aaron Rodgers (105.5 postseason passer rating) in this spot.Packers 28, Vikings 10.Indianapolis at Baltimore(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)Key stat: Colts rookie Andrew Luck had seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, tying for the most by any quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.Hot and cold: The Colts' run defense allows an average of 137.5 yards per game. The Ravens are 23-3 when Ray Rice has 25 or more touches. Look for many helpings of Rice on Sunday.Momentum: The Ravens are 1-4 in their last five games, although they chose to rest some veterans in last Sundays loss to Cincinnati.Intangibles: The Colts have been inspired all season by head coach Chuck Paganos courageous battle against leukemia. That certainly wont diminish Sunday as Pagano returns to Baltimore where he was once defensive coordinator under John Harbaugh.Player to watch: Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis announced this week that he will retire after this season. At 37, he is not the same fearsome player he once was but he will have it cranked up for one last run at the Super Bowl.Prediction: The Ravens come into the playoffs on a down note and the Colts are red hot, but the Ravens have a huge edge in postseason experience (they are the only team in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year) and the Colts are new to all this. This looks like a tough spot for Indy.Ravens 23, Colts 14.
Seattle at Washington(Sunday, 4:30 p.m., FOX)Key stat: The Redskins led the league with 2,709 yards rushing. It is the first time in the history of the franchise the Redskins accomplished that feat. They did not do it with John Riggins or Clinton Portis, but they did it with rookies Robert Griffin III (815) and Alfred Morris (1,613) leading the way.Hot and cold: Griffin has excelled as a dual threat with the Redskins, but Russell Wilson has been equally dynamic for Seattle. He has a passer rating of at least 104.4 in seven of the last eight games.Momentum: The Seahawks have outscored their opponents 193-60 in their current five-game winning streak. The Redskins have won seven in a row and are only the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 3-6 start.Intangibles: The Seahawks have defeated the Redskins the last two times they met in the postseason (2005 and 2007) but both of those games were played in Seattle. This is only the second time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks faced each other in the postseason. The first was last season when Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates (replacing an injured Matt Schaub) started for Cincinnati and Houston.Player to watch: In this case, two players. Seattle safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will have to be aggressive in shutting down the Redskins' running attack, but if they are too aggressive they will leave themselves vulnerable to big plays through the air. They are the keys to the Seahawk defense.Prediction: If RG3 was 100 percent I might favor the Redskins at home, but he is not. He is limited with the brace on his knee and without his running threat this isnt the same offense. The Seahawks have the leagues best scoring defense (15.3 points per game) and Wilson should hit some big plays against the Redskins' blitz.Seahawks 28, Redskins 21.
E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.

Best of MLB: Dodgers deny Cubs' Jake Arrieta 21st straight win


Best of MLB: Dodgers deny Cubs' Jake Arrieta 21st straight win

CHICAGO -- Scott Kazmir and two relievers combined on a one-hitter, matching zeros with Cubs ace Jake Arrieta before the Los Angeles Dodgers got to Chicago's bullpen for a 5-0 victory Tuesday night.

Arrieta went seven scoreless innings, but was denied his 21st consecutive victory. The Cubs had won in Arrieta's last 23 starts.

Cubs left-hander Clayton Richard (0-1) gave up three straight singles to lefties in the eighth, the last Adrian Gonzalez's liner to left that scored Chase Utley and ended the Dodgers' 16-inning scoreless streak.

Corey Seager hit a three-run homer off Trevor Cahill in the ninth.

Joe Blanton (3-2) struck out three in two perfect innings as the Dodgers snapped the Cubs' six-game winning streak.

Kazmir allowed a single and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. Adam Liberatore struck out one in a perfect ninth (see full recap).

Betts hits trio of homers in Red Sox win
BALTIMORE -- Mookie Betts hit a career-high three homers and drove in five runs, and the Boston Red Sox cruised past the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 on Tuesday night to open a three-game lead in the AL East.

Betts led off the game with a shot to center and added a three-run drive to left in the second inning. After lining out to second base in the fourth, Betts hit a bases-empty homer to right in the seventh.

Batting in the ninth inning with a chance to tie the major league record of four homers in a game, Betts grounded out to second against rookie Ashur Tolliver.

Still, he's the first Boston player to hit three homers in a game since Will Middlebrooks against Toronto on April 7, 2013. Betts' 12 home runs rank second on the team behind David Ortiz, who has 14.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts stretched his career-best hitting streak to 24 games with a single in the seventh inning (see full recap).

Rockies tie franchise record with 7 HRs
DENVER -- Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon each hit two of Colorado's team record-tying seven homers, powering the Rockies to a 17-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

Blackmon became the first player in Rockies history to hit leadoff homers in back-to-back games and added his first career grand slam in the seventh. Carlos Gonzalez homered for a fourth straight game, while DJ LeMahieu and Gerardo Parra also went deep.

It was the first time Colorado hit seven homers at Coors Field. The team also had seven on April 5, 1997, in Montreal.

Rockies right-hander Jon Gray (3-2) allowed three runs in six solid innings.

Jon Moscot (0-3) was hit hard in his return from the disabled list. He surrendered seven runs and four homers in two innings. Moscot also was grazed in the right ear in the third while bunting. Moscot stayed down for a moment before taking his base (see full recap).

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams


Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams


The gap in talent level that exists between the Phillies and some of the top teams in the majors has really been evident over the last eight games.
The Phillies have lost seven of those eight games to the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals. Tuesday night brought the latest defeat, a 5-1 loss to the National League East-leading Nats at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). The Nats have won the first two games of the series and go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
While losing seven of their last eight, the Phillies have seen their feel-good story turn to dust. Their record has gone from 25-19 to 26-26 and their deficit in the NL East from two games to 5½.
“We had a good month and a half,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “When things are going good, they snowball. When things are going bad, they snowball. We’ve got to keep that snowball from rolling. We’ve got to get out of it.”
There are a number of reasons the Phillies have hit hard times. Poor offense is a big one. They have been held to two or fewer runs five times in their last seven losses and 20 times for the season. They are now averaging 3.15 runs per game, the lowest mark in the majors. Offense like that is the reason why Aaron Nola can pitch six innings of two-run ball and lose on two mistake pitches as he did Tuesday night. These pitchers have no margin for error.
One of the offensive’s big shortcomings is the lack of power. The Phils have been out-homered 15-7 in the last eight games. Washington hit four longballs on Tuesday night; the Phillies hit none. In fact, the Phillies had just four hits – period.
“We’re just getting out-homered every night,” Mackanin said. “We’re not hitting home runs. I feel like it’s a broken record. We’re not hitting.”
For the season, the Phillies have 39 homers. Only Atlanta has hit fewer.
And it doesn’t appear as if things are going to get all that much better any time soon. Management would consider trading for a bat close to the July trading deadline – if the team is in the race. With reality striking hard lately, it’s tough to see this team being in the race for anything but a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. In the short term, the Phils could soon have Cody Asche back on the roster.
“Our pitching overall has been very good,” Mackanin said. “We’ve just got to hit.”
The Nationals won this game with power and good starting pitching.
Right-hander Joe Ross held the Phils to a run over seven innings – an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez.
Meanwhile, Jayson Werth capitalized on a poorly located fastball by Nola and homered two batters into the game. Daniel Murphy got Nola in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie.
Nola would like to have had both pitches back.
“The pitch to Werth was right down the chute,” he said. “With Murphy, I wanted to get it in a little further and I didn’t.”
Other than that, Nola was pretty good. He pitched out of trouble in the second inning and was supported by a double play started nicely at second by Hernandez and a nice catch by Odubel Herrera in center field.
“We’re doing some things right but not enough of them,” Mackanin said.
“That’s baseball,” Nola said of the lack of run support. “Sometimes we pitch bad and get a lot of run support. The guys are battling. I feel like we’re going to bounce back the next couple of games.”
The Nationals blew the game open with three runs in the ninth against reliever Colton Murray. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
The two home runs deprived Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon a chance at a save as he recorded the final three outs against his old team.

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1


Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1


The Phillies' late-May slide continued in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
Aaron Nola delivered a solid start, but got poor run support. The Phillies entered the game averaging 3.2 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
The Nationals scored all their runs on home runs.
The Phillies have lost nine of their last 11 games. They are 1-7 in their last eight and have gone from 25-19 and two games back in the NL East to 26-26 and 5½ games back.
Starting pitching report
Nola went six innings and allowed two runs, both on solo homers. He walked one and struck out six. He is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
Washington right-hander Joe Ross (5-4) pitched a strong game. He gave up just three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ross has given up just two runs over 14 innings in his last two starts.
Bullpen report
Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the Nats in a non-save situation.
At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have been held to two or fewer runs 20 times in their 52 games.

Cesar Hernandez tripled home the Phillies' only run.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs pair of solo homers against Nola. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer off Colton Murray in the ninth and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
Murphy also singled in the game. He had 47 hits in the month of May, tying a Washington/Montreal franchise record that had previously been shared by Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom.

Lineup stuff
Mackanin was trying to send Hernandez a message by batting him eighth (see story).
Bryce Harper did not play for Washington. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch in Monday night’s game.
Slumping Ryan Howard started at first base and went hitless in three at-bats to fall to .154. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May.
Howard will not start Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. He is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer. Tommy Joseph will start that game.
Minor matters
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint expires Wednesday. He could rejoin the team at any time.
Up next
 The series concludes on Wednesday night. Lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) pitches against Washington right-hander Scherzer (5-4, 4.05).