Ask Boswell

May 03, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about baseball, the Masters, the Capitals and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

They win in 6...no question, I just wanted to let you know.

Tonight is one of the all-time "must games" in Caps history. Yes, I know the teams that came back from an 0-3 hole and those this year that came back to reach a seventh game.

But if the Caps don't win tonight, the Bolts will end up taking the series. JMHO.

Mike Wise did a good column on the comparisons with the Caps-Lightning series in '03. I noticed that the other day. It may work out that way. But it's also important to observe how much like the Old Caps the team has played in the first two games. They are the younger team with more rest, yet as Tarik pointed out __and a review of the game tape showed__ they were outworked by a wide margin Game One. Shame on them.

With 1:48 left in Game Two, my son and I were watching and I said I thought they would somehow tie it up out of desperation and if they did, they'd win in OT and use victory __along with their comeback from 0-3 after two periods in Game Four in New York, that as a key part of their mo to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

I was just stunned by the bad line change and the absolutely great Tampa Bay play on the final OT goal. Just picture-book stuff. So, the Caps lost a game when they were outworked. They lost another game at home when they had gotten a late goal that "should" have ignited a win and they have allowed a key goal in both games that went off their own defenseman's sticks (accidentally, of course) and past Neuvirth.

Bolts coach Brouder poor mouths wonderfully about how tired his team is and hurt, etc. Don't buy it. If the Lightning win tonite, they can finish it off somehow some way. If the Caps win, I think they'll turn the series and find a way to advance.  So, kinda big! At least in my book.  

When the Caps scored with 67 seconds left in Game Two,

Redskins draft: 11 picks, 1 offensive lineman in the 7th round. This for a team that has one developing talent at left tackle and "meh" for the rest of the offensive line. Was this an unusually weak draft for offensive linemen, or just more of the same for the Redskins?.

I get you. O-line sure seems like a major need and they take two WRs, a RB and a safety before an o-lineman.

However, I'd like to make a larger and more troubling point about what a tough spot the Redskins are in __with so many needs, including QB__ and how LITTLE liklihood there is that their '11 draft will have much impact this season or even next year. I'm "amused" at the experts who say the Skins did a great job in the draft. How would they know? How would anybody know? The more you study the NFL draft the more you understand how little the 'experts' know and, more important, how little they even make an effort to understand what they are evaluating.

The Skins picked the No. 16, 41, 79, 105, 146, 155, 177, 178, 213, 217, 224 and 253 players in the draft.

So, wouldn't it be logical to look back and see who those picks were in the '10. '09 and '08 drafts? How much value did they have? How soon did they 'arrive?'

The answer is that those picks in '10 and '09 combined have, so far, been worth almopst nothing. If you include the '08 draft, you find one star __Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Tenn St__ who was taken with the No. 16 pick (the Ryan Kerrigan spot) and was an instant impact player. The only other "names" at any of those spots was No. 224 in '08 __Steve Jackson of Buffalo. But he didn't emerge as star until his third year. Progression: 10 catches for 102 yards in '08, two for 10 yards in '09, then 82 for 1073 last year.

Here are the players taken the last three years at each of the Skins draft spots. A few have made contributiuons. They aren't all bums. But it's pretty stunning to see how little value __especially immediate impact__ there is when you don't have a top 10 pick and only one in the top 40.

No. 16s: Derrick Morgan (DE, 1.5 sacks as rookie). Larry English (LB) 5.0 sacks and 32 tackles in 1st two years. Cromartie __already 13 INTs in three years.

No. 41s: Torell Troup (DT, 11 tackles). Darius Butler. James Hardy WR (10 catches in 3 yrs.)

No. 79: Donald Butler. Kraig Urbik. Amtwan Molden.

No. 105: Trevard Lindley (DB 11 games,  18 tackles). Henry Melton, Will Frublin.

Here are the names at 146, 155, 177, 178, 213, 217, 224 and 253. In '10: Cam Thomas, John Skelton, Carlton Mitchell, Arthur Moats, Willie Young, Dekota Watson (15 tackles), Phillip Adams, Eric Lorig.

In '09: Scott McKilop, Xavier Fulton, Don Carry, Mike Teel, Paul Fanaika, EJ Biggers (44 tackles in two years). Demetrius Byrd, Tiquam Underwood.   

In '08: Jerome  Felton, X (out of league), Corey Lynch, X, X, X, Johnson.

The reason you have heard of these guys, with a couple of exceptions if you are an NFL nuts, is that they have had no impact.

So, when this draft class probably doesn't produce more than one really good player (IF they are lucky) and one or two useful players, don't say it was a washout. Say it was normal for the NFL.

 

 

The criteria for a minor league hitter being ready to move up to the next level is achieving an OPS of .900 or greater, which demonstrates dominant performance. Bryce Harper is already there in single A. How long will the Nationals want to see this level of performance before moving him up to double A?. Do you think he has a chance to be a September callup this year?.

Harper has exploded in his last 10 games since getting contact lenses, hitting exactly .500 (16 for 32) with six doubles, five homers and 13 RBI. He's had a six-RBI game and got on base all five times yesterday.

His slash line after 23 games and 76 at bats is an amazing .355/.456/.697 and an OPS of 1.153. That is the hitting equivalent of what Strasburg was doing in the minors last year.

How does it compare with other 18-year-olds in their first shot at A-ball?

Ken Griffey, Jr. in 75 games at San Bernadino (A): .325/.431/.575. He was up to stay in Seattle at 19.

Alex Rodriguez in 65 games at Appleton (A): .319/.379/.605. He also was up to stay at 19 after ripping up higher minor-league classifications for part of the year (.360/.411/.654 at 19 in the minors).

Yes, you want to know about Pujols. He started later. He began in A-ball at 20 in Peoria where he played 109 games: .324/.389/.565. The next year he had 130 RBI at age 21 for the Cardinals.

No, I can't find any other equivalents for 18-year-olds in A Ball who were this good in recent times. There must be some. I haven't found them.

 

Mickey Mantle hit .383 and slugged .638 at Joplin at 18 and was in the Yankee outfield at 19. Ted Williams was in AA at 18 and in 138 games hit .291 and slugged .504. But at 19 at Minneapolis he "filled out" (if I remember the old stories correctly about him squeezing rubber balls in his hands 25 hours a day) and hit .366 in 148 games and slugged .701.

Sure, Harper is hot right now which amps up the numbers some. B ut, man, if he keeps this up, look at the numbers. There is STILL no reason to get him to the majors (imo) before June '12, even if this keeps up at AA and eventually AAA. It didn't hurt Mantle, Williams, Griffey, A-Rod and others to put in a LITTLE time __100-to-200 games in the minors.

But this is BY FAR the best news of the year for the Nats. Harper has stolen four bases, strikes out some, but also walks enough. Everything changes everything, but as of today, I'd say the Nats are 13 months away from having a developing star in their lineup who may be one of the best hitters in the game when he's 21 in '14. Seriously, even saying something like that is REALLY pushing it.

But he's on fire. I really want the true dope on whether his eyesight wasn't so great before those contacts lens!       

Tom, Ryan Langerhans here. So great to be back in a Nats uniform and playing CF. Acta had me hitting down in the lineup, but Riggleman has promoted me to the 2-hole. I know I can count on my defense and cannon of an arm, but when should I start getting nervous about my low BA and OBP and a drop in the lineup? Sincererly, Ryan

Sorry, Ryan. Rick Ankiel has more range, a far better arm and has hit for power in the past. He's hit in bad luck so far. You tried hard, Ryan, but I'll take Ankiel, even if he can't hit good lefthanders, any day.

why don't the Nats institute a "no head-first slides" rule and have any offenders throw money into some sort of pot? The players need to break this bad habit, don't you think?

Yes, I think a nominal no-head-first slide rule, especially for anybody who weighs over 210 pounds, would be a good team rule. If you want to do it anyway, go ahead. But the team is saying it disagrees and it's $100 (or $10) every time you do it. It's symbolic. What if you get a Pete Rose-type someday who can do it and never get hurt? But it "encourages" player to use the feet-first approach.

 

Marquis is pitching great. Is it a late-career blossoming? Trade him now for value, or is he a piece of the puzzle for the Nats contending in 2012 or 2013? I know that's the $64,000 question, but play GM for a minute.

This is a perfectly normal streak of good games for Marquis. Nothing special at all. That's why they paid $15-m illion for him for two years. He was an All-Star in '09. He'll have rough stretches, too. He's a solid sinker/slider pitcher with a very competitive attitude and a good hitter, decent fielder, too. He's just what they thought he was last year before he had bone chips in his elbow. I assume they'll trade him before July 31 for prospects. If they extend him, within reason, I'm fine with it. But I think he's part of their present __and knows it__ not their future. Players in contract years have been know to have nice seasons.  

Boz, you'd stated in a previous chat that even with a healthy Strasburg you'd take the O's starting five over the Nats' starting five. What's your take now?

Oh, causing trouble, huh?

Call it a draw right now. The O's are young and hard throwing. Britton looks exceptional. Matusz isn't even back yet. Marquis and Livan aren't long-term pieces. Lannan is a 4th-5th guy. I don't think he's going to get better. And Z'mann needs better command within the strike zone or he'll end up a 3-4, not a 2-3.  But Gorzelanny, at 28, looks like a nice little steal.

It'll be fun to watch how so many young arms develop. In AAA, in his last two starts, Maya's line is 15-6-(3-3)-1-15. Maybe he's finding himself. But Detwiler's fourth start was awful getting his ERA back up to 4.33. But AAA can fool you. Stammen (3.20) always goes down there and projects as pretty good, then gets to the bigs and his ERA goes over 5.00.

It's nice to have arms on both teams that are finally worth debating.    

Hi, Tom. I have been an Indians fan for over 6 decades, and we had some good days after Jacobs Field opened. The piece in today's Post on Manny Acta is very good, but also raises some concerns. I understand the piece to say that the city of Cleveland, in the present economy, simply cannot come up with much more easy money to support a baseball team. So the Indians are doing things in a small-ball way, appealing to blue-collar folks to come see a game. Makes sense to me, but I am wondering how common that is. How can Detroit support the Tigers? And does Denver have lots of money? Do you have to have an owner with very deep pockets who is willing to spend? Of course, Cleveland had Dick Jacobs.

Great piece on Acta and the Indians by Dave. The day Manny was canned, I think the only people who still believed in him strongly were Rizzo, Kasten and me. (Probably Dave, too, if I remember right.) He was a casualty of the worst of the bad Lerner amatuer-hour years. He didn't get the benefit of the new slightly-improved verdict-still-out Lerners.

Cleveland is like several other towns that have to do everything right to buiuld a winner. The Indians are a perfect example of why Selig (and plenty of others) want to expand the playoffs to 10 teams next year. As I wrote in a recent column, it's going to happen and almost certainly in '12 as one item that will be negotiated in the new CBA in December. It'll help teams like the Nats and O's, too.

Is it "good for baseball?" As I wrote, tough one. We'll see. But it's coming.

Though Dave answered all the questions about why the Indians are now small market, not mid-market with an Indians addiction as in the '90's.

 

 

Boz, The Nats are hitting like Belanger, fielding like Thonberry and pitching lights out top to bottom. How in the heck are they still alive and can they realistically "hang in there" till Zim comes back?

The hitting will get better. Nobody is this bad.

The pitching won't stay this good or this healthy. Well, it's conceivable if the N ats continue to be No. 1 in baseball in least walks allowed and tied for second in least homers allowed. But they are nearly last in strikeouts, despite a high-K bullpen, so, no, they aren't going to have a 3.38 starters ERA by September!

But it's still a fact that they are 14-14 without Strasburg, Zimmerman and with Harper on the way. Short term, tough road trip coming up. Could stumble. Longer view, even just one year from now __very positive.

But I'll note that Werth, while a goof RFer, isn't a VERY goof RF. He doesn't like to go to the wall. Many of his throws are 3/4 arm __despite the fine game-ending throw to the plate to end that Pirates game. Three errors. Balls lost in lights. On a "pace" for 40 RBI. It's May, Jayson. We all know the game is streaky and that you'll produce evventually. But it's time to wake up.

Maybe his "reunion" in Philly tonight will snap him out of it. He hit them well down here.

What is Tom Gorzelanny's future with the Nats? He pitched a gem Monday nite, and he has been more consistent than John Lannan all year. Yet Lannan is always assumed to be part of the future and Gorzelanny is kind of an after-thought. Kind of interesting that the two best-pitched games of the year came this weekend from guys (Marquis, Gordo) who may not figure into the team's plans.

Rizzo certainly thought Gorz might be part of the future when he got him. Advanced stats like FIP and xFIP said that they stole him. He has several pitches and "misses bats." On good nights, he can hit 92, has a good curve and change and can make hitters look bad. 

His key is control. Always been a problem. But only nine walks in 30.2 innings so far with just 19 hits allowed and 23 Ks. If the walks stay low, he might jump up a level from a decent MLB starter to a pretty good one. Lets see if he can keep throwing strikes. The Nats improved defense and more plays like some behind him last night may encourage him.

 

What do you make of Shanahan's effusive praise of the seldom seen John Beck? That's an odd vote of confidence coming from a head coach who couldn't find the time to get this guy on the field long enough to hand the ball off to a running back, never mind engineer a drive. Why does Mike Shanahan seem so enigmatic? I liked his draft well enough. But the team may find it needs a quarterback at some point.

The whole QB situation has been handled so atrociously that I don't know how you unravel it. If it weren't Shanahan doing the coaching you'd say this was a team that wanted to have an awful '11 and get a very high draft pick. But he's way too ornery and old for that. If you praise Beck, how does that impact the chances of Grossman returning? And Snyder still kinda likes Donovan. What a mess. But, at least for now, that's still the Redskins Way. 

Boz, The fact that the Nats medical staff misdiagnosed the team's best player is trouble. When you also consider the way they screwed up Flores, that leaves me to question how this can happen with all the money floating around professional baseball. Any thoughts?

I agree and wonder why the Nats are not more concerned with this pattern.

Add, to one degree or another, Chad Cordero, John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Strasburg, etc. Every team has injuries. But I'd be looking hard at this area. It never seemed to worry Kasten, who had reservations about the way many things were done. As soon as Z'man was hurt, I said, "Two months." Honest. Why is my intuitive sense of it better then the Nats? Okay, maybe you always see if you can get a quick recovery with surgery a last resort.

 

Boz, I am holding out hope that game 3 is still the key to this series. I've been saying it since the schedule came out. If the Caps find a way to win game 3 I like their chances in game 4 on back-to-back nights. Am I taking crazy pills? J in the D (Detroit)

I think you're right. After Game One, Bolts coach Guy Boucher came right out and said he didn't like the back-to-back games at home, didn't think it favored them. So, if they lose 3, he's kind of set his team up to think, "Even our coach doesn't think we can win 4 if we lose 3."

Tom, if you were Ted Leonsis what would you do with your GM and coach next year if the Caps lose to Tampa Bay?

I had techno-trouble posting answer to this before. I think GMGM is as good as they come __in any sport. Best GM in DC in a long time. Leonsis gets the credit. George wears his Undertaker black suits and hides. You couldn't even find him in the HBO special. He knows how good he is, but tries to keep it a secret. Hard to do when everything out of his mouth is more sensible than anything that comees out of anybody else's. Some exaggeration. Not much.

That said, George thinks Bruce is a helluva coach. He really, really does. Normally, I'd say that BB is coaching for his life in DC in this city and that he should be. Great guy, entertaining, but just a nice good coach, no wizard.

But leonsis is p;ateint and GMGM carries a lot of weight. Still, if they can't beat the Lightning with home ice and coming off a rest afatyer the Bolts went 7 with Pitt, doesn't somebody have to get fired? I'd say, "Yes."

But I also think the Caps are going to pull out this series __though it's a scary near thing__ and we're going to share a lot more laughes with Bruce.   

Hi Tom. Love your columns and chats. What's up with Matt Stairs? He's 0-for-2011. When he manages a walk he's replaced with a pinch runner, which exhausts two players in one move. I realize he's just one hit shy of 100 pinch hits, but are the Nats really that sentimental? Particularly given the offensive strugglesy? Surely Bernadina is a MUCH better option as a left-handed hitting bench player. He also can play the field, and he can run the bases when he gets on. What are your thoughts?

He's sort of Werth's hitting coach. (How's that working out.) But he and Werth straightened out Stopren and may have changhed his season by telling him to go back to his weird stiff-legged delivery.

I like Stairs and think he's the rare 24th-25th man who can actually add a win or two over a season. But the adsence of RH b ats on the bench  makes it tough to endorse him. Be nice if he could touch one off __I saw him hit a bomb in spring training__ and show everybody why he has 243 career homers, the 2nd most on the team after Pudge.

Tom, last night the bases were loaded with 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th and Riggleman left his 5th starter in to bat after we reeled off 4 straight hits. Thankfully, it didn't bite us, but I think you have to pinch hit for him in that situation and go for the knockout blow. As you always say you must go for that big inning!! And why do we have Matt Stairs on the roster still? Why not give someone else a chance to impact a game in many more ways than Stairs can?

My "first-guess" at the time was "pinch hit for him."

But it wasn't a mistake, just a m anaging decision.

The awful decision, which Riggleman manned-up and admitted, was leaving Lannan in to walk Huff with the bases loaded, rather than bring in Clippard to face a guy with one career homer with first base still open. Just awful. Rig admitted he wanted to leave Lannan in so hje'd have a chance for a win. Weaver called this "sentimental managing" and abhored it. But Rig knew it, screwed up a game and took the blame. Just don't do it again. You're their manager not their uncle.

Wow!! With Blaine Gabbert sitting there I was stunned the skins traded back and thrilled to death they did. I think they got three starters with there first 3 picks. The most important part to me that no one is talking about is all 3 guys were 4 year players and team captains. So we didn't just bring in talent but adults with talent. Very exciting

As I said last week, I'm a 'trade back guy" unless there is a clear fit for a player you need and love. Obviously, the Skins like Beck as much or more than anybody they could have taken at QB at No. 10. 

But if they passed on a future All-Pro, I'm going to start believing in that "bad luck" curse because of the team nickname.  

I haven't been a great manager lately, but I've publicly admitted to my mistakes. Do you think the Nats will extend my contract?

If you win enough games.

And Acta doesn't go to the World Series.

Good morning Tom, Are you surprised with the Nats average attendance to date?

Yes, at 20,606 and 23rd in baseball, it's a hair better than I thought and a tad better than the last two years after the same number of dates. I thought with no Strasburg and "wait 'til next year" mood that they'd have more problems. They've been hanging around 23-24th the last three years. One year after they field a winning team (I assume all teams eventually field winners!), we'll see what the local reaction is.

Ok, so tonight's Caps game starts at 6:30? Say what? I thought that was the air time for the broadcast, but it appears to be the puck drop time. Is it part of an Early Bird Special down there in Florida, maybe you get a salisbury steak dinner and the game for $9.99 if you get there by 5. How come MLB can't start World Series games before 8:30 in the East, insuring that almost no one can see the end of the games, but the NHL is now starting at 6:30 making it tough for people who have jobs to actually get home to watch?

Thanks! We have it as a 6:30 start in the paper today.

I'm afraid a lot of people may tune in at 7 and miss most of the first period. So, this can be our little "heads up" to 'em.

Tom, I saw Yunesky Maya pitch a shutout against the Rochester Red Wings last Saturday in Syracuse. Considering how well the Nats starting pitchers are doing, will Yunesky and Ross Detwiler get a chance to pitch at Nats Park this year?

I still assume that somebody in the rotation gets traded before July 31st. Who thought the Nats would be the store to shop at to get Surplus Quality Starting Pitching? And you'll see Maya or Detwiler.

However, the pitcher you WANT to see is Toby Kimball: 0.00 ERA in nine games at AAA.

By the way, Henry Rodriguez has an amazing arm. In his one inning for the Nats against the Giants, everything was 98-to-101. Yes, 101 and a couple of 100's. And his slider is vicious. His history is "wild." Well, yeah, I'd hope so, otherwisxe why would anybody ever trade him. BTW, Willingham hit his 5th homer last night for Oakland __pace for 30__ and more than any Nats. But after seeing Henry, I'll go along with the trade.

I want to see Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Rodriguez, Kimball and Slaten in the same bullpen. If you want to compare staffs __and futures__ that is where the Orioles can't touch the Nats. And it may turn out that very few teams can.

 

Last week you stated that the only thing favoring having LaRoche over Dunn at first was his ability to handle bad throws from Desmond. Want to reconsider that? Not a game goes by that we don't say at least once "Adam Dunn doesn't make that play." Indeed at one game I was turning my head to say that to my seatmate and before I could get the words out of my mouth the guy in front of me said it to his wife. These things add up over the course of a season, and they're not all Desmond throws.Admittedly, LaRoche is no Dunn at the plate. But he'll be good enough. And the thought of Dunn lumbering around first base for the next four years is ridiculous. It was bad enough watching him get a rare day in the field the other day against the O's. So losing Dunn and gaining LaRoche is ultimately a bad thing? Really, Tom?

Yes, really.

Really, really, really.

Dunn has had an appendicitis surgery this season, missed a week, came back without his timing, fell into a terrible slump and STILL has 12 RBI __which would be second on the Nats. Dunn can't be any worse than he is now and he'll still hit 30 homers and drive 100 runs. Just wait. The Nats can't score runs because they have no center to their batting order. But, heh, I've moved on. LaRoche is fun to watch on D and gutsy just for playing with that shoulder. But he's hitting .189. How much of that is due to 'playing hurt.'

Dunn WILL hit. And he will stay healthy for years. Surgery barely gets him out of the lineup. Okay, maybe I'm not quite over it.    

Boz, what do the stats say about teams down 2-0 on their home ice turning it around and winning a best of 7?

I haven't found it. And I've looked some. But it ain't good.

Don't forget: 6:30. All good luck charms at the ready.

 

RFK Stadium hosted games in 1994 and 2003. FedEx field in 1999. I'm happy the US Open is coming too, but not so happy that I'm ignoring facts.

No World Cup FINAL, just as we've had no ultimate final championship game in football (Super Bowl) or World Series (since '33). Soccer fans have to be the touchiest. What is that about? Like falling down, rolling around and acting like both your legs are broken every time any 150-pounder bumps in to you. Ooops, probably shouldn't have said that!

See you next week. Hope we still have some smiles on our faces for a lot more hockey in May and not just the U.S. Open __in June__ to look forward to.  

 

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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