Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

May 20, 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

You wrote two weeks ago about the Capitals at 2-0, "Watch what is actually happeniung NOW, not what has happened in the past." Maybe you are new to the city (sarcasm) or have a really short memory, but Capitals fans already knew what happens when the Capitals go up 2-0 in a series. Many of us just watch the Capitals in the regular season and then watch the rest of the teams in the playoffs. Watching the Capitals in May is a sure road to an early heart attack.

ACaps have now blown NINE two-game leads in different seasons. (In one of those nine years they blew both a 2-0 and a 3-1 lead.)

A footnote is that, to the best of my memory, I have been in the Caps room to interview them after eight of the nine elimination games. It really is sad to watch them at those times. And it felt exactly the same after the Game Seven loss this year. They are never mad. They are always resigned and confused. They may be angry before we get in the room or after, but there is no trace of it when outsiders are there. This is very different than most MLB teams that have taken brutal year-ending post-season loses. And I've been in a million of 'em. Sometimes, the anger is so close to the surface that you are very careful about how you phrase questions. 

Losing does seem to be part of the Caps culture even though the people change. I hated this when I sensed it around the Red Sox for many years. I just wanted it to be OVER because it was so unfair and so amorphous. It's like some invisible toxicity that's passed down in the air. Once it's gone, it's gone for good.

It';s certainly not gone from the Caps. I thought this might be the year for a pretty long run. That was as bad a last-game no show as you'll see.

With the Capitals leading the series 3-2 heading into Game 6, and with them having outplayed the Rangers thus far, I had reason to be confident. When I heard that they were bringing up draft pick Tom Wilson to fill in for the injured Erat, I was excited. Then I heard that in the past couple of weeks, he had played in losing playoff efforts in the junior league and the AHL, and two words crept into my head: George Frazier. You know what happened next, and I can hardly blame it on Wilson. But nonetheless, he might have achieved something as unprecedented as losing three games in a single World Series while trying! That Series, more than three decades ago, broke my heart as well. I had tickets for Game 7 and everything. The kicker: For their historic moments, both Wilson and Frazier wore No. 43.

Thanks, that's a little beauty.

Perhaps only sports fan (nuts like me) can understand why this is entertaining __both No. 43, losing in three different levels of the same sport within two weeks.

Normal People would look at this and say, "What are they talking about? Who cares about Tom Wilson OR George Frazier?" 

Well, we do.

You can have Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann for the next eight years, but only one. Which do you pick?


Why? Strasburg is three years younger. Zimmermann would be 35 by the end of your 8-yr period.

Both have had TJ surgery but no other major injuries. Z'nn is the more polished pitcher right now, on pace to pitch 244 innings this yera, though that will slack off. He has been by far the most pitch-effieicnt pitcher in MLB, average only 12.95 pitches an inning which is amazingly low.

 Strasburg still has things to learn about managing his emotions/reactions to events, fixing his mechanics in mid-game and being efficient enough to go past the sixth inning consistently. But they are both at the same level now __aces. You'd probably take the one that is 3 yrs younger and may still get better.

The last three years, Z'mann is 27-21 with a 2.83 ERA.  Strasburg, in his career, is 23-15 with a 2.292 ERA. What makes the Nats special, and the reason they will probably shake off their poor start and have a good season is that Gio Gonzalez is also a true ace, 21-game winner. The last four years, he's 55-31 with a 3.15 ERA, probably better than either Strasburg or Z'mann on actual accomplishments. 

As long as these three are intact, the Nats are just a couple of healthy hitters and a few breaks away from a winning streak that puts them right back where they were expected to be.

Was Clyde Milan a better center fielder than Sam Rice?

Clyde Milan retired in 1922, just before Shirley Povich got to the Washington Post for the first of his 75 years of writing for us, so even HIS spirit couldn't answer this one for you! But Shirley loved Sam Rice.

BTW, Milan led the A.L. with 88 and 75 stolen bases for the Senators in '12 and '13. He ALSO made 25 and 23 ERRORS in the outfield in those two seasons! How do you make 48 errors, even if you had to catch the ball with your bare hands?

So, thanks for the repeat question from last week and I now have an answer for you: NO, Milan is NOT the Nationals best defensive CF ever. And they were called the Nationals as well as Senators in his time.

Nick Markakis has proven to be a solid veteran but, possibly due to injuries, not the star the Orioles envisioned when they gave him the big contract extension. Do you think this may be Ryan Zimmerman's fate?

Very good question and point. Right now, the O's look smarter/luckier for not giving Markakis a SECOND long huge contract, like Zimmerman's. The O's owe Nick $15M in '14 and have a team option for '15, but that's manageable. The Nats now owe Z'man $88M over six years AFTER this year. That's sane if Z'man is still an excellent defensive 3rd baseman for two or three more years. But if it isn't, he probably isn't enough of a Top Level power hitter to be worth that as a first baseman. Still, it's not a bad contract as long as he hits. He's already up to .280 with 22 RBI in just 30 games __a >100 RBI pace if he stays healthy the rest of the way.

Both teams made judgments based on early years and the thought that the players would get even b etter, if only slightly. That didn't happen.

Markakis, in his 2nd and 3rd years, hit .303 with a .872 OPS. The last FIVE years, he's hit .292 with a .791 OPS, which is barely adequate for a RFer, which is often the BEST offensive position in MLB.

Z'man, in the two years he hit in front of Adam Dunn, had an .884 OPS and hit 58 homers. He looked like a 30-homer player. In three years since then he's .284/.814 and he looks more like a 20-25 HR guy which is a stretch in a cleanup hitter.

Unless Z'man gets a BIG bat behind him, not just a LaRoche, I doubt he gets back up to that near-.900 level. But he can still have a long excellent career. BTW, he made a GREAT hard throw to 1st (after bobbling the ball) for the final out on Friday night. He CAN throw hard overhand. If he solves his throwing issues, he can play 3rd for quite a while. Will he? Wish I knew.

Mr. B: Is it time to really worry about the Nats? The most errors in the majors, the hitting remains spotty at best, and they can't score enough runs to win when their best pitchers give extra-quality starts.

Fans are myopic about local teams. That's to be expected. It's not their job. It is mine. There ARE contenders who are in real trouble __the Angels (17-27), Toronto (17-26) and Dodgers (17-25). It's not just their records. It's that major acquisitions seem like major mistakes. The Angels made a quarter-BILLION dollar investment in Albert Pujols. It looks like a disaster. I said it would be. But I never dreamed it would happen this fast. Here are his last six season batting averages/OPS: .357/1.114, .327/1.101, .312/1.011, .299/.906, .285/.859 (last year) and now .241//.732.

He'll get better this year. But will he even get back to last season of will it be his sixth straight significant drop (with foot issues plaguing him). 

Angels also got a trouble player in Hamilton who was astronomical maintainance in Texas and ended the year on bad terms with his manager. Those are PROBLEMS. Similar major issues with Dodgers and Jays.

However, there are MANY very good teams that have just had sluggish starts. They aren't in trouble. They have a long time to catch firse. I'd be most worried about the Giants (24-20) because Matt Cain leads the majors in giving up homers, Vogelsong has gotten crushed (over 8.00 ERA) and Lincecum looks like he'll never be more than a medicorcre starter again. If true, all that fundamenatlly limits them in future. 

As for the others, Tampa Bay (23-20) and Oakland (23-22)  have low payrolls but I don't think tehir seasons are in trouble. I'd be somewhat concerned about the Orioles (23-20) with their starting pitching. Lets see how/when Chen comes back. But I don't see anything fundamental wrong with the Tigers (23-19) or Nats (23-21) either.

Seriously, you don't make "calls" on seasons on May 20th! Unless there are major issues. The Nats could have their ENTIRE Opening Day team back on the field fairly shortly. "Problems" means problems that can't be fixed by waiting a few days or three weeks __or simply playing better.

But the Nats erros are pretty amazing. Yet, awful as 36 erros is, it's "only" 11 more errors that the MLB average right now (25). If the current errors constitute da "pace" for 130 Es, then it would matter. But it doesn't.  

Boz, Davey Johnson knows more about handling a ballclub than I could ever hope to learn, but as a semi-knowledgeable fan, I admit I'm puzzled by his use of the bullpen. Last year, every guy seemed to get an inning or two of work every few days. (Of course, last year every guy was also reliable.) The postgame analysis yesterday talked about how rusty they were and chalked it up to the starters going long. To me, it seems more about the relievers being brought in (or not) at all the wrong times. In short, Davey isn't using his bullpen like traditional Davey. Your thoughts?

You're right. Davey having a poor year handling his pen. And you can tell by his repeated comments that he knows it. He thinks handling th epen is his No. 1 strength, responsibility. Long ago, he said, "They last three innings are mine." I'm sure he still believes it. Adam Kilgore had a nice blog analysis of it this a.m. 

Part of it is the weirdness/luck of how various kinds of games __a blow out or a complete game by Z'mann__ fall in the schedule. The Gio and Z'mann one hitters back-to-back. Yopu can sense it: These are sensible moves, but they don't "set up the pen" for the nedxt few games.

I've said all along that they need a LH short reliever. But they value Soriano, Clip, Storen, Matthues, Stammen too highly to make any changes. Davey/Rizzo like Dukes __off last year__ as LH long man. And H-Rod, believe it or not, has an ERA under 3.00 now. So, it's one thing to say, "They need another LHer" and another to figure out who you get rid of.

Is it acceptable for a manager or GM to tell a player that he is not a switch hitter at the big league level? Espinosa has always looked better from the right side of the plate. Career he is .221 from left side and .264 from right. Considering his struggles, maybe someone should tell him he's a right handed batter. No shame in that after all.

Your #s are right. Espinosa is so lost right now __on either side of the plate__ that I'm not sure I've ever seen a player "fighting himself" and "fighting the game" any worse. 

There are two problems here. First, if you put Lombardozzi in the lineup regularly, you will probably never get him out of it! He's very consistent, just a totally admirable player. But he is very limited. He has no power or stolen base speed. His arm is at the opposiite end of the spectrum from Espinosa's cannon on relays or plays behind 2nd. Once you go with Lombo, you accept that you have, probably, locked youself into a spunky everyday player who will hit .275, make all the plays, but, in reality, not be one of the top 20 second basemen in MLB. Look at all the 2nd basemen these days. It is a VERY productive offensive position with lots of 15+ HR players. You don't "give away" that spot in the lineup, especially when you have a no-power player like Span in CF. You can have a Span OR Lombo at the top of the lineup, but not BOTH __it is just two many plate appearances for a pair of guys who are <.7090 OPS players. That's a killer. If you hit Lombo 8th, the bottom of the order is weak.

Espinosa is the prototype 2nd baseman of this period __he's already had 20 HR and 20 SB seasons and his glove is one of the best. ALSO, everybody loves to bitch about Espinosa but there is no such thing as a team that is sunk by having a good-glove-weak-bat hitting SEVENTH. This isn't the 1-2-3-4-5-6 hitter we are talking about. 

But I'm not sure you don't let Lombo play 2nd for a while __he had 3 hits yesterday__ just because he deserves it. And because Espinosa has had a 1,000-at-bat trial since the '11 All-Star game. 

This is exactly the kind of baseball discussion __a very difficult one__ that Washington didn't have for 33 years. I enjoy them, but they do show you how hard it is. Anthony Rendon, if healthy, is going to mplay 3rd, 2nd or 1st base for this team someday. Once you KNOW that, and the Nats do feel that they know it __Rendon is now up to .350 at AA after his sixth homer on Sat nite__ you do everything to make sure that Rendon is DEVELOPED properly for the next 10 years not for part of this one year. He is too big a "piece" to screw up in a sseason when, two months from now, everybody may say, "The Nats have a nice lead in that messed up  N.L. East with all those games against pigeons. Why weren't they smart enough to let Rendon stay in the minors and have One Full Year to learn his trade, handle good fastballs, play some second base and show that he could stay in one piece. Instead they "rushed him and ruined him." Didn't the Nats say they believed in patience and proper development?"

The Nats keep sticking with Espinosa because it worked with Desmond (!!!) when everybopdy hated his errors and they feel like they are always one good week away from having him fixed.

But he sure doesn't look fixed to me. He looks like he needs some time off to keep from incinerating himself with frustration.    



h better player than Lombardozzi

This is getting ridiculous. It has been a serious problem since last year, known to everyone. Didn't anyone of the pitching staff work on this in the off-season

They worked on it. They ain't fixed it.

There, I said it. And it's true. Last year was easy. Lots of wins, lots of fun, up until the last game. This is more like it for a real fan. Some success and glimmers of what could be a great season but an equal amount of disappointment and worries. Which way will this turn out? Do they start hitting? Do they make a few lineup changes? Do they stick with what they've got? If the Nats go on an Indians-like run, 17-4 in 21 games, they'd be 40-25 and ahead of last year's pace. Or they could noodle along and stay a few games above .500. With their starting pitching, the hot streak is more likely than more noodling but who knows? But that's why we're here, isn't it?

Yes, that's exactly why we are here.

Tom, Ken Venturi was the voice of golf for so long and it was sad to hear of his passing (a few months after his sidekick Pat Summerall died at the same age). It is unfortunate that he took some nasty shots at Arnold Palmer about a drop at a Masters. Does this diminish him in the history of the sport?

Venturi was way before my time as a player. I'd never even picked up a golf club when he won the Open at Congressional. And I never got to know him, except as a listener, as a broadcaster. I was working the print side and by the time I'd finished my stories, he'd been gone from the grounds for hours. It's odd to tell people, "I didn't know him at all." 

I think he'll be remembered as a seminal golf broadcaster, one of the benchmarks for classy presence, smooth work and an insider's view. But I'd also say that Venturi created a "space" for an ex-player with a lot bite in the booth __like Johnny Miller.

No one incident (I'd actually forgotten the Palmer fuss, can't recall any details now) will smudge his legacy. His Open win, which I didn't appreciate as a high schooler at the time, will be retold forever. Every time I read the details again it seems more amazing. He seems to have played in a kind of trance.    

At least per Oates and McPhee. Not real surprising considering their previous comments this season. (Haven't checked out Ted's Take recently.) How many more seasons do you think the Caps can stay the course if they continue their history of first and second round playoff exits? What if they don't make the playoffs next year? (Realignment will give the Caps a much tougher schedule.)

As far as I can see, they have no realistic choice but to stay the course. They have to hope that their late surge was a true reflection of their improvement under Oates and that the Rangers were an especially tough match-up for them in the first round. Yeah, and those miserable refs, too. (The excuse making after a 5-0 loss at home just won't play. And the NHL would always LOVE to see a team advance that has a charismatic, controversial big-hitting superstar who just led the ;league in goals __like Ovechkin.)

With a much tougher path to the playoffs, we'll get a tough but true read on the Caps next year. Maybe adversity will bring out the best in them. 

Good morning, Mr. Boswell. Just looking at Strasburg's pitching in comparison to other elite speedballers in the league and I find one glaring item: the speed of his pitches in relation to the fastball . His off-speed pitches seem to hover too close to his fastball. Verlander, Wainwright, Kershaw,, all throw 90's fastballs, 70-85 curve and change-ups. Is this something that is missing from his arsenal. Overall, he is performing well but I was just curious about this difference between him and the others listed

Actually, the gap between his pitches is just about what you'd want. Fastball 95.6, changeup 89, slider mid-80's, curve 80. Also, they now chart the horizonal and vertical movement of all pitches. Strasburg's variance is amazing. There is 16 inches of difference between the average vertical "run" of his changeup (away from a LH hitter) and the break of his curve in the opposite direction. That gap for more normal pitchers (like Haren) is maybe 8 inches. Also, there is 16 inches difference, give or take from game to game, in the horizontal measurement of his four-seam fastball and his downward dropping curve.

He has amazing stuff. His fastball is still the fastest among starters. I'm trying to find any other picther who, according to PitchFX, has a 16 inch gap in both vertical and horizontal movement.

He needs to get ahead. He needs to absolutely trust his stuff and challenge. He needs to be unflappable, as he was when he said, "I got you" to Z'man after his error in San Diego. This sounds like a lot. It isn't. And he's a first-rate person. He's still learning. When it all comes together, it will be as obvious just as Z'mann's maturation was. The results may be similar but with even more outright domination and Ks (whether he wants them or not) for Strasburg.

Complaining about the officials when you just lost 5-0 (and scored one goal in the whole series) is kind of embarrassing, isn't it? It doesn't give me a good feeling about next year.

Kind of embarassing, yes.

In pro sports, everything is a continuum. There is always a next year. How you act, what you say, how you perceive yourselves as a team, has a carry over effect. That's why a "good taste" even after a "bitter loss" still matters. Blaming officials doesn't taste very good, even if they did have a couple of very bad officiating games.

If you are Really Good, then you don't lose ANY first-round series 5-0 at home in a Game seven against a fourth seed. After that, you look at yourselves, not at others. (But,even when they don't mean to, people often speak from their pain.)

Brutally honest take on the Caps in Tuesday's column. It got me thinking about how every time a team falters in the playoffs (be it the Caps, Nats or Wizards ... HAHA just kidding about the Wiz), a few months later when the next season is starting up you inevitably hear the quote: "I didn't watch any more postseason games. It hurt too much." How often are these statements actually true? And wouldn't players be better off watching how other teams succeed and move forward? I'd make playoff viewing mandatory and maybe, just maybe, they might learn something that might help in the future. Really, I just want a chance to be a sore winner for a change.

I like that! Make 'em all watch!

And then give a quiz to make sure they really were watching???

Hi Boz. What Logic did Davey have leaving both Haren and Mattheus in past their effectiveness. Haren? Well okay, sometimes he shapes up as the game goes on. HOWEVER! Leaving Mattheus in for that long when he kept getting pinged and dinged was ridiculous! Was this essentially a forfeit to save the bullpen for when Duke pitches tonight? Felt like it! Arrggggg! Frustrated Nats fan.

You got iot: Save the pen for the (gulp) Dukes game in SF.

He is not "stretched out." Chris Young has been awful in the minors. So, no other choice. If Duke goes four decent innings, then Stammen for two, that's about what you'd hope.

Boz, my 13-year-old is convinced that the Nats are finished (and that he could play second base better than Danny Espinosa, but that is another story). Baseball seasons are long, and Dad is confident but quietly getting concerned with the way the records look in the NL that a second-place finish in the NL East will not result even in a wild card. At this point in the season, what things do we really know with certainty about this team?

We know that nobody has a better top 3 that SS, GG and JZ. That is Need One for the post-season.

Harper has move up a level as a hitter. That has long-term impact. If he continues to be an aggressive player but NOT a reckless player __and he IS a reckless player right now__ he will be great.

That is a lot to know. All the rest will arrive over the next 100 games. And, after 100, with 18 to play, I bet we'll still be talking about various how-does-the-season-end scenarios.


Hi Tom, always love the chats. Easily my favorite lunchtime reading. I think that your chats are among the most intelligent and reasoned and part of that is because of the people who write in. Anyway, that wasn't supposed to be a self serving comment, but I do have a question. The Nats' bullpen is not what we thought it was going to be. based on last year's performance, and the idea that you had three potential closers to end games, the popular opinion was that get the game to the seventh inning with a lead and let those three (Clip, Storen, Soriano) close out the game. This doesn't seem to have been the case, especially with Storen, who always makes things interesting or blows the lead (Clippard does, too, but he usually gets out of it). While he could have some jitters based on Game 5, what, if anything, did adding Soriano do for his mental state. Not necissarily just the hit to his confidence from losing his job, but going from closer to eighth-inning setup man. Other factors?

I agree 100% about the chatters.

Storen got his first save since Game Five on Friday night and it was a tough heart-stopping one for him __protect the 6-5 lead given by Tracey's PH homer, men on 1st and 3rd, one out. He got the K and 5-3 to end it. Lets see where he goies from there in future tight games.

Seems like you left out what may be the sanest idea for the Nats' offensive woes in your column: move Rendon to second base permanently and call him at the All Star break if he's still mashing at AA and Espinosa still can't hit a slow pitch softball

I have to admit this tempts me. Give it time. But Davey is very good at getting young stars established. If he can help with Rendon, this is the last chance you have for him to do it as manager. So, yes, if Rendon is still hot, has played more second base and looks ready at the All-Star break __and 2nd is still an offensive void__ I think you could move up the Rendon timetable by 6 weeks or so.

I hate to reminisce about the past but your article about Armando Gallaraga's perfect game and the aftermath of the call that cheated him out of that honor, was probably the best article I've ever read, not just in sports but in any printed media. How often does that kind of story come along and is that part of what keeps you going as a sports writer?

Thanks very much. The absolute best part of this job is that you never know what will happen next or how you will react to it or when you will write your best story. They come out of the blue. Like that one. My only rule is: You can't write a good one unless up WRITE ONE. So, tee it up and try.  

When Tom Watson lost the British Open at 59, I was in a baseball press box and asked the desk if it was okay if I took a shot at a Watson column from thousasnds of miles away. It clicked. You really don't know when it will happen. Sometimes, you don't even know after you are finished.  

That's enough for today. Thanks very much, everybody.

Now, I have a column to write. You never know, just might be good one.

What wedding gift have you picked out for RGIII?

I hope RGIII doesn't blow out his arm writing all those "Thank You" notes.

How am I supposed to love the game of football anymore when people you grew up watching on TV can't remember what they are doing at the mailbox at the end of their driveway (Jim McMahon)?

It certainly makes it harder. Everybody who covers the game has known all along that it was very bad for the players. And many have said it, all the way back to "North Dallas Forty." But it is finally becoming clear HOW bad it has been. It's the specifics of the human damage in the NFL that are now becoming incontrovertable. And we're doing an exceptional series to document it.

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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