Ask Boswell about the Redskins, Washington sports

Oct 31, 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

So, you were there. Did it rain Wednesday night in St. Louis or not? This was a huge decision to make hours in advance with respect to the pitching rotation. Inquiring minds want to know. Thanks.

It never rained. At all.

My hotel was >400 yards from home plate. I looked out my windowsx every few minutes. Maybe it misted or mini-drizzled a little but nothing that would change a ballpark or prevent it from being played without interruption.

That decision, of course, let the Cards pitch Carpenter on three days rest in Game Seven. They'd never have pitched him on two days.

I was in favor of the early cancellation when it was announced, but had to laugh and shake my head when the 90% chance turned out to be 0% all night, at least right at the ballpark itself.

So, the Cards "magic" works on all levels. And the Rangers' curse seems to be functioning, too. The Nationals Tyler Clippard gets the win in the All-Star game (on a fluke play) and that gives the Cards home field advantage. And they needed it. If the Rangers had home field, I think they win the Series. You never know, of course, but I'd say the com bination of the non-rainoput rainout and home field were the last necessary pieces of the Miracle.  


In the last ten World Series, the Cardinals won 2 and lost another, the Red Sox went 2-0, and the Yankees were 1-1. The funny thing is that Carpenter, Pujois, and Molina are among the few "name" players on the team. Shows that you only need a few "A" players and a bunch of B+ guys. Bullpen, bench and role players are crucial to success. Also, chemistry and a guy named LaRussa helps.

Those are good points. Pujols isn't an "A," of course, he's an "A+" so he changes the equation a bit. If you don't have Pujols/T. WilliamsI'd go a little further and say that you need two "A" starters, two "A" relievers at the back and at least two "A" bats at 3-4.

But the 15 players from your 5th best to your 20th best, how they fit together and who manages them is enormously important.

Nats fans are entitled to think that __maybe__ Strasburg and Zimmermann can be those two starters, by '13 when SS can pitch a full years; Storen, Clippard the two relievers. But do the Nats really have a No. 3 hitter at the level of Pujols, Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Fielder? Part of the reason the Nats offense has problems is that Zimmerman is an exceptional fielders but, perhaps, a B+ hitter. The Nats need more at 3-45.

Hiring Davey Johnson, which is being announced at this moment, gives the Nats somebody similar in talent and resume to Leyland and LaRussa who did very well in this post-season.

Mike Shanahan? Kyle Shanahan? Randy Edsall? Kevin Anderson?

1) Kevin Anderson. He picked Edsall.

2) Randy Edsall. As soon as I heard him speak at his press conference, I put my hands over my face. Then thought, "Well, maybe he'll be okay __as long as he never has to speak to the team."

3-4) The Shannys are a package. Man, that Shanahan offense is unstopable, no matter who runs it, right? It's not the players, it's the coaching brilliance, right?

Interesting nthat Kyle has actually had success as an offensive coordinator more recently than his dad has had much success as a head coach. 

It is a real bad mark against them if they really think that  Grossman and Beck are anything more than bottom-five QBs out of the 32 teams in the NFL. OK, maybe Beck can't be judged entirely with this group of JV players around him. If you had to rank recent Skins QBs as of today, even  with McNabb benched, wouldn't the list be: Campbell, McNabb, Beck and Grossman, in that order.

It is good that it is past the NFL trade deadline, because we probably would have offered Minnesota two 1st round picks to get McNabb back. That's just the way this team operates.

Nicely put.

Well, this will test Mike Shanahan's ability to "hold the room together." I assume he can. That 3-1 start now makes it harder to re-sell your players on the bitter idea of "rebuilding year, rebuilding year, need another draft or two around here."

When London Fletcher can't hid his anger at teammates, that's not a good sign. Any time DeAngelo Hall thinks he should get in Fletcher's face, the proper decision is: Clam up. On the second TD pass vs Fletcher has it become clear yet who he was annoyed at? It seemed to me that Landry was busy looking in the backfield and never chucked Scott Chandler and just let him run free at Fletcher, which then becomes a mismatch.

Who can we get with a 3-13 record?

I'm afraid, even with all the injuries concentrated in the area where they could least be afforded __the offense__ that the Redskins will have a hard time avoiding two or three more wins. It's a parity and turnover league. There's not much difference between most teams. And a few breaks, plus home field, can get you a win over almost anybody except the few elite teams.

Shanahan just isn't capable of making the personnel decisions __you know, "developing" young players__ that results at making a run at 4-12. He'll try to win every game, as he should. With a decent defense and his intensity, they may end up with what I've called __several times__ their worst case scenario. After the pre-season and September glow wears off and the injuries to a thin roster arrive, they realize that they aren't good; then they they find out neither Grossman nor Beck is of much future use as a QB. But "helped" by the 3-1 start, they still win too many games to get a very high (QB) draft pick. Ugh.

Pujols is looking for $300 million. Sabathia is not happy with $92 million for the next 4 years. And last year Jeter wasn't satisified with $12 million a year when a better shortstop could be had for half that price (and I'm a lifelong Yankee fan.) When does this madness end? I guess I'm part of the problem, foolishly spending hundreds of dollars a year on a handful of games. p.s. - And don't get me started about the NFL and NBA lockouts!

I think Pujols, after testing the waters, will resign with St. Louis.

All players, especially the very top free agents, feel a responsibility __to the older players who fought for free agency and higher salaries for the last 35 years__ to at least push the envelope, even if they want to return to their former teams. The $200-million/10-yr contract trickles down, through the arbitration mechanism, etc., to the $2-million/1-yr contract that a marginal player might only get once in his life. The owners certainly try to keep salaries down, so players feel a need to show solidarity to keep them up.

However, when a player actually "gets his freedom," like Pujols, it usually means __probably 90% of the time__ that they really are gone. I still think there's a 51% chance that Pujols is the exception.

Right now, baseball looks pretty decent __on a RELATIVE basis__ with all the labor problems in the other major sports. Baseball's free agencvy has helped sell the sport since '76. As long as all the games are on TV and the upper deck tickets at Nats Park ($11-to-$24) are reasonable for a live event, the people who are getting nailed are those who decide to pay more for "better" seats. That's their choice. The pressbox is the equivalent of an $11 seat at Nationals Park and while we all complain about sitting on the moon, it's very pretty up there and, hey, you can see the game.  

Yesterday I was going out on a little skiff to just putter around some Annapolis coves and creeks with some loved ones before a nice dinner; beautiful and fun, 'til I realized I had forgotten to tape the 'Skins game. What did I miss?

aLove it.

The nine sacks (team record) were a lot of fun.

Yes, I watched the game twice. The defense had a couple of big blown plays __McIntosh whiffed a tackle that turned a 10-yard pass in 45 yards and Wilson had a 34-yard pass interference call. But, against a defense that was averaging 31 ppg, the Skins defense did fine considering that the offense kept forcing them back on the field.

Right now, you've got a B-to-B+ defense, average special teams and an D- offense. I say "D-" __rather than comething worse__ because they scored 20 against Carolina. Of course, somebody new gets hurt every other day.

When a well-run franchise with normal NFL depth on most units has a rash of injuries, you still judge them by faiurly normal standards. But when an incompetetnly run NFL franchsie that is thin as several units has that same rash of injuries, it's hard to find the right "balance of blame" between everything that happened the previous 10 years and what has happened the last two years under Shanahan. BUT he is 23 games into his time in D.C. It IS his team now.


For all those people feeling sorry for the Texas Rangers after losing 2 World Series in a row, check out who beat the Buffalo Bills for their 3rd and 4th consecutive Super Bowl losses (the Dallas Cowboys). The gods give to Texas, the gods take away from Texas.


I'm usually in favor of the "taking" part.

I think the key decision in Game Six was not sending Neftali Felix back out for the 10th inning after the Josh Hamilton home run put Texas ahead, 9-7. Ron Washington's reasoning was that he wanted to have two chances to win __with Oliver, 41, closing Game 6 and then again with a fresh shot in Game Seven if necessary with Feliz available in the ninth inning of Game Seven.

What about C.J. Wilson who was the Rangers CLOSER for two years? Why not send Felix back out in Game Six. With a 2-run lead, you probably win the Series right there. Remember who was coming up for St. Louis in the 10th? Descalso, Jon Jay, a pitcher pinch-hitting for a pitcher (Tony 's bench was down to "0"), then Ryan Theriot. Felix had "only' thrown 22 pitches.

By sending out Darren Oliver to start the bottom of the 10th, you send the message to the Cards: "You have a chance!"

Tom, I saw a guy going to work in downtown DC today wearing a Redskins jersey. Self-confident or self-delusional?

Doesn't he automatically win the Post's "Best Fan" contest?

Or bravest.

There are loses and then there are loses that make you "rethink." I'd say the whole town, including me, is doing a rethink after that one. They're lucky to be at home next Sunday....I think. They sure aren't lucky to be playing the 49ers. 

Would be interested in your thoughts with regards to MD football and Randy Edsall. Seems like this former Syracuse QB really knows how to pass the buck.

I was always a big Fridge fan from his first day to his last. It looks like Maryland got the big karma kick in the teeth for dissing an alum who went 9-4. It's an easy second guess now. All I can say is as soon as I heard Edsall I was pretty such he was Just Another Guy. And Fridge had run elite offenses from Ga Tech to the Super Bowl as well as winning at Maryland to about as high a degree as you're going to see there. 

Too bad. I remember sitting with my son, the Md grad, when they beat Clemson a couple of years ago. The place wasn't full. Not a pretty day. There was some disappointment at the less-than-full house. Maryland always sees "good" in football and says, "Why not try for great!"

And this is what it usually gets them.

I've heard this comparison more than once over the past week. While I don't think Cruz's poor fielding effort in the 9th inning of Game 6 quite reaches the level of Buckner's error (most notably because Buckner committed an actual ERROR), I do believe the two plays merit at least some comparison. I've read that Nelson Cruz is supposed to be a fairly decent fielder, but even an average right fielder should have made that final out. If he runs full speed all the way and stops at the wall, he wouldn't have had to raise is glove higher than shoulder height in order to make that catch. My first impression, as I was watching him slow down while the ball was still in the air, was that he was wall-shy. Now, having watched a dozen replays, that's still my opinion. I'd be interested to know yours, though. Did that play instantly strike you the same way? Do you think it will be forgotten or remembered in World Series infamy?

Cruz had a chance to make the same very, very good (and great under the circumstances) play that Dwight Evans made in Game Six of the '75 Series that has been replayed and praised ever since.

If Cruz plays gthe ball 100% perfectly, MAYBE he makes the catch. And maybe not. The problem isn't "would he have caught it?" The problem is "HOW THE HELL CAN YOU SLOW DOWN AT ALL with the final out of the World Series on the line.

My father always said, "You ARE your habits."

And in post-season, habits always come out __both good and bad__ are crucial moments. Cruz has a great arm. He's a good guy. When healthy, he's a real slugger. But he has been a little nonchalant at times in RF __yes, everybody, incluyding me, will say, "cruising." It's just a small bad habit. But that's all it takes.

If the Nats ever get to a post-season, Ryan Zimmerman will play a ball sidesaddle __a bad habit of his__ and instead of snagging it, as he probably would in game #83__ he'll miss it and cost 'em a game.  I've told him that 3rd basemen have been taking bad hops off their chests for 100 years. He says he has a better way __for him. 

Baseball Laws: The ball will find you. And it will find your weakness.

BUT there is no comparison between Cruz and Buckner. Cruz failed to make an excellent play. Buckner missed an absolutely easy one.

Should Bills fans be pleased that their defense finally matched their offense or is the true takeaway from Sunday more about John Beck and the Skins O-line?

Definitely the later.

It took a little while for the Bills to realize, "Hey, we can just storm these guys. The O-line is confused and not very good and Bewck isn't getting the ball out quickly."

BTW, Beck threw four deep balls and they were all just heaves, not passes in any proper sense of the word. No accuracy, no touch, just chuck it down there a long way.

The Skins game plan didn't help. Look how many fast-developing patterns the Bills used and how fast Fitzpatrick got the ball out on flanker hitches, quick outs, etc. The Skins game-planned for a team with a lousy pass rush __only four sacks in six previous games. So, they used plays that took longer to develop. That's on Kyle.

If you have the tape, just watch the difference between the speed and rhythm of the Bills SHORT passing offense and the Skins stagnation.

You'll see two or three Skins receivers run five yards, hook and just stand there with a defender three inches away. That wouldn't get you open in a touch game on The Mall. Once you notice the pattern, it's a joke. I've been harping for two years on the Skins lack of talent at WR. But with Moss out, this is probably their worst bunch ever: the old, the inexperienced and the unwanted.

Of course, if they''d stayed as healthy as they did the first four games, they'd probably keep scoring an avg of 19 ppg. But nobody stays healthy. They just got especially "unhealthy" all at once.



That was hideous, yesterday. Obviously. But while I was watching the 9 sacks and the brutal beating, I was also counting plays that would have been turnovers with the QB who has all 3 wins this season. The eye test tells me Beck is better than Grossman in every way. And yet... the Skins suddenly look like they might not win another game this year. Am I crazy, or is Beck really not that bad? And when is Trent Williams coming back?

I suspect Beck handled it as well or better than Grossman would have. I'm curious about T Williams toughness. This is another "how can we ever know" situation. You can't feel somebody else's pain. But getting him back will improve TWO of the three weakened O-line positions because you get your best blocker back AND (since so many of them play multiple positions) you probably get to bench your worst O-lineman, too.

I mean, after all, don't forget: it is the Redskins. Did anyone really buy the line that a new coaching staff was going to make any difference? Anyone other than Dan Snyder, that is.

Their improved attitude, enthusiasm (maybe not in the 1st half in Charlotte) and professionalism is not a fantasy.  But that only takes you so far. We'll see if it stands up to hard times. I'm amused at the "they'll never win another game" crowd. This franchise has had absolute joke operations with coaches who were out of their league, like Spurrier, or underqualified to be head coaches, like Zorn. But they still won 4-5-6 games when they stunk their worst.

As you mentioned in your Sunday article, this was a Karmic Series, but I think for three reasons. First, it's karma that the Rangers lost because 40 years in the post-season desert isn't enough punishment for having stolen another town's 70-year-old team, so "tabula non rasa" -- their slate is not yet clean enough for them to wear a crown (and might not be until the Nats win one). Second, the Cards were owed two series for being jobbed in 1985 (Denkinger) and 1987 (Homer Dome, an unfair field to teams unfamiliar with it) -- they received one payment in 2006 after winning just 83 games, and this series is their other recompense, so "tabula rasa." Third, La Russa has carried a bit of a stigma (a "taboo") for being a "manager for all seasons but post-" -- but now that he's won 3 series (and is 3 and 3 vs. 2 and 4), perhaps Karma has rewarded him for three decades of quality managing. Thoughts?

I agree with all those points.

But I suspect LaRuyssa has one record that will never be broken. He has reached the post-season, but not won the World Series with eight teams that won 95-to-105 games.

Here are the win totals of his post-season teams that didn't win the Series: 105, 104, 103, 100, 99, 97, 96, 95, 93, 91.

He won the Series with teams that won 99, 90 and 83.

The smarter the manager, the more advanaced a "theorist" of the game and the more of a control freak, the more tense he is in October and the more it transmits to his team. I saw it first with Earl Weaver. Tony's both a great manager and, frequently, an over-manager. Both can be true. He deserves his three titles. 


The Skins got blown out -- the wheels have come off the bus. The Eagles game was the turning point. The Skins were exposed. The injuries have thrown gas on the fire, but let's not pretend this was a "good" 3-1 team. The Skins appear to be several years from seriously contending. Obviously, they desperately need a QB. But they also need receivers, offensive linemen, linebackers, secondary help, and depth everywhere. If this was your team, would you trade everything for a QB now -- in this QB-rich year -- or fill other holes first? Any rookie QB coming here won't have the Cam Newton experience. That Panthers team can at least protect him. Contrary to popular belief, could the Skins NOT draft a first-round QB and find another veteran while they fill all their many holes? (If they manage to SUCK enough for LUCK, this obviously is a moot point).

I'd suggest that, to minimize your misery, you pay a little more attention to the Capitals, some to the Nats off-season and hope that the NBA comes to its senses. Then, perhaps, you can watch the Redskins with less intense pain.

Ken Rosenthal: "Lance, what was going through your mind during that at-bat?" Berkman: "Nothing. That's the key to those at-bats." Postgame interviews are usually a waste of time, but was there ever a better description of "clutch" hitting, if it exists?

Berkman's conversations were the revelation of the Series. He's one of the brightest players. In Houston, who knew?

Asked about his save-the-season single, he said, "I figured I was in a no-lose situation. If you don't come through right there, it's only one at-bat and it's over with, and they might talk about it for a couple days, but it's not that big a deal. If you come through, it's the greatest, and plus you've built a little bank account of being able to come through, so that if I don't come through tom orrow (in Game Seven) I can be like, 'Well, I came through in Game Six, what do you want from me?'"

Everybody laughed, of course. "Puma" had a great Series (hit .423, plus five walks for 16 times on base and nine runs)  and got a walk, single and two runs scored in Game Seven.'

So, maybe waiting until the 7th round (the team's 10th pick) in the draft to select an O-lineman this year was a mistake??? Who are the clowns running this team? Don't they self scout? Did they not realize that offensice line has been an issue here for, what, 12 years or so?

Kerrigan is really good. Made several fine plays yesterday. To me, the question is why a 3-4 team with Fletcher, Orakpo and Kerrigan at LB and DBs with as much rep as the Skins starting four supposedly have aren't better than "a little above average" as a group.

Is it possible that Shanahan is simply past his prime as a coach?

That didn't take long to surface.

Well, you better hope not because Snyder isn't going to give up on him any time soon , no matter what anybody thinks. If you give up on Mike Shanahan in a hurry after __passing over in-house Greg Williams for Zorn; keeping Cerrato in the picture for 10 years; hiring Spurrier; firing Marty Schottenheimer after he finished his only season on an 8-3 run__ who on earth will work for you? That's how they ended up with Zorn. Nobody wanted the job. 

Leave Shanahan and Allen alone. Grit your teeth. Hope for the best. Endure the worst. Or just tape the games and only watch the wins. Or SOMETHING. But don't keep making yourself miserable.

Hey Boz, As an Orioles fan, I really didn't care too much about who won the World Series. But as someone who loves baseball and really understands what it means to be a fan and suffer with your team, I was very disheartened to see the Rangers lose the way they did. It makes for great theater, and I know sports aren't always fair, but it is awful to see a fan base like the Rangers tortured like they were in Games 6 and 7. I know St. Louis is reported to have great fans, but its easy to be a Cardinals fan....they are ALWAYS GOOD. Rangers fans deserved that title...Cardinals fans have been fortunate enough already.

What Ranger fan base?

Three years ago __three years__ they drew 24,320-a-game, the sixth worst in baseball. That year, the Nats averaged 29,005 and the Orioles 25,000.

Dallas-Ft. Worth has really awakened to baseball. Great. Good for them. But they are not "long suffereing."

WHY is he still on this team? I get that he is not the ONLY problem, but he is definitely a PROBLEM. Has always been and always will be.

He thinks he's as good as his talent.

You're only as good as your production.


Good morning Boz, Great coverage of the WS by you and Sheinin. Thanks for that. I agree that this past WS will go down as one of the most amazing in MLB history. My only beef is I don't like that a wild card team like St. Louis had 4 home games over a divisional winner like the Rangers. I would propose that MLB see which two teams make it to the WS and give the team with the best regular season winning record home field. Thoughts?

I don't like it either.

Give home field to the league that wins the AS game is less bad than "alternating" which was the method for generations.

How about just keeping it the way it is, but with one asterisk: No wildcard can have home-field in the Series.



If CC opts out, is THIS the big move that Rizzo makes? Wilson and Buehrle both don't seem like good fits for the price, but how about adding CC?!

CC wants a zillion years and weighs over 300 pounds. He belongs on a team that wants to win the Series in '12-'13-'14. The Nats __broad-brush blue-sky generalization __ hope to contend for a wildcard in '12, make the playoffs in '13 and win a round in the playoffs in '14. THAT would be enormous success. It is many miles from 59-103, 69-93 and 80-81 to winning the Series!

After watching C.J. Wilson in the Series, I'd only be interested if the market for him got very weak. He just can't get himself under control in the biggest games __at least not yet. Came in relief in Game Seven and hit the first batter with the first pitch to bring in a run.  He really cost himself money. But he's very talented, has had back-to-back top-of-rotation years. So, there's a price at which he's a smart get.

Two solid, well-built, evenly-matched, mid-market teams. Two classy, charmingly dissimilar managers. No Red Sox, no Yankees, no Phillies. No disgusting fans, no prima donna players, no silly off-field distractions. Good pitching, good hitting, good contributions from everyone on the diamond. Competitive parity in MLB is a wonderful thing.

Yup, a great time was had by all.

Is it not sad to lose a baseball mind of Tony's rank? No more wheel plays on bunts or bullpen moves the caliber of which we saw this month. If TL is 10 as a manager, what number would you give Davey J?

TL is a "10?"

Both LaRussa and Johnson have had a lot of talent to work with and have managed many years. Davey's career win percentage is .561, LaR's is .536.

Tony was .506 in 8 nyrs w White Sox, .542 in 10 yrs w A's and .544 in 16 yrs in St. Louis.

Johnson was .588 w Mets, .543 with Reds (no budget), .574 with O's, .503 in 2 yrs w Dodgers and .482 in part of one season with Nats.

Time to see what the Nats have to say about their new/old manager. After the last month, I'm about "out of words" so a LOT of questions have to go unanswered. Sorry. See you next week.

Just saw the announcement of Tony LaRussa's retirement. Did you see this one coming? Who would be a suitable replacement for him? Whomever it is, has a tough act to follow!

I just saw this.

Great timing. Go out on top.

He's had some health problems in recent years. One was shingles, which is the third most painful non-fatal disease. He had to leave the team for a week. Stress is a contributing factor. (I had 'em 25 years ago and got over it fast, but Tony had to stay on medication, apparently.)

I wondered why Tony looked so much happier and more relaxed during BP and in press conferences than we'd seen him in previous post-seasons.

If this was his plan all along, then it's really appropriate that he go out with one of the best orf all title runs, not with talk about the phone follies in Game Five.

This does NOT help the Cards resign Pujols!

It must be nerve-wracking to cover events like Game 6 this year. You've got a column all teed up and ready to go about the Rangers' first ever championship, only to have scrap it when the team can't get the third strike. But wouldn't it be cool to publish a book of never-before released "alternate history" columns that would capture what the mood would have been like if only things had gone just a bit differently? You must have these stored somewhere - how cool would it be to let readers see what you wrote when Calvin Shiraldi had two strikes and two outs on the Mets in '86? Or if Eli Manning had not eluded the sack and David Tyree had not superglued a football to his helmet? If Norwood hadn't been wide right by inches... What a cool alterno-retrospective way to look at sports history. Please consider publishing your trove of these deadline dreams that have never seen the light of day.

I'd say that I wrote 10-to-12 complete columns that were all killed by late events in the last months. Maybe more. Several three column games. It's painful because sometimes the column you like most isn't the one that makes the papers __not because you "like" one team better but just b ecause you had more interesting things to say or had more time to write it decently.

I never save those miserable alternative history columns. But I will say I kind liked the "Rangers Win World Series" one for Game Six. And I will not repeat what I said aloud in the press box when Cruz short-legged Freese's triploe or Bergman gorked that soft liner into CF in the 10th. I believe my  "comments" were extremely brief, pointed, personal and, unfortunately, a bit too loud and I heard some (sympathetic) laughter as everybody else also blew up whatever they'd been writing for hours and began replacing it with something written in minutes. Hey, it's actually fun. It's like when Travolta stabs Mrs. Mia Walace in the heart with the foot-long needle during her heroin overdose in "Pulp Fiction." THE MOMENT grabs you, your hair stands on end and you write better than you did when you were still in a state of semi-sanity. Cheers.

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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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