Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 15, 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

I know it is too early to be worried, but isn't the Nats start a little troubling given Davey's record of hot starts?


Before I read today's column, I was going to ask about Tiger's drop. But that seems a bit silly, now. The last three holes (18, 18, and 10) were a gift to the ages. Usually one player backs into the playoff and another rides a hot streak that momentum is the determining factor. Not this time. What a joy!

That was one of the most fun golf tournaments I've ever seen. And it also washed away, for me, some of the psychodrama that always seems to surround Tiger Woods. It was the breath of fresh air, even in a pouring rain. Scott was so relieved and proud that, afterward, he hardly seemed to believe it had happened. Cabrera had great dignity and is liked by virtually everyone who has had contact with him, is a magnificent competitor. He said that the great major tournament "take the best away from me." He was probably searching for the English cliche "get the best out of me." But I liked it better his way.

His throwing errors are really hurting this team. Is there anything he can do fix this problem?

He's had surgery. His arm doesn't hurt. He's reworked his mechanics, which the Braves radio broadcasters described as looking like "a mechanical fly casting machine." He is gradually gaining arm strength. I think that is all you can do. Except wait. And hope. And wish him well. He can certainly be an adequate 3rd baseman, even with throwing problems. I saw the game Friday on TV from Atlanta. Not a scary bad throw, just a poor one. Haven't seen the other two yet. But it's a significant problem because they signed LaRoche for two years and he has NO other defensive position. Michael Morse could play LF, RF or 1st. All poorly, maybe OK at 1st. But you have manueverability at least. There is no flexibility now. Z'man has to tough it out at 3rd and improve. 

Are they "squeezing the sawdust out of the bats" in April due to high expectations? And how long do we have to endure Zim's throwing before they trade LaRoche for prospects and move Zim to first and bring up Rendon?

The Nats have problems with pressure at times. But they've also shown great resiliency, like every time they had a terrible loss (blow a 9-0 lead) or a five-game losing streak last year. I expect the same pattern. Eventually, the more "big  series" you face, the easier they become. Remember last summer when the Yanks came to DC and swept the Nats? They looked scared to death, impatient, trying too hard. But they learned form it. This is a long and often very painful process for young teams. I have never seen a team that did not go through great "growing pains" -- and that's exactly what it is, real collective pain at failure as you grow -- before it reached World Series caliber, much less win a Series. You're seeing another piece of that now. The only answer is: Show up at the ballpark again tomorrow. 

They are a strong group internally, but still an inexperienced one. I'll be interested to see tape of Gio to see how well he coped with the pressure of preventing a sweep. Detwiler has looked exceptional. His game Friday was big time. The Nats were set up to WIN that series. Freeman and McCann hurt for the Braves. Delgado starting the first game for Atlanta. And Detwiler did his job perfectly. That could have been a strong beginning to a strong weekend -- then "everything changed everything" and it ended up very ugly.

Only 150 to go. 

General compassion for suffering a broken bone. That aside, is this guy a major disaster or total disaster? Trouble seems to find him, no?

Trouble seems to find him, indeed.

Just for your amusement I thought I'd tell you the circumstancves of these annual post-Masters chats. A bunch of us stay at a house together in Augusta -- Barry, Feinstein, Dave Kindred, Art Spander, etc. But we have to be out of the house by about 9 a.m. so the family can come back. Long story short, the best place to "chat" is from a roadside McDonald's parking lot mid-way between Augusta and the Atlanta airport, about 75 miles from each.

So, if you "hear" a crash, that's probably a McDonalds supply truck dumping 2,000 pounds of french fries on my car. It's a wonderful profession. Reminds me of filing high school state championship game stories into a pay phone at a McDonalds while angry high school bruisers were banging on the door saying, "Hey, buddy, get the hell off the phone. I gotta call my girlfriend." 

OK, so the Nats have lost a few games. Look north to their former home in Canada. Toronto was already planning the Series ticker tape parade down Yonge Street. Now the Jays are 5-7 and trying to find a way to cohere into a winning squad.

There is no crying in baseball. But there is also no panicing. Panic is simply not a word that EVER applies to the sport. Or one that you hear within the sport. What are you going to do, cancel the season if a team goes 12-40 to start?

The Nats top four starters, the real core of the team, still look exceptional, though Strasburg is certainly not a finished pitcher. Comparisons to great aces like Clemens, Verlander, etc., etc., simply are not warranted yet. He's a 6-7 inning pitcher with great stuff, a fabulous work ethic, off-the-chart competitive nature and smart/analytical, but still prone to getting flustered by bad calls, errors behind him (like Z'man error), etc.

The bullpen will be good once it works its way into the season and improves ity's command. The raw stuff isn't an issue, just the scatterdash wasting of pitches that are a foot off target and serve no purpose in putting away the hitter. Will this group be better than just good, eventually? Depends on whether Soriano gets back to the form of the last couple of years. He probably will. Has to stop hanging sliders in the middle of the plate. Clippard doesn't know where his changeup is going -- his out pitch. That will change.

They need to go to someplace warm and play a really bad team for three days. Hmmm, how about Miami and the Fish. Focus and take advantage of it.

And accept that you're played poorly and given a way a couple of games against good teams in Cincy and Atlanta. They're lucky to be 7-5 -- a 94.5-win pace, believe it or not -- when the way they have played could easily result in4-8. 

You're right, ledge. A lot of other teams already have worse problems -- one that won't disappear with a few days or weeks more of "getting into the season." 

NFL, NHL and NBA all ban players coming off the bench to join a fight, but it seems to be required in baseball. As a start in MLB, why not ban bullpens from coming out for brawls? Their joining the fracas doesn't add anything except the potential for more chaos. Automatic five game suspensions for anyone leaving the bullpen ought to be a good deterrent.

Oh, come on, it's so much fun the way it is. Leave it alone. One guys gets hurt every five years and it's usually because he does something dumb, like Greinke, who should simply have stood still on the mound, did the little pitcher-boxer dance, dodged the first haymaker, grabbed Quentin, then laughed as the Dodger catcher, 1st baseman and third baseman all pounced on top of Quenitn and outnumbered him at the bototom of the pile 4-to-1. That's been the method for 100 years. Greinke decided to turn it into a Football Moment. Sure he'd never do it again. Jusat a real bad split-second decision. Funny how those come around periodically in life. It's a real useful first impulse to think: DON'T DO THAT, YOU DOPE. (I finally reached that stage at about 45. I was a slow learner.) 

Boz, If down the road Harper becomes another Mantle, and Stras the next Verlander (or better), which one would you keep long term, if you could only keep one. I was thinking of long term benefitg to the organization, both from a financial-making the franchise more valuable perspective and wins/playoff wins.

Harper may cool off and I'll change my mind. However, the combination of his last 40 games last year, his spring training and the first dozen games this year is no longer a tiny sample. He's been amazing, especially his ability to hit to call fields, make consistently hard contact and get TONS of hits, not just swing for the fences. The possibility exists that he's further developed as a hitter at 20 than Strasburg is as a pitcher at 24. Because hitters recover from injuries better and more often than pitchers, an exceptional young hitter is always the safer investment.

But what's wrong with seeing if you can keep both them them. There is a big difference between Strasburg and Verlander. Give SS some time. By the time he's had 75-to-100 starts, he'll be a different and better pitcher. And he's very good and very admirable now, but more thrilling than consistently effective.

6-0 against inferior competition (although the Sox aren't exactly bums) and 1-5 vs. "peers" Not the start they want, but it's tough to consider it a disaster -- they're still at .583! However, having one of the worst bullpens in MLB through 12 games does seem to be a reasonable cause for concern, no?

The White Sox look like a .500 team to me and the Nats played a VERY efficient, almost pretty series in that sweep. It was textbook and continued right up until Detwiler left Friday's game. Then they started coming unglued. This is going to be a fascinating team for years in part because it is not a FINISHED team. It has the pieces, but the learning curve is not complete. And we get to watch it unfold.

BTW, the fans are doing their job. Comparing early season attendance figured can give you some stupid small-sample numbers. But after nine home dates the Nats are up 29% versus the first n ine dates last year. That won't continue. But the "bad" crowds of spring are 25K, which means they'll be 28-30K in summer and the good crowds for weekend series are sellouts or close already.

Boz, It's fitting that the Nats lost 9-0 yesterday since they looked like they might as well have forfeit. I know everyone is saying "it's early" but the Braves look miles better in lineup, bench and bullpen, and clearly our starting pitching wasn't much of a factor this weekend. How could so many analysts have been so wildly wrong about the NL east? It turns out there is one juggernaut, and it resides in Georgia.

Check back on Sept. 30th, buddy.

But, yes, the Braves are good. And that's just going to make it all the more fun. BTW, the Mets aren't pushovers and may finish ahead of the Phils who have real problems. Once you get very old and realize that the window is close, it's hard to play your best. The Mets have young pitchers who are rising. Nats won't have an easy weekend in New York.

I completely disagree with your opinion regarding how Tiger handled the illegal drop situation. Whether Tiger intended to violate the rule is irrelevant. Whether he had knowledge of the rule is irrelevant. He should have known he was violating the rule, and what is most shocking to me is that he admitted that he intended to gain an advantage through his drop and still did not appreciate the significance of that. When it was pointed out to him on Saturday morning that what he did clearly violated the rules, he should have withdrawn. We probably will never know what went on behind closed doors, but I think the rules committee's failures here were appalling as well. However, I don't think the rules committee's failure to identify the violation on Friday before Tiger signed his scorecard should have saved Tiger from DQ. Tiger should have known what he did was wrong, and that is enough for me. When the committee didn't DQ him, the honorable thing for him to do was to WD. Tiger's personal problems over the past few years did not bother me nearly as much as this does. His standing and place in the game are much diminished in my eyes.

Well, as you might expect, that's exactly the kind of position I enjoy disagreeing with across the board. This time, we may have to agree to disagree on just about everything.

If Tiger has WD, he would have gutted the new provisions in Rule 33, no other players would have felt free to benefit from it. And it's a good rule.

The Masters competition committee consulted with EVERY major governing rules body in world golf -- the Royal & Ancient, the PGA of America, etc. -- and they all agreed with the Masters decision and were willing to be cited as such.

BTW, the Masters did not even CONSIDER a DQ. And none of the other rules experts they confired with did either. The issue was always getting the two-shot penalty right.

In a perfect world with 20-20 hindsight, the Masters should have informed Woods of their investigation into his drop at 15 and asked for his input BEFORE he signed his scorecard. But they had already decided "no penalty" based on their (limited) knowledge and figured __why bother, we can't imagine any way that this could turn out to be a penalty. So there's no need to give Tiger all the facts before he signs his card. Well, their imaginations failed them. Tiger came in and was so ignorant of the mistake he'd made -- mixing up how the "line of flight" applied to his drop -- that he gave three TV interviews that, in effect, spelled out why he SHOULD be penalized. The only fair thing to do was a 2-shot penalty, but no DQ.

The people who think he should kick himself out of the Masters when he has already been properly penalized for the rule he broke, and he was the one who "broke the story" on himself, is living in some sanctimonious alternative universe. Or, more likely, they just don't like Tiger and this is a good opportunity to kick him -- unfairly.

Just my opinion. I've been wrong before. (I've even taken improper drops after hitting into the water  -- and I've had a lot more practice at taking those drops than most.)

It's too soon to panic, but this weekend leaves some questions. How did the stars converge so that three most reliable relievers have bad days on the same day? How does Gio have his worst start in the same series? Even Stras hit a batter and threw a wild pitch? And then there's Ryan Zimmerman with his throwing errors. And the bats went cold. Are we cursed for letting Atlanta catch up & win Friday? How did all this happen at the same time? I don't think Clip & Save have turned into Slip & Cave yet (although that's extremely clever), but it was hard to watch.

You are aware that the best time of the season to be HOT is in September and October. And the least-bad time to be cold and work out problems iws April. Right?

Very few teams, even 100-win teams, play their best for more than 100 games at a streatch. I can't tell you the teams over the years that have looked like world beaters in June, July even August but didn't end up with much to show for it. It's never good to lose. But a season that builds to a creshendo usually works out well.

Of course, you have to start hitting the right notes.

Boz, I think reaction to the last week of Nats baseball says a lot about Washington's evolution into a baseball town, i.e. that we're still collectively crawling from the primordial ooze. Maybe people are still locked into the rhythms of the football season, where every game is 1/16th of the season and a three-game losing streak is almost always fatal. A twelve-game sample, especially at the beginning of the long baseball season, really doesn't mean a whole lot. There are some areas for concern: I am particularly interested in seeing if my favorite player will ever get consisting throwing from third to first and will be holding my breath the first few innings of Haren's start on Tuesday, but at this point it's only concern. The sky isn't falling. The season isn't over. There are 150 more of these left and the Braves won't win 11 out of every 12 all season. We also have the best manager in the game, as far as I'm concerned, to make sure the players keep all of this in context. BTW, the person most responsible for teaching me how to think this way about the game is you, for which I am eternally grateful. Cheers.

Thanks very much. How amazing, I agree with you!

Washington will gradually learn that the Redskin-fan or NFL mentality is fatal when applied to baseball. It took George Steinbrenner MANY years to figure it out. And even then, he could never internalize it and change his behavior. He still went nuts over every nothing thing that happened in a few-game span. He fixed himself by ignoring himself  -- he finally let the baseball people make the decisions (usually.)

Big picture, 7-5 means nothing, except that you're off to a decent start. BUT the way a team is playing is always of concern. And the Nats need to play better baseball. Not because it will instantly produce better results. But because that is the only proper process over an every-day six month season.

They have, basically, the perfect manager in Davey Johnson. He'll demand better execution, but he won't erode confidence. He knows he's got big-time talent and depth and a good "room" with dedicated people. But it's a group that still needs seasoning and...well...some more pain. You can't say they didn't just get three days of that. The next 16 Braves-Nats games should really be special. Two classy organizations, young teams, got each other in their sights -- for years.

We are watching the birth of the best kind of genuine rivalry. It's authenic.


Boz, You totally nailed it with your column. That was maybe the most *triumphant* finish to a Masters (or major) that I can remember. You had the typical wilting of almost-there contenders (Day) - the charge that wasn't quite enough (Tiger) - but the last three holes from Cabrera and Scott - and then the 72nd hole from both, one right after the other, was like nothing I've ever seen. Cabrera's sticking the pin in particular was just beyond belief. And then two playoff holes not of mess and chokes, but mirroring each other very nearly shot-for-shot, with the winner decided by a matter of inches - just marvelous. It'll be a nice memory to hold onto while they're battling the wind, pot bunkers and 76s at Muirfield, and eight-inch rough at Merion. For as gross and regressive as Augusta's legacy remains, there's really nothing like the back nine on Sunday at the Masters, and this was one of the best.

Very well put. We've got wonderful chatters.

If I don't get out of this parking lot and on to Atlanta, I'm going to miss my flight home. Sorry to cut this short. May take one more. But many than ks for the questions and "we'll talk again next Monday." Cheers.




What are the scouts saying? He didn't look much better than his first start.

I'm anxious to watch the tape. Z'man's throwing will get better as the season goes on. The bullpen has a long proven track record. It will end up good or better than good. But Haren is a genuine question mark -- probably even to himself. He had a LOT of fastballs at 90-91 in his White Sox start. That should be plenty for a pitcher with his command, variety of pitchers and savvy to be effective. Not the old Haren, but a very good fifth starter. That's probably going to take a bunch more starts for a real answer. Fifth starters need to feed on bad teams. The Marlins give him a chance at that. So long. Thanks again for joining me.

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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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