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September 3, 2013

11:03
A.M.

Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Total Responses: 24

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Thomas Boswell

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."

About the topic

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
Q.

Redskins Prediction

Brutal schedule, injuries, and some drop off in offensive performance; I've got them going 9-7. What's your call?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

You're right about the schedule as well as the four-game suspensions early in the season, the questions at safety and the general hindrance of the salary cap hit.

But I think RGIII is 100 percent. I did a column about 10 days after his injury pointing out that there is No Such Thing as an NFL who has even ONE really good year who is ever "ruined" at an early age by ONE injury. It just doesn't happen. Ribs get hurt and sometimes flame out. In the NFL, that doesn't happen with QBs. If you can cope with the position, then you can play forever -- and be good forever. Maybe I'll get a link to that story. The gist was that RGIII will still be the Skins QB -- and a good one, or exceptional -- in 2020 and probably 2025. QB's last that long even when, like Montana and almost all others, they KEEP having more injuries. ("Kill the quarterback.")

So, I think RGIII's exceptional play and leadership will continue to define the team. Washington hasn't had a truly remarkable QB since Jurgensen. They change everything. It's a QB and Coach league. Shanahan instills discipline, even if he's not the most genial guy. (Lame Tuesday a.m. humor). And RGIII is among the best at his position. Garcon is healthy. Morris is intact. Helu will help on third down.

All the negatives are true. They will, I'd guess, prevent a really remarkable season. ALSO, the Skins were +17 in turnovers last year. Very hard to duplicate. Sometimes I think they'll be 9-7, sometimes 10-6 and then sometimes I say, "Come on, the NFL makes everybody look foolish." But you're 9-7 is about time, but I'll "raise" you to 10-6 and another NFC East title. But with the asterisk that I think this is slightly aggressive, not slightly conservative.

I'll probably wish I'd never predicted anything. But I'm weak. In a chat before Opening Day I predicted the Nats would not win the World Series, would not go to the World Series but would lose the4 NLCS. Right now, that would be a 100-to-1 fantasy.

But it's good to have DC pro teams in every sport now where you can talk about them at least playing .500 (maybe/Wiz) or contending or, if everything falls right, getting to a Super Bowl, Series or Stanley Cup eventually. There were many years when you couldn't even construct sensible scenarios. Before seasons even begin I don't believe in burying them. That happens all too often later. (See "Nats.) 

– September 03, 2013 11:05 AM
Q.

Deep Depth

Don't usually get much from the per-season but the way the Skins dominated almost every quarter speaks to a depth of talent they clearly didn't have three years ago.
A.
Thomas Boswell :

I'd say that depth, a sense of orderly cohesion in all units, the emergence of a couple of useful new players (Thompson returning punts was a plus) and NO huge injuries to any of the 15-or-so top players in pre-season were the main August takeaways.

I wouldn't put too much weight on pre-season domination of the schedule the Skins played. The Skins, in their fourth year under the same precise coach, SHOULD look crisp in pre-season. Some other teams are rebuilding or are under new coaches.

The first two weeks -- facing the new Eagles system and the Packers in GB -- should give a lot of information very quickly.

– September 03, 2013 11:05 AM
Q.

Harper and Boras

Harper is already damaged goods. Boras will probably be able to get some team to pay him $200 million, but I'm hoping it won't be the Nats.

A.
Thomas Boswell :

There's nothing damaged about Harper. He's playing with some aches and pains like almost everybody at this time of year. But he's having an excellent year with his on-base-plus-slugging up from .817 to .895 which will be ninth in the N.L. as soon as he has enough plate appearances to qualify, which will be in about a week or so.

Here's the N.L. Top 10 in OPS for a sense of the company Harper is in -- at 20 and playing with a sore knee most of the year. Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Goldschmidt (31 HR, 104 RBI lead league), Votto, Cuddyet, Werth, David Wright, McCutcheon, Harper, Fred Freeman (Top Brave at .868), Beltran.

BTW, Harper's poor throw to the plate in the eighth last night helped the Phils score the winning run. Harper, charging, had the ball with Rollins still a few feet from third base. Any on-line throw gets him by 2-3 yards. Harper misses up the line badly. He still needs polish in every area of the game. He still doesn't hit lefthanders well enough, though he's slightly above league average against them. He's probably better in CF than LF, though nowhere as good as Span. One of the big questions of '13 is whether Harper in CF would have helped the Nats and, perhaps, have avoided the injuries Harper got while plahying RF. He never got hurt in CF last year.

If the Nats could get Harper for $200M for 12 years, they should do it yesterday. But they can't. It would probably cost $300. There's no reason to consider that. Let Harper grow up some more. The game still "gets to him" and he shows it, like not running out the ball on Fridau night. His emotions still rule him at times, like getting thrown out at third on Sat. And he still talks/tweets a little too much for his own good. But as with anybody you deal with The Whole Package. We can trim away our weaknesses and quirks the way you trim fat opff a steak. With Harper, the Whole Package is a good young man who works extremely hard, listens to the people he should listen to -- like Werth and Johnson -- and will probably have a career with an OPS of .900 to .950. Just a guess. IOW, not the best of the best, like Pujols and (maybe) Trout, but Fielder, Holiday, Ortiz, Berkman, Chipper (Duke Snider, Frank Robinson). Of course, he could fall back like Reuben Sierra. Or just be good like Justin Upton who looked comparably promising at 21.

But the Nats and their fans should be very happy with Harper and with the year he's having in a tough year on a disappointed team.  

– September 03, 2013 11:05 AM
Q.

Espinosa

Looks like he is through as a Nat. Is he tradeable for anyone of value to the Nats for next season?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

No point in trading him. You have to try to fix him. Let his wrist and shoulder get healthy. Show some support for him and confidence. He's a very valuable backup at SS at the very least. Come to spring training with an open mind about him. I think Boras said he was seeing a sports psychologist. Many do. Can't hurt. He's seen his career dropped on its head from 1000 feet. Root for him. Very good talent, tough kid and has hit 20 HR, stolen 20 bases and played exceptional 2nd already in his career. You don't trade that away for what you'd get now -- not much. You hold him, help him and try to fix his hitting. And he only has to hit from ONE side of the plate if it eventually comes to that.  

– September 03, 2013 11:06 AM
Q.

Woodbridge

Have you been keeping up with the NYJ's QB drama? Who approves all these comings and goings of personnel?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

The latest report (ESPN this a.m.) are that Sanchez MAY be hurt worse than the Jets are saying and be out several weeks. I can't believe that Rex Ryan will survive this latest buffoonery. Sanchez should never have been playing late in the game with back-up linemen. Totally reckless (or mean-spirited) coaching. And it ended up being a "wreck" for Sanchez.

– September 03, 2013 11:12 AM
Q.

team v. individual

Which is harder to accomplish--team achievements like the Dodgers winning 52 of 65 games, or individual achievements like Cabrera chasing his second consecutive Triple Crown?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

The Dodgers are more unique. I talked to Stan Kasten last week about it -- he'd just come out of the Don Mattingly "Why we took Puig off the field in mid-game for not paying attention" press conference. He's really proud of the job Mattingly has done. I'm amazed that a team with so many players with questionable reputations in other places can function so well together AFTER such a bad start. Kershaw helps the stability of everything. But signing Ryu was a move few expected. Hanley Ramirez, though a liability at SS, has had an amazing year hitting.

The Dodgers have had (some limited) interest in Espinosa (as a defensice shortstop whose hitting might be fixed) but they apparently don't value him at the same level as Rizzo and the Nats who think he can eventually be the same Espinosa again.

Cabrera is a just an amazing hitter who has gradually improved throughout his career. Now, he has power to all fields and nobody has any sense of how to pitch to him. He's a classic 240-pound-plus slugger who likes to get his arms extended and crush the ball from alley to alley. BUT he collapses his front arm and kills the inside pitch, too. You rarely see that. And he'll use the RF corner, too. Because he doesn't like the spotlight you don't hear enough about him. He's a fine all-around athlete with good reflexes (but little range) at third. And teammates have always loved him because he's funny and not at all stuck up about his talent.

– September 03, 2013 11:20 AM
Q.

Johnny Football

Boz, I am a big fan of your work but I'm curious where you get off calling Manziel a jerk in your Bryce article the other day? Do you know him? This weekend I heard adults all across the country calling this 20 year old college football player a jerk, knucklehead, a detriment to his team, and an idiot. He didn't get a DUI, he didn't hit a women, and he didn't get arrested. People don't like him because he goes out and parties like every other 20 year old in college. He has fun. He talks a little trash on the football field just like Phillip Rivers and Jay Cutler, and every other player on Rice. The Rice defensive player made the "autograph sign" first but no one is talking about him. Is he perfect? No. The penalty was dumb. Is he probably an ass? It wouldn't surprise me but I think it's a little ridiculous that the media just crushes this kid because they don't like him. PS: Mark May bashed him on Saturday. The same Mark May who had two DUI's and punched a cop in college.

A.
Thomas Boswell :

I wrote "why many people assume he is a jerk."

I specifically DIDN'T call him a jerk for the reasons you mention -- I don't know him. But it was typical of Harper (and his bad luck with some of his tweets) that he praised Manziel just before the incidents.

However, we've heard a LOT about Manziel in recent weeks, more than enough to settle on a fairly mild word like "jerk." It's mild in 2013, that's for sure.

He's certainly ACTED like a jerk. The "money...money...money" sign on the field after getting off with a wrist-slap in the autograph controversy is enough to get him my Jerk Award -- in a chat, at least.

– September 03, 2013 11:25 AM
Q.

Harper and Manziell

Harper is a brash 20 year old. He rubs me wrong on occasion but I think in general that he's a pretty good kid. Manziell rubs me wrong ALL THE TIME. If he doesn't get his act together, he's going to do something that forces the NCAA or Texas A&M to take action. And he'll be killed in his first NFL game, and no coach will have to pay the defensive players who do that.

A.
Thomas Boswell :

I agree. Except for the "kill" part.

Young players/people all make mistakes. It's how they react. In MLB, Puig immediately said that he understood why Mattingly was upset with him.

Harper said he'd "probably learn" from his weekend base-running mistakes.

(Harper's HIP is bothering him. He's playing through it. Hitters are not like pitchers. The assumption is that one injury to a pitcher can lead to a career-changing arm injury but that everyday players can tough it out without long-term consequences -- as long as the team trainer/doctor also gives that evaluation. In Harper's case, they BETTER BE RIGHT. Bryve needs to be very honest with the medics early in his career. Werth knows his body and how it reacts over a 6-to-8 month season. Harper is still learning.)

Manziel's reaction to getting off lightly was to act like a jerk. Making many of us think that, maybe, he really IS a jerk. Whatever the case, he's only buying himself a lot of unnecessary problems. For athletes, there's a competitive  "attitude" and there is self-destructive behavior. What's the difference? Sometimes hard to say. But Manziel isn't hard to call -- he's in the later category.

– September 03, 2013 11:31 AM
Q.

RGIII

Based on everything you know and have seen, is he ready? If it were your choice, would you start him in Week 1?

A.
Thomas Boswell :

He's ready. Turn him loose.

(But DON'T allow him to average EIGHT runs from scrimmage per start. He didn't just get hit hard last year on the plays where he got hurt. He got blasted constantly. The Vikings were amazed he was still upright after their game with the Skins with all the big hits he took. Wilson in Seattle is small, quick, has had to learn to survive all his career. RGIII appears not to have needed to interalize that reality -- until the NFL level. It's tough to rewire yourself when you're running with a football in open space. But the word on RGIII is that he leaves himself open to big hits more than other running/scrabbling QBs. That's partly because he doesn't slide very well at all, partly because he hasn't run out of bounds much and also because it's just in him to try to bust a 60-yard run that will amaze the world. Sometimes that leads you to midfield encounters with large Raven nose guards. 

– September 03, 2013 11:37 AM
Q.

Jogging to First

As someone who talks to players, GMs, and managers on a regular basis, you must have some insight as to why so many players don't hustle to first base after hitting a ground ball. The only reason anyone paid attention to Harper on Friday night is because he usually hustles. How is it that so many MLB players making several million dollars per year to play baseball can't get themselves to sprint three or four times per night to first base? We're they allowed to do this in high school, college and the minors as well?

A.
Thomas Boswell :

Some (almost) always run hard. The most exemplary Nats player is (easily) Desmond. There are a lot of reasons Tony LaRussa called Desmond his "favorite player" before anybody had heard of Desmond. He never takes credit, never rips a teammate (but does make clear points about mistakes) and has taken on the role of team "voice" after many tough games. 

However, MANY MLB regulars play with "nicks" for much of the season. Some, like Harper, have been told (by Johnson) not to reinjure themselves running hard when it isn 't necessary. Wilson Ramos practically walked the last few steps to first base on a grounder last night that was mishandled and that he might have beaten out if healthy. Ramos did the RIGHT thing. If he blows out his hamstring again, the Nats lose their LAST remote chance to have any playoff-race fun. I'm sure teammates, and everybody else, have begged him no to hurt himself (again) while trying to "run hard."

Ripken and Murray, for example, mastered the act of running 90 or 95 percent, husting "enough," but playing WITHIN their ability. And part of your ability is how hard you can play and NOT get hurt.

Here is the rule for how hatrd Harper (or any other top talent) should play in MLB: Play as hard as you can and still play in at least 150 games a year.

It doesn't matter that Harper, for example, would LIKE to play as hard as Rose or Brett. Or that he admires them for it. The ONLY thing that matters is: Can you play like them and play in as high a percenateg of your games as they did?" Rose never got hurt. Brett had some injuries. But not enough tyo prevent him from egtting 3,000 hits.

Bench players, platoon players -- part of their job is often to bring energy and hustle.

So, the question "Did he run hard enough to first" sounds simple -- and usually is. But not always.

– September 03, 2013 11:44 AM
Q.

Davey Johnson-Bryce Harper chat

In your latest column, you have an extensive quote from a "rare office chat" between Davey and Bryce. Just curious, how are you aware of the exact conversation? Do reporters (or columnists) sit in?

A.
Thomas Boswell :

I probably could/should have added the phrase "according to both Johnson and Harper."

– September 03, 2013 11:46 AM
Q.

Garcia

Hi Tom, Did anybody think that Garcia, with a two-stroke lead going into final round, would win the tournament?

A.
Thomas Boswell :

Not anybody at my house.

I wanted to say here that Diana Nyad's swim from Cuba to Key West -- 53 hours in the water and completing a >100-mile no-cage swim for the first time, after trying to do it for 35 YERAS and failing -- is the most amazing athletic feat I have ever seen by a senior athlete (age 64).

For those of us who are roughly her age, it borders on unbelievable. Some may say, "Why do it at all?" But it seems obvious to me. It's part of human nature -- some people's nature anyway -- to want to find the absolute limits of what is p;ossible. It broadens our definition of human experience and human possibility.

Or, put more simply, maybe it just says in 60-point type to some of us: "AND WHAT IS YOUR EXCUSE?"

I'm probably forgetting some other "advancved-age" achievement, b ut I thought Nyad could be properly compared to Tom Watson's near-miss in the British Open at 59. They are completely different. One is almost entirely endurance, strength, will and -- I assume -- a better technical understanding of how to swim that far or pace yourself or whatever Nyad has learned through experience that allows her to do something that she couldn't do in 1978 and hasn't finished in any of her other attempts.

Watson illustrated the ability to improve technique (his swing) with age, maintain almost all the athletic felxibility at 59 that he had at 29 AND defeat the greatest foe in his sport -- your own nervous system. Golf attacks the athletic personality more than the body. And it is assumed that a 59-year-old golfer is doomed in a major because he can't hold his nerves, his confidence together for four days.

Nyad's accomplishment is greater. (She completed her goal.) But comparison is probably unfair. Both were just wonderful and inspiring.

I was glad to see ESPN give her thier top spot on Sports Center this morning. But also found it a sign of the times that, by 11 a.m., she wasn't even listed on the "first page" of Top 10 items on their home page.

Just another illustration that we have an awfully hard time these days making distincts -- in all areas. That's called "critical intelligence." For example, ESPN thinks "This Nyad thing is pretty big." So they splash it. Good. Well done. But before noon the Next Big Thing, actually 10 Big Things -- which are NOTHING compared to a 64-year-old swimming from Havanna to Florida -- have all moved ahead of her in Sports NEWS.

Oh, well. (At least we can count on chatters here to provide some critical intelligence.)

– September 03, 2013 12:05 PM
Q.

Harper's Hip

Hip injuries make me nervous; Britt Burns was an All Star pitcher whose career was over at 26 due to a hip injury, and of course Bo Jackson is the poster child for the possible effects of a undiagnosed or poorly diagnosed hip condition: his avascular necrosis from a hip injury ended an amazing NFL career and truncated a promising MLB career. I assume that medical science has advanced far enough to remove such terrible risks ... but as a DC native experience has taught me that doom is always lurking around the corner for our local sports teams. Am I being paranoid? Talk me off the ledge, Bos!
A.
Thomas Boswell :

As soon as I heard "hip," I thought "Bo."

Not reason to think it. I assume after the care the Nats correctly took with Strasburg last year -- which is paying off with really dazzling games like last night's 6-2-(1-0)-2-10 -- will continue with Harper.

BTW, in the past Strasburg might have gotten upset by a night when the baseballs were slick, maybe not rubbed up as much as usual, and his wet hands on a hot night led him to throw some awful-looking wild fastballs and changeups. But Strasburg analyzed the problem. The only pitch he throws with two fingers and his thumb all on the seams of the ball -- for a good grip -- is his curve. So he ignored all the inconsistency in his FB and change -- some where perfect, others missed by two feet -- and used his curve to start off hitters and finish them. I think -- check me -- that all TEN of his strikeouts were on curveballs. I've seen opther pitchers have breaking balls as good as his last night -- Pascual, Koufax, Blyleven, Wood, etc -- but none much better.

– September 03, 2013 12:10 PM
Q.

Nyad, Ades

Nice column from Junior regarding Rob Ades. I was only vaguely aware of the name, but knew nothing about him (even though I have lived here most of my life). Sounds like he was a pretty important guy in the area. And how about the momentus feat from Dyana Nyad. She never gave up!
A.
Thomas Boswell :

Thanks. We can't bring it up too much today.

– September 03, 2013 12:11 PM
Q.

Machado vs Harper

Is Manny Machado too good to be true? I'm not talking about his physical gifts - hitting, throwing, defense - or even his tremendous baseball instincts ( did you see his bare handed pickup against the Yanks on Sun?) He just seems to be mature beyond his years. I don't see him pout and I loved the way he handled his first ejection - as you mentioned in one of your columns. Also, here is what he said about Twitter, "I don't need to be on it. My job is to play baseball, not be on Twitter tweeting stuff out... Just not a fan of it." Machado is not a physically mature as Harper but he seems to be years ahead of him emotionally and mentally.
A.
Thomas Boswell :

Puig and Harper could learn a few things from Machado and Trout.

But everybody has a different personality. We can't just say, "Be like that Person." You have to be like yourself. But you can broaden and alter your sense, your definition of who "you" as you go through life. And most people would be amazed how much you can change.

One point on Machado. We are going to hear debate for YEARS on the value of his defense -- and how you measure it or whether you CAN measure it. At the moment, he defines the stat head's fascination with including defensive metrics (which are necessarily vague) in totsal value (WAR). Twenty years ago, Machado's defense would have been praised but his offensive line -- .297/.327/.449 -- would have defined him as a wonderful 21-year-old prospect who MIGHT become a great player IF he learned to hit >25 homers with >90 RBI.

In 579 at bats, Machado has only 12 homers, 65 RBI and 26 walks. He can't steal bases yet (only 6 for 12). Werth has 65 RBI in 375 at bats, 200 less at bats than Machado.

Yet Machado is given a WAR (by Baseball-refenerence) of an amazing 6.2 based MORE on his defense than his offense (offensive War of 2.9). Think about this: Machado's WAR is higher than CHRIS DAVIS -- 6.2 to 6.1.

I'm sorry. I WATCH the O's. I know just how wonderful Machado's defense is. He is not better than a solid-fielding first baseman who has 47 homers, 122 RBI and is hitting .297 with a month left to play! That's insane.

But sometimes you need examples of theories that p;roduce insane results -- that are not just counter-intuitive b ut wrong -- that require a "rethink." Of course, nobody claims the defenisve metrics are a finished subject. But...

Also, how do you balance a Machado OPS of .776, which is good but not really special for a third baseman, with Harper's .895? 

Trout, Harper.Machado and Puig are going to be debated for years -- if we are lucky.

 

– September 03, 2013 12:33 PM
Q.

Werth

How is he playing so well?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

He's healthy. He's found a swing/stance that works as well or better than any he's ever found -- more upright, hands higher. And he's a fitness freak who is a young 34. So, he's as good a player in '13 as he was in Philly in any year. And he's the clear team leader.

I assume the Nats, after losing two of three to the Mets and blowing a 3-2 lead last night, have almost no post-season chance left. Mathematically, they do. Being 7 1/2 behind with 25 games to go has been done. Seven back with 17 to go was done by the '07 Phils with Werth on board. So, he will keep them focused if anybody can. But the SEQUENCE of the recent loses carries an extra weight. Since our last chat last Monday, the Reds have gone 3-4 and the Nats have gone 4-3. So, they have picked UP a game! But it sure doesn't feel like it because they almost got swept by the Mets and lost to a Phils team that just traded away ANOTHER player -- Michael Young.

In sports departments we love to read the stories that were written but were never actually printed -- because the game changed and the other team won. On Sunday night, the Nats looked dead against the Mets, down 5-2 in the seventh. So I wrote a Nats "obit." I've written many other columns or ledes that never ran. I had one in Game Four of the '04 ALCS that began:

BOSTON:

It's time to take grandma off the respirator. There’s no use to hold out hope. She’s never going to see the Red Sox win the World Series.

So, just in cse the Nats still get close enough to make everybody excited (which I doubt, at the moment), here is my "wrong" lede from Sunday night when they came back to win. Remember, reporters and columnists root FOR THE STORY. At the deepest level, we watch as agnostiocs. This is hard for fans to understand. When the Nats were about to lose to a Mets team of AA-ball ability, it was an anmazing story. (BTW, you'd probably ENJOY my column -- that never ran --on the Nats WINNING Game Five of the NLDS last year. Folks, it's a great job, but it's a job. And your allegiance, your responsibilioty is to doing the JOB the best you can.)

...

     September has begun but it looks like the Nats have decided to finish. 

      On Sunday night, the Nats were swept in their own park by a losing Mets team that was without four of its top five RBI men, all of them injured or traded. The Mets were also without their pitching ace Matt Harvey and their closer bobby Parnell as well as and two of their April rotation pieces.

       Right now, the Mets are Josh Satin, Travis d’Amaud, Juan Lagares and Omar Quintanilla. Their closer is LeTroy Hawkins, 40, who has played for 22 pro teams, only 10 of them in the majors. Their set-up man is Gonzalez Germen. You don’t know them because you don’t live in an AAA town with a fire hall on Main Street and antlers over the bar in the best restaurant in town.

      These Mets, hats off to them, beat the Nationals, the team that won 98 games last year and has a "#Natitude sign" on its centerfield wall. Over 90,000 people came this weekend and cheered just as tradition dictates. They yelled, “Nats, Nats, Nats.” The answer they got back sounded a lot like, “Nyet, Nyet, Nyet.”

       David Wright, Marlon Byrd and John Buck didn’t beat the Nats, They’re hurt or gone. On Saturday, Ike Davis hurt an oblique -- out for the year. Sunday’s starter Jon Niese, after generously allowing 10 hits, left the mound under the care of the Mets trainer.

      All year, the Mets were an accident waiting to happen. Now it has.

      So, on Sunday night, an entire major league roster that had only one player on a pace for 33 RBI this season was able to complete sweep of one of the World Series favorites their own silent field.   

      Three days ago, after sweeping the Marlins, the Nats were 6 ½ games behind the Reds for the second wildcard and hoping that Cincinnati would lose its series in Colorado; Washington, of course, would beat the stuffing out of the Mets who were arriving in town without -- well, their whole team.

       The Reds did their part. They lost two-of-three to the Rox. If the Nats had done theirs and won two of three from the Mets, Washington would now be just 5 ½ games out of a playoff spot, five in the lost column. The Reds would face six games with the Cards and Dodgers, perhaps the N.L.’s best teams. Why, a week from now, the Nats might honestly have been in a race after six games with the lowly Phils and the dead Fish of Miami.

       But, to the Nats of ’13, an opportunity is just another name for a chance to try too hard or make mistakes or, when ever you sit forward in your seat because just one more hit would change the game, they chase a fastball over their heads, a curve in the dirt or hit a six-hop grounder to the infield. If you can’t beat these Mets one time in three days at home then the only thing you’re contending for is Biggest Flop. The Nats probably can’t beat out the Angels (62-72), the Blue Jays (62-74) or the (you’ll pardon the expression)“world champion” Giants (60-75) for that distinction. The Nats try. They play hard. That’s nice if you’re playing softball on the Mall. At a $630-million park, it’s about a hundred bricks shy of a load.

– September 03, 2013 12:48 PM
Q.

Section 316

Tom, Has your opinion changed on the second Wild Card? I hate what it does to the postseason, but, it has given the Nats a reason to play meaningful baseball the last two months of the year. Without it, they would have folded after the August Braves series. Also, it's no coincidence that once that pressure was off, they've played their best baseball of the year. The Nats went from the expectations of the Montreal Expos to the New York Yankees overnight.
A.
Thomas Boswell :

Well, they've been back to the Bad Expos for three of the last four nights. But, believe it or not, the Nats schedule is so weak the next 12 games and their opponents are so depleted by injury, trades or the luck of missing ace pitchers (Fernandez w Miami) that by the time we chat next week the Nats will probably either be four games out of the wild card or -- if they just fold up shop out of disappointment -- nine games out. The Reds face six tough games in a row -- Cards and Ddoegrs, then a 10 day road trip. It SHOULD be over. The Nats would have to play at least a whole level better they have -- even in the last three weeks -- have much chance to get semi-close. But never tell baseball what can and can't happen. BUT you have to play well, and play well consistently. The Nats just haven't.

– September 03, 2013 12:53 PM
Q.

Hanging curve???

Thanks for taking my question. What does the phrase, "hanging a pitch" or "hanging a curve" mean. What I imagine is a ball just hanging there ready to be hit. But of course that is not physically possible. It is a widely used phrase by players and media. Help me understand it. Thx
A.
Thomas Boswell :

A good curveball dives and goes under your bat. The tight hard spin causes it. A bad curve isn't thrown with as many rpm's and "just spins." It doesn't hiss and break down. And instead of diving, it just "hangs" up in your eyes, bending a little but not "breaking," and you think, "OMG!" It's the easiest pitch to hit.

– September 03, 2013 12:56 PM
Q.

Griffin Expectations

I think there's too much focus on Griffin's knee. I wonder about his development. Wouldn't you expect a second year QB to need to grow in the offseason and pre-season -- has Griffin had the opportunity to do that, or just rehab and remove the rust? Moreover, I think his in-season fate will likely hinge on avoiding other injuries that afflict quarterbacks, just as they do all QB's. A broken pinky could mean as much as his knee, and folks are counting on last season's exploits if only his knee is healed. What do you think?

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Thomas Boswell :

The Skins adapted their offense to suit Griffin -- to a degree -- last year because they wanted to get the most production out of him while he lerned NFL-style offense. I assume that RGIII now has one more year of polish/knowledge in the basic Shanahan offense (not the read option). He'll get better in basic NFL quarterback skills -- reads, audibles, moving in the pocket without scrambling, checking down -- for SEVERAL years. We haven't seen his best, imo.

That's far more than enough for today. I'm getting that great September-October post-Labor Day feeling __the best time of year in sports with the cumlination of baseball and the beginning for football. See you all next week.

– September 03, 2013 1:01 PM
Q.

Nationals

Hi! Do you have a theory as to why the Nationals aren't planning to call up Espinosa for September? I think it was Adam Kilgore who wrote an interesting piece suggesting that they really should, at least for his defense, and he couldn't see a reason not to except for the possible cost in dollars. Do you see another reason, or do you think it's just the money? thanks!
A.
Thomas Boswell :

He is, I think, about five days short of having another year of service. So the Nats will save money by keeping him down. But he hasn't earned the promotion. Others have. I think it would be awkward for everybody for him to be brought up when, to be blunt, I don't see how he deserves it. It's the right decision. But I'm sure it feels like just one more kick from baseball to Danny. And I'm (still) a believer that Espinosa's career is still in its early stages.

– September 03, 2013 1:05 PM
Q.

RG3/Ovi

Someone asked me the other day who I thought the biggest sports star in town was. My initial thought was RG3, with Harper not too far behind. But then the guy pointed out that while RG3 and Harper are bigger in the US, Ovi is an international superstar, who is big in Europe, Canada, really any big hockey playing country. If you look from that perspective, it probably is in fact Ovi. My question: do you recall a time when DC has three stars of that magnitude all playing here at the same time?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

Ovechkin is clearly No. 1. He has THREE MVPs.

RGIII has a bigger following because the NFL is the No. 1 sport in the US and an addiction in DC. But, obviously, he hasn't accomplished as much. Skins had ninth-best record in NFL last year. Ovechkin's taken Caps to best regular season record. RGIII has led team to an NFC East title.

Neither Harper nor Strasburg has PERFORMED at their level yet. Both have the potential. Wall is No. 5, but his play the last 20 games last year -- if he does it for a full season -- would put him with this group and maybe a ahead of one or two.

– September 03, 2013 1:09 PM
Q.

Morse Code

What do you think of the trade bringing Morse to Baltimore?
A.
Thomas Boswell :

Can't hurt. His smile looks good in their dugout.

Also, Rays are fading just in time to revive O's hopes, which were looking a little bedraggled. Now, two back of last WC.

– September 03, 2013 1:11 PM
Q.

Weaver on "maturity"

Tom, I'm rereading your book "How Life Imitates the World Series" and I came across the chapter on Earl Weaver. His quotes about being "grown up" reminded me of Harper and Manzel - even RGIII. Earl said, "You must remember that anyone under thirty - especially a ballplayer -is an adolescent. I never got close to being an adult until I was 32. Even though I was married and had a son at 20, I was a kid at 32 living at home with my parents. Sure I was a manager then. That doesn't mean you're grown up." "Until you're the person that other people fall back on, until you're the one that's leaned on, not the person doing the leaning, you're not an adult."

A.
Thomas Boswell :

Gotta love Earl. I can still remember where we were sitting when he said it -- alone in the O's dugout in Memorial Stadium long before a game. I was shocked because he opened up so seldom, but when he did he was as insightful -- on difficult subjects -- as anybody.

– September 03, 2013 1:13 PM
Q.

Diana Nyad

As an ex distance and open water swimmer, and much younger than her, I just wanted to say thanks for making a big deal out of what she accomplished. I'm probably biased, but I can't think of another endurance feat that compares. There have been some amazing distance runs in the past (and I'm sure other sports as well), but *nothing* compares to the mental and physical punishment of swimming. Swimming is by far the loneliest sport out there. Even in a pool swimmers can't hear the crowds, and have a difficult time surveying the competition. You can hear the sound of water moving past your ears and that is about it. Your thoughts are everything, and blast at you like few have experienced before. Every doubt, every insecurity stuck on repeat. The physical pain of swimming distances a fraction of what she just did is enormous. She is truly remarkable. And making her feat even more impressive is the fact that she was swimming that distance in open water, staring into endless depths in the daytime and into true blackness at night. I am in awe.
A.
Thomas Boswell :

Many thanks.

– September 03, 2013 1:15 PM
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