The Washington Post

Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Aug 19, 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

Leave it to the Red Sox to make A-Rod into a sympathetic figure!

That's impossible! I never thought there would be a consensus, inside baseball, on the least-liked player in the sport. But A-Rod seems to have it locked up.

But drilling him close to the elbow on a 3-0 pitch (Ryan Dempster's alternative to just walking him) brought out the best in A-Rod -- the athlete. His homer to straight away CF was a loooong blast. (I loved the ESPN quip "if it's fair it's gone." How come it took a century for anybody to think of that?)

In all the Bronx Zoo episodes I covered I've never seen a circus like this one with GM Cashamn and Yank president Randy Levine telling A-Rod to STFU or "put up or shut up." 

Jeter represents one Yankee tradition (classy) -- along with Mo, Bernie Williams, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss and many, many others.

A-Rod represents everything everybody has ever used as a hate-the-Yankees excuse. The issue of voiding awful long-term contracts -- like springing the Yanks from their A-Rod horror -- is one of the touchier baseball issues I've ever seen.

Wouldn't it be better to show up the Braves by actually beating them once in a while, rather than throwing at them?

First, a note that the "feelings" between the Nats and Braves go back to '11 when the Wang and Detwiler beat the Braves in the last week of the season to contribute to their historic 8-18 collapse in September to miss the playoffs. Then the Nats beat them head-to-head 10-8 last year and won the NL East when the Braves figured they'd win the division if the Phils didn't.

So there's payback in this. And it's been a true whippin'. Not just the 4-12 record but the Braves 63-37 run differential this year. The Nats have pitchers, like Strasburg, who seem to have a lot of trouble with the Braves lineup. They are not a team you want to "pitch to contact" against. You want to strike 'em all out because they are an extreme K-or-HR team.

On the Strasburg ejection and a possible suspension: That's the weirdest ejection pitch -- or back-to-back behind-the-hitter's-back pitches -- that I can remember. Usually, throwing behind-the-back, even at waist level, is an insult (as well as possible HBP) pitch. It breaks every unwritten rule because it's the pitch that somewhat behind you that causes the worst (head) injuries because the hitters falls away right into the path of the pitch.

But Strasburg doesn't even get the satisfaction (or whatever it is) of looking like he threw behind Simmons on purpose. He just looked like a computer that locked up: "system crash." It was ridiculous more than malicious. It's going to be hard to suspend him because he looked so...well, just completely a mess.

But he handled the plunking of Justoin Upton perfectly -- 97 and below the waist. From the expressions on the faces of McCatty and Johnson in the second  inning, it looked like they were thinking, "What the hell is going on here? Is he that wild? What's he thinking? We're up 4-1, we don't want this to happen." 

Anyway, it's a conversation piece, that's for sure. Maybe more detail will come out with time.

Let's assume Tiger comes close but doesn't pass Jack in Majors won. However, he passes Jack in other categories [total PGA wins; most five-win seasons, etc]. Would Tiger then "tie" Jack as best ever, or will Jack always be the best until Tiger wins more Majors than Jack?

18 is the number. And the only number.

In other generations, long ago, you might have measured by some other standard. But Nicklaus' career __in his own mind__ was defined by the majors. And the entire sport accepted that standard. It's like everybody said, "Yeah, Jack got that correct. It makes the majors an even bigger deal than they already were." More important, Tiger completely bought into that framework from childhoodc on up. He built his schedule and his game around winning majors.

If you'd told me in '09, '10, '11 or '12 that I'd say in '13 that "Tiger won't pass Nicklaus," I'd have said, "I'll never be stupid enough to say that. He's only 37."

But right now, after watching almost every shot EWoods hit in the British Open and PGA, if I HAD to take a side, I'd say he won't make it. He really looked like a top player with a Majors Complex in both those events. Not as bad as extreme cases like Lee Westwood or Monty.

Of course, as soon as he DOES win another major, then that will be off his back. Yet another example of "everything changes everything." Which is one of the reasons we love sports. In much of life, in bleaker moments, when yet another war arrives or mankind finds another way to damage itself or a good idea gets sunk, we find ourselves muttering, "Nothing ever really ends up changing anything." Of course, those are the bad days. On most others we see (often glacial) progress. 

Having a great year (after a great one last year). Why did the Nats not keep him?

A 4.25 ERA in Seattle?

The Nats don't always add the right players under Rizzo. But they have almost never given away a big talent in a trade. Adam Dunn is having another Dunn year -- 28 homers, 71 RBI, hitting ~.240 -- but, all in all, not a loss since he's really more a DH.

Most GMs, at some point, give away a real star. I'm trying to think of the worst Rizzo "give away." Nothing really big comes to mind. Feel free top help me.

Hi, I just have a couple of oddball questions that I figured you might know the answer to: -Who would the Nationals "third-string" catcher be? If, for instance, Suzuki got injured and Ramos pinch-hit. -Who would be the preferred position player to pitch if they ran out of pitchers? Thanks.

Lombardozzi could probably catch, if I remember correctly. As for an emergency pitcher, you NEVER want it to be a top player, no matter hopw much he whines about his great curve. Remember Jose Canseco begging to pitch, then blowing out his arm. So, it should be a bench player with no huge value to the team, long term. For the Nats, that's a short list. Maybe Chad Tracy or Scott Hairston has a knuckleball.  

Do you think the Nats will make a serious effort to keep him next year? (I'm already writing off 2013) I'm sure he wants to play every day, but given Ramos' physical issues that isn't out of the question.

They certainly won't pick up his $8.5M option. Would they want him at a much lower price as a free agent? I doubt it.

Either today or tomorrow you'll see a column I've already finished and filed on Catcher ERA. Suzuki has a good reputation as a durable smart catcher/pitch-caller. But he seems to have a tough time bringing out the best in the Nats staff, especially the starters. Ramos is just the opposite -- spectacularly good in his first 196 MLB games. Every Nats starter has a lower ERA, sometimes a full run or more lower, with Ramos than Suzuki. The gap for the whole staff this year is huge: 3.11 ERA with Ramos catching in 42 games (it was 3.11 with Ramos last year, too) and 3.96 with Suzuki. With Solano this year, it was 3.95. It's not that Suzuki is bad but that -- just maybe -- Ramos is special. 

Nats should look for a backup cacther like Jeff Mathis (yes, a career .197 hitter) of the Marlins who has a knack of maximizing the pitching staff. Or else a LH-hitting backup since Ramos hits RHed.

Is there a more insincere human being in sports than him? Has he always been like this?

There was a good NYT column about Rodriguez talking (years ago) about how tough it was as a teenager when his father wasn't with the family. (Divorce? I've forgotten why. Sorry.)

I assume a psychiatrist could have theories about why A-Rod has always been so insecure about everything except his athletic ability and (he thinks) his good looks. The term "narcissism" has been dumped on Alex since his early years in MLB. There's no "Dr." after my name. Narcissus was the guy in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own image in a pool of water. Maybe, at an impressionable age, A-Rod looked down at his own image in a wishing well full of dollar bills.

(Yes, I feel kind of sorry for him. BUT the way he damages others, and the sport he plays, helps me get over it quickly.)

Hi, Boz, Glad to have you back! So you've said in the past the Nats would return to their career averages...eventually. Are the Nats reverting to their mean, or is this the new mean?

The Nats were 10th in runs scored last year and are now "up" to 27th and, with their lineup healthy, will probably pass Houston, SF, Cubs and maybe Pirates pretty soon. (Pass the awful Astros !!??? Hey, congrats, guys.)

What's a real stumper -- to the Nats brass, too -- is how so many Nats can have career offensive stats that are the same or better than last year and yet still have such a terrible offense, especially in tight low-scoring games where they are inept at adding the "extra run" with sound situational hitting (or bunting).

If you lumped together the slash lines of Werth (up this year), Harper (also up), Desmond (down, but not much), Zimmerman and LaRoche (down, but not awful) and Rendon (subbing for Espinosa at about the same OPS level) youi'd say, "Well, they'll probably be in the middle of the league in runs scored.

Why aren't they? As I wrote about 10 days ago, they have shown awful fundamentals this year. If there is a way to NOT advance a runner or hit poorly with RISP, they'll find it. But the disappearance of the bench --and the bad hitting this year of Suzuki and Espinosa -- is a HUGE but hard to notice factor. Six Nats, all with more than 100 at bats -- have 999 total at bats and are hitting .203! Their slash line is lower than Dan Haren's career as a hitter.

The ENTIRE bench this year has 1,111 at bats -- an easy number to remember -- and is hitting UNDER .200 with only 19 homers. This is historically pathetic. And it completely neutralizes anything good that has been done by Werth (371 abs), Harper (353), Rendon (286) and Ramos (163) who have a combined 1169 at bats.

Here is, perhaps, the key to the Nats season: Their inability to score runs -- at all -- in many of their best-pitched games. When a team gives up only two runs, it wins 70 percent of the time. When it gives up three runs, it wins about 60 percent of the time. That's exactly how the Nats played last year -- like a normal team with normal support for good pitching.

EVERY team in baseball is at or above .500 this season in games where it allows only two or three runs. EXCEPT the Nationals who are an almost unimaginably bad 17-24! Normally, an average team would win more than 65 percent of those games or, in the Nats case, go about  about 27 wins instead of 17.

So, why are the Nats 60-63 instead of 70-53 and in the middle of playoff contention? Plenty of things. But one key factor is that their offense is not simply bad, it is absolutely awful in close low-scoring games.

The O's, for example, are 26-10 in games when they al.low two or thre runs. The Dodgers (in the middle of MLB in scoring) are 23-12 when they allow 2 or 3 runs.

The Nats need to rethink, among several things, what kind of lineup they want and how it can be more consistent game-to-game to support the team's central strength -- starting pitching.

Another year of no majors for Tiger. Is he just, basically, a "choking dog" ? - to steal a phrase fro one of your former colleagues. He's like the team that has a great regular season but doesn't come through in the playoffs.

Choking is a harsh, though often accurate word. Players and teams "feel pressure" and sometimes underperform their apparent talent because of it. Though, of course, ability to withstand pressure is part of "talent."

It's hard to deny that Woods looks like a player who has felt the pressure -- often in his putting -- in the majors in recent years.

You have to face it, in all sports, before you beat it. The Caps have -- at least in this sense of the term --choked in several playoffs. And the Nats, especially their offense, would fit any definition of "feeling pressure" or choking this season.

Conversely, teams that get hot "take the pressure off themselves" and seem almost immune to choking. Maybe "momentum" -- oh, where can you go to buy some? -- is the antedote for choking. You can see how relaxed the Braves are with their huge lead. It helps their hitters, especially, imo. The Nats looked that way last year. Last week, Davey Johnson talked about the shape and feel of seasons and repeated -- three times -- that the best way to have a good season was "to come out flying" from spring training and get well over .500. He's studiedf how to do that and has succeeded many times, including last year at 14-4. When the Nats got to 7-2 this year, they almost....but then they hit a wall after a 15-0 loss to Cincy, then a brutally bad fundamental series against the Braves. And they have been on the wrong side of pressure, expectations and "underperforming" in tight situations for the rest of the year. That's one reason you see such huge differences from one year to the next in baseball -- the pressure or, conversely, the "frreedom" that comes with momentum and a good early record are so important.

Washington baseball fans will get used to this, though it is really painful when their team is on the wrong side of it. But every city knows the feeling.

The Orioes won 97 and won the Series in '66, then went 76-85 the next year. The Red Sox lost the '86 WS, then went 78-84. The '89 Cubs looked like a rising team with 96 win, then went 77-84. The list is endless of huge declines -- Reds 102 wins in '70 to losers. Rox in the '07 Series, then under .500.

The Giants have won two of the last three Series and are further under .500 than the Nats. The Angels and Blue Jays, also pre-season Series favorites of many, are worse than the Nats 60-63. This doesn't change the FACT that the Nats are playing poorly and driving themsleves and their fans batty. All it means is that this is a recurrent part of baseball's dynamics. Get used to it and try, especially early in seasons, to get on the right side of it.

Or hold down expectations! That's really hard to do after you win 98, then add expensive pieces.

Maybe that's why the phrase "wait 'til next year" originated in baseball. Your world changes fast.   

Given Haren's performance since returning from the DL, does Rizzo make him a qualifying offer for 2014?

No. He might take it. The Nats think they have a lot of young pitching coming soon. Some things just can't be allowed to happen. One of them is: Make the same mistake twice in a row. Haren's pitching better. Good for him. He says that now he is concentrating on "missing low." But there are other ways to get a starting rotation besides rolling the dice on whether Haren, a year older, will regain his form from the last seven starts. But, since he's a good guy who's had an excellent career, it's nice to see him get his dignity and (probably) his future back on track if he keeps pitching anything like this the rest of the year.

ERA was 1.98 in late July and was 3 until last night when he gave up six runs in less than an inning...


When does Drew Storen replace Soriano as the Nats closer?

Probably not soon. But that's the way the wind is blowing -- at least when I look out MY window.

The problem with many "command" closers is that their precision is often not enough to prosper against the best offenses that you meet in the post-season. There are so many hard throwers in bullpens these days that the Nats no longer qualify as a real "stuff" bullpen. But Storen has the third-fastest fastball on the staff, a tenth of a mph behind Zimmermann w Strasburg first, of course. And Storen's slider -- when he keeps his arm slot high -- is a "K" pitch. He's added a changeup.

The only Nats with an established "closer profile" in stats is Clippard, who saved 32 games -- oh, when was it? Yesah, last year. In the last 3 years, in 201 games and 215 innings, he has a 2.55 ERA and 244 K's with only 131 hits allowed. That is an incredibly low number of hits. He HAS allowed 25 homers. That's just part of his style -- work high in the zone as well as down.

I like a closer who makes hitters look pathetic. Who doesn't? But my reason is that they do best in October.

Soriano has a LONG high-quality career. And lots of command closers, like Jeff Readon and Hoffman, had LONG careers. Once you are comfortable in that role, you can be productive a long time. Soriano has been touching 94 mph. That's plenty of velocity. He's been awful lately -- in results. But he certainly doesn't look like his days as a back-end reliever are over.   

When Magic Johnson's group purchased the Diodgers, he was going to fire Mattingly, whom you said would be a very good manager. Does he still want to fire Donnie, now that the Dodgers have gone 42-8, the best MLB win stread in 100 years? Would you like to see him managing the Nats?

I've always been a Mattingly guy. Was hoping Dodgers would keep flopping and Stan, even though he loves him, would have to fire him. And Nats could steal him. Obviously, not happening.

Maybe the Angels will be dumb enough to fire Scioscia. Matt Williams (tough/fair) and Brad Ausmus (top baseball/catching mind) are logical managerial candidates for any team for next year. But none of none of these guys with World Series rings -- Charlie Manuel, Davey Johnson, Scioscia -- suddenly got dumb. Their teams got old or played badly.

Some managers suit the needs of certain teams better in one year than the next. Davey was probably the perfect ego-booster for the Nats in '12. He really was Manager of the Year. The fit hasn't been as good this year. He had one huge problem -- the offense (and bench). He couldn't solve it.

Or hasn't yet. Fans are allowed to give up on their teams as soon as the aggravation level gets too high. "I don't need this headache." But you'd be surprised how few players give up too soon. The Nats are 9 1/2 out of the wild card with 39 left. Probably dead. 

But on the morning of Sept 6, 2011, the Cards were 8 1/2 games behind the Braves for the wild card with only 21 games left to play. They "only" finished 16-5 -- something any team might do. Yet the Cards not only made the playoffs, they won the World Series. 

Amazing things happen in baseball. They probably won't this year. But that's why you stay a fan. There will be a year that DOES have something that amazing. And the drama -- as it was in St. Louis two years ago -- will last day-after-day for (in the Cards case) two months.

You camn be the faithfulk-fan type and always support the hometown teams. Or you get to cuss 'em when they lose and cheer 'em when they win. Doesn't matter. Personal choice and character. It comes with the ticket. 

Who are these bright young prospects?

You have seen Taylor Jordan (3.66 ERA in 9 starts) in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. If he's like most, he'll throw harder his second year back and have sharper stuff. He's hit 96 this year.

Tanner Roark isn't doing too badly: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 10 innings, 5 hits, 1 walk, 7 K's.

Nate Karns has done well since going back to the minors (132K in 112 IP).

But the best are supposedly lower down. Sammy Solis (2.81 ERA at Potomac.) A.J. Cole even better at AA (2.25 ERA) than he was at Potomac. Lucas Giolito, the No. 1 pick who already has come back from Tommy John surgery and threw 100 mph in high school, has already pitched in nine games, has a 2.78 ERA in rookie ball. He just turned 19.

The Nats need to produce a HITTER. Or have Harper and Rendon move up a level next year.


Solheim Cup. Really. Great competition, fun to watch. But no coverage on the big TV networks, perfunctory mention in your newspaper. A shame.

Europe wins for the first time on U.S. soil. (Women's golf, since I suspect there are a few who don't know.)

Should I be worried that the Nats are going to become the new Caps, a talented team who just lacks the discipline to get it done when it matters?

I think it's a good idea to wait more than 3/4 of one disappointing season before jumping off anything really tall.

Folks, where are the Redskin questions. I'M THINKING about 'em. You must be, too.

There's info in the second and third exhibition games. So, looking forward to tonight vs Steelers. With Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins both suspended for the first four games and the Skins operating under a huge salary cap disadvantage for the second straight year, it's going to take some remarkable talent evaluation and coaching to get the defense solid enough to support what should be an exceptional offense with (I assume) a healthy RGIII.

I realize that the Shanahan-RGIII quotes/relationship and RGII's comments are the ONLY Redskin news worthy of 10,000 points of view. But there is a TEAM, too. Okay, lots more Skins starting next week. 

Is Crash Davis this generation's Jim Gentile? One massive year and then a slow decline? Or is he the real thing?

Nice old reference. But I see no reason to think Crush Davis isn't one of ther steals of this decade. He's STILL on pace for 59 homers __and the honest record, in my book, is 61.

No, I doubt he'll ever slug .688 again. But .588 would be a superstar. And the Orioles may get some m ore years like that out of him. That is saying a LOT. Look at all THREE of his O's seasons together __.285 hitter with .914 OPS, 40 HRs, 106 RBI per 540 at bats. Maybe/probably that's who he is during this period in his prime. Still only 27! Grand theft! 

It's nice to have you back, Tom! Hope you enjoyed your vacation. I'm beginning to have doubts about Woods winning another major. However, the schedule helps him. The next two British Opens are in Hoylake/Royal Liverpool and St. Andrews. He's been remarkably successful on those two courses. I also think he still has to be considered a favorite at Augusta National, where he's been in the top 10 for eight of the last nine years and in the top four for seven of those. And that's not even considering the other two majors, like the U.S. at Pinehurst #2 next year where he was second and third in previous Opens. He may not pass Nicklaus, and that would be fine with me, but the schedule sets up favorably for him.

Yes, there's been a lot of talk about the '14 schedule matching his strengths. His irons and 3-woods play VERY well at St. Andrews where avoiding the >100 traps, zillions of them off the tee, is Rule One.

As for the Masters, he used to have the number of those greens. The last few years, they've had his number. Does that change?

Boz, I hope you had a great vacation. Your Q&A is always the highlight of my Monday a.m. Question: Zim's surgically-repaired shoulder clearly affected his throwing this year -- whether physically or mentally. However, his power numbers at the plate are down too, and we haven't seen his usual late summer hot streak. Do you think his shoulder affected his hitting? If so, what's the prognosis for next year for Zim's hitting?

Seems to me that in the last week or so Zimmerman is finally "leting it go" on most of his throws so everybody can find out where his arm strength and post-surgery progress stands. He looks better to me. Adequate or close. By next year, w luck, he'll be able to play third once more without everybody (including Zim) holding their breath on every routine play.

He's been essentially the same hitter for the last three years, give or take very little: .279/.347/.454 with about 22 homers, 85 rbi per 146 games (90 percent of a full season, since he tends to get a few injuries). That's productive for a third baseman -- though not one that hits third or fouth for a top team.

To be worth his deal, or close enough not to care, he needs to stay at third base. And this experiment with him hitting second probably shows an inclination not to hit him at 3-4 in the future except when he goes on his torrid streaks. If he has one more of them in him this year, he'll have a decent year offensively. 

Just wanted to mention that Werth's recovery this year is one of the more unexpected surprises in quite a while. '11 said: Werthless is one of the worst FA signings in recent years. '12 said: Lots of leadership, great Game Four walk-off homer and adapted his style to hit .300 after wrist injury -- but his power is gone so he'll never really be 100 percent Jayson Werth again. 

Now, '13 says: Might win the batting title (.334), on pace for 30 homers if he got back to 575 AB season and has never hit better (or with more authority) in his life than he has the last seven years. Is Werth the late-blooming, then-plays-well-'til-he's-40 second coming of his buddy Raul Ibanez?

At ages 35-36-37 Ibanez averaged over 100 RBI and now, at 41, has 256 homers so far this year in Seattle. Doubt that Werth can stay healthy enough to put up those numbers. BUT Werth's OPS the last TWO years combined in 626 at bats is .884! In his four years in Philly, it was .885.

I never thought that Werth, at 33-34, would duplicate his #s in Philly in a smaller park at a younger age. Next question: Can he stay healthy and play >140 games a year for a couple of season?   

Hi Tom, when you watch the Nats do you root for them to win or do you distance yourself from such worries?

It probably tells you something about my attiutude that, when I'm not in the park, I tape the games, then watch them in half the time, but with slo-mo and ability to get more info/analysis out of less time. I often know the score before I watch the game. IOW, more time for family and life, but more data so I'm able to do my job better. I'm an enthusiastic person, but analytical by nature.

An hour and a half into the "chat" and no mention of the "R" word. As a baseball fan, you, sir, are the man.

I'm beggin', beggin' for Skins questions! Don't worry, we'll be swamped with them for the next five months. And, come on, we're catching up on 3-to-4 weeks of the heart of the baseball season (and two golf majors) while the Skins haven't played their second exhibition yet.

I think Robert Griffin III is starting to sound like a diva. Your thoughts?

I'd be more concerned that RGII, his dad, seems to be an alternate source of information as to RGIII's real thoughts.

In RGIII, Ovechkin, Strasburg and Harper we have gotten a close-up view of four of the most gifted, most hyped and most goldfish-bowl athletes in the history of U.S. sports, especially since we are in the 24/7 and social media age. It's fascinating.

I wanted to note something about Harper. He's slumped recently, but he's always been streaky. His slash line this year -- .264-.365-.502 -- is almost identical to Reggie Jackson's career line -- .262-.356-.490.

Also, Harper's OPS+ this year is 137 -- the same as the career level of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutcheon. And Harper is still only 20.

For both his two years combined, Harper has an OPS+ of 125 -- at 19-and-20 -- that matches the careers of Robinson Cano, Chase Utley and Matt Kemp.

So, anybody who uses the word "disappointing" isn't watching. Manny Machado is wonderful, but his line is: .296-.324-.451 for an OPS that's 92 points lower than Harper. He has only 18 homers in 721 at bats and seldom walks. Harper has 17 HR in 353 this year.  They are entirely different players. Machado, now 21, is an amazing defender. Trout has lapped both of them so far in his career. But Harper is doing fine, especially considering his new knowledge of outfield walls.

Too much emphasis on wining majors. Here is why. Curtis, Hamilton, Beam, Michel, Campbell, Brooks, etc.etc. Greatest should be measured by the percentage of wins versus starts in his era. Sorry Jack.

Nobody is much impressed with one major. Back-to-back majors for Strange are a pretty big deal. But, by and large, when you get to five-to-18 majors, you get a clear and accurate ranking, imo.

Boz - In your column in the 80's entitled "99 Reasons Why Baseball Is a Much Better Game Than Football" (which is phenomenal, by the way) you listed this as Reason 50... "50. Instant replays. Just when we thought there couldn't be anything worse than penalties, we get instant replays of penalties. Talk about a bad joke. Now any play, even one with no flags, can be called back. Even a flag itself can, after five minutes of boring delay, be nullified. NFL time has entered the Twilight Zone. Nothing is real; everything is hypothetical." Will baseball be ruined by the addition of instant replay or have the times changed?

I have always been, and continue to be, in favor of as LITTLE instant replay as possible in baseball. More is coming. Because technology is so much better and faster. But when "getting it right" runs into the pleasure and pace of the game, baseball needs to be careful. Imitating the NFL can be dangerous to your game.

With two years under his belt, he has a 3.00 ERA and a pretty good 27-19 record. He doesn't hit 100 mph anymore. He hasn't proven so far to be anything better than mediocre in the clutch. Not a bad track record, of course, but not anywhere near great. He's 25 years old now. Is it time to adjust expectations?

After 69 starts, Strasburg has a 2.97 ERA. Since 1920, only nine pitchers (with 1,000 IP) have better ERAs than that, including Kershaw, Ford, Koufax, Palmer, Marichal, Gibson, Pedro Martinez and Drysdale. That overstates the case for Strasburg, but it's mighty good company. He's doing fine.

Among active pitchers, if he had enough innings to qualify (1,000), his 7.2 would be second behind Kershaw. His current 10.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings -- again, if he qualified -- would be second in HISTORY behind Randy Johnson and ahead of Kerry Wood and Pedro. Again, this gives Strasburg too much the best of it. Don't have time for a long analysis. But I think we are at the stage of: Watch this guy and enjoy him as he gradually gets a little better and better. And, yes, he needs to figure out the Braves better.

But Strasburg is doing very well, pitching deeper into games and -- can you believe it -- his arm hasn't fallen off as widely predicted. (Maybe it was a good idea to shut him down and increase his chances of, someday, having those 1,000 innings -- and a lot more -- to qualify for those high distinctions.)

On that unregenerate note, that's it for this week.  Really enjoyed all the questions -- and being back in the chat! 

I keep looking at the Nats lineup and wonder why they don't perform better and one thing I keep coming back to is that they are still a middle of the order impact bat short. Then I think of the roster and say, "that can't be right." Recently I realized why it is right. For most of this season (generally after Bryce Meets Wall), Harper has been pedestrian. I haven't heard this raised much, but I think as the Nats continue to fall out of contention we have to start talking about this more - why has Bryce Harper not made the 20 year old leap we expected him to? Did the collision with the wall in LA derail his entire season? We've seen a flash here and there, but for the last several months Harper has been a "nice" player instead of a force. When do we get concerned? Pretty sure .270 with 20 bombs is not going to do much for us in the middle of the order from Bryce. I understand patience and all that, but we need a .330/.400/.900 35 HR 120 RBI guy in there next year for this lineup to work better than it has this year.

This is the (fair) other side of the Harper coin. Since July 6, he's hit .269-.368-.446 for an .815 OPS. About like his whole rookie year.

Yes, he needs to improve over the years. But it's only fair to judge by entire seasons, not slices. And he's taken a step up this year, except against LH pitching. He's 20. Long way to go.

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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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