Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 22, 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

It's not so much the record, as it it the way the Nats are playing. Is it time to worry yet? When do the sloppy defense, spotty pitching and poor situational hitting become part of the Nats' identity?

The Nats are playing poorly. Not attrociously. But they are lucky to be 10-8. Their actual play probably deserves 8-10 or worse. They are overanxious at the plate in tight games, like Werth swinging at a 3-0 pitcher's pitch in the 8th on Sunday to kill a rally with a GIDP. They make base running blunders or misjudgments, like Span getting throw out at 2nd by 8 feet on Sunday. Or they make errors on simple plays, like Desmond's wide throw to 1st on Sunday. Or they have a lapse of concentration, like Harper's embarassing misplay of a routine single yesterday. Or they have an almost team-wide case of poor command of pitches, which sometimes means you're just trying too hard.As is almost always the case when good teams play this way, it is NOT aa case of not trying hard enough or not caring enough. It is almost always the opposite __trying too hard, trying to "pick up the team" too much by doing too much yourself. It's just April, for crying out loud. Just relax and play the game and enjoy. But that is far harder to do than to say.

I tweeted yesterday during the game that:  "the Nats must make 3-4-5 brutal mental mistakes or errors on easy plays in most of their games. 5 today. Pressing in April. Expectations rob joy."

I got an e-mail after the game from a Nationals fan who said that she felt the team missed Michael Morse's loose presence and felt it was obvious that the Nats were pressing, trying too hard, burdened by expectations __a team of analytical introverts who "need a clown" to help them relax. 

I think that's probably close to the case but not something that's going to be as easily fixed as a few practical jokes or more chuckles on the bench. The Nats may miss Mark DeRosa as much as Morse.He was smart (Wharton degree), tough (Penn QB) and funny in a clubhouse way that seemed spontaneous but was also always part of setting team tone. It's rare to see a player who doesn't produce much, like DeRosa, who's part of chemistry. 

BUT the primary problem, imo, is not the absence of Morse (or any one else). It's the introduction of high expectations, criticism, judgment, Game Five. Some teams aren't especially bothered by it. The Nats seem to be. You can't know its importance until you see it play out. The reason that "expectations rob joy" is kind of a cliche is because it's true. The Nats will have to learn to deal with it.

If anything, Morse is the type (secret worrier) who would have problems with this. (He's down to .219 in Seattle.) LaRoche less so. We'll see how it works out, whether it costs the Nationals a nervous disappointing month or contaminates a large part of the season. I'd guess the former. I can't tell you how often I've seen highly-touted teams start the year frustrating themselves and their fans for 100 or more games; the players are much more bothered, usually, than any fan, but they don't show it often. You can make a long list of teams that started a year 52-50, then finished 40-20 to go 92-70, then made the post-season and went a long way. But, obviously, that's not what anybody wants. The Nats 14-4 start last year was a perfect example of a team using a fast start to get a slingshot lead in winning its division. The Braves are doing the same thing now at 13-5. It's only three games but it IS three games. BTW, Atlanta is going through a total team hitting slump right now with injuries (McCann, Freeman) and tons of strikeouts. 

I'll be interested to see if playing the (hated) Cards snaps the Nationals out of their sloppy play funk. The Cards said some very uncomplimeentary things after Game Fives in the St. Louis media. It would be a rare team in any sport that didn't remember an opponents that said they "couldn't breath" or that claimed they "knew" they would overcome a 6-0 deficit because of the way the other team was playinmg. Even if they thought it was true __even if it is true__ it's poor judgment to say it. Let those lousy "critics" throw the rotten tomatoes. Too bad Gio Gonzalez doesn't get to pitch in this series. He shutout the Cards in regular season last year, then walked 11 in 10 IP in the playoffs against essentially the same lineup. And he had another inexplicable control meltdown vs the Mets on Saturday in giving up a 3-0 lead in a game the Nats eventually won.   

The Nats "identity" really does exist and goes back beyond '12. They played up to their talent in '11, too, and their clubhouse mix was part of the reason. The correct operating assumption is that they start "playing like themselves" soon. But they better. Between now and June 2 __six weeks__ they play the Cards (3), Reds (4), Braves (6), Tigers (2), Dodgers (3), Giants (3), Phils (3) and O's (4). Those 28 games are as tough as ALL of the rest of the '13 schedule.

If they play as they have so far, they will certainly not be at .500 on June 2nd. If they play as they are capable of playing, they will be well over .500 by then and may pick up steam the rest of the season.

So, there's my column-length answer to a short, but on-the-money question.

While the Redskins' may be penalized by the salary cap hit, all things being equal, isn't Dan Snyder $14 or $18 million richer?

Interesting thought. To his credit, he probably doesn't care. He'd rather have had the chance to spend the money on good players, especially after winning an NFC East title.

Also, if money does buy better players then, up to a point, spending probably works out as a wise $$$ investment. If the Skins could have a bigger payroll in both '12 '13 perhaps they'd also have a better record in those years, draw more fans, sell more NFL regalia, etc.

After it's all looked at -- I mean everything -- do other players "fear" Tiger Woods as they seemed to all those years ago? Or is he just another good player now? If he does not win another major -- or wins a few but does not beat Jack's total is it wasted -- all the time lost to swing changes and head-case issues?

Tiger is in a new place in his career. He's No. 1 in the world and really does seem to be the best player again. But he is certainly not feared in the majors as he once was. He will have to reestablish that. At 37, he may not. For many years, Woods did not think it was part of his personal project to lose __ever. It's part of why he was such a good front runner. Now, like almost every athlete in every sport, he has "learned to lose" __had the experience, internalized it as one of the things that "happens to me, too." Michael Jordan lost a lot EARLY in his career, versus Celtics, etc. THEN he got the "unbeatable" aura.

Woods has now had seven straight Masters in which he has never had a hot putting week __according to him. Is he just blaming his putter for problems with his whole game? Or does he really have an issue being more than a "pretty good" putter at Augusta?

I still think that many have missed a central poitn about the Masters because everybody loves to yell about controversy. What killed Tiger was his bad drop. That was an enormous blunder. Did Jones, Nicklaus, Watson, etc., ever cost themselves two shots on a penalty on a well-knownrule when, without the penalty, they'd have been in 4th place after 36 holes.

He really did get mixed up on a simple rule __you have to drop back on the line of flight of the ball at the point where IT ENTERED THE WATER (from the pin to the "splash), not the line of flight of the original shot (which was straight a the pin.)     

There is something off with this team. Bryce nonchalanting in left, Werth swinging 3-0 at the wrong pitch in the eighth. The only game they've won this year from behind more than one run was Saturday. Seems like last year they came from behind regularly. Are we not talking enough about Davey being forced out after this year? What is wrong with the vibe on this ballclub?

Is something "off" other than the obvious tightness that I think is associated with wanting to live up to THEIR OWN expectations and well as please their fans, silence critics, etc?

That's something to watch. But, remember, they are 10-8, a 90-win pace. It's pretty amusing to see the level of anxiety surrounding a decent W-L record. I think it's probably a measure of Washington's growth as a baseball town that fans understand that "how you are playing" is just as important __maybe more important__ that a W-L snap shot that can change dramaticall in a couple of weeks. It's a game of streaks. The Barves already had their first one __12-1! The Nats will have to match it at some point. It's almost a lock that any .500 team will have at least one +10 streak. One small point: Teams often go from very hot to very cold, sometimes because a part of the team that has been abnormally hot suddenly cools off with several players slumping together. The Braves have gone 1-4 and in those four loses only scored three runs total. They are going to Colorado. That has fixed a lot of team hitting slumps! That'll be an interdesting series.   

To your other point, the Harper play is the only "nonchalant" one I've seen the whole season. There may be others. In Harper's case, I doubt you'll see many more. There isn't a "harder" player. Or not many.

Don't think Davey is being "forced" out. That's too strong. At some point in this '12-'13-1'14-'15 time frame you (logically) need to look for a long-term manager for a team that may be a playoff contender for a long time. The Nats seem to have picked '13 as a cutoff point. Nothing is locked in stone. Though pretty close, I'd say.  

What are your thoughts on Anthony Rendon coming up?

Harper came up at a point last year where the team was playing well and he could blend in. Rendon is coming up with the team in a bit of a funk. If he can just stay within himself he'll be all right. But MANY exceptional players have had a rocky start in their first call-up. Ignore his 0-for-4 and E on Sunday. If he does well in this call up, that matters. It helps him. If he does poorly, it means nothing. He was yanked up from AA ball out of necessity. This is one of the few times that a player gets a complete "free pass."

What I want to see is his defense that everybody says is above average. I can see that he can hit. I don't care if he hits .100 or .300 the next couple of weeks, Rendon is a hitter. Is that .280 with 30+ doubles and 12 homers someday? Or quite a bit more. Don't know. It's the defense, like his nice catch of a foul pop in the dugout in the first inning on Sunday that interests me. That's what I want to see. That and patience at the plate or poise if he has a slow start.

There really isn't any rush. I assume that Z'man's throwing will settle down this year and be better than it was in '12 when it was ugly but adequate, considering all the excellent plays he makes. I'd say the chances are BETTER than his throwing is considered "largely fixed and MUCH better than '11-'12" by July 4eth than it is "still a real problem." The Blass Disease cases are rarities. The players who go through spells of bad throwing __in Z'amn's case in part because of injuries and the need to change mechanics__ and who solve the problem and go back to "normal" are the rule. 

Tom, we get that it's a long season and there's plenty of time for the Nats to turn around their inconsistent, under-performing start. But the bad news is, it's a long season -- and it could become a very long season if they don't snap out of their funk pretty soon. The longer they're stuck in it, the harder it will get to break out of it. They're starting to look like the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays: a young, up-and-coming team that suffered a setback the year after an unexpectedly successful season. The parallels are striking: in 2007 the Rays were 66-96; then they jumped to 97-65 in 2008 (they won the AL East but lost in World Series); then in 2009 they went 84-79 and missed the playoffs before bouncing back in 2010 and going 96-66 to win the AL East again. The core issue appears to be team psychology of playing up to or succumbing to the burden of high expectations. How else would you explain it? What advantages do the Nats have that the Rays didn't have that make the Nats a better bet to bounce back and not become a 2009 Rays re deux? How does Davey compare to Joe Maddon, and how do the Nats' team leaders and veterans compare to the 2009 Rays as funk-busters?

Very nice points. I'd mention that Toronto fans these days say that the re-made Blue Jays are having the same kind of "ragged play" issues in the face of high expectations.

The '08 Rays, like the '12 Nats, were most of all a strong pitching-defense teams with excellent seasons from Garza, Shields, Karmir, Andy Sonnanstine (!) and, yes, Edwin Jackson (14-11). Jackson left as a free agent __a similarity. But far more important Kazmir and Sonnantine collapse (25-17 combined in '08 down to ERAs of 5.92 and 6.77 in '09. Interesting that David Price showed up late in '08, then joined rotation but didn't blossom until '10. (A little like Detwiler, maybe.)

If any of the Nats starters from last year have ERAs of .5.92 and 6.77, THEN we can look for parrallels. But I doubt that will happen. As long as Dan Haren (or somebody else) eventually stabalizes the 5th starter spot, I assume the Nats strong starting pitching will get them rolling.

Come on, lets have more CAPS questions!

What they are in the midst of doing, especially Ovechkin, is amazing. A true rarity in any sport for an MVP level player, who looks like he'll never get all the way back, actually seems to have done it. And a huge game Tuesday night at the Phone Booth.

Does anybody know a back-to-back MVP in the NHL, NFL, NBA or MLB who was in a steady decline as long as Ovechkin yet came back to finish No. 1 or 2 for MVP? Maybe the difference with Ovechkin is that he had no major injuries to overcome.

I am really impressed with how George McPhee has rebuilt the roster, and I wonder how much of it has been due to giving Oates the players he wants to play his system. So who should get the most credit for the Caps' resurgence: GMGM or Oates? My vote goes to Oates, if only for being the coach who's finally gotten through to Alex Ovechkin. What do you think? Speaking of Ovi, so nice to see him looking like he's actually having fun on the ice these days! Given his resurgence, what do you think of the Caps' chances in the playoffs this year? Is it safe to get excited about this team's chances?

Thanks for the perfect (imo) question. I think one hidden aspect of the Caps resurgence is Oates putting Backstrom and Ovechkin back together again on the same line Bruce B always said they were made for eachother or some such words. I remember going to a post-game press conference with Katie Carrera earlier this year and both of us wondering if they'd be put back together, as they were together in the third period that night; a few minutes later, Oates said he was thinking about it. The next game, he did.

No need to pick between Oates and GMGM, but I'd say that __since we've already had 15 years to evaluate GMGM__ it's more important to the Caps future that Oates has had such a good first year as coach. And Job One was to gain Ovechkin's trust and respect. He did. Also, it's now on his record that he was hit with terrible circumstances as a first-year coach with the lockout and almost no pre-season work. His team went straight to the bottom __yet they've come back to be as hot as any team in the NHL entyering the playoffs.

We all feel like Charlie Brown getting the football pulled away by Lucy after all the years that the Caps have looked promising (or GREAT) entering the playoffs, then didn't go far. We're talking more than a 25-year pattern. There was even one year that felt like this when I wrote the column that they are the "team that jells late" and gets hot at the right time. Yeah, I was wrong again. So, I won't make any predictions (except that they are going to win two playoff series!) Couldn't help myself. Lot of good people with the Caps. It's about time for Fate to take its foot off their collective throats in April-May. (For argument's sake, lets just pretend that it's been fate that's been messing with their throats for so long.)

Shouldn't the Nats try small ball on occasion? When Werth came up with two on and no outs yesterday, it was a perfect time to bunt. Plus, LaRoche is a professional hitter so you would think he could easily punch a ball down the third base line for a hit every time they play that exaggerated shift.

No, that's absolutely a "hit" spot. But not on 3-0. OPr absolutely not on a picth precisely on the low-outside corner. Werth took full blame __and more. As he should. LaRoche said the right things. And Johnson was upbeat after the game __probably the only contructive response. Let the veterans say the critical things about themselves. The Nats "wear" their play, especially when it's below their standards; they don't duck it.

When the Nats traded Michael Morse, I knew they were doing the best thing for the team defensively and offensively. But I was worried about the clubhouse, where Mike's free spirit seemed to be a key factor in keeping the team loose -- a very important aspect for a team loaded with Type A personalities. Looking at the Nats a few weeks into this season, I see a team that appears very tight. Last year they looked like they were having fun -- not really the case this year. I realize last year was one unburdened by expectations, while this year they are carrying the very heavy mantle of expectations. What are your thoughts? Do you think they miss Morse in that regard?

At risk of going back to the same point, you might take a look at a column I wrote during spring training about the Nats and personality types __introverts and extroverts. And "socially comfortable introverts" __which most of the Nats seem to be (and some say that they are.) As a group, they're very analytical, responsible, team-centered. That's good __to a point. They are the absolute opposite of the '86 Mets, the ultimate pirate ship team. Davey and McCatty would fit in fine on a boat with Blackbeard as capatain. Not many other Nats would. 

The smart, slyly funny, serious-work-ethic personality, theNats resemble the Singleton, Murray, Lee May, McGregor, Flanagan, Palmer, Stone etc., Orioles. Those O's needed Brother Lo, The Demper and Stan the Man Unusual. (Ripken arrived at the end of that period.) But I don't think the Nats need much to get started. They have higher quality talent.

BTW, what about Harper!!! His Saturday game __homer, walk, double, homer__ was a calling card afternoon.

From August 1st to the end of '12, Mikle Trout's slash line was .287/.383/.500 for a .883 OPS. This year, so far, it's very similar: .307, .346, .507 for an OPS of .852. That's very good. But it's not amazing. In his best seasons, Ryan Zimmerman was a gold-glove level third baseman with an OPS around or above .900.

Is this who Trout really is? Was the first four months of '12 is peak explosion? Or will he go back to that level? I just think it's interesting that he's hitting exactly so far in '12 as he did the last 2 months of '12. And he "only" has 3 stolen base in 17 games this year after 53 last year.

What about Harper (you ask)?

After August 17h last year, he was red hot __one of the three hottest hitters in baseball the last six weeks__ with 12 homers and a slash line of .327/.384/.660 for an OPS 1.045. I assumed he couldn't match that for the whole '13 season but that it was certainly an upper boundary for his hot streaks. 

Well, so far this year his line is .369/.431/.738 for a 1.169 OPS. So he CAN get even hotyter than he finished last year. I do NOT think this means that Harper can stay as hot as he's been for his last 227 regular season at bats __.339 with 19 hoimers in only 227 at bats. Every player has streaks and slumps. And I do not think it means that, at 20, Harper has plateaued at a higher level than Trout.

But I do think it is interesting.

And Harper looks like a much better hitter now than he was last year in his first ~100 games. The "kid" that was hitting .245 in mid-August last summer is probably never coming back.  How good is the current guy? Well, he's probably the best player on the Nats at 20, though he has to do it for a full year for it to mean anything. And several years in a row for it to mean a lot.  But it is happening. We're watching his emergence. ASnd it might even be toward the high end of "expectations." They don't seem to bother him much, do they?

I thought it was indicative that he could have an AWFUL first four games of his first post-season playoff __one hit__and yet start Game Five with a triple and homer. Who does that? 

I recently heard a couple of media members reference Sparky Anderson's philosophy. One was that he waited 60 games before making any judgments on the type of club he had for a particular season. The second was that if his club was collectively struggling at the plate, he could wait for offense as long as his pitching and defense were strong. The first notion should at least give the Nats' faithful pause to wait things out. But the second should give fans reason to be concerned. Neither the pitching nor defense has been particularly good. What is your feeling about this club? It looks to me like they are feeling the weight of high expectations.

Sparky had a lot of good home-stun ideas. The 60 games is a good rulke of thumb.

The Nats pitching, if healthy, and defense, will be fine. Glove men don't slump for long. If nothing else, the long season tires you out enough that you can't stay over-amped (Desmond) and jittery forever. "Damn, another 90 degree day."

Enjoy the season. This is a loooong fascinating story __beyond this month or this year. Everything worth doing is difficult. But everything difficult is not worth doing. (That is why trying to hit three-run homers on 3-0 pitches on the low-outside corner __which is incredibly difficult__ is such a bad idea. In other words, what the Nationals are trying to accomplish is very difficult. But it is not NEARLY as tough as they are making it. It's one of those corny-but-true baseball "lessons," I'm afraid.)

Sorry, I am not buying in -- the cap hit, despite the possible longer term help (if that makes any sense at all), will hurt at some point. Gosh, they don't even have money to pay draft picks! I don't believe last year was a fluke but I don't think they are going to get to the next level without better protection, and better defense (overall).

The NFL knows what it has in RGIII. Huge ratings and deserved. And they assume he will be 95-to-101% next year. If he is, the Skins will be fascinating and competitive again, even if he does run with the ball less.

I like to look ata  schedule and see which ultra-tough games are at home (meaning you can win them even if you face a top QB or team) and which are on the road (which makes it about 6 points harder to produce the same result).

In out-of-division games, Skins get Super Bowl loser S.F. at home, but must go on the road to face Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Denver (P Manning) and Atlanta (Ryan). That's tilted a little against them.

But a team with RGIII isn't going to be bothered by bright lights. And if, for some reason , they don't have RGIII at QB, they will have bigger problems to solve than the time of day when they play.


Tom, the Caps are playing some seriously good hockey these days. Do you consider them to be a dangerous playoff contender and can they make a long run this spring for the first time in eons?

For years the Caps have run into teams that got hot late and Washingtonians (like me) moaned about their bad luck in playing well all season then getting knocked out by teams that had injuries or drove their coaches crazy for most of the regular season.

Maybe the skate is finally on the other foot.

(I should have some barbaric ritual, like strangling a chicken in my front yard, every time I feel a rush of Caps Optimism. I promise to try to keep it in check.)

As I noted last week, this is the season for Left For Dead teams from D.C. to distingish themselves late in the seson. The Skins 7-0 run to an NFC East title. The amazing, imo, recovery of franchise dignity by the Wiz after an histporically bad start. And now the Caps.

Gawd the Nats are awful but that is to be expected from a young team trying to live up to the hype!!! They will be lucky to finish ahead of Miami. Davey should have done a better job of managing the hype and needs to go.

I think you've nailed the solution. Thanks.

Release Harper, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Zimmermann, Desmond and Gonzalez, too. Nobody will pick them up.

After Sidney Crosby losing more than a season to concussion, the suicides of both NHL and NFL players, and now the untimely death of Russian hockey player Dmitri Uchaykin due to an illegal hit in the head during a game, what will it take for sports leagues to take seriously the health and safety of their employees?!?

It's seldom their first concern. And sometimes not in the top five. The NFL has been most shameless. I was not aware of the death in Russia. Sorry about that. (I assume you've got it correct.)

Of all American industries, pro sports probably has the least inherent incentive to keep its players healthy when they are 40, 50, 60 or older because they DON'T PLAY when they are 40,50, 60 or older. It's easier to put money first (for owners) and health last (for athletes) in pro sports than any other business I can think of.

When it comes to Olympic sports, entire countries have acted this way __disposable athltes. Look at all the PED athletes, especially from pre-USSR-collapse Eastern block nations. I still remember the first time I went to see the U.S. women's gymnastic finals long ago. The top three weighed 60, 70 and 80 pounds. (It may have been less.) My first reaction was: This sport must be full of child abuse by a different name. I don't "have a position" on whether it's still that way.  

Look at how indifferent MLB was to widespread PED use when the MLBPA fought drug testing. If the union didn't push hard for it, the owners couldn't have cared less __until it blew up in their faces. Oh, then they grew a conscience.

"Does anybody know a back-to-back MVP in the NHL, NFL, NBA or MLB who was in a steady decline as long as Ovechkin yet came back to finish No. 1 or 2 for MVP?" Cal Ripken, Jr. Cal won the ROY in '82, MVP in '83, and had another great year in '84 with seasons of 4.7, 8.2, and 9.9 WAR. The next six years from '85-'90, his WAR were the very-good 5.6, 6.6, 3.2, 5.7, 6.6, 7.5. He was an All-Star every year - the best SS in the game - and with 58 WAR in the first decade of his career, already a HOFer. But he wasn't the best PLAYER in the game - until 1991, his greatest year, and in fact one of the great all-time seasons. Cal hit .323-.374-.566 with 34 HR, 114 RBI 46 2B, and led the league with 368 (!!!) TB. With 11.5 WAR, he was the best player in the game, and it was the best single season by WAR since Joe Morgan's 1975. Cal was still a very-good player through the 1990s, but never had a season with more than 4 WAR again. For one season at least, he was the best on the planet again. It'll be interesting to see if Ovie keeps it up.

GREAT answer!

How copuld I miss that. I remember '91 as an utter surprise. One key was that Cal finally got a hitting coach other than his dad. He worked with Frank Robinson and Terry Crowley. He tried to hit everything back up the middle but, of course, pulled lots of off-spead pitches. At the All-Star ghame he was worried that he would ruin his new stroke in the Home Run Derby. We were talking and he decided he'd hit everything in the Derby back up the middle, too, and keep doing it in the AS game itself. He won the Derby and hit a home run __over the CF fence__ in the All-Star game.

And you are right, he never had another year that good. But he was always a far more natiural fielder __at which he was always underrated and was one of the best defensive SS's ever__ than he was a hitter. Batting was always a battle for him. He never felt comfortable at the plate, changed his stance as much as any player ever. He just wasn't a natural hitter __all hands, never got full use of his body and his power. He just worked, worked, worked his way around his limitations. Gene Mauch once said to me, "Someday, he'll have the worst swing in the Hall of Fame."

(I probably said something like, "Including the pitchers?" Some of his stances looked that bad.)

That's it for this weeks. Thanks for the great questions.

Well, you asked! They are really making the end of this regular season exciting. Three games to go and a 3 point advantage in the division. I find that I am also following the 6-8 seeds too, just in case the Jets overtake the Caps. The Jets play tonight, then in DC on Tuesday. A win for them tonight makes Tuesday even more exciting, and then puts more pressure on Oates' Boys. Are there enough games left? Or too many? Or Just enough? And, how important is having Backstrom playing? (I think "very"). Also, what exactly happened to Laich? Did the puck hit him too hard? Will he be okay?

Just don't think the Jets are going to "overtake." The timing was right (for once) for the Caps. (And they are playing like a three seed.) Backstrom playing is essential. You can bet he will, imo.

This is totally off the top of my head, but it seems to me that Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens both had a decline and then came back strong.

Clemens "second career" looks like some of it should maybe come with an asterisk.

Strasburg and Gio may be struggling, and the offense is pretty weak except for Harper. Yet they're still 10-8. It seems unlikely Strasburg and Gio will struggle the entire season. I'm sure Strasburg will warm up with the weather. Also Ryan Z doesn't get hot until July 4th. Jordan and Det are pitching well. It won't be long before we have 4 hot pitchers and more than a handful of hot bats. I don't the cold start as long as they finish strong.

Good points. The ~July 4th ignition point for Z'man is now a tradition. Detwiler's emergence is probably more important, long term, than anything that has happened in thios three weeks. Oh, unless it is Harper hitting even better in early '13 than he did in late '12.

In two or three years, I expect we will have completely forgotten 10-8, but either Harper's level or play or Detwiler's or the final verdict on Z'man's throwing and Rendon's arrival will matter a lot more.

When in doubt, look for trends, not daily scores. That's how lifers in the industry usually do it. It also helps keep new fans off the ledge.

Good morning, Tom, and thanks for taking our questions. Not Washington related, but what are the chances we'll see Billy Hamilton in a Reds uniform this summer? Base stealing seems to have become a lost art, and Mr. Hamilton looks like the 2nd coming of Rickey Henderson! I'm checking the schedule now....

Everybody in baseball wants to see him. In the AFL he looked mighty "slender." Listed 6-0, 160 lbs. Hope he can get on base often enough to show his tools. Had 155 steals in 134 games last year. Has moved up to AAA but is hitting only .230 (after .311 in lower minors) with .299 on-base percentage. Still has 13 steals (caught once) in 16 games.

Age old: "You can't steal first base."

First, thanks for including them as part of the Nats toughest stretch of games. So, the O's are a plus 10 in run diff. and their Pythagorean W-L is 10 and 8 - just what they are.... but I'm starting to worry. No starting pitcher has made it to the 7th inning, the every day DH's (doesn't hit ) are batting a combined .237 with 9 RBI and they don't have a major league hitter at 2B. Am I overreacting ?

Yes. I think the O's look like a solidly >.500 team. But with the pitching proviso you mention.

The starting pitchers with the most stuff __Tillman (7.07 ERA in '13) and Arrieta (6.63) __ are the biggest worries. Arrieta's meltdown on Sunday was, unfortunately, a career in microcosm. When he loses his mechanics or poise, he just falls apart. How those guys can be 27 (Arrieta) and 25 (Tillman) and in their fifth and sixth seasons (at least partial) with the O's and yet have career ERAs of 5.40 and 4.84 is just beyond me. They seem to have Jordan Zimmerman stuff.  And Zach Britton, 25 with a career 4.74, can't even stay in the majors. Age 25 or 27 is not young if you are going to be a top-flight pitcher.

But (apparent) lesser talents like Miguel Gonzalez have picked up the slack. And GM Dan Duquette deserves enormous credit for coming up with SPs Hammel and Chen last year, both under the radar of mega-money teams.  They look just as solid again this spring.

Hi, Bos. I'm an Ohioan living in D.C. Last week, I was in Houston and stayed over to take in Saturdaty's Indians-Astros game. The Tribe scored eight in the first and six in the second and won something like 19-7. While this was fun up to a point, I feel sorry for the few remaining Astros fans whose team's $25 million payroll ensures they will never compete. I saw the equally sad-sack Marlins, whose owners gutted the team, when they were in D.C. earlier this year. I know there will never be a salary gap, but something has to be done to somewhat level the playing field. Watching your team get hammered day after day gets old fast. And playing for such a team must be misery personified after the initial thrill of making it to the majors wears off. It 's not alwaysfun being a Tribe fan, but our ownership is a 10 compared to these two.

Thanks. Don't remember when MLB has had such a problem with 3-4-5 teams that have the "potential" to lose 100-to-110 games. Houston, Miami, SD, maybe Cubs and/or Seattle, too.

You don't want MLB to start feeling like the NBA which, in one important respect, is a joke league built for the superstar teams in the playoffs and as ESPN highlight/controversy fodder. This year, the NBA had TWELVE teams that lost 48-to-57 games. That is AWFUL. In MLB, that would be like have a DOZEN hopeless teams that lost 95 to 113 games.

The problem isn't just the Wizards. It's that the NBA doesn't care (much) that there are always 10-to-12 teams in a 30-team sport that are in the same position as the Wiz for the last 33 years __dead franchises. Few have the "gift of defeat" to the extent of the Wiz. But in any one season, almost half the teams in the NBA are unwatchable. The exact opposite of the on-any-given-Sunday NFL or MLB which has an even higher percentage of franchises actually get into post-season and advance to the World Series (higher than the NFL's number of Super Bowl teams in any time frame you pick).

The NBA, at the top, is a good (though overly predictable) TV attraction. But as an entire league, it's in danger of being second-rate. Over time, that catches up with you.

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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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