Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 01, 2013

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Will the NL East be the worst top-to-bottom division in MLB this year? Only a couple of years ago it looked like murderers row. Now, the Braves are overrated, the Phils broken down, and the Mets and Marlins will be battling it out with Houston for the worst team in baseball.

The NL East won't be the worst. But I agree that the Braves are probably slightly over-rated (because the Uptons are slightly overvalued, Chipper-Prado-Bourn are gone and Medlen, after a poor spring, isn't going 10-1 again.) The Mets and Marlins are 90-to-100 loss teams; the Mets lost Johan Sanatana for the season. I wrote in the middle ogf last season that the Yanks, Phils and Red Sox era was finished __all three teams were too old, though I thought that "one will probably find a way to make the playoffs." That's how it worked out. This year, none of them will make the playoffs. The Phils might match 81-81, but maybe not, too. Halladay has looked even worse than his numbers. Doc, Cliff Lee, Lannan and Kendrick gave up 59 runs in n75 innings in Florida __terrible. Utley and Howard hit well, so there's that. But I don't see how they get to 90 wins even in a best case. (But nobody thought the O's would would win 90+ last year on Opening Day.)

The Nats have a really "manageable" schedule. If they get to June 2nd at, say, 32-27, their toughest stretch is past and they might run wild after that. The Nats don't play the Rays, the Angels, the Blue Jays, the Yanks (who'll get better as they get healthier), the Red Sox (still not awful) or the Rangers AT ALL this year. That should be good scheduling luck. They get 36 games with the Mets and Marlins and 6 or 7 each with the Cubs, Pirates, Pads, Rockies, Indians. The only awful team they miss is probably Houston.

However, the first month matters a lot because the Nats play ther excellent Reds and Braves SEVEN times each and the Cards three times by May 2. So, in theory, it's a good year to come out of spring training w3ith no major injuries. 

So, your question is excellent, imo. If the Nats do well the 1st two months, they maqy romp. BUT if they stagger early they give hope to others and raise doubts about themselves. The drama for serious fans starts pretty early __like this Friday in Cincinnati, then Atlanta in DC the next weekend. 

Boz, boy it feels great to have opening day here in DC. Just curious as to what happens if Espinosa gets off to a bad start on the left side of the plate as he did last year whether people will be clamoring to play Lombardozzi (and/or bringing up Rendon) and whether that will actually happen with how stubborn Davey can be?

Both Rizzo and Davey love Espinosa's high ceiling, but they're Lombardozzi fans, too. Espinosa is 0-for-15 career vs Ricky Nolasco so this might not be the best day to evaluate him.

BTW, there were only two complete-game shutouts pitched against the Nationals last year: BOTH by the Marlins starting pitcher today, Nolasco (career ERA 4.49). Those shutouts were in his last two games against the Nats late last year. Does he have their number? Johnson says they were studying film on him yesterday. Nolasco's rep is that if he gets an early lead he relaxes, pitches his best but that, in a close game, if things starting going against him he doesn't react as well as a 30-year-old vet should. Nats hit him pretty hard the first three times they met last year.

Also, btw, Strasburg's first three starts vs Miami last year were ALL six innings and no runs allowed. Then, late in season, when he was showing fatigue and the need to be shut down (imo), the Marlins crushed him twice in 8-0 and 9-0 loses in which Strasburg gave up 12 runs in just eighth innings. 

So, a very curious but very interesting Opening Day matchup.

When will the Nationals realize that Henry Rodriguez is the 21st century reincarnation of Sidd Finch? Continuing to protect his "development" hurt us in the Rule 5 draft last year and in the bullpen this year. When will they pull the plug?

Any effective closer is good enough for a team to win 80, 85 games. Their style/stuff doesn't matter. But to win a Series, you usually need somebody with overpowering stuff __H-Rod stuff. The Nats don't quite have that pitcher now. Storen is closest. Soriano throws several pitches, splits, sliders __that means he can't just blow you away anymore.

So, Nats are talking Series but don't have a classic Series-style closer. Long-term, you never want to give up on somebody like Henry who could eventually be that person. Will he? Probably not. But nobody else on the 25-man today has that kind of stuff.

What Hall of Famer has the most inside-the-park home runs, with 55? Hint: The "Crab" stopped playing in 1905.

Lets ask the chatters....

(I don't know. Though the "Crab" should be enough.)

 

How long will the Nats have to endure a small market TV contract?

That's a mystery even to the Nats. They really don't know. Bud Selig seems unwilling to use his "best interests of the game" powers to enforce a decision or he would have done it long ago. 

The stakes here are so large and last (probably) over a 20-year period that it is more important __for both sides__ that it be done right than that it be done quickly.

There's also a school of thought __though nobody knows when or if Selig will actually retire__ that this will be an early piece of business for the next MLB commissioner who may not have much personal history with the Orioles/Angelos, wasn't part of the creation of the current "arrangement" and might not be as worried about litigation because he wouldn't be pulled in as part of the creation of the original problem. 

Baseball is so flush with so many new revenue streams and the Nats figure to do so much better at the gate this year that this, while pressing, is not as big a financial issue as fans may think. It's a big issue, but it is not an amount of money that changes how an ownership as rich as the Lerners do their business. They know a big upgrade in RSN income is coming. And the more fans the Nats draw __to the park and on TV__ the more that contract would presumably be worth. Before Friday's exhibition game I said to a couple of people that I thought that crowd, for an exhibition game (bad) against the Yankees (good) on a chilly weekday afternoon (bad) with a nice pitching matchup (nice) might be the first tip on '13 attendance. I even guessed that the Friday crowd (for which all season ticket holders were counted in attendance whether they came or not, I believe) might not be within 1,000 of the eventual '13 average. When the crowd was announced at 38,141, I thought, "Well, it's not going to be THAT high in a 41,000-seat ballpark. But it might be a tip off. We'll see. The worst crowd of the season is often the second game of the season, especially if it is a chilly weekday night against a bad team __which would be Weds vs the Marlins. So that may give a read on what the low end is.    

Bos - It seems possible that the Nats could have an all-time great year in terms of runs allowed if the pitching staff and defense play up to potential. Care to make a prediction on this front or have any advanced stats that indicate such a possibility?

Haren and Soriano both looked poor in Florida. Until they show better form, no aggressive predictions on team ERA. Nats should score more runs this year with better health.  

Do you like the playoff format where it's a total crapshoot or do you prefer the old way (pre LCS era) where the best team over 162 wins the pennant from each league and then play for the WS?

The old way was less fun but obviously a much better test. With TEN teams now in the playoffs, it's going to take a few years to see if it's actually HARDER now for wild cards to go all the way and win the Series __that was the intention. Force WC's to burn their best available starter in the 'play-in" game and thus weaken them for the Division Series. It didn't work that way for the Cards last year, did it?

Bryce Harper is hitting nearly .500 this spring. Historically, does that have any real meaning for his regular season, or were pitchers giving him more pitches to hit than they will going forward? And was he working on anything in particular, or just swinging away? Thanks.

Mostl good hitters perform slightly better in spring training than they do in regukar season __when measured over ALL the spring trainings in their careers. For example, Ryan Zimmerman has a career ~.340 avg in ST. He says it's because "I love to hit in Space Coast Stadium. It's perfect for me." Especially since the wind blows out toward RF most days, whichy helps his high flies and his low pulled line drives aren't bothered much by that wind. Almost the only Nats who has not hit well over the years in Florida is Werth. Of course, MLB hitters are facing plenty of minor league pitchers early in spring training. Easy pickings.

Oddly, to me, it seems that established MLB p;itchers do about the same, or slightly worse, in spring training. I looked up about 100 players last month __not a real "study", but the pattyern was so clear for both hitters and pitchers over their careers that I'm pretty close to deciding that "the hitters are ahead of the pitchers" in ST.

Also, many hitters completely ignore walks in ST. This year Lombardozzi, Moore, Z'man and Ramos drew only two walks in 223 at bats. Z'man 0 in 55 ABs. Espinosa (3), Desmpond (5) and Harper (4) also didn't walk much. Only Span showed pateince (12 walks). But he didn't hit! .222.

Last spring, the Nats walked a lot more in Florida, but scored less than this year. So, I give up.

Seemed to me that Harper was so successful because he hit to all fields and didn't seem "pull conscious" even though he hit three homers. That's probably his best approach because he can really rip liners and one-hoppers through the infield with his power. The hometrs will take care of themselves.

 

 

Adam's piece this morning made it sound like the decision for this to be Davey's last year was much more management's decision than Davey's. Could this possibly be true? If so, could management possibly be that stupid?

I was amazed that there was so little reaction to that story. 

Davey was asked about it at his press conference again this morning. "It is my last one (season) sitting here (as Nats manager)," he said. "I never know what lies in store for me...(Wife) Susan wants top travel...I want to keep working...So, that's another fight that's going on," he said, laughing at "fight." 

He said he thought he and the team could "culminate" their work together "at the end of this year...then turn it over to a younger more energetic manager."

I'm pretty sure it is ownership that believes in the need for a "younger more energetic manager." 

BUT Davey is 70. If this team has a long run in it, then the Nats do need to hire their potentialk "Bobby Cox manager" who can stay in the role for the whole run.

However, if you talk to Desmond, Werth, Z'man, LaRoche and others, it's pretty clear that the core Nats are way more than just "happy" playing for Johnson and are very uncertain what the first year without him will be like. BUT there WILL be a first year without him. It sure looks like that will be '14.

All the more reason that "World Series or Bust" is not baloney. Very, very tough to replace a Davey Johnson. 

If Johnson leaves, I'd say there's about a 50-50 chance he comes back with another MLB team. I mentioned to him in Florida that he had roots in many other towns and that he'd get managerial offers from some of them. "I know it," he said. Davey can't help himself. He's almost cumpulsively honest. Then he went into his riff about how it felt like "fate" to start as a Senators ball boy (or something) in spring training ~60 years ago and now try to lead them to a Series.

Davey's not upset. He gets it. He said monnths ago that "I can understand them not wantying amanager on Social Security." But that doesn't mean it makes him happy.

"Them" sounds like ownership or ownership plus Rizzo. If it were primarily Rizzo, wouldn't it be "him?"

To be continued...  

How about Rick Ankiel last night? I've always liked him. I only hope Denard Span turns out to be half as good.

Loved seeing Ankiel going upper tank in Houston! Very popular everywhere he's played and a hero because he faced just about the worst thing that can hit a pitcher __Steve Blass Disease__ and was such a remarkable athlete that he made it back as a pitcher. Strasburg still talks about how Ankiel (who touched 97 mph when he pitched) helped him use his curveball more effectively __which counts, when to use it to expand the zone, etc.

Span will have to be goon to top Ankiel in CF. Span's arm is good, but nobody is Ankiel. Span presumably has more range, though Ankiel was mooth. Of course, Rick has a strikeout machine with run-into-one HR power. If Span has a .350 on-base percertage, steals 30 bases and covers ground in CF, the Nats will be happy. He gives them more Little Ball ability for days __especially in October__ when you have to win 2-1, 3-2.

Wouldn't it be great to see Justin Maxwell do well in Houyston, too. Though he had an awful spring training (.170s). 

And the leading home run hitter in MLB in sp[ring training was.....

Michael Morse with 9. He also hit 9 in Florida in '11, then had 31 homers and 95 RBI in the season.

FWIW, Lannan had a 7./71 spring ERA. But what on earth were Manuel and Phils doing leaving him in to give up 12 earned runs on 14 hits in one game. That's not "getting your work in." That is, potentially, damaging confidence for a pitcher with a new team in a tough town.

AL/NL champs and World Series winner?

I hate this. I've only had one firm prediction in my life. I told Andy Beyer (who liked to make full-season bets on baseball and wanted my imput because I never bet and thus didn't have a contaminated opinion!)) to take the Orioles at 12-to-1 in '83 to win the Series. I thought the odds were right. He won $12,000 __and bought me...dinner.

Anyway, what floats up to mind is: Tigers beat Reds in World Series. Nationals win 99, win NL East pretty easily but lose to Reds in NLCS. Nats fans learn to hate the name Aroldis Chapman. Orioles win 87, miss playoffs by one game. They used up their fabulous one-run and extra-inning luck last year but they are MUCH better.

But if the Nats or Orioles are in the Series, or both, I doubt I'll have much trouble getting myself to write about it.

My fingers typed that "predicition." I have little faith and even less interest in this Nostradamus stuff. The season itself is so fascinating that I don't take any pleasure in trying to impose a fake prophecy on it. But I know it's a nice convention for everybody to make fools of themselves with predicitions. I came to a stoplight this a.m. and looked at my car's odometer. The last three numbers were 999. So, what the heck, go with 99. But it can also be 79, 89 or 109. Seriously, baseball is THAT crazy. The best team I thought I'd ever see, the '76 Reds, swept the Series then didn't even win 90 the next year. They had Rose, Morgan, Bench, everybody you can think of. It never clicked. They were totally mystified.

My internet connection isn't looking too happy as more people come into Nats Park, so this chat may end pretty soon.

 

I know the Astros won last night, but what a miserable line-up. I'm a pretty serious fan, and I've barely heard of any of them. The Rangers look to have a powerhouse and they're not even mentioned as anything other than a possible wild card team. I know, look at the A's andO's last year, but I really can't see anyone dislodging the Dodgers/Angels/Tigers/Nationals (yea). I expect half the teams to be out of it by the All Star break and that's not good for baseball.

While October is a complete mystery, I think you can make a pretty good guess at the 10 teams in the playoffs. Nats, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Reds, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Rays, Jays. Sure, Cards, O's, A's and a couple mof others deserve mention. But I suspect those 1st 10 names will include 6-7-8 playoff teams.

Be sure to remind me of that when like three of them make the playoffs and the Royals and Pirates meet in the Series.

one baseball game by itself does not have any correlation to what will happen for the rest of the season. So if the Nats get blown out today, that has of no more predictive value than if they blow out the Marlins. I can't think of any other game where on a game to game basis, each game can be seen as an outlier until you string enough games together to see a pattern emerge. That being said, what if anything can we learn from watching the Nats play today that will tell us where the Nats might be headed in 2013?

For many years I was determined to wrench Opening Day results into some "meaning." Earl Weaver just looked at me like I was nuts. Of course, he was right.

A team's START is very important. Opening Day is meaningless and a contrary indicator so many times that there was a time when I thought it was bad luck for a serious contender to win on Opening Day.

Johnson talked about the importance of a "good start" this a.m. and said he consider the start to be "two weeks to a month." Considering the Nats early-season schedule, that's doubly true.

I know everyone around town is excited for the upcoming season, but I'm curious to know if the Nats have a plan in place for after Davey Johnson retires. Do they have a replacement waiting in the wings within the organization? If you had to bet money on it, who is managing the Nats on Opening Day in 2014?

The Nats have no idea. They're asking everybody except the ushers for possible names. Johnson says it should be somebody from his staff. He never says anything if he doesn't mean it __though "my staff" is the4 traditional answer. You usually look at bench coach (Randy Knorr) and third base coach (Trent Jewett.)

It is several MONTHS too soon to talk about this. It's a waste of time. Who will be available? Will this season be a joy (helping somebody on the staff, perhaps) or a disappointment (sure glad that Davey Johnson is leaving, add fresh blood). 

Do you think Bryce Harper will be better than ever this year? or is there possibility of a sophomore slump

Much more likely that he's better. Not just because that's how it usually works for exceptional 19 or 20 years olds but because he looked so good oin Florida. He could go from very hot to very cold for a while, but he's not going to stay cold for very lomng for a lot of years. Hitters can hit, period. And they recover from almost all injuries. It's pitchers who are more likely to fluctuate wildly and get injuries that change them forever. Just enjoy Harper.

I have an unexpected day off--should I run down to the park and get a nosebleed ticket? Or should I enjoy Bob and F.P. on the TV?

Gorgeous day. Team will be introduced with its first first-place finish since 1933. Strasburg pitching. Packed house __somebody may not be dressed in red, but I can't seem to find them now. Are you kidding? As of yesterday they were still saying that Standing Room Only was available. Nobody in the press box seems to know if that is still the case right now. We sure are a big help, aren't we? They jammed an extra 5,000 in here for Game Five and nobody complained. IF you get SRO __no promise form me__ I think you'll have a great time.

Well, looks like it's time for a burger and then a new season!! Not a moment too soon. Cheers.

Anything going on?

Whatever happens this season is DOES seem appropriate that the Nats and their fans get a very nice day in the low 60's with big ol' white clouds and blue sky to celebrate '12 and start '13.

(So, does Teddy ever win again?)

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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