Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 11, 2013

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

Boz, after watching the Terps blow a 17 point lead yesterday, and thus stamping a ticket to the NIT, I got to thinking about Mark Turgeon and the temperature of his seat. How much pressure will Turg be under to deliver a Big Dance team next year?

The Terps have shown enough progress this year with the 13 game win streak, the win over Duke and consistently high effort. Yes, Md has had a disappointing game, usually on the road, every time you start to think they are a Big Dance team. But Turgeon is a good coach. Maybe very good. The last thing he and Maryland need is a basketball "hot seat" with the switch of conferences. He (and his job) should be a focus of stability for the Terp athletic department, especially with the football problems. 

That said, it would still be a good idea to beat Wake Forest this week even if that just leads to the NIT. And if you win one in the ACC Tourney, who knows.

Hi Tom - any early Masters predictions? Does this Woods win mean anything? Thanks for the chats.

Tigers' two wins early this season at Torrey Pines and now at Doral mean a lot. That's 5 wins in the last 50 weeks, the same as No. 1 Rory McIlroy (who's having problems.) Once again, he's one of the two best players in the world.

Can he win tournaments? Absolutely. Several a year? Well, he's done it. He won in San Diego by four. Does he finish them off as decisively as he once did? No. His bogey-bogey finish on Sunday was meaningless __he had a four-shot lead. But it still showed his nerves. Now he shows strain trying to win against a strong field at a Tour event. I think that makes him feel more human. Years ago, when watching him down the stretch, you thought, "He's the perfect player. What on earth is going on in his mind?" Now, you know that what he's thinking is what every Top 10 players is thinking __"I can win"__ but also with undercurrents of "but I could find a way to lose, too."

Will he win more majors? And how many? That's a different question and absolutely fascinating. He has to have a somewhat different view of himself after all his injuries, swing changes and problems. But I think he'll win majors again. Will he win five to pass Nicklaus? That's an almost perfect ever-money bet right now __I have no idea. It'll be close.

He had a fabulous putting week at Doral __100 puts in 72 holes (his lowest ever on the PGA Tour) and he made 61-of-64 puts inside 10 feet. Think about that: 27 birdies and only 28 more putts than holes. Woods had a 45-minute lesson on putting from his friend and frequent Ryder-Cup partner Steve Stricker (one of the best putters) before the tournament. It really got him rolling. When Tiger starts making everything, he's like any golfer __his confidence soars. His next major win __just a guess__ will be based on a great putting week more than his whole game being wonderful. But Masters greens are vastly tougher and more undulating than the Doral greens

He's not the old Tiger and, at 37, probably never will be again. Now he has nerves, like anybody else. He played his 2nd shot __a safety shot back to the fairway on the 72nd hole on Sunday__ while McDowell's ball was still in the air. Then, with a 3-shot lead, he almost ballooned his 3d shot into the water. That could have opened the door to a possible triple-bogey and a playoff. Didn't happen. Ended up looking routine on TV unless you've covered that event a bunch of times and know how steep that front bank is at the 18th. But I thought Johnny Miller was going to gasp so loudly that he'd inhale the microphone.

In future, therew will be no such thiung as foregone-conclussion final rounds for Tiger wins. But there are going to be plenty of wins. When you win five in 50 weeks, your GAME is back. When he wins a major, then HE will be back.  


Any chance the Caps turn around their season? I personally don't see it. I just don't think that they have a legit NHL goalie on the team, or in the system. They're too fragile, and they still seem to be in worse shape from a conditioning perspective than their opponents. Am I wrong? Please tell me that there are sound reasons to expect a turnaround, base on more than "hope." I'm counting on you! Thanks, Tom.

The Caps aren't a very talented team any more, so they have to get close to 100% production and mistake-free play from the players they have or they are what you've seen so far __not even a playoiff team. They used to be thrilling to watch. I watched the tape of the Ranger game over again and, on far too many shifts, they just looked like a bunch of donkeys on skates. They're not a physical team but they're no longer a high-skill team either. What are they? A 10-13-1 team that could be somewhat better __but nothing special, imo__ if they learn Oates system and eventually play as a unit.

Semin is gone. Green will, presumably, never be Green again. Laich has been out all season. Ovechkin has been a shadow of himself for a long time and now he just seems lost on the ice; he's only had three (3!) even-strength goals all year. Over the weekend, he was as responsible for the two three-goal defeats as much as anyone. He made mental mistakes or took foolish gambles in the neutral zone and his TWO penalties within 20 seconds turned Sunday's game from 1-1 to 3-1 in a blink. Just isolate on Ovechkin and watch the game through him. The game used to "come to him." Or maybe he was so fast and decisive that he went to it. Now, it seems to go away from him. And he seems confused. How much of that is paralysis from too many new systems to learn? How much of it is getting-old-fast because his body must be 80 in hockey years? How much of it is less talented players around him?

Also, I thought Mike Ribeiro, who's having such a fine season generally, got too much of a free pass after his THIRD unsportsmanlike penalty of the season essentially cost the Caps their chance in Saturday's loss. When you have a reputation for temper, you're going to be watched. He turned a tough call against him into an unnecessary four-minute double minor penalty by (appartently) banging his stick in displeasure because of the call. You never got to see what he actually did on the Caps gamecast.  Or at least I never saw it. If someone did, let me know. I'm, curious. When the Caps were dynamic, the refs probably feel in with the "they're great" sentiment. But when you're at the bottom of the league, for whatever reason, you can't be publicly criticizing the refs. That only creates another problem.

Yes, they looked a lot better until the last two games. But their mistakes on Sat-Sun showed that their new problems look aa whole lot like their old problems.   

We're very close to needing a whole new set of seriously-lowered expectations for the Caps. Hope they convince me otherwise. I have no idea what you do for/with Ovechkin. You can't trade that contract. If you take away the "C" you have undercut the face of the franchise. Somehow, you have to support him and find out how he should play at THIS point in his career.

Oh, by the way, Ovechkin is -11 on +/- for the last TWO years combined! Also, in the first 339 games of his career, he scored 228 even-strength goals and 111 on the PP. This year, it's 3 even-strength and 6 on PP. They sure have picked up his patterns. 

Hi Tom, What do you think of Ovie's play lately? Does he seem interested? Also did you agree with Holtby getting pulled when he did?

I thought Ovechkin actually looked very sad at the end of Sunday's game, really concerned. I think he cares (usually). It would be better if he DIDN'T care. Then there might be an easy fix. The bad news might be: This is what he is now.

That was a quick hook. But I think a HOFer-turned-coach probably has a decent idea of when to try to shake up a team (down 3-1) before it is down 4-1 and facing back-to-back loses.

If it happens, does this team have enough intestinal fortitude to overcome it & still have a positive post-season? Because it's a very realistic possibility, imho. Nats did not have much internal strength for the last couple of weeks of the season last year, and backed into the division crown, imho, even with 98 wins. And, as we all were forced to witness, they didn't handle the pressure of Game 5 well, either. If they fail to meet the lofty expectations they face, and finish with fewer wins & in 2nd place, can they overcome it & get to the WS? I know they CAN, but do you think that they WILL? Sure would be great to send Davey off into retirement with a second ring! But expectations such as the Nats face can crush mere mortals. Will they crush the Nats? Thanks, Tom, for your continuing thought-provoking pieces on the Nats. C'mon Opening Day!

The Nats will probably win less games this year if only because it's rare for even very good teams to win 98-or-more twice in a row. But I think the Braves, while good, are not much improved, if any. It should be either a very tight tough race, especially if the Nats struggle in April, or the Nats cruise; Davey tends to get teams off to fast starts.

There are a hundred factors that play into a season. But if you are just looking at team psychology I'd say that the Nats have a fire under them after Game Five. It's more likely to drive them, no matter what "shape" their first 100 games take, than it is to make them nose dive.

If they were a veteran team that felt disappointed in itself and thought it had blown a huge chance, or a last chance, to go to the Series, then there might have been a lot of residual damage. But this is just the opposite. They were the second-youngest team in ALL of baseball last year! Come on. Any team in any sport knows it probably has to get knocked down once __or more than once__ before it plays for or wins a championship.  As mad/sad as they were, they saw Game Five as the kind of thing you have to endure to grow up as a team. It was not "oh, no," but rather, "So THAT'S what the [pain part of all this feels like. OK, lets try riding this horse again next year." 

I doubt the Nats know how remarkable 98 wins was. The Red Sox have only topped that once in the last 60 years. But I doubt that "expectations" will be a problem. I'd look for real things. Like how Jordan Zimmerman bounces back from his 8-run "dead arm" start the other day. He gave up several seeing-eye hits but his command and velocity were just a bit off. Also, if you want to worry about Detwiler (four shutout innings) and Gio Gonzalez (who starts the next Team USA game) being too amped up too early in the spring for their own good in the World Baseball Classic, then feel free to worry. The good news is : The WBC is sometimes very exciting __like when the US trailed Canada 3-2 in the 8th yesterday and faced ELIMINATION if they hadn't rallied to winter. The bad news is: The WBC is sometimes very exciting and guys who should be "getting in their work" are throwing 95-96-97 with their eyes bolt open like it's October.  

In your esteemed opinion, who on the Nats is likely to have a break-out season (besides Harper, because he's just too easy to pick)? And, on the flip side of that coin: among those expected to have big years, who is likely to have a disappointing season? And why, on either score? FWIW, my picks are Espinosa to have the break-out year, and Gio to have a more disappointing one. What do you think?

Those are good guesses. If Espinosa's shoulder holds up, you may be right. But if it doesn't, will the Nats be glad they have so m uch depth at 2nd base.

Wilson Ramos is a big key to the future. He weighed 250 before his knee injury. He weighs less now and looks good. He wasn't overweight, he was just massive. But leaner is better for a young catcher. That may help him be even quicker as a hitter. I'll be really interested to see if Zimmerman's throwing is back to "normal." If it is, that will be an enormous weight off him. He's never really had his "break out" season, if you think he has the ability to be a supoerstar in his prime. I mean something like .315-36-119 and MVP consideration. Is he ever going to have that season. He doesn't have to. But I think he has a couple of them in him and one may be about to show up.  

Was this weekend's narrow win over Maryland enough to get UVa into the NCAA tourney? If not, will one win in the ACC tournament do it?

I'd think that being the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament is a boost in itself. But they now have to play up to the seeding, don't they? If they do, they're in. If not, back on the bubble, imo.

So, the USA team was just a couple of innings away from finishing last in their pool and needing to qualify to be able to participate next time. Clearly, a lot of stars are declining to particpate during their Spring Training. What if the powers that be used the Whorld Hockey Championships as a guide to scheduling? The World Hockey Championships take place during the NHL playoff season, so those teams that don't make the playoffs can have their best players particpate. So, why not have the World Baseball Classic take place in October? Is MLB afraid of competition with the World Series? Really?

The WBC is probably set up about as well as it can be. There is no "good" time. There was certainly nothing "weak" about the USA lineup! They had seven players who had been All-Stars in the starting lineup! Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips, Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Ben Zobrist, Adam Jones and Shane Vioctorino. Only Eric Hosmer, a fine young hitter, hasn't been an All-Star. Yes, Rollins and Victorino are past their prime. But they have pressure experience which should compensate. If the USA had lost, and they were close with John Axford (Mil) as the closer for Canada if they'd held their lead through the 8th__ it would NOT have been because they had a lame team. No, it certainly wasn't America's best. But it was too good to whine about. Derek Holland started on Sunday and he's started in two World Series.

To directly answer your question: No, there is no way that MLB players, after a 162-game season, are going to want to play in a WBC event in October. And MLB isn't going to let its own players provide competitive TV programming opposite the MLB post-season!  

Hello, there. Thanks, Mr. Boswell for your painstaking responses to so many great questions folks post here. I am wondering if it is indeed the Braves that the Nats must fear most, rather than the Phillies? Philly outfield is quite unsettled, but all anyone who touts the Braves want to do is talk about how they added the Uptons, while conveniently omitting the large losses of Chipper, Martin Prado, Ross, Hanson ("weak" 12-game winner), among others. Do Braves fans really think that Medlen will post a 1.5 ERA again (in an entire season!), tthat their closer will be near-perfect, and that Beachy will be an instant force, post-All Star break (and post-Tommy John surgery)? Do you think that the Uptons will BOTH have career years (as the "30 HR-for-every-outfielder" fans in Atlanta believe?), that Uggla will rediscover his 5-years-ago batting eye, that Teheran, Minor, Hudson (at 37 +/-) will ALL be effective? It seems to me that an awful lot has to go very, very well for them to win 94 again. I understand that the Nats, too, must have many things go right to win the division, but not so many as the Braves, imo. Thoughts, please?

Good (negative) analysis of the Braves. There's a positive best-case analysis, too. But you're points get missed by many.

The Phils may bounce back, to a degree, but if they beat the Nats....well, that would be remarkable. Teams pass each other. The Nats did it a year earlier than even they expected. But that seldom reverses. I'd say a Braves division title is a better probability than one by the Phils.

What some miss is that this may be the last year before the Dodgers buy every player on earth. Teams like the Nats, Braves and Reds need to focus on getting to a Series BEFORE the road to the Series goes through Chavez Ravine EVERY year. The Dodgers may be very good this year, but I doubt it. They have a lot of something-or-nothing players who could go either way, like Becket, Crawford, free agent from Japan Hyun-Jin Ryu, who may be very good or a waste of money. They won't all pan out.

But by next year, watch out. No team has ever had this much money to spend in baseball. It's ugly. It's reality.

Boz, What about this as the feel good story of the year for the Nats? Bottom of the 9th of the NLCS or WS. Soriano enters the 9th after 8 dominant innings by SS. Soriano struggles and loads the bases with the winning run. Storen replaces him and closes the door. What do you think?

I think Storen already pitched the eighth because, by October, Strasburg isn't going to be going 8 innings very often with a deep bullpen behind him. If Sopriano blows the save, I suspect you better root for Mattheus to hold 'em in the 10th!

But, yes, some variation of that is a nice story. Gee, wonder if it has ever crossed Storen's mind __like several thousand times already. 

Redskins, keep the name, change it, what? Yours seems to regularly be the voice of reason around these parts. Have you an opinion?

I gave a fairly long answer to this in a chat two months ago. I always thought it was an objectionable name. But that's partly because I grew up with the team in the late-'50's and early '60's when George Preston Marshall was the one owner in all of sports (not just the NFL) MOST associated with blatantly racists policies. It wasn't a secret. Shirley Povich blasted him about it repeatedly. Everybody knew that the original HTTR lyrics were offensive __they certainly were to me when I was a teenager. When Bobby Mitchell arrived everybody rooted for him, in part, because he broke GPM's segregation policy. And DC Stadium was RENAMED RFK Stadium after Robert F. Kennedy who was a force (when attorney general) in getting the Redskins to integrate. This was not a liberal or conservative issue. Everybody with a brain knew, or almost everybody, that the Redskins name was objectionable and, ultimately, would probably go away. But when?

That's what's amazing! It never went away. Well, not yet. There has been wave after wave of protest against it. Some just as vigorous as now. Or close. What it's revealed is certain aspects of the characters of the men who have owned the Redskins __they bought that nickname, too. They think it has value __dollars. It is THEIRS. Just like they stick high parking prices in your face and say, "You can't do anything about it. Take it or leave it," they ignore any issue with the name.  Nobody was going to tell Jack Kent Cooike what to call his team, so he brazened it out. Now, Snyder is doing the same. It is, in no insignificant part, an illustration of a macho don't-mess-with-me-and-all-my-money attitude.

For me, this has never been an issue. It's a bad name. I grew up with "the only good Redskin is a dead Redskin" in Cowboy shows, movies, etc. OK, that was a different time. But it's away seemed clear to me. However, in a world of far bigger problems, the Redskins have always managed to act like this is trivial and the people who complain about it have an aggenda, rather than just the obvious preference for decency. We'll see how it works out this time around.

Is he back? To me, he needs to win a major, then he's back. And maybe he needs to win 2 of them - one where he blows the doors off the field and one where the field is in play on Sunday - what say you?

I'll give the short version of what I wrote before. (This is called "editing," a luxury I don't have in a chat!) Tiger's GAME is back __or close enough. But until he wins another major, HE won't be back. Because that's how he sees himself __as the man in prusuit of Nicklaus' record.

But, well when can we assume that you were wrong ;-) - meaning, they will win it, and here's what point are we able (short of game clinching wins) of seeing what we saw last year? that is a team leading the way, winning a variety of ways, and a bunch of other clues - MAYBE THAT'S IT - WHAT ARE THE CLUES?

That was an essay on the Difficulty of Baseball more than it was about any one team __but it perfectly fit the Nats.

They know the real deal about how tough it is to win a Series __all the levels of performance and luck that you have to survive. But it doesn't hurt fans to think about how different it is to follow one of the top three or four NBA pre-season favorites and one of the comparable teams in MLB. One has a whole lot of its fate in its own hands. The other controls much less. (But they both have to live with the results.)

Where do you stand on the DH? Keep it the screwed up way it is with different rules in each league? Get rid of it and hack off the players association? or never see Gio hit another home run and have the DH in both leagues? With all of Selig's efforts to make the game better, I don't get why this issue still festers.

Keep it the screwed up way it is.

That's been my "position" for many years. It's perverse. I like to have at least one perverse indefensive position at all times. The DH insures that I always will.

Sir, Have caught a couple of episodes. Not bad and who knew Riggo was a chef. Next stop is the Food Channel where he will scare the you what out of Bobby Flay and the rest of the metrosexuals there.

Haven't seen it. Got to. Go, Riggo.

(Does he actually kill the animals before he eats them?)

Any thoughts on the WBC ? I watched yesterday's USA / Canada game and this morning's Netherlands upset of Cuba. Very entertaining. Also, were you surprised there were no fines or suspensions for the Italian / Canada brawl? Could set a bad precedent.

The Dutch, with all their injuries, beat the CUBANS! I had it on TV in front of me with Cuba up 6-4. What happened! This is The End of the World As They Know It in Cuba.

That's why the WBC is so much goofy fun. Two (mostly) career minor leaguers had a chance to finish off the US yesterday. They couldn't do it. But if Henderson had pitched a shutout 8th inning (and he had a 3.60 ERA for the Brewers last year as a 29-year-old rookie and was throwing 95), he'd have handed a save situation over to Axford. Or is O's farm-hand Tim Smith had gotten a bases-loaded hit in the 8th for Canada, that game might have ended up with Canada winning, not the misleadingly lopsided final score of 9-4.

Did you see the Sports Illustrated story on Bryce Harper? I find it interesting that he watches videos of his singles and doubles, and not home runs, and that he also scouts opposing outfielders to see which of them tend to loaf on defense. Are a lot of baseball players like this, or is this something unique?

Harper is at the high end of "dedicated." So is Strasburg. To a degree, even though they are young, I think they set a lot of the high work-ethic standard for the Nats. In this respect, they are truly leaders by example.

Jim Palmer, even when relatively young, always served this purpose with the Orioles. Earl Weaver always told young pitchers just to "follow Palmer around and do everything he does." He knew they couldn't. Palmer would work them into the ground. But they got the point. 

Can you imagine if Texeira had said yes to Ted Lerners money, this franchise could be looking so differently today. I don't think they would have signed Werth to another $100M plus contract. Both Dunn or LaRoche would not be on the roster. With Texeira, Nats probably would have won a few more games and be out on Harper. Without Dunn and there would also be no compensatory picks for Meyer and Goodwin, and in turn no Span. Amazing how one signing or non-signing can change the course of a franchise.

GREAT point. I may have to steal that for a column.

Ted Lerner really thought he had an outside shot at Teixeira when the Nats went to $188M. (I didn't.) For about an hour, there was a chance. Maybe. Then the  Yanks, who'd been on the sidelines, jumped in and it was over in a heartbeat.

Since it seems like the Redskins arent trying to resolve the cap penalty hit they took. Why are the skins waiting to the end to restructure or release players?

I'm fascinated to see how this plays out. Do they HAVE a plan? Are they playing it by ear as they go?

I hate to be hard-hearted but I would be very close to saying goodbye to London Fletcher __one of my all-time favorite (Red)skins__ if I were in their shoes.

Now that the Nationals are a serious contender, don't you think it's time to dispense with the amateurish "Natitude" campaign and slogan? You wouldn't find a first class organization engaged in something that is so patently bush league in marketing.

Good slogan. All slogans are lame if you look at them too hard or long. As such things go, this one worked. The players like it or certainly don't dislike it. It hasn 't run its course after one year.

Heading to Viera for Nats/Astros on Thursday and Saturday. Any logistical tips (traffic, parking, which hot dogs are best, etc) Thanks!

It's such a piece of cake you can't mess it up. I can't wait to get back down to see some games. The chat next Monday will be from Viera. By then, things are pretty serious. 

Thanks for all the good questions. No shortage of topics, that's for sure. Until next week, cheers!

Shame the WBC is only on MLB Network. Some games have been stinkers, but others have been incredibly exciting and it's a real shame they're not available to a wider audience. My nails were chewed all the way down watching USA-Canada yesterday!

Agree. It was so tense I was tweeting while watching it on TV.

I was re-reading it this weekend. Your first chapter was on the best seat in the house in different ballparks. So I wondered, what is the best seat in the house at Nats Ballpark?

The best high-end seat is probably the Club Level, 208 through 221. This explains why teams have moved press boxes to the moon __to create more of the best seats for fans. This is where we used to sit in almost all parks. It's probably more the way it should be now. (Sob.)

However, the unique feature of Nats Park is the upper deck. It's one of the five best in baseball. Maybe better than that. Yes, it's the UPPER deck __that's why it's cheaper. But if you don't mind the height __which is low compared to most upper decks__ it's really remarkable for views, sightlines, concourses to walk. That's where the value is.

Most of us hate February, what is your worst time fo the year for sports?

It just ENDED. The weeks between the Super Bowl and the start of the college basketball conference tournamernts is the worse __by a wide margin, imo. Now, everything is b begining to rev up again for Final Four, Opening Day, Masters __everything. Start your engines.

Hi, Tom. Does Stan Kasten deserve any credit for the current Nats success? Did he pick Rizzo? Davey? How did they all relate to ownership? Or did Kasten simply not fit in with the Nats?

Kasten deserves plenty of credit. He picked Rizzo __his first hire when the Lerners barely knew anybody in baseball, much less the name "Rizzo." That's 100% Kasten. Rizzo brought in Davey. And the vigorous support to build up the scouting system and spend on draft picks __including the 17-scout raid in one 24-hour period__ was Kasten/Rizzo in tandem. (Okay, 17 front office people, not just 17 scouts.) But a lot of what Kasten suggested got ignored. Teams make those internal decisions.

If you don't think Kasten believes in spending, look at the Dodgers. He believes in doing what is market-appropriate, whether that's in Atlanta, DC or LA.

But, ironically, if some of his advice had been followed, the Nats probably would never have been bad enough to get Streasburg or Harper. 

In This Chat
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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