Ask Boswell about the Washington Nationals, spring training, the Capitals, the Redskins and all Washington sports

Apr 02, 2012

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Stan Kasten after buying the Dodgers: "I believe in scouting and player development, and a starting rotation," Kasten said. "With both, anything is possible. Without both, nothing is possible." Certainly sounds like what he tried to do with the Nats, but, as you often wrote, Kasten's hands were tied when he was Nats president. Are we going to see Kasten at his big-spending best in a major market like Los Angeles? Or are the new Dodgers owners going to be cash-strapped after paying $2 billion for the team? Thoughts on Kasten and the sale?

The road to the N.L. East goes through the Phillies and Braves.

But, very soon, the road to the World Series will go through the Dodgers and Kasten. He told me he'd have gone after Fielder very hard if the Dodger deal had been finished in time.

Look for Stan to try to steal key Nats personnel. His first hire for the Nats was Rizzo. Over the next few years, the Nats better be careful. They blocked Rizzo from talking with his hometown Cubs for GM, even though everybody knew Theo would get it. But if the Dodgers offered Rizzo a higher job __that's one reason the title "President of Baseball Operations" has been invented__ the Nats couldn't block him.

Stan never had a free hand in DC. It drove him nuts. He will now. Kasten made a courtesy call to Ted Lerner to let him know that he might buy the Dodgers. Ted said, "That's going to cost a lot of money."

"I know," said Kasten.

Stan already had his financial backers, partners and bankers in place __for a long time__ when he made that call.

In the end, he bought the Dodgers for nearly five times what the Lerners paid for the Nats.  

Are you concerned with the amount of strike outs he had and how he admitted to having a hard time picking up the ball?

Not much. The hitter's background in Viera is terrible for lefties. He's hit the ball hard the last 10 days, looked comfortable to me when I saw him last week in Florida. And he homered yesterday.

Davey is committed to finding out if Desmond and espinosa can hit 1-2, with Lombardozzi getting some time at leadoff on days when he plays. IMO, that won't change before July 4th. And "experiment" doesn't last a few weeks. You give it months.

Good Morning Tom! Thank you for the chat, as always. I usually ask a Nationals question, but Backstrom's injury had me thinking about concussions. What about having a player that causes another to have a concussion to be "penalized" as long as the injured player is out? It would cause some to be a little less "reckless" in their mid-ice collisions. Your thoughts? Too severe?

Punishments need to be tougher, imo. But if you ended a player's career, should your whole career be over? For one hit? That was no "worse" than thousands of other hits over the years?

It can't be day for day. But perhaps it could be day-for-day within one season. Thoughts from others?

Boz: Sure, there's a ball game tonight but it's tomorrow I'm looking forward to. It's the Nats versus the Red Sox, HERE IN DC!!! About time. Past time. Nice article about Werth in today's POST. I noticed a new phrase from him, "a fart in the wind." Is this a new baseball phrase for Crash to teach Laloosh?

I could have done without that eloquence!

Werth looked much better in spring training this year. His OPS is .847 in Fla. His career mark is .824.

Put me down for .824 this year __an improvement of .112 but far less than his .921 his last year in Phillie.

He'll play until they tear the uniform off him. Says when he has to be a part-time or bench player, he'll transition, though he thinks that will be at age 40-42. 

How many at bats do you think he gets this year?

To justify having him in the majors, probably 300. The only way he doesn't make the team is if they can't find ways to get him those 300. He hit in spring training (~.320) just like he has hit at every level. Looks like a guy who can hit >.280 with some steals, but not the potential power of Espinosa or defensive range of Desmond. It's nice to have depth, but he seems "blocked" for now.

Lombo and DeRosa, plus a backup catcher who can hit a little (Flores) should make for a better bench in '12. Not as much better as I'd have liked to see. But better. 

How hurt is Morse? Is this something thats going to linger all year? We need this guy.

They are being ultra-careful. If he reinjures it, I think you're talking two months, maybe surgery of some kind, like Zimmerman last year. Right now, that's not the highest probability. But it's a legit worry until you see him back in the lineup.

The Nats have the easiest first 20 games I've ever seen. The average record last year of the Cubs, Mets, Reds, Astros, Marlins and Padres was 71-91. You still have to play well to beat anybody. But this should help. The Marlins are better. But they're not as much better as many think. So, wait until Morse is 100%. No rush.

I cannot imagine anyone loving baseball more than I. At 70, I follow it closely, watch every Nationals game, read all the articles about them....heck, i still PLAY baseball myself! But watching this team for six games in Viera this year made me come away with the firm impression that they cannot hit enough to win or even make it worth watching their ponderous games. I enjoy the subtleties of pitching and defense, but frankly, I don't believe that will be enough this year to make it worthwhile to invest much more time hoping Washington will be another version of the SF Giants. How can we get excited about batter after batter with .200 averages striking out at a record pace and failing to hit with RISP? Sorry, but - to me - this is boring baseball.

First, sorry about the slow posting. Had terrible connection. Seems better now. We shall see!

To answer your question: You saw a bad set of games. The Nats will probably end up about 20th-to-23rd in runs this year __poor, but not terrible. In Fla, the offensive stats are about as expected. Desmond is hitting .293, Lombo .313, Z'man very hot. But Morse and LaRoche out made them look worse than they are for a while. 

There's nothing wrong with winning 84 games with a low-scoring team and waiting to see Harper arrive and maybe more reinforcements next winter. It's not written in stone that this is a bad hitting team.

Lets let 'em get to Opening Day before we pass a final judgment based on spring training! It's going to be a very enjoyable year.

When is the next available All-Star Game? In light of the transformation taking place in the neighborhood as covered by the Post this weekend, it seems like we'll finally be able to make a good case that DC will be a great host. I assume the game is committed through 2015 or so as of now? Would be awesome to host it in 2016 or 2017 by which the Nats project to be one of the model franchises in the game.

I think you have the time frame about right. They don't want to come until the new park has had its impact on the waterfront. And, as our A1 story showed, that's happening now. Went past the park about 10 days ago. So great NOT to see Florida Sand and Gravel. Things are now changing fast down there and all for the better. 

OK Tom, I just haven't watched much NCAA simply because it's hard to root for teams who are supposed to be made up of student-athletes but are especially at this level the NBA minor leagues, with kids who don't go to class and who wouldn't know basic algebra from "i before e," but with so much money coming in no one seems to care. So guide me: Which program/coach is the bad guy and which is the good guy in this one? As much as Coach K is hated, he at least graduates guys, so did Joe Pa. So who does a crotchety old traditionalist root for in this one? If you can't guide me I'll just root against that tremendous sportsman who Saturday night screamed "This is my stage" after besting his opponent. This is why baseball is so much fun, because those guys genuinely love playing the game (witness the Kirkjiian imitations and the walk-off home plate mobs jumping up and down in joy) and you don't often see chest thumping after a single. Thanks Tom.

Pitino is an even bigger jerk than Calipari, so I was "glad" that Louisville lost. Root for Kansas as (clearly) the lesser evil. And to make Tracee happy.

But Kentucky will win. What an awful March Madness. The least interesting I can ever remember and with the highest number of bad-guy programs winning. 

I don't agree with everything you said, but this has NOT been a Feel Good tournament. I'll watch anyway.

Why did MLB sneak off and hold a virtually unpublicized opening day a week in advance and an ocean away of the one we've been waiting for?

You should have heard the Nats mocking those games in Japan. All standing around a TV saying, "What a joke...That's awful...'Opening Day at 3 a.m.' a week early." ETC. I think it's an awful idea. Every business chases a buck, but you don't have to chase EVERY buck.

It'll hurt the A's and M's. Some season it may screw up a contending team enough to change their whole season.

George F. Will - "Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona..." With another season upon us, I wonder if you have any opening day rituals? I imagine, much like the players on the field, that the lead up to opening day has created some routines for a seasoned columnist such as yourself. Also, will you be making it out to the Opening Night game in Miami? What's the insider buzz on the Marlin's new staudium - good/bad?

I enjoyed George's tough Baseball Quiz on Sunday. Got 10 of 13 and felt lucky to do that well.

I'm not superstitious at all and so unsentimental that it's probably not a virtue! I love the whole baseball season. It literally makes the world a better place for me for seven months. But I've always managed to enjoy it no matter what particular teams did well or badly. I intend to enjoy myself __again__ whether the Nats win 70 or 90 and whether the O's win 60 or 80.

The photos of Miami look good. But no dome gets in my Top Five ever. And only Seattle sometimes makes my Top 10.

Hey Boz, I know you said not to panic over the Nats' spring training record, but I am a bit concerned. Injuries, no centerfielder, no power, inconsistent pitching could equal a rough season. Do I start lighting candles in church for my Nats or should I hold off?

Relax. Davey said .500 was the ideal spring training record, in his opinion. They are 13-15-3. It's like he is writing the script. Gonzalez, Jackson and Z'mann all looked outstanding in their last start. "Right on time." Strasburg was sharp twice then poor his last outting. Lannan is Lannan. Henry Rodriguez may "break out." There's been too much focus on MINOR injuries. It's the big injuries that matter. None so far.

I'll go ahead and say it: I think they're close to where they should be entering the season. Anything can happen, but given the way the rotation has looked the last week, I suspect they'll have a good April __even without Morse and Storen at the start. 

Will the Nats miss any of those they lost in the offseason this year, mainly Milone and Komatsu? Seems like Komatsu could have made the team given the injuries?

Milone's made the A's rotation but his only good start was his last one against an A's AAA team. Peacock got blasted and sent out. There was no long-term roll for Nix.  They subtracted little of value. They added Gonzalez, Jackson, Lidge (a plus), DeRosa (a surprise), a much stronger hitting Flores, Lombardozzi for the bench, a healthy Z'man.

If you don't allow yourself to be excited, you are really just spoiling your own fun. If they start b1-23, be sad then. I don't understand people who look at a set of data which is essentially positive and focus on anything negative. At this date in '06, '07, '08, '09 and '10, the entire discussion was: "Okay, just how awful will they be."

Things are different now. Really. It's a question of "how good" and "how soon." Good is not the same as "great." That's far in the future __maybe never. But "good" is right now.

Even if they __gasp__ lose on Opening Day.

People, try to enjoy yourselves a little. This has been a long wait. If we have to wait longer, we wait. But enough with the Gloom as a default setting.

I've spent my whole career covering the GOOD teams in pennant races. I know good talent and real potential when I see it. That's where the Nats are now. How well will it develop? What injuries will change the pitcure? Will the Nats produce disappointments simialr to the Caps (after tons of regular-season enjoyment? We start getting answers in three days.

One gets the impression from numerous articles that Davey Johnson is universally liked and respected by the Nats players. How luck are the Nats to have him? A check with Baseball Reference shows that Johnson managed teams average 12 wins in their first 20 games and he has had only one losing record after 20 games in his career (90 Mets). If you extrapolate his career winning percentage over 162 games (.561) you get 90 wins. I think the biggest benefactor of Johnson as manager will be Werth, who blossomed under a similar lifer in Manuel. I think this will be a very good year and a big reason will be Davey Johnson.

So far, Johnson and the team, and, yes, Johnson and Werth, seem like a good match. If they start winning, it will feed on itself. If they lose, there are always frictions. But I don't think the Nats will be looking at the manager's office as the source of their problems this year.

I watched MLB Network's 30 in 30 the other day. When they were giving providing for the team, Bowa gave the rotation a 3 and the bullpen a 3 (out of 5). What was he watching/analyzing??? A three?? With those great arms??? I've never watched Bowa on the station before, so I don't know if he's really credible as an analyst,

Good. The Nats have been getting too much pre-season praise.

I keep saying, "85-86 wins, not in playoffs, don't hit enough yet, but everything headed in the right direction." Enjoy the process. Just like the Caps over the last five years, this is a multi-year saga with lots of plot twists and characters.

So Boz, if the Caps don't make the playoffs, or if they lose in the first round, do you think George McPhee survives for his 16th year at the helm? Seems like it's time for a fresh vision at the top of the organization-considering the team has regressed in the past couple years and he made two big errors this year (in addition to personnel errors such as continuing to go without a second-line center): both keeping Boudreau going into the season, and then replacing him with another coach with no NHL coaching experience.

I think the Caps will make the playoffs and that GMGM will stay. They/he overcame a terrible season (until recently) from Ovechkin and long injuries to Backstrom and Green. And a poor scoring year from Semin.

But, no, I'm not impressed with Hunter. And McPhee swears by him, saying he studies more tape than any Caps coach ever.

(And this is GMGM's 14th year. Overall, it's a strong record. Sometimes you're hot __like Rizzo now. Sometimes you're not __like McPhee the last couple of years. You have to make a bigger evaluation: strong executive or weak? McPhee still looks strong to me.)

BTW, the Caps like a first-rd match with the Rangers, a team that has worked like it was the playoffs all season and depends so heavily on one goalie. They'd love to pull the stunt that Montreal did to them two years ago.

Sorry, never say good things about the Caps __prematurely.  They can always revert and make you crazy.

Assuming Wang even returns, has anyone ever thought about this as a solution to the Lannan/Detwiler/Wang glut? Teams used to regularly use 4-man rotations, so why not 6? Davey Johnson is a creative thinker; has he at least considered it?


It would, potentially, mess up the lifelong routines of your top pitchers for the sake of getting your 6th-best pitcher into the rotation. Pitchers are creatures of habit. You mess with those habits at your own risk.

Boz: Thanks as always for spending this time with your readers. I'm an ardent supporter of the Post (at least the Sports section) and since baseball's return in '05, my passion for the Nats has doubled every season. One aspect of baseball I can't get enough of is the psychological aspect, especially as it applies to a manager pulling strings and pushing buttons to get the most out of his players. Any info you can provide in regards to Davey in that respect? I wonder if his mention of platooning LaRoche is an example of Davey just trying to light a fire (LaRoche was quite dismissive of the idea, which is exactly what you'd expect). Talk Baseball Psychology with me! Thanks.

Group and individual psychology is the manager's biggest job __and the hardest to manage.

Rizzo once muttered, "I can get seven people out of the stands who can 'handle a game.'"

Davey interacts differently with almost every player. Some, like Ryan Z, he just leaves alone. He doesn't "overmanage." He tries to figure out who needs a "comfort zone" and what it is. And he will try to light a fire. His quotes are so colorful because they are used for a purpose. ALWAYS read INTO what Davey says. None of it is an accident. Leyland, LaRussa, Scioscia, Manuel __all those guys know exactly what they are saying and what buttons they are trying to push. Or what trip wires they are trying to avoid. Johnson certainly seems to be sending a 'lets see some production' message to LaRoche.

Here's where Johnson is best: Identify talent, then let the world __and the player__ see that you believe in him. Positive reinforcement. Johnson doesn't give fake praise. That's why his enthusiasm is so "interesting." He either sees __accurately__ a very good team taking shape. Or his "eye" isn't as good as it used to be and he is fooling himself.

Since the Redskins get about 120 chats a year, can we remove Redskins part from the Ask Bos Headline here? Either that or get a couple of chats out of Kilgore and Sheinin? How come Shiner doesn't chat anymore?

When its NFL season I love to chat about the Skins. Sorry. This week opens the baseball season. And the Masters. I'll get to a couple of those questions in a minuite. But, this week at least, the Skins and RGIII have to wait. Though I WILL say that I think RGIII is better than Luck and hope the Coltys don't figure it out. I don't think they will. They love that Luck seemed like a logical continuation of P Manning __pocket passer with (already) an understanding of the pro-style offense. With Luck, if they are wrong nobody criticizes them. It was so sensible. If they pick RGIII because potential and leadership and speed, then he gets hurt or doesn't pan out, they look awful. At least I hope that's how they think. Because I would FAR rather watch Griffin's future than Luck's. JMHO.

... is pathetic.

He played that wrong. And he made it pretty clear that he's as much of an ego case as Shanahan. NFL coaches are supposed to have big egos. 

Still, his main point was interesting. The Shanahans are so "system oriented" __because it is THEIR system__ will it prevent them from utilizing all of RGIII's skills? I don't see that as a problem. Shanny has so many bootlegs. And nobody ever told a QB under a pass rush NOT to create a play for a 50-yard pass or a 25-yard run. Shanny never told Elway or Plummer "stop being so creative" or "stop making those amazing plays when my play breaks down."

Ready to go out on a limb and predict number of Nat wins this year? Will it be enough to likely qualify for the expanded playoffs?

Put me down for 86-76 and they miss the playoffs by three games.But September is still exciting.

The N.L. has a LOT of good rotations __not just the Nats. True, the Nats are YOUNGER. But, right now, I'd rank the Phils, Giants, Braves (Jurrgens, Hudson, Hanson, Beachy, Minor and even Delgado), Arizona (Kennedy, D Hudson, Saunders, Cahill, Collmenter) and Brewers (Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum, Wolf, Narveson) ahead of the Nats.

And the Marlins and Dodgers could be okay, too.

Until the Nats hit better, or some of these other rotations get older or injured, they aren't going to the playoffs.

But I promise to write about them if they prove me wrong and do ti!

Will the Post be having a baseball preview section this year? If so, when is it slated to run?

Yes. On Weds I believe.

Hey Boz, Have you by any chance seen the list of Heisman-winning QBs over the past 30 years or so? It’s abysmal! You know who’s the best on that list? Vinny Incepteverde – by a mile (it’s too soon to judge Bradford or Newton). The last one of them to win a Super Bowl was Jim Plunkett in 1981, who did so 10 years was drafted. Would Skins fans be satisfied if we have to wait 10 years for RGIII to win a title? And that would equal the best case scenario during that time. I love RGIII and what I hear about him and see in him, but this list is scaring me. He’d have to reverse the past 40 years of Heisman QB fortunes to be a success. Am I being irrational to be afraid? If so, can you please comfort me? Thanks.

I looked at the same list. And had the same reaction.

Hi Tom, Tell us more about the pitching staff. Your true impressions

You'll get it in the Baseball Section. I'm just finishing it up today.

If I were the Lerners, my first thought would be the window of opportunity to build the fan base now--given the current state of competition for the sports dollar in DC now. The move from 5 to 35,000 has to happen, and this is the time. That, for me, was the Fielder argument.

Good point. The Nats have averaged 26,082 since they came to town in '05. That's ahead of nine teams. But they need to move into the 30K area with the current team.

There's no excuse not to. The Nats Greater Metropolitan Area is huge __5.6-million with only 10% of that actually in D.C. And Washington grew 16% in the last 10 years. The Nats are in qa "clump" of very-big-city teams along with Dallas (6.4), Toronto (6.1), Philadelphia (6.0), Houston (5.9), Miami (5.6), Atlanta (5.3) and Boston (4.6).

But the Nats also get to steal from Baltimore, if they can. The combined S.F.-Oakland market is 4.3M. The combined D.C.-Balt is 8,381,396 ('10 census) with 2.8M of that in Baltimore, the 20th largest MLB market.

The Nats need to act like the 8th biggest market __and a fast growing one that will pass Philly in the next decade.


I hate asking about the Redskins when we've got the Caps and Nats to talk about but how hilarious would it be if the Colts took Griffin and the Redskins, who have built up RG3 to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, had to take someone else?

It would be ironic. I wouldn't regard it as hilarious.

There would be a million "Lucky to Get Luck?" headlines.

2005? 1969? 1933? EVER????

2005 was a different kind of anticipation. But the crowds went nuts in June, July, August when Nats were still playoff hunt. '68 was a surprise. Nothing like this level of anticipation I don't think. It's nice to have Ted Willaims __but he was managing, not playing.

By the time Harper gets up, this is going to be a team with a lot of potential "name" players to watch. Washington hasn't had that since '33 (I assume). Or  '24-'25.

Putting on your GM hat for a minute, who would you keep in the "bonus" bullpen slot created by Storen's stint on the DL? Assuming the candidates are Stammen, Durbin and Mattheus, that is. Stammen was very good last year and had by far the best Spring Training, but I think the Nationals may well keep him on a starters routine in Syracuse as depth in case of further injuries in the rotation. Durbin has a track record, but it's not very good; Mattheus is still pretty raw. I'd have Stammen in the Syracuse rotation, keep Mattheus in the bullpen to give him a taste of the majors as incentive, and jettison Durbin (who I think of as Chad Gaudin II). Oh, and I wish Kasten well in LA, I guess, but from riding Schuerholz's coattails in Atlanta while building a baseball operation that couldn't sell out playoff games to his time in DC, it's hard not to conclude that where Kasten is a real genius is schmoozing, taking credit and deflecting blame. I know a lot of Braves' fans (my primary client was in Atlanta) and Braves fans tend to have the same opinion of Kasten as Nationals fans do, and it ain't good. But he's tight with Selig, which is all that really matters. Even though he's gone, he tries to take credit for the Nationals' improvements <i>after</i> he left! Yes, now that he's gone they are doing what Kasten wanted all along. Good riddance and good luck to him in LA; I can't wait to see the team that Rizzo is building develop.

Mattheus. Big-time stuff.

Stammen is excellent insurance in AAA. He's really pitching well and is completely blocked. Really good guy.

Few in this area seem to understand that Kasten was the team president for franchises in Atlanta that went to the post-season 31 times __including NBA and NHL teams for Ted Turner. He was offered the job of running three different NFL teams while he was working on the Dodgers deal. The only people in sports who don't know who Kasten is are, it seems, in Washington. But I hope they enjoy the Nationals __because the foundation was laid by the time he left.

At least as far as the TV networks are concerned, he's back. I'm not so sure, even after a win. What say you? And has he been down long enough that the new breed, starting with Rory McIlroy, don't view him in the same way as his peers? IOW, does it matter if he's back, because that Tiger can never come back?

Almost no questions today about the Masters. Therefore, no answers until now.

"That Tiger" is gone, as you say. One Nats starter, watching him on TV, said he was rooting for Woods but "they aren't scared of him anymore."

He's on his way to getting his game back, but not his mystique. That may make him even more interesting. He can win the Masters. But it is an ENORMOUS jump for him from "first PGA Tour win" to "first post-crisis MAJOR championship."

He'll be all over the board at Augusta, I assume. But unless he runs away __as he did at Arnie's event__ what will he do in a tight battle on the weekend? And what will Rory, Phil and others htrow at him? Can't wait to see.

I'll chat next Monday at 11 a.m. AFTER the Masters from somewhere in Augusta that has a faster internet connection than the one in my house today! Cheers.


Given the choice, would you rather cover opening day/weekend at Wrigley or the Masters? 2 legendary venues.

I picked Augusta. This has a chance to be one of the best __and one of the most-followed__ Masters ever. And one or more of the big three names can shoot 65 or 75 on Thursday.  It's (almost) impossible to come back from 75 there. And 65 can set up a victory for a good front runner in just one day. What's surprising is that there may be more local interest in Nats-Cubs than Masters. Really? It'll be interesting to see.

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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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