The Nationals are finally poised to compete

In the entire history of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, they’ve made just one playoff appearance, which happened so long ago that Mark McGwire probably doesn’t even remember being drafted by the organization that year. (1981 for those scoring at home.)

Since then, the Expos/Nationals have been a study in failure. Sure, there were those few years in the early 90s when the team was competitive under Felipe Alou, but for the most part the organization has been riddled with bad luck and underperformance.

Until now, that is.

Am I ready to crown the Nationals as my pre-season pick to win the NL East? No, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they earned a Wild Card bid – especially with a playoff team being added in each league this year. Their starting rotation is excellent, their bullpen is solid, and their offense should be improved from what it was a year ago. Assuming their core players stay healthy, there’s no reason to think the Nats can’t challenge an aging Philadelphia squad and a club in Atlanta that has managed to choke in pressure situations the past two seasons.

It’s hard not to love Washington’s starting rotation. Stephen Strasburg is coming off Tommy John surgery but he and Jordan Zimmermann flat out throw gas. Gio Gonzalez was one of the more underrated pickups from this offseason and Edwin Jackson helped the Cardinals win a World Series title last season. Assuming he isn’t traded at some point, John Lannan is a pretty damn good fifth starter. In fact, all five of Washington’s starting pitchers could finish with ERAs south of 4.0.

That said, the offense will make or break this club in 2012. Outside of Ryan Zimmerman, not one hitter in the Nats’ projected 2012 lineup will hit for average. There also isn’t a 100-RBI man on the roster, unless Zimmerman and Jayson Werth (who had a brutal debut last year with the Nationals) overachieve.

But the 2010 Giants showed that offense isn’t everything, especially if you can make it into the postseason. Plus, it’s a pitcher’s game now and the Nationals aren’t short on arms this season. We’ll just have to see if they have enough offense to give themselves a shot to play past October 3.

Either way, this isn’t the same Nationals’ club that finished fifth, fifth, fourth, fifth, fifth, fifth and third since moving to Washington in 2005. This team appears ready to compete.

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Parcells to Saints seems more like a reality than a long shot at this point

Bill Parcells can’t help himself, can he? The man can’t not coach when an opportunity presents itself.

Call it a hunch, a gut feeling, or just history simply repeating itself but I think the Big Tuna will wind up taking the Saints’ interim coaching job this season. And his recent comments to Chris Mortensen don’t suggest otherwise.

“If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll think it over and clearly I’m in some phase of the process without knowing whether it’s going to become a reality,” Parcells told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen by phone on Wednesday. “Sean’s become a dear, dear friend. I’m trying to be a friend.

“You know, when I was a young coach, there were people like Chuck Noll, Chuck Knox and Tom Landry who were there for me. I think to honor those guys who helped me, you turn around and pass that legacy on to somebody else and Sean’s an example of that. If he needs me and the owner and GM feel the same way, then I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t consider it.”

Does that sound like a man who wants to keep hanging out with his buddy Bobby Knight while relaxing in his home in Florida? It doesn’t to me. If Parcells didn’t want the job he may lead the media on for a little while but eventually he would simply and bluntly say, “I’m not coming back.”

It’s been a week since Mortensen reported that Sean Payton would approach Parcells about coaching the Saints next season and the story has yet to go off quietly into the good night. Maybe this is the juncture where Parcells is just playing the media but again, it makes too much sense for him to try his hand again at coaching.

Parcells craves being coveted and as he’s suggested, he’s interested in helping one of his protégés. The Saints are a perfect fit because they’re already modeled somewhat after Parcells himself. Granted, Parcells has always preferred a tough defense over a finesse-oriented offense, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t relish watching Drew Brees run Payton’s aggressive attack up close. (Payton was also his QB/Assistant coach in Dallas so obviously he’s fond of Payton and his offensive ideologies.) Plus, teamed with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, he could hand-pick players to rebuild the Saints’ defense. They already added run-stuffing middle linebacker Curtis Lofton earlier this week, and with Parcells’ help as a talent evaluator, they could address holes along the defensive line and outside ‘backer.

If it were another team, I would be more hesitant to suggest that Parcells would come back. But because he knows it’ll only be for one year and he doesn’t have to completely start from scratch (the Saints are already a Super Bowl contender), he can go after his third championship and then exit stage left next January or February. Maybe his heart isn’t in it to deal with the media, but I think he’ll overlook that one aspect for a golden opportunity to win another title.

Update: As I was writing this, Mortensen said on SportsCenter that his “gut feeling” is Pracells will be the Saints’ head coach.

Report: Browns inquired about Rams’ Sam Bradford

ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi reported earlier today that the Browns inquired about a trade for Sam Bradford before eventually attempting, and failing, to acquire the No. 2 overall pick.

The Browns asked the Rams about trading for quarterback Sam Bradford before turning their attention to Robert Griffin III, sources said at NFL meetings this week.

The Rams said no.

“His name came up, not from us,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Wednesday morning. “Clubs inquired. But there was no consideration whatsoever on our part (to trade Bradford).”

Fisher would not confirm the Browns were one of the teams.

“I prefer not to get into specifics about the conversations. I can say there were teams that inquired,” Fisher said.

This would be the second time the Browns tried to snatch Bradford. Prior to the 2010 draft, President Mike Holmgren made a last-ditch offer to move up from No. 7 to No. 1. The Rams – under a different regime – held the top pick and wouldn’t budge.

In a text response, Shurmur declined to comment on whether the Browns tried to trade for Bradford.

I think it’s a little odd that both Fisher and Shurmur either denied or declined to talk about whether or not the Browns tried to trade for Bradford and yet Grossi still wrote, “The Browns asked the Rams about trading for quarterback Sam Bradford,” in the first sentence of his article. I don’t doubt that Grossi has other sources but it’s funny how both head coaches washed their hands of the report and Grossi ran with it anyway.

But I digress. I’m not surprised to hear that the Browns allegedly tried to trade for Bradford this offseason. He and Shurmur had success working together in St. Louis two years ago and he’s a perfect fit for what Cleveland is trying to do offensively. But while I’m not surprised that the Browns inquired about Bradford, I’m even less surprised that the Rams turned them down.

Bradford is coming off a bad season but he has the makings to become a great quarterback under the right tutelage. His rookie year was comparable to Matt Ryan and Dan Marino’s first seasons (at least statistically) and he has the intangibles to develop nicely under Fisher (who must see Bradford’s potential or else he would have traded him when he had the opportunity). Last year Bradford tried to learn a complicated Josh McDaniels offense in a lockout-shortened offseason and wound up getting hurt under the Rams’ shoddy protection. I’m more inclined to think that 2011 was the aberration and not 2010.

What’s interesting to me about Grossi’s report is whether or not Mike Holmgren has tipped his draft hand here. He’s allegedly made two attempts this offseason to try and upgrade the Browns’ quarterback situation so does that mean that Cleveland will take Ryan Tannehill at No. 4? That seems too high for Tannehill but hey, it’s the NFL draft – you just never know.

Don’t buy what Irsay is selling – Luck will be the No. 1 pick.

Colts owner Jim Irsay said on Tuesday that it isn’t a foregone conclusion that his team will take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft. Irsay also suggested that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are in fact real, and Tiger Woods is a virgin.

Here’s what Irsay said: “It’s up in the air. We have to look at this thing completely open-minded. You have two outstanding athletes, two great pure passers, two great guys from families that are incredible.”

Every year around this time an owner, general manager, head coach, or talking head from the media reports that the sure-thing-No.1-overall-pick isn’t such a sure thing at all. I remember last year the Panthers weren’t going to take Cam Newton because they wanted to upgrade their defense. Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, and even Da’Quan Bowers were thrown around as potential choices for Carolina at No. 1. But when the rubber met the road, the Panthers took the obvious choice in Newton.

And so will Irsay and the Colts. (The obvious choice, that is – not Newton.) Irsay is right when he says that Luck and RGIII are two outstanding athletes and two pure passers. But Luck has been a slam-dunk to the Colts for months now and outside of the Stanford QB opting to join the Peace Corps or something, he’ll hold a blue and white No. 1 Indianapolis jersey come April 26.

That said, even though I don’t believe a word of what Irsay is saying, by no means do I think he’s going about this situation the wrong way. Even if what you’re going to do is already a foregone conclusion, you still don’t tip your hand when it comes to the draft. Ever. Outside of hammering out a contract with Luck to ensure that he gets to camp on time, there’s no benefit for the Colts to announce their intentions at No. 1. And now that the NFL has a rookie salary structure, the negotiation process has become simplified, so the Colts have less to worry about when it comes to being able to sign Luck.

Thus, if you’re Irsay, why not give the Redskins and other teams something to think about by suggesting that Luck won’t be your pick? It’s a benefit to keep everyone else on the back of their heels.

But again, Andrew Luck will be an Indianapolis Colt come next month. I don’t care what Jim Irsay is saying right now.

Baseball’s Greatest Games: 2011 World Series – Game 6 Blu-ray Giveaway

There is an exclusive, invite-only club whose membership is limited to heart-stopping, history-making World Series home runs. That prestigious roster now includes David Freese and his 11th-inning leadoff, walk-off home run that provided a fitting finale to a spectacular Fall Classic.

In Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, on the edge of elimination, the St. Louis Cardinals trailed five times, including by two runs in the ninth and in the 10th, each of those two times down to their last strike. The Cardinals comebacks were triggered by Freese, Lance Berkman and a resilient lineup. From Freese’ two-out, game-tying 9th inning triple, to Berkman’s 11th-inning game-tying single, to the final wondrous walk-off, all the drama, thrills and exhilaration of this Fall Classic masterpiece are here to enjoy for the first time in high definition on the new “Baseball’s Greatest Games: 2011 World Series – Game 6” Blu-ray!

Direct from the Major League Baseball archives, this extraordinary television broadcast includes the quintessential making of an iconic moment, and one unforgettable baseball game available for the first time as both a DVD and Blu-ray!

In support of its release, The Scores Report is giving one lucky winner a copy of the new Blu-ray. Click here to enter for your chance to win, and then be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates on new contests and giveaways.

CONTEST ENDS: April 18th

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