Ask Boswell: All things Washington sports

Sep 24, 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

It looks like Shanahan has designed plays to treat him like one. He's going to get injured and then our season will be over.

Tough to design an offensive game plan that tells your team, "We've pretty much given up on '12, so we're going to try to protect RGIII, at least to some degree.

However, this season may reach a point where you game plan a lot but use a lot less than they are now that involves RGIII on the option.

It's an interesting contrast with the Nats behavior with Strasburg. They are risks going nowhere in the post-season, or not having as good a chance to play in the World Series, so that they protect their investment in, potentially, their best pitcher. But it doesn't look like the Skins are going to change their play designs and play calling __just going back to what they'vce done the last couple of years, plus some wrinkles__ to protect RGIII. It's a touch call, not an obvious one. But right now, Griffin is just far too much in the path of injury. What is exactly "right," I don't know. But I know games like yesterday __12 runs, six sacks, totally blown up on more than one option play, a bunch of delivery sacks__ is NOT the rightway.

Looks like the game plan must be to score 40 then hope for the best. The injuries on defense were huge. Now there's not enough pressure on the QB and the secondary was already a weakness.

It's been a negative perfect storm on defense. You lose a DB for the year to a suspension, then a top LB and D-lineman to injuries for the year, then Meriweather can't play yesterday. The Skins didn't have the money under the cap, after their $18M punishment, to go for as much quality or depth as they would otherwise have sought, even though they hate to say it. Then every injury is magnified.

But the defense didn't look good against New Orleans either. Remember, the key player that the Skins would be a star in their switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 was LaRon Landry. He was a bust and gone. Now, instead of having safeties who are a strength they are a weakness.

Also, interviewing DB like Josh Wilson and Richard Crawford about how they were burned in deep coverage was a little disconcerting. I'm not used to being taller than the NFL players I interview. Not big guys to say the least.

Why do some pitchers seems to get run support and others on the same team - notably Jordan Zimmerman in the case of the Nats - get little to none? Is it just "one of those things" or is there an actual reason for it?

Another mystery of life. I'm at Nats Park now, watching BP. The Nats need to score a few for Z'mann today because this is a big game for them __to get a 4-3 homestand and to push their lead over idle Atlanta to 5 games, not fall back to 4. Yesterday's loss was ugly with two balls lost in the sun.

The Nats better learn to play their sun field better than their foes can in the playoffs. Harper especially. I was surprised to see Werth cover his head at the last second yesterday. Come on, put one hand over your face and stick the glove up. Give it a 1-in-100 chance to go in. I'm surprised that more OFers don't do it the old-fashioned way __move your glove and forth __over the sun, off it, back over it__ so that you picked up the ball, lose it for a split seconbd, then picked it up again. Back in the day of no sunglasses, pre-flip-downs, just eyeblack and a glove, you were expected to catch 'em. You know, the sun was still up in the sky back then and few if any routine balls dropped.  

I was at Friday's Nats game for Clippard's collapse. A huge performance by Edwin Jackson backed up by tremendous defense ruined by a ninth inning meltdown. It was one of those that just left me sick to my stomach. If I can take any solace, it is that we won't see it happen again. Do you agree that from today through the Nats final game of the season (whenever it is), we'll only see Storen in ninth inning situations?

No, we'll see Clippard AND Storen, I think and we should. I think fans, and perhaps some of the Nast relievers just don't know how solid they are and expect more from themselves that even excellent relievers can give. I looked at the Nat bullpen's ERA in their time in Washington vs the Top Relievers in history in the top 40 in saves.

Clippard: 262 relief games with Nats, 2.80 ERA

Burnett: 240 games w Nats, 2.86 ERA.

Storen: 158 Nats games, 3.02 career ERA and a 2.71 ERA the last two years in 104 games.

How does this compare? Of the top 40 in saves in history, the only ones under 2.70 are Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Tom Henke, Goose Gossag, Papelbon, Wilhelm and (?) Dave Smith.

That means those three Nats, with a substantial track record, are as good or better (in ERA) than Hoffman, Lee Smith, John Franco, Eckersley (as a closer), Reardon, Percival, Randy Myers, Fingers, Wetteland, Nen, Sutter and many others.

There's nothing wrong with a back-end of Clippard, Storen and Burnett. They need to do the one most important thing for relievers. FORGET YESTERDAY. Right now, Storen looks better. But use them both the last 10 games and see where you are for the playoffs. BUT the Nats have very solid choices. Not as overpowering as Chapman and Kimbrel. But all that matters is the "0" for the inning you pitch, not how you got it.

On Mike and Mike this morning on ESPN2, Mike Greenberg said he was not going to talk about the NFL refs anymore because we can all see the games and know how bad things are. But by not talking about them again and again, aren't we letting the NFL off the hook? How can we, the fans, get across to the NFL how unacceptable the situation is? Geez, SF got 2 extra challenges yesterday because the refs didn't know the right procedures!

Talk abaout it.

Not talking about it is a cop out. And just what the NFL wants.

The NFL still gets its glitzy highlight package on ESPN and at first glance you think, "What a thriolling Sunday! Overtimes! A crazy snap that loses a gamae when you're just supposed to be trying the draw the defense off sides! A Tennessee Throw Back TD!

Then when you hear about the details of the games and the comments, it's "Refs stink, ref blew FG call, bring back the real refs."


Tom, the worst sun field in baseball used to be right field in Fenway. That is now officially wrong. The Center to Right outfield @ Nats park is brutal during day/sun games. Will the Nats move future game times or even day games to avoid what is becoming a liability?

Seems to get bad in September afternoons. Davey says it's worst at 2-to-3 p.m. but I'd say the problem window is bigger than that. MLB isn't going to change any post-season times for a "sun field." Learn to play it __better than the other guys.

Yesterday left a bad taste in Nats mouths. They face hard-throwing respectable Marco Estrada (4-6, 3.56) today w Z'mann.

The Brewers got him off waivers __from the Nats. Shows the Nats have a good eye for talent, or did in '05 when they got him in the 6th rd of the draft. But in 2/10, the Nats weren't so pitching rich that they couldn't protect Estrada if they thought he'd be good enough to get 21 starts this year for the Brewers. 

Doesn't Davey sometimes go overboard to back players in a slump. Case in point, Morse is not generating much power, probably still hurt and batting him and LaRoche next to each other just increases the chances of a double play. Michael is somewhat of a liability in the field so why does Davey not take him out after the 7th inning when he is not scheduled to come up to bat.

See "Percentage Baseball" by Earnshaw Cook (Johns Hopkins math prof), published back in the Stone Age before any new stats existed. Saw it on Davey's bookshelf in '84. Of course, you better have at least one degree in math, maybe more, to make heads or tails of it. I've tried. But one thing it takes into account is when you take pstrong hitters out of games for defense and when you don't.

Rule of thumb: When you think you're right and Davey is wrong on strategy, you're not only wrong, you're probably wrong by such an embarassing margin that you aren't even smart enough to understand how dumb you are. That's my rule anyway. Until after I get to argue with Davey, at least.   

Shanahan obviously is only planning on being here for a couple more years because they are calling plays that are will eventally get RGIII killed. He will have a career like a running back, not a quarterback.

You mean the Shanahns might be putting their best career interests ahead of the best long-term interests of the Redskins or Redskins fans.

Gosh, that thought had never crossed my mind. You mean because Mike wants to get into the Hall of Fall and probably needs a couple of good Skins teams in the playoffs in the next few years to do it. (Parcells and Jimmy Johnson are not in.) And because he'd like his son, perhaps, to get a chance as a head coach? Wow, I don't think anything like that could happen.

However, it would have been nice to be able to ask Kyle yesterday if the "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty in the final seconds was on him for cussing the refs. Lotta peoiple seem to think that's what it was. He could have answered. He's an offensive coordinator in the NFL __a pretty accountable position, right. Josh Morgan was certainly expected to explain his dumb penalty the previous week. The Redskins declined to make Kyle available.

The photo of Kyle chasing the refs after the game doesn't contribute to his head-coach-material resume in my book.

Boz, the Nats bullpen is NOT getting the job done. It seems to me that this part of the staff is going to make clinching the East a Tums inducing stretch. You keep saying the pen is good-very good but in the last month and a half it has been very shaky. Are still not concerned?

For many years the Braves denied their need for a dominant closer in the post-season and the Jeff Reardons cost them a World Series or two. Remember, the Nats thought they'd win 86 or 88 games this year, not 96 or 98 (maybe). The next 2-3-4 weeks, depending on how far they go, will give us lots of information __including info about where the bullpen stands and what might be needed in future.

The Nats still have the best record in baseball, but they also have the youngest roster (or second youngest). So you are both trying to win as much as possible right now, but also "developing" players. Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Mattheus, Garcia and others are all under team control through '15 (at least). A lot of people, including fans and Nats decision makers, will be rooting for them and evaluating them __simultaneously.

Which of the two NFL teams playing in Maryland will end up with a better record at the end of the season? Eitehr one have a shot at the playoffs?

The answer to that doesn't change much from year to year, does it? The Ravens are 2-1, coming off 12-4, 12-4, 9-7 and 11-5 and, I think, 13-3 a couple of years before that. There's no comparison between these franchises, how they are run, which is better, which franchise thinks about its future in better ways, and there hasn't been any cpomparison for a long time.

I try not to think about it. My son, who loves the Skins, but likes the Ravens, reminds me.

Tom, This edition of the latest Skins defense may well be the worst one of all time. Well, at least post Bill Austin. I cannot imagine Haslett and co. are so dumb they can't scheme for some sort of coverage that would look mediocre at worst. This is pathetic. Listen to what the Bengals said about the looks they got. Even THEY were amazed at the sheer incompetence. Amendola!!!

Shanahan's problems in Denver, post-Elways, which eventually pushed him out of town, were with his defense and the defensive minds that he had to fire and replace __with continuing bad results. Haslett has a track record. It's easier to blow things up than to stick with what you're doing. But stability usually beats panic. See: Ravens vs Redskins recent history.

Boz, Do the Nats take fly ball practice on sunny days? It seems that the Nats have lost 5 or more balls in the sun this year, yet I don't recall opponents having the same issue. Is this a practice enough and we can fix it issue. Equipment (different sunglasses)? Have you ever seen a team have so many problems with the sun?

CF is the toughest sun field. The Nats CFer is 19 and was a catcher two years ago. Think that might have something to do with it? Give him time. He has to learn a million things. Coping with the sun is probably one of them because, in my latest interview with the sun, it said, "I'm not going anywhere soon."

I heard an interesting discussion on MLB network radio yesterday about the AL MVP. It looks like the two leading contenders are Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, and the guys were talking about stats. Basically, in the world prior to Sabermetrics Cabrera would have it locked up because of his competitiveness for the Triple Crown, but with advanced metrics - in particular WAR - Trout wins. Trout's WAR is head and shoulders ahead of anybody's. Do you think it will matter? How much stock do you put into WAR?

Most WAR stats are useful, except for all the ones that are ridiculous. WAR is a wonderful concept but a completely unfinished product __especially in measuring one season and in measuring the value of defense. Also, which WAR? There are different methods. Look up the WARs of Nats on baseball-reference and FanGraphs. They are very different. And in several cases they are ridiculous if you actually waych the team and, especially evaluate defense. Bad defenders have "plus" ratings and special defenders are negative or neutral.

Everything goes in cycles. However, Trout's impact on defense and the bases is incredible. If any player deserves the WAR benefit of the doubt, as well as factoring in both defense and base-running, it's Trout vs Cabrera.

First of all, let me say that he is my very favorite National. But what has been wrong with him lately? Wednesday night was bad, but Friday was the worst I've seen. Did that bunt single really rattle him that badly that he was off the rest of the inning? Can McCatty help him get back to where he was/should be? Does he maybe need the sports psychologist people were saying Henry Rodriguez needed? We need him back to last year's--or even to June & July's--form.

IMO, Clippard is one of a relatively small number of pitchers who work up-and-down, more than in-and-out. He's a knees-and-letters pitcher. Well, he hasn't been hitting the knees as much lately. He's been more like thighs-to-letters. And he still survives a lot of the time. If he can regain better command at the knees, I think he'll go right back to his best form. Will he? The radar gun and eyesight both say that his arm is fine. 

Boz, I know you keep lecturing us Sheeple to enjoy a tight penant race but I would much prefer to have clinched by now. If anybody thinks clinching will be easy with 6 games against the Phils coming up is delusional. Now, would you please knock my head off in disgust? :-)

Some games matter more than others. (I realize that this is illogical.) Today matters. At +5 games with nine eto play, it's really hard to see how the Nats have much problem clinching. At +4 with nine to go, and the Phils and Cards motivated for the next six games on the road, it could get more interesting than the Nats want.

In one sense, any pressure experience is good for a team that has so many key players who have never been through it __Desmond (who's now hitting .301 and has moved to the very top of the SS list), Zimmerman (can his throw accurately under max pressure), Espinosa (so K prone), Harper (19), Morse (free swinger), Clippard-Storen-Burnett.

On the other, there's a lot to be said for clinching with several days left before the division series with a few days to set your rotation, let anybody with a sore wrist (Morse), take a little time off.

BTW, I have not seen ANYBODY mention that the Nats clinched the FIRST wildcard spot (on Saturday, I'm pretty sure). That means if they ended up in the wildcard play-in game, it would be held at Nats Park. And it carries the distinction that the Nats would have made the playoffs under the OLD playoff system.

Of course, that's not what they want. Davey was just talking __again__ about how all he cares about is winning the NL East. Not worried about the order-of-finish of the divisionw inners __Red-Giants-Nats (presumably). Of course, he knows that winning the NL East helps take care of that order of finish, too.

Tom, The Shanniclan have turned over almost the entire roster in the last 3 years and we are still a 5-11 team with or without injuries. Shanny has extended Haslett and Smith. He is getting RGIII killed. Is this the swan song for the former genius?

Not an out-of-bounds question. But I still think he's as sharp as you are going to get.

Remember how hard it was for the Orioles to get anybody good at any level of the organization after they reached the point where top people thought: That's a career graveyard. If Shanahan, who's widely respected and well connected, doesn't work out, who do you get next? Don't be in a rush to blow up this regime. You almost certainly have a better chance with this one than the hypothetic "next coach." 

Ok, they have been playing 'playoff' baseball since the sweep in Atlanta - sort of. My concern is they are sloppy - or seem to be sloppy. That said, playing these teams who are fighting to get in - that should (at least in theory) make them more prepared when the real playoffs arrive. What are your thoughts. On a separate note, what are your thoughts or concerns for them if they do have home field (at least for the 5 game series)? Is this team (vice teams in general) prepared to no worse than split on the road, likely in Atlanta? Thanks!

They have played extremely crisp games, like the 3-1 win in the first game of the LA doubleheader and the win to close the series, as well as the 10-4 berat down in Gio's 20th win, with a couple of clunkers. Not a good time of year for clunkers.

Finishing with Atl-LA-Milw-Phil-StL-Phil certainly gets you accostomed to playing vs contending or at least .500 teams. In that sense, it's definitely better to be tested. Playing the Cubs and Astros doesn't get you ready for post-season. 

Nobody seems to mention a perfectly likely possibility, and one that doesn't seem to bother Davey. Finish with the second-best record in the N.L. and play the Giants in the Division series with the first two games in SF. The Nats have played very well vs the Giants (5-1). 

But I assume any manager would rather play a team that just had to use its best-available starter in a WC-WC game. In the case of Atlanta, you might see Medlen only once, not in Games 1 and 5.

Hi, Tom. In recent weeks you have fielded so many questions about the Nats losing a few games and the subsequent fear that they would fall apart. Your answer is always....this is how baseall works. Etc. It reminds me of George Steinbrenner. He expected the Yanks to win every day and would fire a manager when they lost a few games. In fact, I don't think it is crazy to expect well-paid pros to win much more frequently than baseball teams do, but we do tend to accept a .600 winning percentage as OK

I'll use the last 120 years as my frame of reference. But feel free to create a different one.

How many games does Griffin play when getting hit this much and this hard?

Barry Svrluga is sitting next to me. I asked, "What's your over-under on the RGIII Gets Kilt Watch.

"Week Five."

I think he's tough (and lucky and smart) and makes it through the entire season.

Triple option QB's, and "running QB,'" have been hit their whole lives. They learn how to fall, take a hit. And those that tend to get hurt tend to disappear.

The sustained problems lately from a bullpen that's been golden all year -- is this simply a case of paying the piper for too many five- and six-inning stints by starters all year? I trust Davey, but I've never seen a team in which the starters were routinely "protected" by being removed when they were throwing well after 88 (for example) pitches. Bullpens aren't designed to provide three to four innings every night, right? How do you see this playing out from here?

I asked the "row." Kilgore, Svrluga, Wagner. 

Adam said, "1. Gio 2. Desmond. 3. Strasburg. 4. LaRoche. 5. Ryan Zimmerman."

Annoyed, I said, "That's my list, too."

Barry, "No Clippard?"

James Wagner says, "LaRoche ahead of Desmond."

This took 30 seconds. So none of us stand by it.

But it's a great question. What's fascinating is that nobody included Harper, and when I mentioned it, they didn't change, and nobody fought for Jordan Zimmermann, though he's had an excellent season. Bet Harper will be No. 1, 2 or 3 next year. The 2-month slump and the misplays in CF as he learned hold him back. But I bet you don't see any two-month slump in '13.

Okay, got a ballgame to watch here and column to write.

Anybody who does NOT cut out from work (NOT SCHOOL) to get to this 1 p.m. game on a glorious crisp day is out of their mind. This is LCS weather, babe. Desperate Brewers against Ned-A-Win Nats. The two best power teams in the N.L. Ryan Braun, plausible MVP. Get yourself out here!

See you next week.

Boz -- for the first time in my life, I watched another game more than the Redskins game. I flipped back and forth, but the Nats definitely got more of my attention, about 60 - 40%. Anyway, I'm concerned that the Nats are not playing particularly good baseball right now. Since beating up on the miserable Cubs, they are 7-8. Of course, it's just 15 games, but how important is it for the Nats to be playing good, quality baseball going into October? In sports, momentum is very important, and the Nats seem to be sputtering as we head towards the finish line.

I agree, they need to tighten up their brand of ball just a notch over the next 10 days. But they have done what's been needed all season. 

Is that why the Skins kept trotting out Jordan Black?

One of us, won't say who, said, "Wow. Jordan Black. He sure blocked a lot of air yesterday."

I'm thrilled with how the Nats have played most of the year, but it seems that they've been getting rattled in big games down the stretch. Maybe I'm fretting for no reason, and reading too much into a handful of errors and bullpen miscues. What's your view of this young team's mental toughness?

As I said to someone the other day, "Well, they're going to feel the pressure and choke __to some degree__ at some point, aren't they? Everybody does. Then you see how they react to it."

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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