Ask Boswell

Mar 14, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell will be online Monday, March 14 at 11 a.m. ET to take all your questions about baseball, the Redskins, the Wizards and more.

Sometimes there are almost too many great subjects! This is one of those days.

The NCAA basketball field hits our bracket sheets. Maryland is left out of the NIT! Virginia Tech gets snubbed by the NCAA. George Mason has a tough first round game against Villanova (which it will win).

It's Georgetown that got a little lucky with a No. 6 seed with Chris Wright coming back just in time. I have GU getting to the Sweet 16.

*Also, the Caps win their eighth in a row! The corner has been turned.

*NFL on strike. It feels much to much like '94 in baseball.

*Nats continue to surprise in spring training. Morse leads ST in homers, Espinosa in RBI and Jordan Zimmermann is one of three pitchers with 10 IPs and an ERA of 0.00.

*Tiger has a final round 66, but isn't even in the hunt at Doral. A bad siogn when you play well on Sunday when it doesn't matter but shoot 74 in the second round when you could get into contention.

And much more. So lets go!  

Boz, how much pressure is Gary Williams facing now? Besides the snub by the NIT, I was struck by Billy Packer's comment that "Maryland should never be out of the top 25." Beyond the harshness of that criticism, it makes me wonder what the basketball "insiders" think of Williams.

You can tell by his public comments that, for one of the few times since he's been at Maryland, Gary is genuinely stunned and, I think, worried about his position.

"I'm shocked...We beat Penn State...Clemson...Florida State. We beat N.C. State in the ACC tournament and...

"I guess there are different reasons why you pick teams, other than based on the ability of the team."

C.M. Newton, chair of the NIT selection committe, said it simply: "Frankly, they just didn't get enough votes to get in."

Williams also went on and on about how the ACC should talk up its teams the way the Big East and Big Ten have done. "Next year, I think we are going to a very good team and I'm going to talk a lot about how good we're going to be."

I've always been toward the pro-Gary end of the spectrum in this debate. I may be influenced by the fact that I covered him (a few times) all the way back when he coached at AU!

However, I now think he is on "quadruple secret probation" next season. If Williams stays  in school and Gary has two talented guards (Stoglin is special) from this year's freshman class, he should be able to do much better next season. If he doesn't, if he isn't firmly in the NCAA tournament at this time next year...

No need to say the words after all Gary's done for Maryland. But, once again, Gary's the central character in a cliff hanger.  

If the sole point of the tournament is a playoff to crown a National champion, why does it matter if the 40th best team in the nation is snubbed (i.e. Colorado or VA Tech.)? Look at NCAA football where being ranked 3rd doesn't even get you a shot in the title game. They should be happy that they were even considered at all.

The 'sole point' of the tournament is definitely not merely crowning an NCAA champion. There are different levels of success. Teams, fans and coaches all have different ambitions. Yes, some want to be national champs. But others consider it an honor to make the field. And any team from a major conference thinks that with its b est play and, perhaps, a break in its bracket that it can make the Sweet 16.

You can be sure that Virginia Tech fans thought that, if they got in, they could win a game. That's why Maryland was so disappointed in its play at the end of the regular season. Right up until they got beaten in their last regular-season home game __by Virginia!__ they still thought they might win two games in the ACC Tournament and get to the Dance.

So, Maryland, in a matter of days, has gone from hoping for a short hot streak and then a win in the NCAA tournament to not being one of the top 100 __top 100__ teams in the country.

Late unexpected loses are hard on teams __like George Mason__ that know they probably arn't going to the Final Four, but think that with a good seeding they might make a lot of noise. (Yeah, I know __with GMU you never know that they won't make the FF.)  



Ben Goessling of MASN Sports did a good thing, asking scouts from other teams what they thought of the Nats. One said that Espinosa would be the NL Rookie of theYear and would be a multiple-time All-Star. Another comment: "I love your depth at catcher," one said. "I love your infield. The pitching stinks." Do those comments jibe with your thinking?

You'll be seeing a column somewhat along these lines in tomorrow's paper. How good are the Nats young players who are NOT first-round draft picks?

Yes, people outside the Nats now think they are on the verge of significant improvement. BUT every team has to have some LUCK in getting front-line players who are not big-money free agents or first-rd picks.

Espinosa, Morse, Jordan Zimmermann and Desmond all fit in this category. All were drafted in the 2-3-or-4th round. Also include Detwiler (sixth overall) and Maya, a coveted international player.

As I'm sure I'll say in the column, I'm as far in the tank for Espinosa as any rookie I've seen in a long time. In a few years, if he's not 90 per cent of Chase Utley, I'll be surprised.  

Who do you have?

I really like BOTH of Mike Wise's columns this morning. His head-vs-heart column on the NCAAs really hit home. I've realized that, too. It's the No. 1 and 2 seeds that dominate the Final Four __much more than we'd l;ike to think. We remember the GMUs and Butlers. But they are really the exception. Reality arrives before the Final Four.

Tracee has Kansas. Wise picked Notre Dame in page H6 and, I think UConn on page H% __so I think that helps his chances. OSU isn't going to win any national titles with the stink that hangs over the school in the wake of the wrist-slap it gave to Tressel. (I'm burning my sweater vests now that they are the official gear of fake authenticity.)

Everybody hates Duke. But I really really like Nolan Smith and root for him. I watched him for two years when he was in elementary school at Key School in Annapolis and he played with my son __who was two years ahead of him. Just a great kid. And, yes, everybody said, "Will he play in the NBA?" when he was in fifth grade. I said, "He'll be a great college player." Looks like I underestimated him!

Give me Duke, Notre Dame, Pitt and OSU. And I'll change my tune three times by tip off. Title: Duke, again. Now that's going out on a bit of a limb, even for a No. 1 seed. But when Coach K aims for the ACC tournament title, gets it and avenges a loss to UNC, that means his team is probably ready.

 Also, the No. 2 seed in their quarter of the draw is SDSU. Yes, I know Joe Gibbs and all the Don Coryell coaching-tree folks will chear for them. Not to mention all the SDSU baseballers. And San Diego's  only two loses were to BYU when they were at full strength. But I still think that Duke gets through to the FF without too much trouble when their 'big hurdles' are SDSU and a nine-loss UConn team.    

Buyer beware: I'm strickly a mediocre March Madness picker, at best. But it sure is fun. 


Harper appears to be wearing batting gloves after saying that he would be playing without them, why the change?

Maybe common sense? Maybe somebody gave him a reason. I'll ask when I get back to Viera in a few days.

If you somehow missed Dave Sheinin's piece on Harper in the Post magazine on Sunday, JUST READ IT. Wonderful portrait of a whole family. You can't understand him outside that context, just as you couldn't understand Ripken outside his family background.

The differeces between Cal and Harper are important, too. Harper has far more power. But, as much baseball as he has played, he is not as schooled in the game at 18 as Cal. Did you see Harper, as a pinch-runner, get thrown out at third base to end an inning!??? Pointless overly-agressive blunder. I thought, "Guess he could use 150-200 games in the minors after all."   

Mr. Boswell, Thanks for doing these chats. I am excited as I will be coming to Viera for the Sun and Tue games next week. From what I am reading, Bernadina has had a better start than Morgan. If the season was to start today, who would be your choice for Centerfield? And regarding Harper, do you think he will be on the club next year full time after his better than average spring?

If I were picking the CFer today, it would be 1) Rick Ankiel, 2) Bernadina and 3) Morgan.

But then I'd have Espinosa batting leadoff, too.









Ankiel is a free-swinging power bat and fits well at No. 7. He's a better fielder in CF than Bernadina who dropped a ball that hit right in his glove for a three-base error on Saturday.

I understand the Nats wanting to give Morgan one last full chance. But Espinosa-Desmond looks so logical at the top. And Morgan only works __and not too well__ as a leadoff man.

They have Morgan changing so many things this spring it's ridiculous. He's spread out his stance to make better contact. Well, he was already a .283 career hitter. That wasn't his problem. They have him playing shallower in CF and he looks confused by it. He missed a ball coming in and a ball going back in the same game.

Anyway, Ankiel is (only) 31 and hit 25 homers in '08. He and Rick Eckstein have worked together on hitting before, I think. The Nats are high on Bernadina, so there's no way Ankiel starts. I'm just having fun. But Morgan looks like he's on thin ice to me.  And he should be.  

Tom, Michael Morse and Ross Detwiler appear to be top emerging talents thus far in spring training. Please tell us more about them. In addition to mechanics, what else has improved about Detwiler? How many plus or plus/plus pitches does he have? How hard is he throwing? It looks like Morse is now hitting righthanders as well as lefties. As a former shortstop, he must have superior athleticism. How are his skills playiing or improving in the outfield? Could he be a defensive upgrade over Willingham in LF? If he continues to hit and stay healthy, could he also be a plus offensively over Josh? How does the line up look now compared to last year, absent Dunn, but with Zim, Werth, Morse and LaRoche in the heart of the order? Could it actually be a wash??

Don't want to steal too much from tomorrow's column, but you are right that Morse and Detwiler, as well as  Z'mann and Espinosa, are the keys to a surprise move to .500. 

Detwiler was an elite drfat pick who's been a big disappoinment because 1) the coaching staff changed his mechanics, but took 3-4-5 mph off his fastball in the process and 2) he injured his hip anyway. The question: Copuld he ever (literally) straighten out his delivery but still have his old fastball?

This spring, it looks like he has. His curveball is his big plus 'strikeout pitch.' But it looks like he's touching 91-92. For a tall lefty with an unorthodox delivery, that should be enough. Does he miss in the middle of the plate too much? Is he confident enougth and durable. Don't know. But if he keeps throwing like this, he has to be in the rotation.

Morse really could turn out to be a late-blooming star. In two years in DC, his slash line is .283/.342/.513 with 18 homers in 318 at bats. In his Philly years, Werth's line was .282/.380/.506!

There was a book on Morse: any RHer who could throw 92 or better in on his hands could lock him up. And there are quite a few of those, especially in bullpens these days. But by the end of last year, that wasn't bothering him much anymore. He has enormous power to CF and RF. He "looks like" Jack Clark at the plate. Morse is not nearly as good an outfielder or baserunner as Werth. Though he sees plenty of pitches, Werth is No. 1 in baseball in most-pitches-seen.

The two guys who can radically change the Nats lineup are Morse, if he hits 25+ homers,  and Espinosa, if he hits 15 while showing huge range at 2nd. 

Does a monster spring training, like the one Morse is having, mean anything? Last year's shocker was Jose Bautista (54 homers in Toronto). Last spring, he hit .439 with a 1.343 OPS! (You didn't think anybody was nuts enough to know that, did you? So far, Morse is even hotter.

Morse has hit everywhere he's ever played. But his power has arrived later. FWIW, I think WEillingham had made himself into a better LFer than Morse. Josh had at accurate arm and dove well on liners when he was coming in. You just want Morse to be adequate.      

I agree with the prevailing view of most of the media that the proposed NFL 18-game schedule is too long and physically demanding. However, it seems that in the fairly recent past the media was railing against the 4-game preseason schedule where the expected starting players did not play much, the teams did not game plan, yet the fans were charged regular season prices. At that time it was considered reasonable that there be a trade-off whereby pre-season games would be dropped for more regular season games. Why the change in view? Is it because of the recent stories about the prevalence of concussions to current and retired players? It is interesting how the conventional wisdom changes so rapidly.

Yes, conventional wisdom can change fast. And the concussion issue got big in a hurry. The Duerson suicide __give my brain to science__ is one of the most upsetting things that's happened in sports in a while (for me).

My view on pre-season/18 games hasn't changed. The sport is making a bazillion bucks. Just act right: Charge less for pre-season games and keep the schedule at 16 games. What's so tough about that? Act decent.

Oh, sorry, this is the NFL.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the NFL dispute felt a lot like baseball in '94. Well, now it feels EXACTLY like baseball in '94.

This will never be decided at the bargaining table, no matter how much the owners yap about it. It will be decided in the courts after every conceivable appeal takes place. The NFLPA's request for an injunction from Judge Doty, and the NFLK's appeal of that, is just the start of the legal nightmare. 

My guess, the NFL loses six games next season. Nobody else thinks this. "Oh, they aren't that dumb." No, but they are now at the point where they ARE that stubborn. They will NEVER agree. The decision will come from outside. If that means they lose the whole '11 season, then they'll lose it. That's a view that may change. But right now, I think this is headed in a much worse, and longer running, direction than either the owners or players believe.


With your knowlege of baseball going back many years, do you remember any pitchers from the 1950's or 1960's whose career was ended or greatly diminished by elbow ligament damage before the advent of Tommy John surgury?

Great column idea! I'll start gathering string on all the fine pitchers whose careers were cut short by what turned out to be __probably__ a TJ suregry type injury. Just ask the old coaches. The names will just flow out.

How many? In the history of baseball, hundreds.

Not sure if this says more about me for renewing or the state of the Skins, but I am actually hoping for a season long lockout so I don't have to feel like have wasted my money for another year of season tickets.

If this were '71, '81 or '91 __with Allen or Gibbs as coach and Cooke as owner__ I'd be on my knees hoping for a settlement. But it's '11 with Snyder as Owner Forever and no playoffs likely in '11, if they play. So, I wouldn't be terribly bothered if they lost the whole season.

Now, it would upset me if they lost two or three seasons.

Just kidding. Hope nobody had a cadiac event.


Do you think the NFL owners really don't want to open their books to the players or more importantly to each other?

he owners got exactly the strike/lockout they have wanted and orchestrated for years. I sure hope they enjoy it. This is just like '94 in baseball: An arrogant owner-driven plan. I just dug up a note I got from Commissioner Vincent in July of 1992 __two years before the Strike__ when I'd written that many owners were planning a strike in two years and a long one and that Vincent was one of the few in the game who were resisting it.

"I thought you had it just right...It's tough here...It's important someone is noticing."   

Using you to complain the WaPo online management: I need T-Hamm! You aren't going to agree that Bryce Harper's dad is a hottie!

Hey, support Tracee on Thursdays! She's amazing. Great answers and breadth of interests. And, yes, I wish I could type half that fast, spell one third that well or avoid typos!

In person, the Harpers are an attractive family __all of them. Got to admit I ended up standing next to mom more than dad. Will that suffice until Thursday?  

The elephant in the room that was not discussed on either CBS or NBC is that the NCAA invited 11 teams from 1 conference the 16 team Big East and punished Colorado for bolting the Big 12. Harvard was collataral damage.

A point I hadn't heard or thought ab out. Thanks.

In an earlier chat, you detailed the Wiz's monumental inattention to defensive basics. I know, it's the NBA, but doesn't this have a lot to do with the coaching? Flip Saunders came to the Wizards from the Pistons ('05-'08) a team who's success, to me, was largely defined by its focus on defense. I understand that those Pistons, defensively, may have been mostly defined by Saunders's predecessor, Larry Brown, but his success with the T'wolves was also with defensive oriented teams, with Garnett as an anchor there. So, what's the deal with Saunders and defense on the Wiz? Is he preachin' and teachin' but the pews/desks are empty? What is he doing?

The pews are empty and the church doors are locked.

Until the Wiz players get that old time defensive religion, they'll stink.

Ted Leonsis had a big grin when I saw him after Cap Win No. 6 the other night. Wonder if he read my rant about his NBA team? Sometimes owners/management actually need somebody outside the organization to tell the truth about their players __when that truth is sufficiently bad.

Not saying that's the case with Ted. If anything, I get the sense that he likes his players so much __like Abe__ that he may have a hard time getting enough distance in evaluating them.

As we all know, the Marlins have stolen our lunch money the last few years. Now Jordan Zimmermann seems to have their number, and by plunking Nyjer Morgan it looks like they're ready to go at it again. I think we're ready for them with our retooled lineup and all these happy pitching stories taking shape. Is mastering the Marlins and perhaps the Mets the key to making a move this year and flirting with the top half of the division? If we handle the second tier teams we only have to hold our own against the top tier--Phillies, Braves, Reds, etc. My Spring Optimism is taking control here.

If you're not optimistic at 10-5 in March, what are you waiting for? If they are 5-10 in April, that's going to be a bummer for you. Never miss a chance to be a little bit happy (especially when you follow a long-time losing team).

OK, this falls under things yoiu won't believe. I walk up to Bruce Boudreau after they stomp the pathetic Oilers 5-0 and before I can even say, 'Hello," Bruce says, "They're 7-3."

Yes, that was the Nats record after their win that day. BB threw out the first pitch at a Nats game last year and is a big baseball fan.


There's in the tank and then there's in the tank . . . Utley has a .900 OPS and a gold glove. I believe the gold glove part, and I think Espinosa will have some power, but if that's the direction Espinosa's headed, the Nats future is a lot brighter than I had imagined (and I'm on the optimistic side of the spectrum).

Espinosa is 23. Utley didn't reach the majors until 24. Chase's OPS his first two years was .696 and .776. Then at 26 he got over .900. If Espinosa gets to 90% of .900 (or .810), you have a helluva second baseman because he's goin g to be better defensively than Utley. Give Danny time.

Boz - I was lucky enough to be at Nats Spring Training this weekend. I was standing on the bridge by left field during the top of the 9th when this lanky kid came out. I had no idea who he was. Looked it up on my phone: Destin D. Hood. We started yelling for him. Think about it: he's born in 1990, no name on his jersey because he's so new, playing the Yankees, game is tied and he's smiling so broadly that it warms your heart. Two outs and then the Yanks young catcher crushes a ball foul deep to left field. The kid comes running and crashes into the wall, catches the ball and then tosses it to me. Yanks sit down and the Nats go on to win the game. I don't know what that kid will do in the future but for that one moment, man oh man, that's why I love baseball. Destin D. Hood - thanks for the memory and the ball.

That's why you go to spring training.

Now if it were just on the OTHER side of the state, not too far from the O's in Sarasota. Hmmmm.

Boz, is Gary Williams job in jeopardy? Seems to me an AD that canned Ralph F. for a no-name guy from UCONN won’t hesitate to replace GW.

The handling of the Fridge debacle was so blunderful that I doubt they'll want to do much to Gary __unless he has another year like this one. Gap in my knowledge: Doesn't he have three years on his contract?

When in doubt, there's nothing wrong with loyalty. Everybody wants a "great" team at their old school. You don't know when you 'have it good' until you get rid of 'good' and suddenly find yourself in a world of 'bad.'

Tom, my chat buddy Tracee has picked KU to go all the way. I realize she's just a teeny bit prejudiced (just as I am for hubby's school Pitt!), but what do you think?

Hello, Pittsburgh Wife! You're awesome on Tracee's chats.

Do you think that seeded GMU so that they have to play Villanova in the first round and (most probably) the overall No. 1 seed Ohio State in the second round was a selection committee dig at GMU for upsetting the establishment majors and their boosters on the committee back in 2006?

I think they'll beat Villanova. The Cats have been awful for their last 15 games. But OSU is the dark side of GMU's second-round loss in its own conference tourney. They could have avoided that fate. And if they'd still been on a long winning streak, the NCAA have had to reward them __as a kind of official Cinderfella team__ with a very high seed. Too bad it didn't work out that way.   

After all the warm cozies in early ST, I've been a bit underwhelmed by the Nat's pitching performance in the actual ST games began. Lannan's performance the other day I found a bit worrying (BBs that score, 4 runs in 4 innings, tho' the commenters were spinning it as a positive ST outing. Maya started out well, but maybe has reverted to '10 form. So what do you think? (I.e., do they still "stink?")

Man, did you come to the right place. Where else are you going to get info like this? The combined spring training ERA, up to the minmute, for Zimmermann (0.00), Marquis (0.00), Detwiler (2.00), Maya (1.04), Lannan and Hernandez is 2.63.

The line: 51.1-51-(18-15)-18-40.

Livo is working on a four-seam fastball to throw up-and-in (for strikes) to RH hitters. He looks fine. Lannan, okay. If anything, better, or even much better, than expected.

But the second half of March matters a lot more than the first half. 

Maybe I am making too much of his impact on the Semin, but he seems like a different guy since the Caps acquired Arnott. Can the acquisition of a veteran have that much impact on a potential start to make him rise to his talent, or are we just seeing a lucky run by the Caps?

I think Arnott was an absolutely wonderful deal. I can't take my eyes off him. He changes the team. They were really in trouble, imo, until he and Wideman came. Arnott's size __massive__ added to Knubble, Ovie, etc., really gives the Caps a more physical presence, especiually in front of the net where you need it for tough playoff goals. Arnott runs the power play from the point very well __and does everything much more quickly and decively than it was being done before.

GMGM's moves last year at the deadline didn't work out too well. They may have distracted a team that was rolling. This year, he seems to have nailed it. Going with three goalies who are 22, 22 and 21 seems worrisome.

But feel free to get very excited about the Caps. (I am.)

See everybody next Monday from Viera! Thanks again.     

Boz, How would Harper's development be hurt, if it would, by letting him be the every day right fielder now? If it wouldn't, why would the Nats not do it? It's not like they are going to make the playoffs this year.

Oh, pleeease, stop this, people. You mean well, but...

Harper had a fine spring. But he needs work against LH breaking balls and in RF where he had several misreads on balls. If Mantle and Griffey could wait until they were 19 __and had destroyed the minors__ then let Harper have the same beneficial experience. Also, this is an extroverted young man who may not always say the perfect thing. It'll help smooth out any edges if he has a year of the same experience (miserable) as everybody else has had in the minors.

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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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