Ask Boswell: All things Washington sports

Aug 27, 2012

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

How does this impact the Nats?

This trade is a blow to the Giants, Reds, Nationals and Braves because they all looked more likely to reach the NLCS (imo) before the trade than the Dodgers.

Now, the Dodgers are much better for '12 with Adrian Gonzalez joining Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez in the lineup. Maybe Josh Beckett will find himself.

Next year, when he's back from elbow surgery, Carl Crawford should do well in L.A. When the Red Sox signed Crawford I wrote that I thought he was a bad match for Fenway Park and for the insane level scrutiny in Boston. His skill set doesn't suit Fenway (no room to go into that here) and his personality, after the calm of Tampa Bay (a baseball backwater) was a shock. L.A. is big time, but not nearly as obsessive and critical.

My only question is whether the trade should have been allowed at all. I suppose it's okay. But it's borderline in my view and I'm surprised that more people didn't bring up the '76 sale of Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the rich Yanks and red Sox for $3.5M. (A lot back then.) Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the sales on the basic grounds that they were simply "not in the best interests of baseball." The trades were not balanced or about both teams gaining roughly equal competitive assets. The red Sox did not sell their players BUT they got $261M of salary obligation "debt" taken off their books, probably saved luxury tax penalties in future. They got Loney, a stiff so far, as a 1st baseman and prospects. Oh, everybody loves the prospects. But that's all they are __prospects.

The tangible measurable "balance" of the trade was ridiculous. The Dodgers got huge immediate benefits __in exchange for (mostly) money. The Red Sox got salary flexibility and two top prospects. I have to admit that most baseball people don't seem offended by this. "This is what the Marlins have done for the last 15 years," they say. And the A's trade stars like Gio Gonzalez for 4 prospects and lower salary.

I get it. If the three players __Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford__ had been traded in three different deals then no one trade would feel that lopsided, maybe. 

At any rate, a tip of the hat to the Dodgers owners and GM Ned Coletti for pulloing it off. I told you the day Stan Kasten's group got the Dodgers that they would make huge waves asap. They have. "The road to the World Series goes through Chavez Ravine," I said then. I didn't think that would be the case in '12!   

Boz, I thought the trading deadline was July 31. How do the rules work here? Thanks

What rules?

Money talks.

The Red Sox put Gonzalez on waivers, as I understand it. The Dodgers claimed him. That means the Red Sox could pull him back off waivers, let the Dodgers have him for no compensation (just take his contract off our hands) or the 2 teams could work out a trade.

That's just how waivers work.

(I was rereading "You Know Me Al, a Busher's Letters" by Ring Lardner in 1925 __praised by everybody from Mencken and Fitzgerald to Virginia Woolf!__ and waivers worked almost the same way back then as Ring had his mythical "busher" sold to Milwaukee (minors) by Comiskey and the White Sox but the deal was nixed by the AL prez (Ban Johnson) because the Busher (named Jack Keefe)  didn't "clear waivers." The Tigers claimed the fictional Busher because he'd had a good game against Ty Cobb and Crawford).

If Judge Landis were still alive this Dodger-Bosox trade would never....

Who's coming up from the minors on September 1 and who's going to make a difference in the stretch run?

My WAG: John Lannan__essential to take 5th rotation spot. Corey Brown: LH bat off bench.

Mark DeRosa, maybe Eury Perez (pinch runner). Maybe Chien Ming Wang and/or Maya to eat innings in long relief in bullpen or as insurance if Lannan does badly.

Wildcard, so to speak: They have a red hot reliever named Christian Garcia, 26, a 6-foot-5, 215 hard thrower who's had an amazing year at AA and AA: 42 games, 0.91 ERA, 64 K's in 49 IP. Garcia's from Miami, was in Yanks chain starting in '04. Long road. It might be good to give him a look in a low pressure spot. 

They made the case for and against Lance Armstrong about as well as they possibly could. I'm still on his side as the accusations are all hearsay,innuendo or circumstantial. I'm glad donations to his charities are up.

I regret to say that I have never given a thought to cycling. Watched some of the Tour, of course. That's not "giving thought." And it's pretty obvious that you have to know a lot of about the sport, the people, the politics, to have an informed opinion. I agree that both did an excellent job of presenting the sides.

Even though I'm not informed when did that ever stop anybody in this culture from having an view!? I'll note that the drug tests Armstrong passed only cover some ways of cheating. Other ways of cheating, as I understand it, can, at this point, only see the light of day from word-of-mouth accusers. And there seem to be a LOT of them. Are they all the scum of the earth with aggendas? Doesn't seem likely. Did they have a lot of gain by taking on a world hero like Armstrong? Again, doesn't seem likely. Have they prospered as a result of speaking against him? Doesn't seem like it. But that doesn't prove they are telling the truth __or know the truth.

I'd say everybody involved is neck deep in dirt at this point.  Glad Lance used his fame to do good works. He looks like a more-than-good-enough man, overall. But he doesn't look "clean" to me.

But I could probably spend the next 5 yrs trying to figure out what "clean" means in cycling and still not know.

Does Boston target LaRoche this offseason?

No. He's not glamorous enough for the Red Sox. And he's a dead pull hitter so Fenway would do him little good. I would like to see the "spray chart" on his hits. It does seem that he hits plenty of solid but routine outs to center and left center. I wonder what percentage of them would be Fenway Doubles?

OTOH, there will be several teams who'll want him if he finishes the year with 28-30 HR and 90+ RBI with a wonderful glove. Somebody will offer him at least 3 years at eight figures a year. The Nats probably wouldn't be wise to match that. Too bad LaRoche can';t have the big year, which he deserves, and the Nats still find a logical way to keep him for '13. But I don't see the fit. Looks like Morse to 1st in '13 to me. That was Plan A. Doubt it's changed. All that's different is that LaRoche has played in '12 as they hoped he'd play in '11 and '12. I think he's been in better shapew than he's ever been and I suspect he'll be a productive Tino Martinez or Paul O'Neill type in his mid-30's. That's a big compliment. They had a lot of big yrs after they were LaRoche's age.

s ever

Mr. Boswell: Just want to hear your take on what was apparently not a homer by La Roche in the 7th inning Sunday vs. the Phillies. I get that it was not a homer, but to your understanding, don't the umpires have the obligation to make some sort of call during the play as to whether it was a homer or not? Or are players simply supposed to guess?

Players have just two responsibilities.

Don't think; you can only hurt the ballclub.

Run hard.

Both Werth and LaRoche did too much thinking (and far too much "assuming") and far too little running. They were both in their HR trots by all accounts and by what I could see on TV. 

Johnson refered to them, with dismay, as "My two veterans." Davey said that when you make assumptions, rather than simply playing hard and figuring it out later, that is "a losing attitude."

Johnson would only have said that about veterans who know how to take it. They'll set an example, I assume, of taking responsibility. No need to pick which of them is slightly more wrong. They were both more than wrong enough. It happens. Bizarre play. But it capped a really bad weekend of mental mistakes.

Bad streaks and slumps, even short 0-4 slumps, sometimes need a concluding moment of goofy failure before they hit bottom. If LaRoche-Werth was that moment, then good. But either now, or later this year, or next year, the Nats will __like all contending teams__ have a slump so ugly that it will require real game-losing, not just smack-your-forehead plays before the bottom is reached.

Tuesday is an excellent day to have Stephen Strasburg pitching. The last time the Nats lost four in a row (3 to the Yanks), Strasburg played "ace" and stopped the streak on June 20. The Nats immediately won four in a row.



More over it was the way they were lost. There were errors, stolen bases, and that incredible base running blunder. So is it time to panic? If not, when: 5, 6?

I know what you mean. But it is never time to panic. I'll probably write about slumps pretty soon __how they start, how they feel to the teams enduring them and how you get out of them (nobody knows).

For most teams, you look at streaks of +10 and -10. For example, the Nats have built their record on two streaks this year of 12-2 in April and then 20-5 recently. The rest of the season is .500 ball. That's how it is for almost all good teams. Milk the streak. Strangle the slumps asap.

Very few teams have done as good a job of snapping slumps quickly as the Nats. They have an 0-4, an 0-5, three 0-3's as well as the current 0-4.

To compare, the Reds have an 0-5, 3-8 and 6-11. Those -5's don't do you much damage. The Yanks also have avoided disasters with a 1-6, 0-4, 0-4 and a few 0-3's.

But the RULE of thumb is that teams go straight from very hot to very cold. It's a long discussion for another time. But the Nats followed their 12-2 in April with 0-5, 4-0, 0-3 and 3-0 all in a row.

What gives this 0-4 more weight is that, after 2 games in Miami, the Nats have four games at home against (as I always call 'em) the sleeping giant Cards. Even a split in Miami would serve a purpose. A team (or its fans, just need a little good news to restore perspective. For example, even after 0-4, the Nats are 16-9 in August.

This is __for now__ a blip at the end of a spectacular 28-12 run. But it was a sweep in Philly that looked like a team that had been grinding for a long time __due to months of injuries and then a 41-games-in-41-days sked__ which suddenly lost focus several times.

Now that the Nats are a good team, awful things will happen to them. Or at least they will FEEL awful. And they will continue to happen over the next several years. I remember the very successful '76-'83 Orioles that started off young with Eddie Murray, McGregor, Dempsey, Dauer, Flanagan, D Martinez, etc. They were in contention every year, lost a Series ('79), won 100 and didn't even make the playoffs ('80), got knocked out of the playoffs on the last day of the season ('82). You wouldn't believe all the (baseball) agony that went along with the pleasure before they finally won the '82 Series.

Then what happened? "The melancholy of all things completed." You could just feel the sense of "we finally did what?" that fell over the whole franchise.

So don't be in too big a hurry. Just enjoy it all __even figuring out how and when the current mini-slump will evolve. The issue right now is not whether they stop the skid at 0-5 or 0-6. The question is whther they let it get to 2-14. I don't think they'll happen. We'll see.

Tom, it's all starting to fall apart isn't it? Offense gripping the bat too tight and failing where they succeeded before, pitching and fielding melting down in the late innings making close games unwinnable, Rizzo and Davey arguing, Ryan Zimmerman tempting fate with "who cares" comments about losing, unforgivable baserunning gaffes...and it's not even September yet. We're looking at a highly probable collapse here aren't we? All the warning signs are there in abundance. How do they stop the tailspin?


And completely wrong.

The Nats are feeling the pressure. But all teams do. These are indeed "symptoms." Symptoms of baseball.

I may have mentioned before that "behavioral finance" studies how people __all people__ react to winning or losing a bet of equal size, or how they react to making or losing an equal amount of money on an investments in the market.

Across all cultures, people feel the pain of the lost bet or lost money __even if they were "spotted" the money for free at the start of the experiment__ far more than they take pleasure in the "won" money.

In fact, the ratio, as closing as they can measure it, is about 2-to-1 pain over pleasure as a response to losing/winning $XX.

Whether that's true of finance or not (and it is), I'd "bet" anything that it's true of baseball __both among the players together as a collective emotional entity or among fans as a group.

That's part of why you see so much over-reaction to a few loses on chat boards or comment threads. It's just normal human behavior __stupid and irrational.

So, you need players in a clubhouse and leaders above them __manager/GM__ who do not speak or act stupidly or irrationally. They try to be guided by facts, precedent and longer-term observation.

For example, you'll hear that Tyler Clippard is slumping or that the Nats rotation isn't doing so well recently, etc. Over the last 30 days, Clippard's ERA is 2.08. In that span, the starters ERAs are 3.21, 3.33, 3.70, 3.86 and 4.55. Not bad for a slump.

And since the All-Star game, 44 games ago, the ERAs of the Nats rotation are 2.66, 2.91, 2.96, 3.70 and 3.90. So, rationally, what we've seen is a tiny-sample slump with a number of ugly plays.

What wiull it turn into? Part of the anaswer may be rooted in how it is perceived by a team itself. On any sane team, after going 28-12, a 0-4 span would be seen as something to be shrugged off.

This is why a team, and individual players, need maturity. It's so essential in baseball. For example, which Nat is acting the least mature, showing the most signs of having short-term problems undermine his long-term knowledge of his ability? Obviously, Harper who, since being named an All-Star, has hit .194.

Why is he acting "immature?" Because he IS immature. He's 19!The way he'll get mature is to...have more experience, learn from mistakes, listen to veteran players around him.

Then he'll realize that the sooner he stops acting like a kid the sooner he'll start playing like a man.

But he has to go through it. They don't have a serum to innoculate you against youth and frustration.

But time does, thank heavens, help you learn to understand it and cope with it.

Baseball doesn't teach good mental health. (It can drive you "crazy.") But it certainly SELECTS for those players that have it or devlop it over time.

This is when Werth, LaRoche, Zimmerman, DeRosa set a tone. But, as Craig Stammen said after the last game of the last home stand, "A lot of us have never played in an important baseball game." They are looking forward to it.

I am, too, but not entiurely for the same reasons. They are going to go through every kind of baseball hell __this year, next year, for several years. It's a learning curve. They call it that because it sounds mean to call it what it really is: A suffering curve.

Tom, you should have walked down the hall and told Feinstein not to waste good ink on his opine this morning regarding the Strasburg shutdown. The organization policy is clear, especially with the success with Jordan Zim. The same will hold true for Giolito. It is what it is and any clown who does not get it at this point is wasting his time. And ours. Go knock on his door will ya? :-)

Oh, we already yelled and laughed about this in a tunnel under Nats Park several weeks ago. 

Oh, the pain! I expected better. "Et tu, John?"

Is it time to start talking more about the Wizards, seeing as how the Nationals' season is over?

Two more loses and it's Wizards 24/7, I promise.

The last 4 games have been the worst played by the Nationals this year. Say what you will about running into good pitchers they had mental mistakes that reminded of 2009 and looked to lack energy or interest and the untouchable pitching was touched. Now they are having shouting matches behind closed doors. Is this not the pattern that all teams that went into a major crash started to take and should not someone at least worry some and not pull a Alfred E. Newman So whats your take a blip in a season or is it time to make different plans in October

The baseball perspective is so different from the perspective of a once-a-week warrior sport like the NFL that it is almost impossible to find words for it.

But the idea that four loses, even sloppy ones, would bother a good team is ridiculous in baseball, just as four straight sloppy losses in the NFL (a month) would be the end of the world.

The Braves have gone 1-7 and 0-8 this season. Their most recent 0-4 streak was LAST WEEK. I doubt that they are panicing. Chipper is probably chuckling.

The Nats are not just a year ahead of schedule in winning games, in a few weeks they will also be a year ahead of schedule in gathering data on how their players __the young and the vets__ react to having a nice, but not huge N.L. East lead and how they react to all the things you KNOW will happen in August and September. This is just one of them.


Which wildcard team do the loser Nats match up best with in the one-game round? I can't believe they choked away this division.

Maybe the Astros will get very hot. The Nats match up really well with them.

And to think when the Nats played that big series with the Braves on July 20-22 with four games in three days, and they bounced back from the 11-10 loss to split the series, things looked so great for them. Why, they were 3 1/2 games head of the Braves with 68 to play.

Now look at 'em __only 4 1/2 games ahead with 35 to play.

Boz, having been a DC sports fan all my life, talk me down off the ledge. At this point I'm worried Harp will go 0-4 with 3Ks against the off day today.

Off Day is a southpaw. Harper's benched.

Boz, After watching the Skins beat a bad Colts team, I think they can be pretty good this year against the dregs on thier schedule. The Skins, for years, have let the inferior teams take it too them. This year, with the Rams, Tampa, Carolina, Minnesota and Cleveland on the dole, I think the Skins will fare very well against them. These games, and NOT the NFCE contests will be what defines this team. Just beat the teams you are supposed to beat. Do you agree?

The combination of a good defense and Griffin should increase the Skins ability to handle the weaker teams on their schedule.That's why I don't understand these 2-24 and 3-13 predictions. Don't know what they're looking at. If I had to guess, and that's all we do in pre-season, I'd put the Skins down for 6 or 7 wins. Of course, in a month, so much will change __with injuries, or the lack of them, not just to the Skins but to other teams, that we'll probably all change our minds somewhat. 

I was impressed with both RGIII and Luck, especially when I watched the tape again and slowed down their plays. Luck is extremely mobile in the pocket. He has a bad team around him and had to absorb or evade a lot of pressure, yet still managed to move the ball fairly well at times, pass for 151 yards and hit the only deep pass (perfectly) that was avaialble to him for a 31-yard scoring strike.

Griffin's quickness, balance and accuracy make him a very high-percentage passer on short balls. The little 4-yd spring out to Moss for the TD looked easy at the time, like a good basic high school play. But it wasn't. An average QB probably wouldn't have found as much room as quickly to get the ball off or delivered it so fast __and right on time.He made a hard/easy play look easy/easy.

A gift, right away, for short passes, hitches to WRs, screens is a great "safety" opinion early in your career. He looks crisp on mid-range balls over the middle and doesn't "stare down" those receivers. You'd like to see him protect himself a little more, but he doesn't look like a Dare Devil who's begging to get injured.

As for the long balls, Griffin has a big arm __he was under control on balls that traveled ~60, 57 and 53 yards in the air. Almost no effort to get them there, as if they were "touch" passes at that distance! But none of them touched a receiver's hands (one was close) and none were thrown with as much arc as would maximize the receivers chances to adjust to the ball in the air. He has the arm to throw it a few yards further, a bit higher an dmake sure his deep receiver who's gotten (slightly) behind 1-on-1 coverage has a chance to show his ability. But RGIII certainly looks like he has his share of successful bombs in his future.

Beating the teams you should beat gives you the confidence to beat a couple of teams that you shouldn't beat.

But I'll grant that, for many years, the Skins tendency to come up small versus the homely teams on their schedule has been a drive-ya-nuts pattern. 

These Nats make that Mets team look like greatest, and most clutch, team ever assembled.

I've seen an amazing number of "questions" along these lines. Some are a spoof. But all? Maybe it's the voice of the Dead Phillies muttering from their '12 grave.

The Nats are going to be a very good team for a number of years. And their story will have lots of twists and turns. But in most years it will be within the context of a good contening team. Also, the Nationals, in a multi-year time frame, will have few if any excuses to leave their problems unfixed; with increasing revenues, they will have a chance to improve themselves in the next few off-seasons.

But you have to give the Phillies credit for playing such a fine series to cut their deficit to 16 1/2 games.

Don't you?


Tom, what do you make of Roger Clemens coming back to pro baseball? I heard the Astros and Royals were scouting him. To what end?

Seems sad.

This deal seems so un-Kasten like. In the press conference he led off with nonsense like 'if it wasn't for the analytic and detailed research done by the baseball people this deal couldn't happen'. Afterwards noone even asked him a question. Boz, What is your take on Kasten and the deal. The Lerners rarely listened to Stan and I would have thought Kasten would have councilled against this deal.

Everybody had it backwards when Kasten was in D.C. Or maybe nobody believed me. Kasten always wanted to spend __not like he has with the Dodgers, but substantially more than he got to and in line with his pattern in Atlanta. It didn't happen. He wanted a near-.500 team in the new ballpark in '08. Thought it was an organizational responsibility as well as sound building.

But if the Nats have build such a respectable team back then, they would have 1) avoided 2 or 3 years of me banging them over the head (a minor problem), 2) have a larger season-ticket base now and 3) never have gotten a chance to draft Strasburg or Harper.

So, everybody's happy in the end, though there were plenty of times I never would have believed it. The Lerners learned the sport, have a good working relationship w Rizzo and now have a 77-50 tteam;  and Kasten ends up owning the Dodgers (!) and doing it his way because he is The Boss out there.

Boz, care to speculate what advice the possible exec of the year was giving the possible manager of the year?

Well, we need to find out more about this, don't we? I wasn't in Philly. With Skins instead. Did sparks fly? Davey quoted as saying, "I had a discussion with my boss."

For the record, Mike and Davey both have fairly low boiling points at times, speak their minds and, generally, have no trouble getting over the spur-of-the-moment words that are a constant part of seven-months-together baseball.

I've never seen a GM more crazy about his manager than Rizzo is about Johnson. But Davey has always spoken his mind. And, man, you don't come on his turf much without hearing about it. He has his players backs and doesn't care if anybody has his. He's unique.

On the other hand, it's going to drive Rizzo crazy if Harper doesn't run out a ball back to Lee and gets tagged out or Espinosa gets thrown out stealing, down 2 runs in the ninth with no outs, or two guys trot around the bases on a double that they "assume" is a HR.

You're got an excellent Good Cop and and excellent Bad Cop, that's for sure. Just so neither shoots the other in the foot.

You'd be amazed at the level of the arguments in baseball. The sport's sort of proud of them. You don't want 'em. But even I've had a few beauties. In fact, you wouldn't have to look very far back up in this chat to find somebody I once interrupted on the phone by saying, "Okay, are you finished $%^&*^%$#ing me yet, so I can start *&^%%$*(*&ing you?"

That's baseball. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains. And sometimes you just have to cuss somebody out until you feel better.  

That's it for today. Can't wait for next Monday!

How did Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto all manage to clear waivers? Does the concept of a trade deadline still mean anything?

Waiver deals are always possible. But blockbusters are rare.  You seldom see a team that really would be willing to "claim" a player with >$100M still left on his contract because, if they Red Sox say, "He's yours. Good luck with this bum," then you are stuck with him. 

The Dodgers claimed Gonzalez. The Red Sox said, "Well, we actually still like the guy. We wanted to find out who might be interested in trading for him. If you take these other two guys __Beckett and Crawford__ in the deal, then we can talk real business." The Dodgers came up with Loney and two of their best prospects and __as everybody's jaws dropped__ the deal was actaully made.

Such things could always happen after July 31. They just (almost) never do.

Do you think the new norm for this career .267 hitter who barely averaged 10 homers a season before '12 will be .285 20-25 HR and 85 RBI's; or is this just an anomaly?

Don't know what Desmond's average will be, but he has  60 extra-base-hit power, which is a ton for a SS. And that has been released. It'll never go back in the box. Maybe it'll be 36-6-18 or 30-4-26. But you will never again see a waste of talent like his 27-5-8 totals from '11.

Love the job the guys on radio and TV for the Nats are doing, but can we get get them to stop saying, "You can't hit a ball any harder than that?" when the result is almost always an out? Would Russ Hodges have said that of Vic Wertz's 1954 World Series 450-foot drive in the Polo Grounds which Willie Mays caught?

It's a tiny point but it drives me crazy, too. I sometimes think of the ball Werth hit 492 feet in spring training. Was that "hard" two-hopper to shortstop really as hard as that one?

Also, the comment "the pitcher gave his team a chance to win and that's all you can ask," drives me nuts, too.

Is that why there is a statue of Walter Johnson outside the park? Or does it have something to do with pitching 110 SHUTOUTS. The Big Train didn't give his team "a chance to win." He gave the other team "no chance to win at all." Some of those shutouts were more than 9 IP.

Yeah, I know, and "get off of my lawn." 

Hi Bos... what are you hearing about this? A big deal -- or just two smart, intense guys blowing off steam? And what precipated it -- specific issue(s) or just general frustration? Thanks.

Took a while to do some checking. Sorry. Davey definitely said afterwards, "I had a discussion with my boss." And there are reports that Davey made a comment that was overheard by reporters. But I'll let those who were there and actually overheard it repeat that. It wasn't anything that you might not say in a tart "discussion" after a third ugly loss. BUT you wouldn't want that kind of friction on a regular basis!

If some of the Nats heard or got wind of it, they might think, "All that stands between me and Runnin'-In-The-Red Rizzo chewing my butt out is this guy named Davey. And, the way I'm playing, I'm showing Davey up. So maybe I better run hard to first, hold runners at 1st base, get the signs right and not jog around the bases on doubles."

I feel like it's old times with Earl Weaver and the First Amendment Orioles where every said what they thought. Earl: "I'm going to send Ray Miller (pitching coach) out to the mound and have him drag Jim Palmer back into the dugout by his diapers."

We're not there yet. But I can hope. Outta here. 

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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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