Ask Boswell

Aug 22, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about baseball, local D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Hi Tom, John Beck went 14 for 17 on Friday night with no turnovers. Mike Shanahan recently came out and said that after having reviewed film he did a good job. What did you think of his performance?

I couldn't wait to see him. He';s the No. 1 Mystery Man QB in Washington history. He could have thrown lefthanded behind his back for all I knew.

Given that one game proves nothing, my first talke would be that I fell out of my chair lauighing because he looked so good. Granted, he only threw quick short and medium routes and he fires the ball like a dart tosser __front the shoulder. He's agile but not really fast. He's good rolling out on that bootleg when they fakee the stretch play __which is like, what, 10 times a game. A Shanny trademark. But if it works and is core to your system, you just keep calling it __and variabtions off it. When Beck is hit in the pocket he's not a big guy and he doesn't break tackles. He's concerned about prityecting the ball, as he should be, so the combination means that he took three pretty "easy" sacks. Get to him and he goes down may be part of the book on him. Many NFL QBs break tackles or avoid them to extend plays. Not sure how much of that B eck can do. Like all NFL QB, I'm sure Beck can air it out deep. But that doesn't mean he's an efficient deep passer we'll have to wait and see.

But,m just from 17 passes and his decision making and those drives of 80, 45, 74 and  84 yards you can see why Shanahan thinks he can do the job.

In short, after a tiny sample, it looks like both Beck and Grossman are both capable of being solid system quarterbacks for Shanahan. Don't know how the4 Skins could possibly look more in sync and disciplined after two EXHIBITION games. Feel as entghusiastic as you want. I plan to change my "prediction on them about every three days until the Opener. Now, I'll go with an optimistic 7-9 or 8-8. I don't think you can ignore how good they look and how cpompletely Shanahan has put in a roster of players who will treat him with the respect he demands. That would be Total Respect even when you are asleep.

Tom, what's your best bet for the date of Strasburg's first return start for the Nats?

IMO, and only IMO, Strasburg will start in Nationals Park on Sept. 6, 11 and 16 __his first three starts back. Those may be his only 3 starts in D.C. with his last two on the road. What could change that? About a dozen things. I don't want to hear one word about, "But you said..." He pitches every 5th day. The Nats aren't going to mess with his rehab program. The minors end on Sept. 5.  But I could be missing something.

Of course one rainout can change everything. And the Nats aren't tipping anybody to their plans because they shouldn't __they took enough grief last year that they didn't deserve.

So, don't yell at me either. Best guess, until it gets screwed up, is that Strasburg pitches in Hagerstown tonite (I'll probably be there), then (strictly my WAG) in Syracuse (AAA) on Aug 27 and in Harrisburg (AA) on Sept 1. Why? That's when those affiliates play at home.

The Nats might not want him in AAA on 8/27, so that alone could change all the dates. Or any physical setback would change everythinbg. BUT the Nats want him to pitch 50 innings this year. they've said it. He's at about 6 IP now. The only way he gets to 50 is with 60 pitches and 4 IP nonight, then 70 and 80 pitches in his next two minor-league starts then he pitches five games __about 5-to-6 innings each, like Z'mann last year__ with a 75-to-90 pitch limit.

That's my best guess. Should be a lot of fun. Tonight will be one year and one day since his injury. That means he's exactly on the "normal recovery" track. I'd say he's reached the point __past the one-year mark__ when he's no more likely to get hurt than any other pitcher. And his elbow is probably less likely to get hurt because he has a new one that's much thicker than the original one and one that's proved already that it can throw 98-99.  


My wife and I have been married 22 years and have had an Orioles 29 game plan for 20. She's the more serious fan, but we both enjoy getting out to the park regardless of outcome, which is why we still have the tickets. But that may be reading to change. After Saturday's brutal loss (when you have a 2 run lead in the 12th, you should be able to win), yesterday's go-through-the-motions play (more ineffective starting pitching, 4 erors, all around sloppy play) may have been the final straw. My wfe started crying around the 3d inning and cried through the rest of the game, or at least until we turned it off in the 7th or 8th. If we feel this way, we can onlyimagine how more casual fans might freel.

It wouldn't kill the Orioles players to read that post. Sometimes they forget how much their fans care.


I once asked Gene Mauch what the worst thing about being a manager was.  He said: "The day you realize that you care more than they do."

You're seldom going to get a clubhouse with 25 players who care as much as the manager or the most ardent fans. But when you do __and I covered some Oriole teams that had 20 players like that__ they can play FAR over their (supposed) heads for a long time.

In baseball they call it chemistry. In the NFL, there's sometimes a different slant. You may see it with the Redskins this year or next. When you get a core of players who have been told that they are not quite good enough to be special in the pros, then somebody like Shanahan tells them "but you are PERFECT for my SYSTEM," then they feel like they have a second life, buy into the p;rogram like mad men and truly do "care as much as the coach." Well, in Shanahan's case, like George Allen, that might not be possible. But a team of fanatics who see themselves as overachivbers is hard to beat.


Of course that is the exact opposite of the Skins culture for many years. Can it change that fast? Well, Shanny sure kicked out Portis and Haynesworth fast enough. 


Good morning Tom, In the past few days I've heard pundits on the MLB Network and ESPN speculate that Prince Fielder would be a likely free agent target for the Nats. It's interesting that our local media are doing no such speculation. With Laroche presumably returning, Morse showing that he's a more than capable fill-in, Marerro and maybe Rendon in the pipeline, why would the Lerners want to spring for another nine figure contract when there are more pressing needs than first base?

I see no reason the Nats would use finite resources __even though their low payroll gives them lots of room__ to spend on a 1st baseman. You have to realize that most baseball rumors are started by agents and spread by reporters who allow themselves to be used. Sometimes it comes from a front office. But more often an agent is just doing his job "building a market" for his player and the reporter is just doing that job be passing along information IF it seems logical.

With Morse, LaRoche, Marrero and even Rendon as possibilities __either under contract or at much lower prices__ you'd want to use that wonderful "fungible" money to go after a bigger need either this winter or next __a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to go with Strasburg and Z'amnn or a leadoff hitter/CF.

Morse is an adequate 1st basemn with good hands (ex-SS) on low throws. But he weighs 240 and the laws of physics don't allow him to be quite enough at the Other Hot Corner to have as much range as LaRoche who's exceptional. LaRoche, if he can still be a 25-80 RBI guy next year, will be a big upgrade at 1st defensively. No knock on Morse. It's just that LaRoche was so special this year. I didn't know he was that good. Morse plays LF at a Nix/Gomes level.

The Nats actually have talent "crowds" are various positions now. That opens up trade possibilities. This is what happens when you pr5oject as an >.500 team next year. And, right now, they certainly do.


Hello, Tom: I'm a Nats fan and I'm loving the way they are playing especially beating the Phillies 2 out of 3! I also watch the Orioles. What a mess that team is. Where do you think they need to start to turn the team around? I realize the pitching is atrocious! Thank you. Nats fan from Landover

Nats fans remember from '08 and '09 what it's like to have a rotation where every ERA is between 4.75 and 5.75 ERA. It's a nightmare. Where do you start? Are there two or three arms that can be part of the future?

In the Nats case, the answer was that only Lannan turned out to be worth anything long term. The O's arms however __fastballs around 95 deep into games, a good secoindary pitch and usually at least a credible third pitch, too, seemed to hold a lot of promise. I wouldn't give up on Arrieta, Matusz or Tillman quickly. Though Tillman seems to lack something intangible. Bergesen is a mediocre slinger. I can't believe that Britton won't be a useful-to-quite-good MLB starter.

IOW, grit your teeth and give most of these guys a chance to try it again in '12. This season, when they really may lose 100, is an exaggerated season because their expectations got unrealistically hyigh (with hindsight) so their failurers cascaded and killed their heart for the game. They look like dead men walking. That is partly injuries, partly good players traded away like Koji and partly the psychological vortex of all-is-lost seasons.   

He took a lot of heat when he went to Philadelphia and encouraged their fans to come to the Nats games. But he knew we were a few years away from being winners and filling the stadium with our own fans. While waiting for our young talent to mature, why not encourage Phillie fans to come and we use THEIR money to help fund our player acquistion and development. Yes, it's not fun right now to be at one of these games, but it's not going to last forever; short-term pain for long-term benefit. Is it even conceivable that he had a plan like this?

Here is an e-mail I received this morning. I got permission to use it. I think it is the perfect retort to those who say Kasten's idea wasn't all bad. This is the extremely example of a bad experience at Opening Day '10. And security, "procedures" and Phils fan behavior has been much better since then __in my experience of five of the subsequent games. But this is why some Nats fans feel justified in HATING the original decision and think it may have bad backlash for quite a while.


   In this morning's column you wondered about the Nats fans
when the Phillies come to town.  I would respond with what I 
think is a view shared by many Nats fans.  My family has spent 
more than $2,000 a year attending Nats games since they arrived 
in DC.  My son plays high school ball, has grown up with the Nats, 
and is part of the "coming of age" generation of young Nats fans
who stand up and defend the team against all opponents and
skeptics in their lunchrooms and Facebook pages.  He wears Nats 
caps and jerseys and is not ashamed of his team, with whom we're 
grateful he (and we) are growing and more deeply understanding
the ace of sports that I first took to as a kid in Detroit.
   However, we will never get closer to a Nats-Phillies game than 
MASN.  Last year I took my son and daughter to Opening Day against 
the Phillies.  This was to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all
of us, something I'd never done as a boy.  The sea of drunken,
threatening, near-violent Phillies fans was too much for the small 
group of elderly (meaning well into their 70s) fans who tried to
make their way into the stadium but were crushed by the Phillies
mob with zero help from Nats personnel; they turned back,
battered, frightened and tearful, and returned to the metro entrance 
whence they'd come.  The few other Nats fans in sight, likewise 
crushed by hostile Phillies fans, could do nothing to help them.
   My children and I only made it into the stadium thanks to a band 
of young congressional staffers who set us in their slipstream and 
forged through the Philly mob.  It was a harrowing experience for 
all of us, and the game was little better.  The intimidating, very 
rough and obscene conduct of the mass of Phillies fans who surrounded 
us was enough to force our family's early exit.  We were extremely 
relieved to escape without physical harm.  Did we dare cheer on our 
favorite team during the six innings we were at our "home" field?  
Are we crazy?
   I have shared this experience with other Nats fans several times, 
and most have similar stories from the front line at Phillies games.  
Nobody we know would take their family to a Phillies game at Nats 
stadium.  Thank you for giving Stan Kasten his due as the genius 
who invited the barbarians through the gates.  I hope I get the 
chance to communicate directly with the man one day.  Unlike
our family, he had to know full well what was coming and 
neglected to take even the most basic precautions.  I recall
a management quote boasting of the high attendance and 
thanking Philly for making the stadium their home away from 
home (!).
   My daughter will never attend another baseball game, and
my wife is no longer prepared to make the trek.  My son and
I have been to non-Phillies games since then, when we can
behave like normal fans, and we mounted a wonderful outing
to a Cards game for his school team this summer.  But nobody 
will convince me to pay even downgraded greenbacks for another 
survivalist experience with the mob from the city of brotherly 
  Incidentally I wrote a letter of complaint to the Nats
management after this once-in-lifetime experience, but
never got a response.  I also tried calling in a complaint,
but the Nats have a hermetically sealed, human-proof
communications system that prevents such outmoded 
forms of communication.  Unfortunately that Opening Day 
remains my family's most vivid Nats experience in all the 
years we have been fans.

Boz, Has anyone else noticed that Jayson Werth appears to check his swing much of the time? Is his season long slump the reason he never appears to completely swing? There have been many times he has had fly outs on check swings and it appears that if he had swung with more power, he might have hit it out of the park. Has anyone noticed this and mentioned it to him?

Thant chopping hack that is so often "checked" is actually his natural and intentionally crafted swing from his Philly days. That's how I get it anyway from the Nats. It produced before __or some version of it. It's designed to keep the bat going through the "zone" for as long a period of time as possible.

It's now clear, after 125 games, that Werth's big problem is just that he's choking and has been all year because of the big contract, the hotter spotlight and all the criticism.

That doesn't mean he's a choker. The guy has been a monster in 10 post-season series. He's been the guy PROTECTING Utley and Howard on World Series team. He can flourish under pressure. But this particualr combination of pressures, and an early-season slump, has got him totally tired in a knot. He's indecisive. He's always taking hittable p;itches and swinging at bad ones. There's a clinical name for this. It is called a SLUMP. All players have them. Except when you are a $126M player under constant scrutiny it's harder for some players to get out of it. And Werth is now officially one of those.

I can't find a single statistic "split" in which Werth does well. And in every "clutch" stat __hitting with RISP, with men on base, "late  and close" he is even worse than his season norms.

But there is ONE TIME when he shines. And that's the number that tips you off that it's this season's specific type of pressure that is handcuffing him despite __and partly because__ he is trying SOOO hard.

When games are out of hand __one team is leading by MORE than four runs__ he is 10-for-28 with four homers and is slugging .821 with an OPS over 1.250! When nothing is at stake and there is no credit or blame to be allotted, he's hit a homer every seven at bats. Sure, 28 at bats is a small sample. But I think it's indicative.

He could still break out this year. Or at least keep playing better, as he has since the All-Star break with an OPS around .800. But I think next year will be the4 real test. And I assume he'll do much better. Though I doubt we'll see a dupe of '10 in Phillie. Some guys nail the Money Year just right. But then they have to cope with the pressure of being paid far more than they are worth within the context of their ultra-highly-paid profession.

Enjoyed your column this morning Mr. Boswell. I am very much looking forward to the real rivalry that is to come with the team from the North that actually matters. (I confess to wasting too much energy on that other team a few miles from us. it is to laugh.) Proximity, close games, a few hit batsmen and fanbases that hate each other (one sided now but just wait), not to mention the fact, yes fact, that the Nats will get better as the Phils get worse. Reading Phillies message boards, some of their fans have an inkling of what's coming, most still think in terms of "Gnats". They won't know what hit 'em. It will be fun.

A fan sent a similar e-mail this morning saying that Nats fans don't cheer loudly at ANY game and that it's not just Phillie games that they seem quiet until the action has actually taken place. She said that DC was full of people who work on p;olicy issues. "'We are wonks"
That a point. But just one point. When an area's population is No. 1 in the country in education and income it's plausible that you may see a fairly restrained crowd. But even leaving out Skins crowds __among the loudest in the NFL at RFK and still loud at FedEx if the Skins are winning __ the Caps now "Rock The Red." Maryland and GU basketball have typical ACC and Big East noise levels. Etc.
Therefore, I think the difference is simply establishing a winning.tradition. Noise comes with it. 188-298 over the previous three years doesn't do that. And 33 years without baseball. But Strasburg crowds were very loud. Again it's backing a perceived winner that brings it out __probably most places. Unless the Nats have a lot of bad luck, that's coming.

Not a question, just a comment. Desmond's HR was the 2nd most improbable sports moment I've ever seen (live on TV). Given Bastardo's dominance and given that Desmond is truly one of the worst hitters in MLB, who would have thought? (Number 1 on the list was Kordell Stewart's 67 yard hail mary to Michael Westbrook, giving Colorado a victory over Michigan.)


It ranked high for me, too.

And I just saw the Colorado heave ag ain over the weekend by accident. (A freind sent me a link to a greatest-ever all-sports highlight tape.)

Desmond is an exceptional athlete and has an elite talent attitude __he really thinks he can do exceptional things in the tightest spots. That is a quality winning teams need desperately. That quality and his first-to-the-park work ethic plus a deep sense of rsponsibility to team __he said he had a tough night's sleep after his dropped throw error that was probably the biggest mistake in Sat nite's loss__ is why the Nats are so high on him and always include him as a core part of their future despite the errors last year and the awful offensive stats this year.

I'm not as high on him __as a player__ as they are. My personal view is the same __a potential team leader, even on a very-good team.

Davey Johnson, who tends to nail things in a very few words, said after Sunday's game that he thought "Desmond was too aggressive in the field laszt year and he's been too aggressive at the plate this year." Meaning he's chased every breaking ball low-and-away in the dirt that didn't actually bounced into the Nats dugout.

 Because of 40-man roster issues, I doubt you'll see Lombardozzi up w the Nats this year. Davey probably spoke too soon on that issue before he knew all the ins and outs of who'd be left unprotected by a Lombo call up.  I asked somebody in the front office why he would say it if it wasn't right?"You know him a lot better than I do," was the answer. I just laughed. Okay, he spoke first and asked questions later. Good to know he hasn't changed.

BTW, Davey looks a lot more comfortable in the job than he did just a month ago. He's getting a little of that edge back. But will it be enough? Joe Gibbs __none better__ came back with that grandfatherly feel to him. Disaster. Davey came back much more mellow. probelm? But the tang is returning. As soon as he gets everybody mad at him two or three times, it'll be a good sign.


Boz: Livan is harmed by the altitude in Colorado. The less dense air doesn't move his ball as much, and he seems to get hit harder there than elsewhere (with denser air and more ball movement). Is this a recurring thing experienced by others? Can something be done - i.e., would it make sense to sit him down in Colorado and move the other pitchers up? Or is the harm from altering pitching schedules greater than the harm from an ineffective starting pitcher?


Just "yes."

But somebody has to pitch. Livo's hurt more than most. You'd skip him in Colorado if at all possible because he relies on breaking balls so much. Apparently, it wasn't possible.

Where are the Redskin questions this a.m.? Yes, I know they played on Friday and the Nats-Phils throw down was the last three days. But, from what I hear on talk radio __or don't hear__ it's inconceivable that in ANY format at any time of year there would be more intyerest in anyting than the Redskins.

Washington fans know where third base is. It's going to be amusing over the next few years as the various talk show experts try to figure out which base it is.

Yeah, that was awesome, shutting up the obnoxious Phillies fans yesterday. I had a few of them ask me during the rain delay if I shouldn't just head home and avoid watching the Nats lose. One guy asked me "So when do playoff tickets go on sale in DC?" And the blowhard next to me down in the 100s after we both "filled in" seats left by rain-departers -- he went from bellowing in my ear to cursing Brad Lidge and staring at the ground as I stayed in my seat for the sole purpose of making him have to walk past me to get out as I soaked in the win. Yeah, that's fun. I believe I wrote in one of your chats a month or so ago that this ballpark is growing some charm, game by game. This series grew a whole hell of a lot of it.

There's nothing more miserable than a beaten Philly fan. They've lost so much for so many generations that the air not only comes out of them, but seems to come out of their parents and long-dead great grandparents, too.

But it's even more fun, as I noted in a Caps-Rangers column, to hear the silence in a major New York venue when the entitled New York fans have to chew on a big loss on a big stage. There's no silence like the Yankee Stadium silence when  the Bombers loss in the playoffs to the....Texas Rangers!!!?????

And they didn't much like blowing that 3-0 game to the CVaps last spring.

BTW, can we all give a massive "Thank You" to ex-Cap Matt Bradley foir speaking some truth about the Caps last week in his hit-job radio interview now that he's been traded.

I went back and reread my Caps season p;ost-mortem, something I rarely do, and was glad to see that I was on the right track.

For decades, when Tom Yawkey owned the Red Sox, he l,oved his players, and especially his stars, far to much for the team's good. The Red Sox were probably the first pro team to be called a Country Club.

Well, if the Caps of recent years haven't run a double-standard Caps Country Club I don't know what team would have. That, boiled down, is what Bradley said. Ovechkin is apparently better now, but when younger nobody was willing to exercise an iota of off-ice control over him. McPhee's off-season trades show that he already knew the problem. He's gone for character veterans. But Semin was never traded when he'd have brought a real price. Is Boudreau the coach to start cracking a whip? The word has to come down from Ted through Geworge through Bruce to all 20 guys __time to tighten up this ship. Management by happiness doesn't always work in pro hockey.

OTOH, Leon isis is so smart, McPhee so competent and BB so...well...loveable that this could be part of what they needed to get going on the right track in post-season and well as regular season. At any rate, Bradley may be the Caps MVP of the '11-'12 season.


Beck or Grossman?

If Trent Williams doesn't stop whiffing on pass blocks he's going to get one or both of 'em killed. He's very talented. But he's also young. Twice he let Indy pass rusher "come clean" at Beck.

Boz - What do you think will be the status of the following Nats on Opening Day next year. Who will be a Nat and who will not? Desmond. Gomes. Livo. Wang. Gorzellany. Pudge.

Nats love Desmond. He's probably "in" for '11 unless somebody values him as highly as part of a trade package as the Nats value him. And that's unlikely.

I want Gomes. Hard nose. Reminds me of calculatingly crazy John Lowenstein of the old O's __Brother Low. Davey wants a "hairy" RH and LH bat on the bench beside him. Will the Nats pay the price to have Gomes and Nix be the bench beasts? What Marrero does in Sept, if given enough at bats, may put him in the picture.

Livo. I always want him under contracxt as a $1M insurance policy. Are they REALLY going to have FIVE starters better than Livo next year, especially considering he has never missed a start in his MLB career. But Livo never gets much respect. So you might want to take a good look at him while he's here.

Wang is much better than I thought/hoped. Great p;erson. Genetlemanly, stoic. Rizzo wishes "he could be a little more outgoing" because people would like him so much. English isn't the problem. Understands it. Speaks it plenty well enougth. He's just a reticent man, apparently.

Yesterday he had the best late movement on his sinker in any start so far. It was so alive that he got away with "pitching up" all day. He'd probably have prefered it if every sinker he'd thrown had been six inches lower. Utley's HR was a high sinker. How Ruiz went deep on that sinker down and in I don't know. Just add it to the "book" on him. SAnyway, Davey said Wang would stay in the rotation the rest of the season and he'd have used him for 100 pitches on Sunday except for the rain. Well, you paiud him so get something out of it and find out if he has value to resign __or try to resign__ as a free agent. He should have seven m ore starts. Plenty of data.

Gorzelanny looks like the LH long man Johnson likes. Will that be enough to get Gorz to resign. I think he's a free agent. I'd have to check.

Love Pudge. Hope he's back. Pudge at 45 may still be a vetry valuable backup catcher because his defense is still wonderful. Check how long Bob Boone and Carlton Fisk kept playing __44, 45 I think. Pudge may still be helping somebody for years. If he wants to stay as much as he claims he does, he'll have to take a lot less $$$ than he's making now.  Hope it happens but tough to see it. 

Given the failure of the Orioles this year, do think McPhail will return and if not, does Cal have any interest and would he be a good fit?

Cal has always been interested __in RUNNING the team. Or, I assume, in being p;art of an ownership group. No. 2 won't happen. Life isn't that good. And because he really wants No. 2, No. 1 probably won't happen either.

BUT I haven't looked into this or talked to Cal on it in quite a while. So discount my view.

Are any of the prospects they drafted considered top 10 in their farm system?

I think the Top Four will all be considered among the top dozen Nats prospects by themiddle of next year __assuming they are healthy.

Just wanted to add a note on this. Last week Rizzo, on short sleep, but very proud of his front office and the support of his owner, gave a lot of quotes in a lot of places that were euphorically happy and full of praise for the work Roy Clark and Kris Kline did in other towns. I've heard there was some tart blowback from, maybe, the Braves and D'backs. My take was that Riz, at least with me, (don't know about all the other print and TV folks he talked to), just wanted people to know how good Clark and Kline had always been and that this draft simply reflected the very best in their good work. Plus some great draft-night luck, l.ike Rendon falling to No. 6.

However, if he had it to do all over, I'm pretty sure he'd tone it down a level or two. And I suspect he'll tell a few D'backs poeple this week when they come to DC that he understands all the other Arizona people besides Kline and himself who put that 1st-place bunch together. But it was a lot more fun __and refreshingly honest__ the way it went down.

Storen seems to continually get hit hard in close games. Why isn't Clippard given the chance to be the closer?

They are both excellent. Reliever ERAs are deceptive. Clippard is excellent at both shutting down a 7th-inning rally that is underway, then pitching the eigthh inning, too. Because he's (somewhat) older, you figure his arm is a bit less vulnerable. Storen is only in his second year. He works well with a clean slate in the 9th, so let him do it. Tempermentally, he's very calm and under control __a closer trademark. But Clippard, pitching the way he has the last 3 years, could do it, too.

Here's an item provided by our outstanding chat boss Jodie. Thanks.

"Did you hear about the triple A Nashville Sound triple play? The hit that bounced off the center fielder's head?"


Boz - Nice article today on the Phan Invasion. Wasn't at any of the games, but had three different sets of friends tell me that in both of the Nats rallies (on Friday night and Sunday afternoon) they were asked by Nats Park ushers to sit down so as not to block the views of the Phans behind them, even though they pointed out everyone else had been standing during Philly rallies. The ushers were insistent, and one of my friends, to her infinite credit, simply pointed to the scoreboard that says "Nationals Park" and refused. Is there any sense that Nats management "gets" it in regard to what a huge blunder Kasten made 2 seasons ago, or is it simply that dollars from Cherry Hill just as good as dollars from Arlington?

I don't doubt your friends honesty, but, man, that's hard to believe. Hey, lets add it to the lore/mythology.



There's a couple Orioles fans here who, after much soul searching, have decided to make the Nats our team. We're not fair weather fans. We've stuck with the O's through all these consecutive losing seasons. Now, watching Baltimore is too painful, there's no light at the tunnel. The Nationals seem to be in the exact opposite position. It doesn't feel good to move away from our old team but Baltimore is too far gone .....

There's a lot of that going around. Even in my family where my son, who grew up an O's fan, seems much more Nats-friendly.  

I imagine there will be at least one post in today's chat regarding the number of heathen Phillies fans in attendance at Nationals Park this weekend. To you I say: 1) The Nats won the series, be happy; 2) Within 3 years the Nats will be a playoff team, keep your eyes on the prize; 3) Look in the mirror: buy tickets! 4) Understand that the Phillies are the losingest professional sports franchise EVER; fans still can't believe what they're seeing now and are trying to experience as much as they can before the bubble bursts horribly as it surely (in the minds of fatalistic Phillies fans) will. A few years ago Phillies fans were lamenting the invasion of Mets partisans to South Philadelphia. Many fewer are able to get tickets now. BTW, when Harper emerges as a major league star you won't feel so bad about grossly overpaying for Werth. Harper will make Werth better.

All good points.

I talked to a Phils fan, Jason Azbill, who brought his young son and a nephew. Of Phils fan behavior at DC games, he said, "We're getting better. I've been a Phillies fan my whole life, but it took us a long time to have a good enough team to (have) front runners. We had to lose more games than anybody in history before it was our time. It takes a while to get used to it."

And to act like you're used to it.

Thomas, do you see the Nats being contenders in the NL East in three years?


Since his first season in the minors is likely over, is there any reason not to give Bryce Harper an A for the year?

I'd give him more of a B+. It's remarkable for an 18-year-old to hit .297 and slug .501 while playing both A and AA ball. Most at that age are in Rookie League. Or still in high school! He won't be 19 until after the season.

But it's not an otherworldly performance. He had "Harper numbers" his last two weeks at AA, but not before that.  My guess is that he's about a year further away from the big leagues as a regular than the optimistic consensus six months ago which had him playing at Nats Park by 6/12. He needs to eat up AA next year, like he did Hagerstown, before he moves to AAA. Then, maybe a Sept call-up in '12. Dominate AAA in early '13, then up to stay in mid-'13 at 20.

All just a guess. He has rough edges at the plate, but more so running the bases and being fundamentally sound. And he's got some of that entitlement aura about him that isn't entirely a product of "haters." He's nowhere close to being as ready for the majors as Strasburg was last year. But that's entirely because of the age difference between them. Harper will probably still be an impact regular at a younger age than SS's debut.

Boz, I think you are misjudging the Nats/Phillies fan dynamic a little bit. I am as die-hard a Nats fan as they come, my two young sons and I closely follow the team, and I love to take them to the game. But I refuse to go to games when the Phillies are in town, because I can't risk getting led away in cuffs. (I've scrapped with their fans in the past.) I know there are others like me. So it's a self-feeding loop: the more obnoxious Phillies fans show up in droves, the more fans like me stay away. Management needs to realize that they have a problem -- Stan Kasten was a Grade A idiot on that count -- and they should take a page out of Leonsis's book and actively discriminate against Phillies fans the way the Caps discriminated against Penguin fans. The Post should do a story on this, because it's not just that Nats fans are weak. At least stop the ticket sales to the Philly ticket brokers who arrange the bus trips.

I agree. NO MORE buses from Philly. If you want to drive, great. There were 30-to-35 bus loads yesterday.

How do you prevent it? Not my problem. That's the Nats problem to figure out. And it IS a problem, imo.

Yes, it is just preseason and No, I don't expect the Redskins to make it to the Super Bowl after watching 2 preseason games. But it was right before the first preseason game that one of ESPN's Sportsnations polls asked if the Redskins would be the worst team in the NFL this year. As I recall, about 40% people said Yes! The team looks like they have more energy and that everyone is pulling together. Might the Redskins follow the Nationals and actually perform better than most people thought before the beginning of the season?

There has been a lot of Skins bashing around the country.  Shanahan is just a man on fire to prove that he still "has it." Both Grossman and Beck see this as a chance at a totally new/better career. 

They are only exhibition games. Manning didn't play. Ben only for one series. But there were a lot of defensive 1st-stringers for both the Steelers and Colts. And the Skins are pretty banged up themselves. Everybody likes Hightower. But I have to admit that when Roy Helu, Jr. runs wild you have to say, "Just an exhibition, just an exhibition."

The Ravens game will be a better test, especially because very few frontline players play myuch at all in the fourth and final exhibition the following week. So this Thursday is the last chabce at a look at the Skins for meaningful chunks of time. And the Ravens have strong enough feelings about the Skins that I doubt they want to give up monster yardage totals or, like Indy, look up at the scoreboard and see the Skins with a 16-to-1 advantage in 1st down in the 1st half! Why the Ravens defense might even use a little bit of a real game plan on defense instead of hiding virtually everything as most established teams do in August.

Is Adam Dunn finished? What other sluggers can you think of who have dropped so far and so fast?

No, he's not finished.

There has NEVER been anything like this before __not on this scale.


I was tempted on my day off to take him a copy of Dale Carnegie's famous world-wide best seller "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" when the Chisox were in Baltimore. It's an old and corny read, but still wise and practical. Even went out and bought a copy. Then read a quote from Dunn about how nice everyblody was being and EVERYBODY chipping in with advice. The implication being that it was driving him even nuttier with all the baseball and/or psyche "tips." So, I didn't take it. Poor guy.

(Anybody need a free book?)

Boz, great weekend for Nats and Skins. It seems to me that the offense during the first two weeks of pre-season has looked good because (1) running game is working well, and (2) passing game is built on short crossing patterns and dump-offs in the flat. Because the running game is working, the play action works, and the short drops and quick passes make the job easier for the O-line. In this kind of offense, QBs like Beck and Rex have an opportunity to succeed. Does this make sense to you?

Yes. Good analysis in my book. Now both Indy and Pitts have seen it. Ravens have film on how Grossman and Becfk run it. So does Baltimore cope better? Or is the Shanahan System __which the league has had eons to analyze__ so solid that, when run properly, it looks as it has the last two weeks?

I never thought this Skins season was going to be enjoyable (worth the time) to watch, analyze. More like '12 if lucky. Suspect I was wrong. And glad to be. Went back and read some of the stuff on the '10 season. OMG, what a train wreck. The 35-0 deficit to the Eagles after 12 seconds of the 1st quarter. The botched snap in the last seconds to lose 17-16 to Tampa Bay instead of go to overtime. The mauling in NY by the Giants after the Haynesworth suspension just before the game. On and on. This year, the Skins will probably be so disciplined that they'll make a Lombardi team look like the outlaw submarine crew in "Down Periscope."

Bos, Jon Heyman of SI wrote on Friday that Bud Selig singled out the Nationals and, to a lesser extent, the Pirates for going above slot in signing their draft picks. First, if this is true, I've never been more contented with the Lerners. Second, do you have any insight as to what the Lerners might have said in response at the ownership meeting? Perhaps something about Bud sticking it where the sun doesn't shine. The Lerners were a year or two too slow to get with the program, but the lion's share of the Nat's woes since they've returned to DC still lies with Bud and MLB's stewardship of the Expos/Nats. If Bud were to show up at a Nats game I suspect he'd be received as warmly as President Bush was on his rare appearances.

I hadn't seen that.

The best bang for the buck is still in the amateur draft __by far. It's the place to spend. The Nats did. They got four prospects they love for 1/8th their commitment to Werth. Tell Bud and his monopolists to go take a flying leap.

Yeah, the Nats and Pirates should play by the unwritten rules to hold down amateur-draft signing salaries because high school and college players don't have a union. If there's ever a time to break ranks, this is it.

Congrats to the Nats.

That's it for this week. (Unless I scroll down and find a question so great I can't resist throwing it up, too. See you all next wek.

Oh, BTW, I timed the Holyas-China fight. One of the worst basketbal brawls I've ever seen. BUT, on the tape of the fight, which starts at 0:10, you can see that the entire GU team is together and walking briskly off the court at 0:45! That means John Thompson III __you can see him ordering his whole team off the floor and them responsiding instantly__ brought his team under control, stopped the fight and neutralized everything is 35 SECONDS. Try that some time. Gotta be a coaching record for grace under fire. (And when you are in China, believe me after the Olympic experience, you feel like you are under scrutiny every instant.)

Have a great week.

Is this week it for Jordan Zimmermann this season? Davey Johnson had hinted that he might like to extend Zimmermann past the Nats' 160-innings limit for this season, and it looks like that number will be reached within Zimm's next 2 starts. If Zimm does pass 160 by the end of August, do you think there's any chance the Nats will run him out there one more time as a transition to Strasburg?

Watch Davey get Z'mann to exactly 162 innings __so he can quality for the Top 10 in various stats like ERA. Or WHIP, OPS or batting average against. Etc. This matters to players pride. And down the road it helps them regotiate. Johnson was a player. He knows that 160 feels ugly __just enough so you get left off the lists that go in the record books. Looks like he lobbied Rizzo and got the go on 162 if Z'man can do his part and last that many innings in his last two starts.

I didn't like it when the Nats encouraged Phillies phans to attend games down here. What bugs me the most is the visiting team fans BOOING the home team. That said, I've been to several Nats/Phils games and haven't experienced anything resembling the nightmare scenario your correspondent reported. To be sure, Phillies fans are boorish, but I haven't seen Phillies mobs acting in "near violent" way to Nats fans.. It almost sounds like your correspondent may have been expecting an experience similar to the sparsely attended home games of the past, rather than a near sellout opening day. Oddly enough, the worst visiting fans I've experienced are the Orioles fans -- maybe that's a brother-vs.-brother civil war thing.

Lets include this for proper balance. I have heard PLENTY of both sides of this debate and in about equal amounts. So, in my book, it's not a fake issue. But different people react differently to the same environment. I've never been in a sports crowd that bothered me much. And I've been in some zoos from highs games with riots predicted to Fenway and Yankee Stadium bleachers where they hire the ushers by the pound . But plenty of people have justified problems with this.

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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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