Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 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

I'm 72 so well old enough to know that pre-season hype often does not lead to post-season play. However, when the Nats acquired Soriano, I said Wowza!, or its elderly equivalent. Instead, they seem to want to set a record for how many times a team can be at 500 over the course of a season. The spark or whatever just isn't there. I'm one of those people who just likes to see ball games, so I'll keep coming out to the park. But I increasingly find my mind wandering away from the game. That might be old age but I think it's the play on the field. If this continues I may not renew my partial plan next season.

I suspect they'll make the second half very interesting. But the Braves are a solid team, even though they are barely over .500 since their 12-1 start to the season.

The Nats have dug a significant hole -- 6 1/2 games to the Braves and 5 1/2 to the Reds for the second wild card. Even if they play fairly well, it may not be enough. They have put their fate -- or part of it -- in the hands of other teams.

Longer term, it would be hard to name a more interesting team for the next several years as it, presumably, developes and improves. Rendon, even Krol, just add to the core of interesting career arcs, led by Harper, Strasburg.

Boz, I can't find an explanation anywhere, so I am submitting this early so that you might make inquiries--if you don't already know. The Leaderboard on Yahoo Golf lists Sabbatini has having been CUT before he finished the first round. Some other golfers are listed as WD. If there is any news about this it isn't showing up in Google. Do you happen to know what happened? Signed, Not a Sabbatini Fan

Nobody cared which it was as long as he was gone.

See, that's an example of how it's too easy to smash Rory -- most disliked man in golf, according to SI poll with 25 percent of pros asked saying he's their least-fav player. He's had his squabbles with Tiger a few years ago. And his ex-wife's rant tweets about him make the rounds -- except she's making a reality TV show, so you have to wonder whom to believe. Of whether you care. 

What are your thoughts on his first start? Does he get a second start?

His fastball-changeup combination looks useful, like it could play in the big leagues at some point. His FB topped at 95.8, his sinker at 95.4. His control was poor with the FB (8 of 22) but better with everything else thing. His changeup has depth. His funky delivery and movement on pitches makes you think he could be in a rotation if his command was very good, which it was in the minors. 

But do you want ANY rookie to be your fifth starter when you are 41-40 and need something like 50-31 to make the playoffs? I doubt it. You need an established fifth starter, IMO, either Haren, if he improves a lot or a trade for one of about eight viable candidates, including Garva, Feldman, Nolasco, etc.

Haren said he felt better when he threw on the side yesterday. Like everybody, I'll believe it when I see it. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 15 times...

Jordan helped himself. And Haren deserves a couple of more shots because he's Dan Haren. But that's about all, in my book anyway. July 31st is there for a reason and you don't want to be the last to make a move when/if you HAVE to make one.

As an Oriole fan, I really hate to even consider this, but.... any reason we should be suspicious of Chris Davis' huge jump in power numbers?

Everyone who knows him, back to high school (like the Skins' Trent Williams) describes him as enormous his whole life and incredibly strong. He's like Adam Dunn (40 HR last year and a pace for 44 this year). You look at them and think, "Some people are just born on a different scale of BIG." That's the correct operating assumption, at any rate.

With Werth appearing to be injured, do you see Davey moving Harper to right and Werth to left field?

Werth has been playing at 3/4 speed on some balls hit in front of him in the OF because he doesn't want to get hurt again -- and the Nats WANT him to play that way. This lineup has to be intact to be good. Drop out one or two good bats and it falls a long way fast.

Werth is a much more polished OF than Harper. And Harper got hurt in RF. So he belongs in LF for now. Seems more comfortable there and his big arm makes it a very strong-armed OF.

Mornin' Boz, Wanted to get your ideas on what should be done (if anything) to alter/eliminate the balk rules, and what would be the ramifications of such moves. They seem to depend on such slight movements or angles that there's too much room for individual interpretation. I still remember the 2005 walk off balk by Mike Stanton vs. Mil.

Love the balk. It's the only thing in baseball that I gave up ever understanding. I tend to like baseball's quirks and its disregard for getting everything perfectly correct. I've seen sports go from games that people loved to Something Important. (Well, almost.) I enjoy anything that undermines the sense that every call has to be correct and every fan (reporter) has to be able to understand everything and have an argument about it.

NOBODY who hasn't played baseball professionally has any idea what a balk is -- not really. And half of them don't know. The one thing you have to remember is that the rubber should be viewed as radioactive. When in doubt BREAK CONTACT and turn yourself into an infielder on whom no balk can be called. 

At what point do Zimmerman's errors accelerate the conversation to move him to 1B? He leads MLB at his position this year, and is at the top of the list over the last several years. His bat and glove are above average, but not elite.

Zim is close to the point where you scream, "I just can't stand to watch this for one more instant." But he's not there yet. Besides, Davey and docs say that Zimmerman's arm won't be at full strength until roughly the All-Star game. And his arm has looked stronger -- or less weak and wild -- as the weeks have passed. So, what's the harm in waiting. Yeah, I know, the '13 season. But with a player this central, who is so good at everything else defensively, the worst move you can make is to shift him to first base too soon. Then you have to trade LaRoche who isn't suited to the OF. It's a big mess. Ryan's two errors in New York were tough hops (which he should have had) off his glove/body.

As a third baseman, his .272/.357/.463 hitting is a big plus and, even with his defense, makes him the fourth best all-around third baseman in the NL this year after Wright, Sandoval, Alvarez (20 HR in Pittsburgh). His .821 OPS is exactly his career level.

There's one hidden flaw in Z'man right now which may change some. He plays very shallow at third --compare him to Machado who has a fabulous strong accurate arm and plays 10-to-15 feet deeper on comparable hitters. That means he reaches less balls, especially to his left where so many -7 are hit. If his arm gets stronger, more accuarate, can he play deeper, more like a normal third baseman? The Nats are aware of it and assume he'll be able to move back with time. And he still does make amazing on-the-move plays.

His .821 PS is right around his career norm, so his hitting has been just fine this year. His RBI pace this year would be exactly 100 if he got 600 ABs. So, that makes the $100M extension seem more reasonable. And you have abig "kicker" if his arm does come around.

But, psychologically, it has certainly been a destabalizing influence this season.

Boz - love this chat and your columns! With the July trade deadline approaching what are your thoughts on a trade for Nolasco if the Marlins are willing to eat a good portion of his contract? Is he a possible replacement for Haren and is he even on the Nationals' radar?

The Nats will have to do ALL of the contract eating on any pitcher like Nolasco or Garza, who each make $10-$11M this year and are in their walk years. That's one reason I wrote a column recently about the Nats excellent attendance (9th in MLB) allowing them to be able to eat some cash to pay for their mistakes -- like Haren if he doesn't bounce back. You shouldn't even blink at the money involved for Nolasco (everybody will be after him). The question is: How much is it wise to give up? The Nats don't have the obvious glut of middle infielders that they did when Espinosa seemed like a solid piece. You don't want to trade Giolito. We'll get into more details trade deadline possibilities as July progresses.

If one's news was limited only to the Post, one would have no idea that Reading (Caps affiliate) won the ECHL championship last month or that the NHL draft was yesterday. Why no hockey coverage?

DC loves its hockey. And you can read about the draft in the Post here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capitals-insider/wp/2013/06/30/2013-nhl-draft-live-updates/

But I doubt there is a tidal wave of interest in the Caps top pick (23d overall) being a 176-pound winger (Andre Burakovsky) who scored four goals in 43 games for Malmo in a second-tier Sweedish league. BTW, Malmo is a very fine town, if you like boring with a side order of nice. In the last 30 miles to Malmo there must be 75 signs saying, "Malmo 23 (miles/kilometers)," then "Malmo 22.5," then "Malmo 22.1).

They DON'T WANT YOU TO MISS MALMO. Every time our family is driving in the car and we see more signs than anybody could possibly need for a destination, somebody says, in a very nice helpful voice: "Malmo, only five more miles. And 17 more signs."

(I've forgotten if they use miles or kilometers in Sweden. I guess I need to be REMINDED!)

So it looks like the Caps are going to let Ribiero go, which I'm OK with, but how should they replace him? You think Vinny LaCavalier is worth the price? Or should they just go with Matty Perrault as their second line center? And don't you think this team needs to upgrade its defense?

As the season progressed it became clear, I thought, that there was little chance they were going to keep Ribiero. That gets done back then or it doesn't get done. Age is against him. You'd probably have been signing him as peak value -- like buying a stock when it's price is probably higher than its real value. But it will be hard to replace him. It's always easier to keep the good piece of the puzzle that you have rather than say, "Oh, we'll get somebody just as good." In all sports, unless you are a rich powerhouse team, you usually don't get somebody just as good.

Is there a stat that shows how many of his errors relate directly to runs scored?

There should be. It's acronym could be: "Aargh!" All Awful Run Given-away Hopelessly.

With Harper coming back, I'm assuming that Rendon slides down to seventh. Is that the best place for him? Also, is he too good of a hitter to bat seventh? With Ramos coming back soon, does this make the Nats a much more dangerous offensive team?

Werth will almost certainly hit second, I'd think. His best remaining attribute is on-base percentage, though it's only .333 (slightly above MLB average) this year. His power is back to acceptable levels -- one HR every 23 ABs. But, to me, he's only a "plus" bat at No. 2. Since he came to DC, he just hasn't justified hitting 3-4-5-6 with his .759 OPS as a Nat. And you don't want to waste his presence -- he certainly doesn't fear clutch spots, regardless of whether he prodiuces or not, by hitting him seventh.

Rendon was in a little slump -- 0-for-17 -- after hitting .391 for about 15 games, before his 2-run double in the eigth on Sunday. There's less pressure at seventh. And he'll soon have Ramos behind him who, somehow, doesn't seem bothered by hitting 8th.

Eventually, if Ramos can stay healthy, he may be enough of a fastball-crushing power bat against lefties so that he needs to move up. Be a nice problem to have.

Everybody talks about how much better the Nats lineup will be when it is entirely healthy. But very few MLB lineup STAY healthy for months at a time. Who gets hurt next? That's why depth matters so much. If Tyler Moore got untracked, it gives insurance at three positions.

Hi Boz - I know you mostly covered golf this past weekend but presumably you read Mike Wise's column on Davey...in which Davey says "I know for sure the Lerners are going to be very happy that it's my last year." Doesn't sound like a very happy relationship and I have to believe this has bled into the ball club in some way. Your thoughts?

That's the strongest Davey has put it. But he's made it clear before that the Lerners have made the decision that 70 is time for him to retire. In spring training he mentioned their feelings about him and social security. And he made it clear (which I quoted in a column) that he knows other teams, even NL East teams, will probably come after him to manage after he leaves the Nats. "I know it," he said.

Here's the issue. The Nats are still a very young team both in their core stars and their vets (oldest on team is 34). You need a manager for the next SEVERAL years. You hope for a lengthy Bobby Cox, LaRussa, Torre or Scioscia tenure. You may not get it, but you want it. So, Davey isn't going to be that 3-to-5 or (in your dreams) 10-year manager. WHEN do you replace him? Is there a "proper" year? It does look like '13 is a fit. His "World Series or bust" will be a help if they get on a roll. ("See, ol' Davey knew what he was talkin' about!") Or it will help draw a line at the end of his time in DC. (Well, Davey had a helluva run in '12 and gave us DC its first great season and playoff appearance. But as flat as the team has been this year, it's a good time for a change.")

Davey'd probably like to get a little more love. But Johnson really is a totally independent state unto himself. When he talks, it's Radio Free Davey. We love it in the media. And he's a wonderful person. But I can understand why his term of service has always had a half-life. He's not hard to handle. He's impossible. You DON'T handle. You just accept him. The clubhouse/dugout are entirely his. If the chemistry/results click, he deserves even more credit. When it doesn't, he's set himself up for blame because it really is His Room in terms of tone and style of play.

At 40-41, the Blue Jays are dead last in division and yet 16th overall in the league. The Yanks look like they are starting to show their true colors, but since the wild card realignment, can you remember a division that was as tough and balanced as the 2013 AL East? It should be a good show coming down the stretch. And with a move for a solid starter, I like the Orioles' chances.

The AL East is DEEP. It is not exceptionally GOOD.

You are seeing teams trend toward their longer-term talent. Rockies, Yanks fading. Dodgers now only 4 games out in NL West. Nats must be luckiest club in MLB in terms of run differential. They "should" be 11 1/2 games behind Braves. But are "only" 6 1/2 half.

At mid-point of season, the "luckiest" team in out-performing their run differential is the Yanks (+5 wins), then Pirates (+4). Unluckiest the Tigers (-5), Cards and Cubs (both -4). Nats anmd O's both a lucky +3 wins.

Nats listed with 27.9% chance of making playoffs by ESPN. Baseball Prospectus (probably a better model) now has Orioles with 43.6% chance of making the playoffs, the Nats 22.0%.

How much of Puig have you seen? Do you think he's the real deal? Should he be an all start a la Harper (who is back tonight!)

NOT ENOUGH!

Mostly highlights. I want to see more entire at bats. A can-do-it-all at 245 pounds!

He probably doesn't "deserve" the All-Star game, but I bet there will be enough injuries that, like Harper last year, he will be named to the team before IF he stays hot up until the time the teams are finalized.

With Hanley Ramirez back and torrid and Puig, plus so much other talent, I'm surprised Dodgers haven't made even more of a run. Their current 8-1 is what the Nats want to hit.

Do you know if Kirk Cousins will be taking just as many snaps as RGIII this upcoming training camp just in case he has to be ready to start on opening night against the Eagles? I sure hope so.

Ah, those training camp snaps!

That is entirely RGIII's team. He'll take as many snaps as his knee allows. Cousins preparedness won't/shouldn't be a consideration. In the NFL, your QB is your team, to an extent.

It takes care of itself, in other words. If RGIII's progress is slow, then Cousins takes more snaps by default and, thus, is more prepared.

I'm concerned every time I hear a Shanahan say that their offense and their play calling has nothing to do with the problem of helping RGIII have a long and happy career. Even if it hasn't in the past, it will in the future. The more he gets hit, the more likely he is to break again. And he already broke in college. Come on, show some sense. He's excellent at every phase of the game. But the first season back after major knee surgery is NOT the year to see if he can run 120 times again.

Halfway through and the Pirates have the best record in baseball. (Kind of hard to believe that, isn't it.) The last few years, they've had good first halves but then ran aground in August. Do they avoid that this year and actually make the playoffs?

Love the Bucs. Total non-support from their fans in that great park. I think they're real. Not 102-win pace real. They will be a big problem for the Nats making the playoffs. They'll come back, but they won't fold.

Back injury: http://www.golfchannel.com/news/golftalkcentral/sabbatini-withdraws-from-att-national-with-back-injury/ (not hard to Google!)

Thanks very much. Probably strained his back from carrying all his critics.

Boz, Simple question: Which team has more wins at the end of 162?

That's not a simple question. It's a WAG!

Nats will hit much better w Harper/Ramos back, O's will pitch much better with Chen back. O's won't keep hitting this well. Davis won't have 62 HR and 160 RBI. Who picks that up? 

If both sign a solid 5th starter before trade deadline, they both make the playoffs again with 90-to-92 wins each. If not, they don't. 

Since there are 99 other plausible scenarios, I don't like the chances of that WAG being even remotely accurate!

Did Desi violate the unwritten code yesterday by slamming a home run into the restaurant when the Mets had a position player on the mound? The next 3 batters went 3 up - 3 down so I kind of wonder if they sort of trying to get out so they could get the game over.

Desmond got drilled by a pitch earlier. That changes any rules, whether it was on purpose or not. (Haven't seen it yet.)

It seems like Nats are starting to say that line. Like Redskins a few years ago, it drives me crazy. In pro sports, you ARE your record - period. If you think you're better, then you need to make the record better. But how do you get that into the heads of young 20 somethings?

It drives me crazy, too. "We are too talented to..."

Always remember what George C.  Scott's character said about Fast Eddie in "The Hustler." Fast Eddie said to Minnesota Fats, "Even if you beat me, fat man, I'm STILL the best." Scott heard it and said to Fats, "Stay with this kid (keep playing him until he cracks). He's a loser." 

It was the central premise of the movie. There is NOTHING worse in sports that refusing to accept that you ARE your record. Given enough time for that record to play out. Or in "Hustler" terms that, ultimately, "character is fate."

I suspect I'll have something to say about that!

Hey Boz, Please help me settle an ongoing argument with a friend over the Orioles' front office. I maintain the O's have been wise to refuse to trade Machado, Bundy or Gausman, even if it brings in an established ace or middle of the order power hitter (after all, turns out they already had one in Davis). My buddy thinks that by putting it out there that these guys are off the table, teams have decided they'd rather not do business with Duquette. He also says that Bundy's Tommy John surgery last week should serve as proof that no player should be labeled untouchable. But come on, Bundy's still 20 and was the number one overall pitching prospect. Considering the O's lack of depth in the minors, isn't holding onto him a no brainer? And is there any truth to the claim that the front office's persistent refusal to entertain trade talks involving top prospects could chill other teams from wanting to deal with them? - Ben

There are conflicting "truths" here. It's "true" that "teams fall in love with their own players." And don't trade them when they should. The Nats got Gio Gonzalez by giving up three GOOD prospects -- Tommy Milone and Norris are panning out for the A's.

BUT you also only get a few Gilt-edged prospects. Not just good ones but astronomical ceiling prospects. You DO fall in love with them! BUT which are they? Is Gausman that good? Is Rendon THAT good?

Machado is. Harper is.

But is Bundy, after TJ surgery? Is Giolito, after TJ surgery?

All part of the beauty, and difficulty, of baseball. There were times when O's might have gotten a good piece for Arrieta. Excellent raw stuff. Could they now?

Congratulations to Inbee Park for her third straight women's golf major! That Sebonack course looks gorgeous. I hope more major tournaments end up there. With Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America right next to it, that is some prime golf territory. Maybe even better that the area around Pebble Beach.

It's be interesting to see if she can get the four-major slam this year. Three down. Babe Zaharias, here comes Inbee!

Why this attitude of 2013-2014 Playoffs or Bust? The 2014 draft is one of the best in years, including a guy who could probably be better than anyone on the roster(Andrew Wiggins). One more year in the lottery won't hurt anyone.... The Nats have some top level guys, the Redskins have a top level guy at the most important position, finally time for the Wizards to really find somebody like that too....

Wizards should just concentrate on learning to play basketball. They aren't that good at it yet.

Don't be in a hurry to sell the sizzle. Work on the steak. Next year for the Wiz may be like '11 for the Nats (80-81). There is a time when you can't avoid hype, though you can attempt to control it. (Nats WANTED to run with it as a team-identity strategy. We'll see how that works, not just this year but over the length of this team's time together.) It's not like the Wiz just led the NBA in regular-season wins, like the Nats did.

What do you think the future hold for the AT&T at Congressional? The field seemed weak. Only 12 of the top 50 golfers showed up. Sort of reminded me of the waning years of the Kemper/Booz Allen/ .... before it left town. Is it because Tiger pulled out again. What's the pulse on C.C.C. members? Do they want a tournament every year?

It'll be a very close vote. CCC gets a very high fee (by PGA Tour standards) for using its course -- $2M-a-year, I believe. That is warranted. It essentially paid for their new greens for the '11 U.S. Open.

I'm amazed this field could draw >80,000 fans on Sat-Sun for such a poor leaderboard. I suspect that DC golf community is so strong that this will be worked out by the October vote and the tournament will stay in '15-'16-'17. But, jmpo, the CCC members need to be convinced that it is in their financial interest to give up their course and that Tiger will do a better job of putting together a field that is not ravaged by just one injury (his), one WD (Rose) and a couple of bad showing by stars.

This is not just any Tour stop. It is at a U.S. Open site, a classic course with prestige in the Nation's Capital. And, like the invitationals that Nicklaus and Palmer put on, it's expected that a Huge Name host can produce a top field. It's not too much to ask of Tiger. And you can bet Congressional will want some reassurance. 

Why haven't media such as yourself chastised the Nats for the foolish contracts given to Werth (injury prone, strikeout prone, shaky defensively), Soriano (too much to pay a closer who is not automatic), and Haren? In Philadelphia, all three contracts would have been regarded as somewhere between bad and stupid.

Wrong. In Philly that might be the response. But in any city that response would been foolish.

Soriano is on pace for 42 saves, has a 2.38 ERA and has been as effective as ever. He has 84 percent saves converted. That's a plus. Haren was a one-year deal for a contender. You take your shot, like Edwin Jackson in '12. And every bad thing that can be said about Haren has been said. As for Werth, he was always an overpay to change the culture of the team. That part worked -- see "2012."

How about Werth the player? His power seems to be back. His OPS the last two years is .785. He's a good RFer. But that's all. Nats fans seem to be able to get past the salary, which is a team decision, and simply see him as a pretty good RFer (who happens to be overpaid) and a good team influence.

And they do tend to remember the last play of Game Four of the first playoff in DC in 79 years.

Me and two other people care about this, but who should the Wizards get to be their backup PG?

Ask those other two folks.

Just kidding. What interests me most about the Wiz is whether Wall made a huge jump to a true star level in the last 21 games of last season. His numbers were prime-Wade: 24.3 points, 8.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, .466 shooting % and .792 FT%.

That is a GREAT player. Is that a hot run going into a Max Contract discussion? Or is that the real Wall? I sure hope it is the real John, because he was a helluva player to watch after he got dressed down (including teammates) after his bench sulk in the Pistons game. Within a few games, he went on a tear. 

See you Sunday at Baseball Prospectus day in Nats Park?

Thanks for the reminder. Planning to cover that day.

One point I would make is that you are your record when it comes to where you are now. But if you are trying to talk about what will happen for the rest of the season (WAG time as you noted), then it is useful to determine if you are playing over your heads (2005 Nats) or under your ability (2013 Nats), since often teams do revert to the mean over the long haul. So saying that this Nats team is "better than their record" is short hand for saying they have played below their ability and there is a reasonable chance they will reverse that in the second half. No guarantee, but a good chance.

Well put.

And thanks for that "edit."

Aren't they both? Records against teams outside of the AL East: Boston 27-19 Baltimore 27-18 Tampa 23-15 New York 24-23 Toronto 23-16 Overall 124-91 If only playing against other teams, the average AL East team would be on pace for 93-94 wins.

Good point.

The N.L. Central has three teams with great records but that's partly because they beat up the Cubs and Brewers.

Can the Nats beat up the Brewers, as well as all their games vs Mets, Marlins and merely-decent Phils?

Total non-support? They've sold out PNC the last five games in a row, for the first time. Don't forget that baseball season doesn't start in Pittsburgh until hockey season is over.

Thanks very much. I'd missed the trend with the last SIX crowds -- all 35-36K. Well, it's about time with cheap tiocket prices and a fun young team.

But much better late than never. Wondered when Camden Yards and PNC Park would both have teams wortyhy of their venues. Nice to see it happen.

That's it for today.

To my eye it was clear they intentionally hit Desmond (first pitch of the inning right at the back side of his hip, exactly where you throw to hit someone) in retaliation for the Nats having hit Wright once and buzzed him earlier in Sunday's game. Of course, Wright is the right handed Utley and stands with his hands in the strike zone and then drives hit after hit to right field, so the Gio pitched that buzzed him actually wasn't far off the plate, but no one in baseball every notes that any more. Any pitch that moves a player is a head hunter. Bob Gibson would be suspended within a month in today's game. I was thrilled that Desmond stole second after he was hit and then hit the homer later.

I thought the steal was probably a message.

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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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