Ask Boswell

Sep 26, 2011

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Yesterday: Can the Pats really come back? Can the Bills keep it up? Tonight: If 3-0 happens, how long do you see the winning continuing? Tomorrow: REALLY looking forward to the Nationals coming back with a set core team and the winning attitude they learned (and earned) this year. LOVE taking it to the Phils at home. Love it. Almost as much as Werth, Mr. "no take your helmet next time."

Okay, this is a fun sports day!

Skins-vs-Cowboys here in Dallas tonight where, this a.m., I'm looking at the Dallas Morning News. The two lead columns are 1) imploring the Pokes defense to win the game by themselves since the offense probably can't. (Nice confidence in Romo!) And 2) asking the Boys to play better in their new palace where, since it opened, they are just 8-8. In old Texas Stadium, they were 213-100! Their poor play in Jerry Jones' trillion-dollar ode to bad taste is just like the RFK Stadium syndrome where the Skins played better before smaller, but louder crowds.

Fascinating QB matchup tonight. There are 38 QBs in the NFL who current have enough pass attempts to be list among "active career leaders" in stats. In QB rankings, Romo ranks No. 3 (over 95.0 rating.) Rex Grossman is the fifth worst. When it's No. 3 vs No 34 at the home field of No. 3, you usually know who's going to win. But maybe not this time. It'll certainly help the Skins offense that the crowd won't be Texas Stadium loud and, if Skins score first, may be pretty quiet.  

Also, the Nats final home weekend, winning 2-of-1 against the Braves to help cut Atlanta's wildcard lead to one game. The questions this a.m. are actually "trending" to Nats over Skins. Hard to believe before Skins-Boys. Is the enthusiasm all weekend at Nats Park at tip off that something's changing for the Nats, as it did dfor the Caps a few years ago? The crowds were semi-stunning: 28,817, 33,986 and 37,638 with the smallest crowd for Strasburg's start.

That's been the pattern all month. Bigger crowds for non-Strasburg games than for Strasmas!? His biggest crowd (29,092) was only the sixth biggest of September for the Nats as the team moved up to 20th in attendance. No big deal. But the direction is pretty clear. The last three home games drew 53K last year (ugly!), the last three weekend games at home drew only 68K in '10. Yet  last weekend the Nats drew 100,441 for 3 games.

Stuart Scott opened by saying "Jon Gruden may have sat down with a legend in the making (Tony Romo) Jon Gruden went on to say on the Sunday Night Conversation with Tony NoMo, Gruden stated/asked, in part "... You have to come back to next week some how some way and face the SF 49ers... a quality team on the road..." Your thoughts on to parts - "may have sat down with a legend in the making" and "face the SF 49ers... a quality team on the road." I'd say Grossman is more of a legend in the making (at least he's been to a SB and if the 49ers are a quality team then surely the Skins are going to the SB this year (yeah right. Would be nice though).

I love Gruden's interviews with QBs. He sits in the hunch, gets on the glare and it's as if he's saying/asking, "My ego is really, really big. Is your ego really, really, REALLY big __like even bigger than mine!!!

I've been off Romo for a long time, since he gave a TV interview in a formal setting, host of the show in a suit, and Romo wore sandals and just about stuck his feet in the camera. Like: Even my feet are gorgeous. Look at 'em! Socrates usually gets credit for saying: Any man who would be vain should look at his own feet." Hey, no part of Romo is ugly to Romo.

If he looks pretty tonight, more power to him. Starting RB: Seperated shoulder. Pro Bowl receiver: Street clothes. Other wideout: Hobbling with a deep thigh bruise and Pro Bowl TE wearing a flak jacket. That's the Dallas Morning News description anyway.

But names like DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff __and the pressure they can or can't bring at Grossman in a hostile environment may be more important. 

For those who have questioned Davey Johnson's methods since July, you better start drinking the Koo-Ade. Johnson has used his time wisely separating the lambs from the goats since taking over. Anyone who cannot see the grand scheme of what has transpired, is blind sir, blind. He, and Rizzo, now have their list of who can and who can't help the Nats move forward.

Good points. Johnson has managed for the future and the present simultaneously and made it work. He said he was looking for answers for "whoever the manager is next year." There's a search process, but it will be Johnson. No question.

A significant upgrade, especially when you have to face entrenched teams like Philly and Atlanta with traditions of winning. (OK, recent trradition in Philly.) You need a manager with some presence and image that he already knows how to win __it's tough enouhg when a young team has to learn how to win, which usually takes a couple of years. You want an established manager, if you can get one.

Davey relieved a pitcher in the 9th in Philly with a 6-1 lead as Nats were about to sweep. It was (technically) managing by the book. But it also felt like Johnson was letting the Nats, and their fans enjoy the momnet while, in effect, saying that he couldn't care less how the Phillies or their fans takes it. That's the "old" Davey who loved to stick it to rivals when he had good teams. Of course, he got booed __then looked into the crowd and waved. He looked like he kind of enjoyed it. "You have to target the team you have to beat," he said afterward. Psychological warfare. Davey is literally one of C Manual's managing models. 


I'm a big believer in Baseball Karma. What game was Davey Johnson playing when he took Slaten out in the 9th Thursday night in Philadelphia with a 6-0 lead, after he had gotten the first two batters out on 6 pitches? And then egged on the Philly crowd as they, rightfully, booed the bush league move? Don't tell me he had to play the lefty-righty %, or needed to see Coffey in that situation. He knows what Todd Coffey can do. If it were the case of seeing something new, it would make more sense to see Slaten in that situation. If it gives up a hit or two, then pull him. The Nats were up 6 runs! I was almost glad when they scored to spoil the shutout. I want to beat Philly as bad as any Nats fan does - 18 out of 18 a season wouldn't be nearly enough for me - but under Charlie Manuel they play the game the right way. The 9th inning of the last game of an essentially meaningless end of season road series sweep against a team 20-whatever games ahead of you in first is no place to grandstand. Baseball has a way of dealing with that sort of stuff, and as a Nats fan, I was dismayed to see our manager pull those shenanigans.

I'll follow up on this. Whether they can do it or not, the Nationals __Rizzo/Johnson__ have targeted the Phils. That was part of what the Werth signing was about. It may be '13-'14-'15. But they aren't going to be shy about it. When Johnson played for and managed the Orioles, they were very Yankee-conscious. Bigger market, etc. Get under the overdog's skin. Show enough respect, but not too much. When Davey managed against Whitey Herzog and the Cards in the '80's, it was electric. Which would push what button on the other!

The other day, Rizzo said it was nice not to have to talk to the press as much anymore because "Davey will give out all the spicey stuff." Davey used to be very edgy, just couldn't keep his fingers out of the fire. Now, he's more mellow. But he's not going to manage a wilting violet team. He started Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock in both NYC and Philly right away. See how they react. 

Seeing the Nats in "not-back-down" mode should be fun. They may get KNOCKED down a few times. But that's part of learning to win.

Loved the team pranks that are popping up, especially with the bullpen __changing the "mega-millions jackpot by $700M in Philly! Then the Werth-led insurgencies on Friday and Saturday to try to Let Teddy Win by tackling and "boarding" the other mascots. Don't know if it was a set-up. Maybe not. But Werth crossing the finish line first makes me suspicious. It still worked.

The Presidents Race: The gag that keeps on giving.

Post headline "Nationals vs. Phillies: Milone, Detwiler give a glimpse of the future as they pitch Washington to a sweep" after a glorious seven-hit DH by two kids in the Phil's park. How glorious (really HOW GLORIOUS) is this? Strasburgmas aside (?) Is the '12 Nats staff the young guns Atlanta had in '89 all over again? Coupled with the embarrassment of riches on the offensive side the Nats have are we in for years of playoff appearances, pronto 2012?

Amazing, a Nationals fan who is carried away!

Don't get TOO excited. Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann are far ahead of the rest of the Nats starting pitchers in talent and neither of them has ever won 10 games. The rest have the potential to be pretty good.

As amazing as his comeback story is, Wang isn't close to his NY stuff.  Looks like a Jason Marquis type at this point in his career. Lannan, an average MLB starter, never pitches well against the Phils. He won last week. But they still looked like they were constantly about to clobber him. Detwiler still needs to prove he's toughened up enough to get the most out of hius stuff. His 3.00 ERA is part good luck this year. FIP __Fielder Independent Pitching__ is a could counterbalance to ERA so you don't get too excited (or depressed) about various pitchers. Here are the Nats FIPs.

Strasburg...1.47. Zimmermann...3.16. Malone...3.30....Marquis 3.78...Peacock 3.86...Livan H 3.95...Detwiler 4.20...Lannan 4.30...Wang 4.56.

If forced, I'd take the FIPs of this group as more indicative than the ERAs. (Excluding Stras' number.)



While watching our hometown team totally shut down a Braves team in desperate need of a win, I was struck by the feeling that finally we are close. Am I being irrationally exuberant to think that (barring serious injuries) next September Nats fans will be watching a winning team playing meaningful baseball games?

Yes, I think the Nats will be a winning team next year. If another wildcard is added in '12 __it'll be '12 or '13 and a decision is coming pretty soon__ they might be contenders (loosely defined) in '`12 because 85-86 wins might put you in the picture.

And the first round of the playoffs would be wildcard-vs-wildcard in a one-game elimination. So, just blue-skying, if they got there, Zimmermann in '12 and maybe SS in '13 would be the one-game starters. That would give you a chance to advance. (SS will have an innings limit next year as Z'mann did this year.)

HOWEVER, here is the big point about the Nats that was been missed all year: The Nats are EIGHTH out of 30 teams in MLB in team ERA! And it is not a fluke. In a couple of years, the Nats, under Rizzo, have gone from one of the most pathetic junk-balling staffs you'll ever see to 12-deep in power arms. Here's the proof.

In '08, the Nats had TWO pitchers whose fastball averaged more than 92.0 m.p.h. __Hanarahan (95) and the wild man Colome (95). This year, they had a dozen.

Henry Rodriguez 98, Strasburg 96, Storen 95, Balester 94, Mattheus 94, Severino 94, Kimabll 93, Zimmermann 93.4, Coffey 93, Peacock 93, Clippard 93, Detwiler 92.

That's a complete transformation. Burnett and Wang are both 91. Stammen and Lannan 90. Marquis was 89, Milone 88 and Livo 84 (!!!).

In '06, when the Lerners bought the team, only Gary Majeski threw more than 91.7. The best fastball among starters was Ramon Ortiz at 90.6. No wonder they looked pathetic. They were.

On Sunday, Rodriguez (come on, just call him H-Rod) threw several pitches 101 and one Braves hitter GAVE UP. On an 0-2 pitch, he tried to BUNT! And fouled it off. An admission that "I can't touch this guy. A two-strike bunt is my only chance." Strasburg touches 99, Storen 98, Mattheus, Peacock and Detwiler have clicked 96. Z'mann sits at 93-94-95 in the early innings.

This is an entirely different team because it has gone from one of the worst pitching staffs in recent decades to a top-10 staff __in a year without Strasburg__ through the top-to-bottom rebuilding of Rizzo and his scouts.

Remember '05, the 81-81 team. Best fastball by a starter, John Patterson (91.1) and Chad Cordero, Fireman of the Year, was 89.4. It's w hole new world.   


Seems to me Matt Cassel's going to be out of a job if he can't get something going and soon. . .

This is a tiny example of a larger trend, I suspect. This year's NFL seems to be defined by spectacular offensive yardage totals and even higher than normal unpredictability. And that any-given-Sunday thing has always been the NFL's biggest hook for fans (and gamblers).

I was thinking about making some brave (and specific) Skins-Boys prediction until I saw the Pats lose to the Bills w four Tom Brady interceptions (a couple of them bad throws). You see everything from 40-33 games to 17-16, 17-14, 13-10, 16-10, 13-8, 16-13.

Every defense seems to bend, but not always break. Redzone offense, if anything, is even more important than usual. Everybody marches, not everybody scores a touchdown or eliminated the redzone turnover. And, of course, turnovers (with an eliment of luck) has always been the largest single determinant __by a lot__ is deciding who wins any one game.

Can Skins score in redzone on the road vs noise levels? And can the Skins offense NOT score points for Dallas by giving them the ball inside the Skins 35-yard line?

Have you seen Moneyball yet? Thoughts?

No, not yet.

But it should be noted that the '02 A's, the subject of the film, were a 102-win team in '01. The core of that team was scouted/drafted/developed the traditional way or gotten in standard trades.

In these categories, the '01 A's had Tim Hudson (18-9), Mark Mulder 21-8, Barry Zito 17-8, Cory Lidle 13-6, Jason Giambi 38 homers, Miguel Tejada 31 homers, Eric Chave4z 32 homers and several others.

They lost Giambi and a couple of others, not named above, in '02. So, identifyingScott Hatteberg is nice, but not revolutionary.

To the point, the A's started using some Moneyball ideas as far back at '95. But that certainly didn't put them at the head of the pack. Davey Johnson had Earnshaw Cooke's heavy-math tome in his office when I interviewed him in '84-'85 when he clammed up as soon as I said I had a copy of the book. 

Lewis had a good story. Bill James and others in the late-'70's and '80's started "changing the game." The concepts were there. As far back as April '78, Total Average was in the Post and it ran 20 straight years in national magazine __Inside Sports, Sport__ BEFORE the '02 A's.  What's amazing is that it took so long to be adopted widely. Even by '02 only about four teamns used it extensively. And it was central to the '04 Red Sox.

Ironically, player agents figured it out far earlier than MLB GM's. For years they took stats on "Runs Created" and "Linear Weights" and Total Average, etc., into arbitration hearings where decisions were made by baseball outsiders. Those numbers helped win a lot of cases. But then agents, the union and arbitrators tended to be more bookish __standard forms of education__ than baseball front offices in those days.

Now, most of the Moneyball ideas have been arbitraged out of the game. But you still see huge debates that break down along Moneyball-vs-Eyeball methods, like Ian Desmond.

Scouts/evaluators will tell you has has star talent, great makeup and a high ceiling. Stats tell you that, even if you blend his '10 hitting with his '11 fielding __something he's never done__ he's just a guy with a bad .301 career on-base percenatge, above average but not off-the-charts range and (still) a lot of errors.

Debate to be continued...forever.

How about Hot Rod, or Heat Rod?

I like it!

There have been famous "Hot Rods."

Heat Rod is more current. 

When he overthrows, he's be Overheated Rod.

I get that John Lannan's FIP is bad. And if you buy into FIP, then that's a bad sign for Lannan. But for how many years have the sabermetric guys (I'd like to include myself as almost one of them) ranted and raved about how Lannan should be one of the worst pitchers of all time, only to have him be an average-to-good pitcher? It's time to give up on using the current advanced stats on Lannan and just accept the fact that he is good at two things- 1) pitching and 2) making stat guys look silly.

The stat guys, among other things, still don't grasp the inherent advanatages of groundball pitchers. They get far more GIDPs. Lannan's very high in that. Few stats even touch GIDP. Anbd batting average on balls in play is almost always lower for sinkerballers. 

So, yes, Lannan is better than his FIP __every year. His biggest liability is that, even pitching vastly better against lefties, he still has big trouble against the Phils and the big RH bats of the Marlins. When you play 72 games inside your division, you have to look at matchups. Lannan got stuck facing the Phils six times this year. Davey loves the idea of three LH starters in '12, if that's how the competition falls out. But Peacock's stuff and Wang's pedigree as a penant-race Yankee certainly put them in the picture.


Nice thought. But winninga WS is much different than having a good exciting team. You can go a looooong time before everything clicks to make that happen. There's one WSW winner every year and 8-to-12 really exciting teams (to their local fans). The Nats may be one of those 8-to-12 teams next year. They're probably 16th best right now. If the devil will let you swap your soul for 2024, you might want to take it.

Another note, Harper's progress got slowed by AA pitching. He's going to be a factor, but I'd say more like '14-'15 than '12-'13. Remember, he won't be 21 until after the '14 seasaon. With hindsight, the Braves probably pushed Jayson Hayward too fast. Now he's batting No. 8. There's a lesson in that.

I feel like this is a game the Skins of that few years come in and get blown out. This team feels different though, if Romo really does have a fractured rib(which I don't believe). I can't see how he last one half if Orakpo and Kerrigan hit him like they hit Kolb last week.

I expect a close game. Remember, two years ago they played a 7-6 game here. (Dallas won.)

The Orakpo-Romo-Kerrigan sandwich is a fine visual.

It's so much fun being in a town where baseball matters! I'm a Royals fan, and I was reading some of the KC writers talking about how it was a bummer the Royals are out of home games this year. And how none of them could remember the last year that was true. Seems like the Nats are the same way (if a bit further along). Football is nice, but a good baseball team can really carry a city (particularly our swamp) through the roughest time of the year. I hope next year is even better (for both teams).

A good baseball team is an everyday experience from the middle of spring training, when the team really starts taking shape, until Oct. 1 or further. That's everyday for 200 days. Football players can't survive that long a season. So you have 17 amazing weekends. But Washington fans will experience something that new to many of them if the Nats are in post-season races.

Even Dallas is waking up to the Rangers. And this is pure football (and not much else) country. Washington has always had deep FB, BB, basketball and, in recent times, hockey roots in the fan base. Typical of an East Coast city. Capable of thinking about/understanding more than one thing at a time.

What's your gut feeling about the Caps this year?

I think the extremely critical comments by ex-Cap teammates __about their star system, lack of work ethic (by some), the playoff disappearing acts by Semin and others__ were exactly what they needed.

You're seeing a different tone. These issues had to get so far out in the open that a Caps Country Club __or anything even remotely like it__ just wasn't going to be acceptable anymore. Exactly how bad was it? Pretty bad in '09, ino. Lot of partiers. More maturity last year.

Even by the standards of pro sports, the NHL is ultra-tough. Anything that lights a fire under the Caps, gives them something to prove, is all to the good. Secretly, I suspect that Ted and GMGM would love to give a hug to the Cap critics like Bradley. Did some of their work for them. Maybe makes it less hard for Bruce B to tighten up the ship. Now you know why he was co0nstantly screaming about "WORK HARDER" in those HBO shows.

Looks like 2013 should be the year, No pitch counts. Would Harper be the "other outfielder"?

It's logical to circle '13 as the first really serious year. But look at the progression most teams make. It takes a while. You usually have to have your heart ripped out once and miss the playoffs, have it ripped out again and not go as far in October as you'd hoped.

They need to extend Zimmerman sometime next year and have this whole group through the '15-'16-'17 window.

I know i's only week 3, so this means little, but the NFL standings look like they came from Bizarro World. The Bills, Browns, Texans, Raiders, Redskins, Bucs and Niners all are atop their respective divisions. Weird.

With Vick hurt, the Giants and Cowboys banged up, the Redskins look a lot more viable, even if they don't win tonight. And if they do...

 Look ahead at their schedule in light of the first three weeks. It's rare to see gimme wins on the road. But that what @St. Louis, @Miami and @Seattle may be. Minny at home looks like a lock. Yes, yes, I know it all changes.

The Skins will have a LOT of close games __like recent years and the last two weeks. They aren't going to dominate many teams. So, will they learn to "finish" like Week One. And will they be resilient, like Week Two, when they got behind a team that they probably should have handled for all 60 minutes.

But you're answering questions at a Wilbon pace. We want more Boz answers!

Yeah, but start early and I answer for 17 hours.

The real question is if the Caps win the Cup and the Nats win the World Series will the local sports media notice? All Redskins, 99% of the time. Life-long Redskins fan here, but the overkill is really starting to grate on me.

There's going to be more Caps-Nats-Skins balance in coming years, I suspect. But if the Skins get to 10-6 in '12, they'll still be top dog, by a lot.

The Redskins are getting better. But the Nats now probably have a higher ceiling in the short-term. Grossman-Beck vs  Strasburg-Zimmermann at the "top of the rotation." But if the Skins win tonight, clear Pennsylvania Avenue for the parade.


Had a wonderful NATS and CAPS weekend. Nats games and Caps Convention. I think the reason why the Strasburg return hasn't been well attended is purely based on weather. We've had a bad run of over 40% chance of weather on both of Stras' return dates. Please don't tell me that the NATS are willing to Trade either Storen or Clippard this offseason! Our new CLIPP AND SAVE team should stay inTACT! Do you think the lack of basketball will enable this town to be more of a HOCKEY TOWN? I hope so!

The NBA is going to regret the ground it loses in the battle for the entertainment dollar in a lot of towns. People with disposable income __I actually sighted one of them, oh, six months ago__ have to make choices.

For somebody who's followed the  NBA all his life, I sure don't miss The League. They should worry about that. I'm exactly the person __an ardent basketball fan, but not a basketball addict__ that they don't want to experience a permanent decrease in interest.

Can you imagine what it's going to be like when Harper gets here?

Davey loves his attitude. I'm more wait-and-see on that.

I mentioned to Werth that Davey didn't have any problem telling Cal Ripken "I love ya, but you're moving to third base" and letting Bobby Bonilla know that he'd DH 50 games because his defense wasn't very good.

"On the West Coast, I told him I felt good (after a minor injury) and could play that night. He just grinned and said, 'You're off.' It wasn't open for discussion."

Z'mann laughed. Werth seemed to like it, too.

If SS is going to have a strict innings limit, shouldn't they wait until June to start him? That way he can pitch in game 7 of the World Series. How's that for irrational exuberance?

You really need to become a Redskins fan.

I can feel it, the Optimism Creep. Please provide something to temper expectations, so tonight's inevitable loss won't lead to a dysfunctional Tuesday

My son is a huge Redskins fan. And he was four when they won their last Super Bowl. He said, "They''re going to beat the Cowboys." I said, 'Keep repeating Romo-vs-Grossman in Dallas.' They MIGHT win. They really might. But, viewed from 30,000 feet, they will PROBABLY lose."

Even if they lose, by whatever score, that doesn't mean they won't have a really good season. It means it's tough to win in Dallas. And it doesn't help, imo, when a DB who seldom hits anybody (or is ASKED to hit anybody) says he's aiming at Romo's broken rib and punctured lung.

Maybe Romo, Hall and Grossman will all still be vertical and coherent at the final gun. But my first pick for "none of the above" would not be Romo.

Care to predict in the Nats infield in 2013?

You mean Zimmerman, Espinosa, Rendon and Morse?

I assume Desmond and LaRoche will get a chance to prove in '12 that are Really Good (contender) Players rather than decent MLB everyday players.

He quit. It was that simple. Can you believe a batter on a team in the midst of a pennant race did that? What do you think his teammates think of him, not to mention the manager?

After the back-to-back 101 pitches to K the previous batter, they probably thought it was smart. Embarrassing, but smart. The really really needed a base runner. And Ross risked being mocked (as I've done) to try to provide one.

Say more about "Harper's progress got slowed by AA pitching" - his response to it, or is it making him develop bad habits?

You can look at a pitcher's stuff and command and project how he'll do at higher levels __assuming he has enough confidence and poise__ much better than you can with hitters. With hitters, all that matters is the line next to their names at the next level. For Harper, at AA, in 147 plate appearance (not a lot, buy not that small a sample), it was .256/.329/.395.

That almost exactly the line Werth has right now for the Nats.

Harper just needs to master, then dominate, each level as he climbs. You don't move up a TEENAGER until the numbers tell you that it's the only sane thing to do. When in doubt, to be fair to him and the team, be patient.

Amidst the widespread good cheer about the Nats, I have this nagging feeling that spending big for a free agent SP will be a page out of the Dan Snyder How Not To Do It Manual of Sports Franchise Ownership. Go with the young homegrowns and keep the home-rehabilitated Wang!

This deserves a column, and a lot of thought/interviewing. The Nats really need to figure out when to spend __because they certainly still have tons of payroll room. Do they use '12 to get more "answers." Even the Nats themselves haven't been looking at the potential free agent list. "After I sleep for a week, I'll look at it," said Ziummerman. "It'll give me something to think about when I'm in the gym."

What is the "right" trade. Again, the Nats hotstove league decisions will be fun and more complex than in the past when my job was simply to say, "You are AWFUL. You have lost 205 games in two years. You are awful everywhere. Your minor leagues are mundane. You don't listen to your baseball people. Spend some money!"

1 up three games to go. Is this Red Sox collapse all pitching?

No, no, it's has been a total classic team choke. And, yes, I've been following it __pitch by pitch last night in the 14th inning.

Jocoby Ellsbury's homer may have saved their season. But M-T-W in Baltimore could still have some high drama. With more off days in the playoffs, the Sox thin rotation might not be so badly exposed. But it's tough to regain your swagger when you have that payroll, all those pre-season brave works and then you totally roll over and die in September __for the whole month.

How can they think they deserve to win a round in the playoffs if they get there? Tough to overcome.

I decided to look up Justin Verlander's stats for his first full year in the bigs: 17-9, 3.63, 1.328 WHIP, 124 K's in 186 innings. Deducting for fewer starts, I'll give Strasburg 14 wins and a few more K's/9 innings. Done.

Gooden, Mussina, Saberhagen, Valenzuela, The Bird, Beckett, Bumgarner and countless more had big seasons for contenders when they were younger than Strasburg, who's 23.

Tom: What did you think of Mike Vick ripping the refs for not giving him calls and then saying, "I'm not complaining or anything," only to then rip the refs some more. Has he REALLY put a target on his back with that stuff? Thanks.

I'm 70%  "stop crying," and 30% "but you do have a point."

For an NFL QB, Vick isn't that big __6-0, 215. When he gets hit, he really gets knocked around. He's right to want protection. But it's also reality that the more you scramble in the NFL, the less the ref's defend you __and that goes back to Staubach, Tarkenton. Whatever the rules were, the guys like Unitas and Jurgensen who were sitting ducks got more calls than the mobile guys who could run. It's not "right." (The rules should be applied the same for everyone.) But that's the way it's always been. 

Okay, I know I'm too late, I do hope this gets to you. The Cardinals-Braves fight this week is delicious; the Cards are on a huge winning streak, and the Braves fold is big by all non-Boston standards, and now the Cards play worst team in the league and the Braves play the best team in the league. It sure looks like it'll come down to a playoff on Thursday in STL. Delicious, I say!

Yes, the Nats made sure that there's a lot more chance of a Cards-Braves one-day playoff. What a break for the Cards to play the Astros! Meanwhile, the Rays play the Yanks. New York can't just sit their regulars and let the Rays win so Boston gets knocked out. Joe Girardi's problem: How do I keep everybody fresh, but not rusty, for the playoffs, but still lose enough to screw the Red Sox?

It's probably impossible. So they'll just play the Rays tough.

Wolfe jumping ship ... prognosis? Any kind of instability that might tighten up the purse strings?

He's always been where Kasten's been. Might mean that, within the next year, Stan has an idea where he will land for his next gig (and he's had plenty of offers). Then, Wolfe might have a role. Put together the group that ends up with the Dodgers? Could be. MLB would probably like it.

I predict that Strasburg will never be the strikeout artist we had expected - because he will choose not to be. He seems very analytical and intelligent, and it's obvious he wants to be on the mound as much as possible. Knowing he has a pitch count limit, he's going to do what he can to extend his innings. He'll realize that being a K king will require a higher pitch count. What do you think?

The ideal might be Jim Palmer. But w lots of grounders rather than lots of flies.

I don't know that I can off the top of my head recall a team with such stark contrasts within a season as this year's Red Sox team. They start 2-10, then go 81-42 over about a 4 month period (as good as any team out there), then close with 6-18 (so far). Just bizarre. It is part of what makes baseball so fascinating, and to have them and the Braves turning the wild card into races at the same time is rather crazy.

What's also interesting is that teams which stagger into the playoffs and don't look like they belong can sometimes end up in the Series. I remember in '06 saying that the Tigers and Cards (83-78) didn't deserve to keep playing. Well, they sure kept playing. The "cold" can get "hot" again real fast. Especially if you only need three starting pitchers.

Even before that one negative post, I was going to thank you for the thoughtful, detailed answers. If i want yes or no answers, i will go to ESPN. I would much rather have your analysis. Thanks and go at your own pace!

Well, to try to think __(a little)__ before answering takes longer. Thanks for your patience.

Thanks for all the great questions. Can't wait for tonight. Bring on the crazy.

The O's came into 2011 with high expectations for a young pitching staff, which then completely cratered. Are the 11 Os and 12 Nats staffs different enough that such a complete collapse is unlikely for the Nats in 12?

That's a valid, scary comparison. Odds are it won't work out that way. Peacock, Lannan, Milone, Detwiler have no history of arm trouble. TJ surgery pitchers like SS and Z'mann may get hurt again, but usually not for 2-3 yrs (if at all. Same w Wang. Once back, you'd expect him to hold up for a could of years, at least. But the law of pitching is: Most get hurt. And some keep on getting hurt.


In August, there was talk about trying to get Jordan Zimmermann to 162 IP so that he would be eligible for the Leage Leader Lists. Unfortunately, he came in at 161.1. But with the Nats only playing 161 games this year, not 162, does that mean J Zimm becomes eligible?

I think it does! It's an-inning-per-team-game I believe. Could be wrong. OK, just gota go. Thanks.

Disclosure: This is from a Post staffer, but it seems worth asking you, Tom: Dan Steinberg's chat today asks readers why they hate the Cowboys. So, what do *you* think is the best reason a Redskins fan can give for loathing "America's Team"?

Who needs a reason?

I hate them because, for my whole lifetime, they have been IN THE WAY.

Also, as a kid, the Skins and Cowboys were the two WORST teams in the NFL. In '61, the year RFK opened, the Skins went into the last game 0-12-1 __but they beat the Cowboys at RFK 34-24.

At that age, you get hooked. And it's a good thing.

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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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