Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Sep 23, 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

Was it ever as much of a problem now as it was? It seems the best talent of the Redskin defensive backfield is chest-pounding celebrations of overthrows, and seeking Sports Center-worthy hits instead of tackling. Haslett said last week they really need to coach these guys how to tackle ... 1) really? Pros? 2) They didn't listen. What they need to be coached in is the difference between chest-thumping and actual pride.

Try looking at this issue in a slightly different way.

The entire Skins defense, and especially the secondary, appears to be in the vanguard of the league's new policy of trying to rebrand the NFL as a much less violent league.

Think of the Skins defense as pioneers.

Or, maybe they should just spend their Sunday afternoons on the Mall, not at FedfEx. I hear there are still some good two-hand touch football games over there.

OK, so 98 percent of 0-3 teams miss the playoffs, but what percentage of 3-6 teams make the playoffs? Everyone needs to calm down, be patient, and appreciate that the Skins have a young, great QB. Griffin is clearly still working his way back into form, but even with the rust and some uncharacteristically bad decisions, he completed 64 percent of his passes and dropped a beauty of a bomb that should have been the go ahead TD. (And, by the way, he is working his way back after an injury that would have knocked, um, 98 percent of players out for over a year.) I hope he gets it straight soon -- the East is really bad and is still winnable -- but it's not like this was ever a Super Bowl year in the making. Everyone seems to have forgotten that they had a lousy defense last year, too. And with the team's most important player is coming back from a catastrophic injury, nine wins would have been impressive. That doesn't look likely now, but maybe they can go 8-8, which could be good enough to host a playoff game this year. (They'll surely lose that game, but it beats watching from home.)

Thanks, Shanny.

There's just one problem: @ Dallas, Bears, @ Denver, @ Vikes, @ Eagles, 49ers, Chief (reborn?), @ Atlanta, Dallas and @ Giants.

Some of those are probably unwinable and all will be tough.

Does anyone enjoy these 60+ point blowouts, even the victors' fans? I tend to turn off noncompetitive games. I've done that a lot the first three weeks of this season.

On Saturday, no team in the Top 25 lost. And there were 50-, 60, even a 77-7 games.

Combine that with corrupt recuiting, athlete non-students, NCAA incompetence, coaches who sound like they didn't get out of elementary and it makes it a tough sport in which to have a general national interest. Unless it's your school or the school of somebody in your family, it's hard to love. That's why it was nice to see Maryland's 37-0 win over West Virginia.

Do you know why the team wasn't re-named "Senators?" I grew up in Washington and the team was always referred to as the "Nats," which I never understood. I wish my home town team the best, although I've become a Marlins fan having lived in Miami since 1969. Of course, I still root for the Redskins.

I've come to like Nationals better than Senators because it evokes National League and because, in my time, Senators was synonymous with defeat.

And I don't think "Senatoritude" works as well.

As a young man I worked for Western Union in the press box of D.C. Stadium/RFK and often noticed that Shirley Povich would walk around the stands mingling with the (sparse) crowd. What do you think his reaction would be today with the nearly 33K average attendance? Yesterday afternoon in particular with a Redskin game going on across town.

Baseball was, by a clear margin, Shirley's favorite sport. He'd have absolutely loved that crowd for a closing day and the Shirley Povich Pressbox wouldn't bothered him either! He'd probably be pulling for them to finish strongly and win 87 (or more), which would give them the second-best Washington winning percentage since World War II -- '12 and '13 ahead of any other years since '45.

Boz, I am glad to see that Span has finally gotten hot, but I fear that he is not the answer in the leadoff spot. Even now, his OBP is only .330. A playoff-caliber team needs someone higher than that, doesn't it?

Span would be a very good No. 9 hitter for an A.L. team -- "second leadoff." Then  he'd get the smaller number of ABs a season of any regular and you'd get the full value of his defense in CF. Right now, he still has the lowest OPS of any Nat regular and he gets the MOST plate appearances. 

Rizzo got exactly the player he traded for. But there's a big difference between ~.330 and ~.355. And it impacts the production of the No. 2 hitter. His current hot spell has coincided with Ryan Z'man getting hot. too.

It's a nice Theory of the Game issue.

Mr Boswell, When the inevitable happens this week and the Nats are eliminated, will you share with a us a list of 5-10 games that the Nats Should have or easily Could have won that Would have meant that they would be preparing for the playoffs ? Thanks MVMD

That's interesting. Maybe I will.

The Nats are known for patience. That's the best quality you can have in baseball. That way you never give up too soon on a player like Desmond who ends up being the second best SS in the N.L. behind Troy Tulo...

But there are years when it costs you. They stuck with Espinosa just as they stuck with Desmond. This time it didn't work. They were patient with Henry Rodriguez and Bernadina and it never worked out. But an organization has to have a consistent tone. For example, the Yankees have always been high stress, instant production. Nats/Davey never jerked Span around and he just had a 29-game hitting streak and should relax into the CF job for '14 and probably '15 (for which Nats hold an option). 

Odd as it seems, they probably even did the right thing staying with Haren. His first 15 starts were the worst in MLB: 6.15 ERA. But, come on, any team would have given him at least 10-12 starts to fix himself and plenty would have gone 15 starts. After going on DL, in last 14 starts and 1 save, he was 5-5 with 3.57 ERA, 79 K in 80.2 IP and a WHIP that's so low (1.079) I can hardly believe it.

He'll get a pretty good con tract somewhere. Who's have thought that? But his whole season -- and those 10 straight loses in his starts -- was a killer.

Hi Boz, anything new on a new masn deal?

Looks like Bud is scared to death of it. Is he going to leave it, like a stinking dump truck load, on the front porch of the next commissioner?

The Nats will end up getting a lot of money. And their current operations aren't much impacted. But it is still an ugly impass.

I suspect the Lerners are not bothered a bit that their record is now 84-72 while the O's, their playoffs odds down to 0.1 percent (the same as the Nats) are 81-74. 

Tom, Who do you think the Nats should look to replace this off season? Is this late run similar to when the Wizards' Andre Blatche put up big numbers in the final weeks before his new contract? Thanks, John

They need to add a quality LH reliever, another fifth starter candidate, though not in the $13M range, a better backup catcher. That's a minimum.

One prominent Nat looked at all the young players who looked good this season. "When do you we try to put together a package for David Price or (Cubs Jeff) Samardzija (203 Ks)?"

I don't think they have the pieces yet for another deal as big as 3-for-1 for Gio Gonzalez.

Is there any significance to the fact that Werth, Harper and Strasburg were not among those thanking ad wishing him well in yesterday's farewell video?

They are three of his strongest supporters. You'll notice them all quoted prominently in my Saturday column on Davey's goodbye celebration.

Sorry I couldn't be in two places at once.

Thought Haren said true trying: "I think that's a big reason why we made this push (30-12), to get ourselves back into it -- to just not go away and that be the way it ends for him."

Davey was obviously very happy to end with a walkoff win and still mathematically alive.

Haren again. He can be candid because he knows he's not coming back. " You really don't hear anyone say anything bad about him. The guy, he's so easy to talk to...I appreciate the fact that you can have a real man-to-man conversation with him and things don't have to be about baseball. Other organizations I've been with that hasn't been the case. It's been a real pleasure."

Bos -- I was amused to read the following in a Ron Jaworski ESPN column the morning after the Eagles' Week 1 thrashing of the Skins: "It's pretty rare that a massive schematic change instantly impacts the NFL, but Monday was one of those instances. If I write a sequel to my book ("The Games That Changed the Game") the Eagles' win over the Redskins would get its own chapter." As someone who lived through Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun, I have chuckled all season at Eagles fans excited to trade an excellent Andy Reid for College Coaching's Next Big Thing. After losing in Week 2 to the Chargers and getting thoroughly stomped on by Reid's Chiefs in Week 3, I think I have a title for that new chapter in Jaws' book: "Chip Kelly's Eagles and the Blur Offense: Actually, the Skins defense is just really bad"

Perfect "question." I've been thinking exactly the same thing.

Some in Philly thought Reid wasn't much of a coach. If he takes the 2-14 Chiefs to the playoffs what will they say then?

(Of course there were also plenty of Iggles fans who appreciated him. But I suspect even they are shocked by the K.C.  3-0 start.)

Okay, the preseason Super Bowl odds on the Skins look pretty smart now. You won't see 35-to-1 today. Now their playoff chances are about 2.6 percent Triple "ouch."

The Nationals' play the past month-and-a-half has made me confident that next year's team, with a bit of fine tuning, should be in the thick of things (just make sure and hire the right manager -- if Joe Girardi could be persuaded to leave that sinking ship in the Bronx...). As for this postseason, who are your early picks to reach the World Series? Barring a Nats miracle, I think a lot of us would like to see something like Pirates vs. A's or Indians vs. Dodgers (hey, the Series hasn't been in Chavez Ravine for 25 years), but I have this awful feeling we'll end up with another Red Sox-Cardinals series, a battle between two of baseball's most self-righteous fan bases (yawn).

I'm sure I'll have some post-season thought later in the week.

As for next Nats manager, I'd say the two early possibilities are Matt Williams, whom Mike Rizzo knows and respects from Arizona days, and Randy Knorr, who has a solid chance because Rizzo values "continuity" so highly.

Girardi has done one of his best jobs and won't be fired. Scioscia, if available, probably wouldn't want to come to the East Coast. If Mattingly had been fired, the Nats (according to sources) would have had him at the top of their list. Now he may be going to the Series. Charlie Manual isn't in the picture. Brad Ausmus has no managerial experience and would be trying to make the same huge jump that Mike Metheny made -- but Metheny was already in the cards family. So that won't happen.

The Nats will interview five or six. Got the sense from one knowledgeable Nats insider, not named Rizzo, that Mike may take a couple of months to decide.

The Nats job is a total plum. They may not get exactly the terms they want on salary but they will probably be able to get what they want in other ways -- which coaches to keep if it isn't Knorr.

But don't discount Knorr. He's a tough-guy type but liked by the Nats players because so many have known him so long or had him in the minors. He'd have wanted to work a lot more on fundamentals in spring training than Davey ever has. (But Davey's prep methods have led to SPECTACULAR starts, time after time. This time, no.) One fair question would be whether such a low-profile manager, after the first two or three controversies or problems (and they always arrive) would be able to handle so many high-rpofile players. He's been blunt already about Soriano and a few others. 

You're looking for a a manager for the next five years. It's a big decision. Amd Davey's shoes will be MUCH bigger to fill than many fans think.

I mentioned to Werth that  I'd disagreed with more of Davey's moves this year than I could remember in the past. Werth said, "Davey's not going to let anybody tell him what to do.

"If I ever managed, and I'm not saying I ever would, I could see myself being like him in some ways. He expects that you will be ready to play. I respect that because I will be ready to play. I've played for people that are always questioning if you are ready to play.

 "This year, he never panicked, never was out of character. When things aren't going right, you need a pillar of strength and he's that for sure

"The few times I've asked him, 'What were we thinking there?' he's got his reasons and he'll explain them to you. What he says goes, but he'll go through his reasoning for you. I've caught myself wondering a couple of times, but I remind myself, 'He's not WRONG. He's got his reasons for everything he does. Sometimes it just doesn't work.'

"Now the people who don't know baseball, the ones you see 'commenting,' I KNOW they are wrong." (Laughs). 

See, you got a little free Werth/Davey featurette.         

Can you elaborate a little more on the Robinson non-TD, please? It looked like he secured the ball, took two (stumbling) steps, and then lost the ball on contact with the ground. Was the ruling that he never secured it? The rule seems at odds with the whole concept of just "breaking the plane."

Shanahan: "My understanding of the rule is you have to have ball security all the way through the catch and it looked to me like the ball did hit the ground, so I'm not surprised that it was overturned."

See, you ask for my opinion and I give you the opinion of somebody who, I assume, KNOWS the rulebook as well as anybody alive. Say what you want about Shanahan, but if he doesn't know what does and does not constitute a TD catch, then who does?

Robinson  said contradictory thing. But did say that when he saw the replay on the big screen, "I said, 'Whoa.'"

One prominent Skin, asked how much that TD would have changed the game said, "Well, (XXXX), yeah, IF he'd caught it."

I blame Shanny Jr.. The Skins would get to the goal line and pass, pass, pass. Let Morris, Helu, or even RGKnee run it in!

I count 14 plays inside the Lions 30-yd line that didn't produce a score. One did (Morris TD run).

Also, to clear up a point that annoys me. Last week the Skins (Shanny) said over and over that the reason their offense wasn't working in the first two games was because they were "threee touchdowns behind, sometimes four" -- Shanny on his TV show) and had to go to the two-minute offense out of desperation, so you could accurately judge the offense.

Give me a break. Talk about spin quadrupled.

Against the Eagles, the Skins were either AHEAD (Hall TD) or very close on their first five possessions. The same is true on their first three possessions vs Green Bay and first three vs the Lions. So that's 11 early possessions that have produced no points. In order: Fumble, Interception, Safety, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception.


That goes straight to the God-Almighty Game Plan -- those first 15-20 plays. Three weeks in a row, they haven't done anything. That's on players, but it goes to coaching and the OC, too.

I don't have any data to back this up, but it seems like the Skins are not using the pistol formation and the read option as much as they did last season. I know that they are trying to protect RGIII more, but without the threat of him running with the ball, it seems like this may be one of the reasons the Skins offense has been so stagnant. Is my anecdotal information on the pistol and read option correct?

On Sunday, the Skins were using their variations of the same stuff to roll the pocket or sprint out -- with no intention or threat of a run by the QB -- that teams have been doing for at least 50 years. They may have be lined up in the Pistol formation. But it was old-time stuff. As far as I can tell, RGIII kept the ball on the read option twice. BUT I did like that they got him out in space -- better vision, less concern about people down around his feet/knees and he's always been accurate on the move. The fake stretch play to Morris, then boot the other way will still work. Maybe RGIII doesn't keep it as often. But that's also a traditional staple.

Tom, your recent column on the resurgence of the Nats' offense mentioned the recent awakening of several players' bats, but did not mention any contribution due to Rick Schu's arrival. How large a factor was his change in BP philosophy?

Everybody liked/respected Eckstein for his dedication and knowledge. One Nats regular told me last week: "We needed a new voice. It had run its course. Hand it to Rick Schu. Just hearing something different helps.

"We fell into the analytical trap at times."

You don't need to go to bat thinking that "this guy throws a slider on 2-1 68 percent of the time."

A team with a huge number of called third strikes, plenty on fastballs, is probably thinking too much.

Still, I've always believed that veteran players are responsible for themselves. Nobody is going to tell me that Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche, Span, Suzuki and others are being screwed up by a COACH.

Eck should get another MLB job. He's good.

I'm sure he wanted low-key and that's what he got. But gosh, that crystal thingamajig looked like a cheap wedding present. Couldn't they have made a donation to his favorite charity or something? This is one area where the O's do it better.

All Davey wanted was a sweep of the doubleheader.

He's about as unsentimental as they come. That's one reason we get along.

Oh, BTW, since he doesn't have to play nice with the O's anymore, Davey LOVES Baltimore and the O's themselves, but his true feelings about Baltimore ownership are exactly what you think they are -- but probably more so. And not because of things done to him but to his friends.

I have the feeling the Redskins will do the same thing the Nats did this year, which is succumb to the "We've got to do something and you can't really fire the head coach and we can't rebuild the roster so let's fire a highly visible assistant" theory. (Of course, in the Nats' case, much to my surprise, it may have helped). Any thoughts?

You don't fire the DC unless you have completely given up on the season. And you don't give up on a season unless you are at least 5 games under .500, like 1-6, 2-7. If they get there, and the defense is still terrible and you think it's Haslett -- or you want to make people think it is Haslett -- then maybe that happens.

Another BTW, Shanahan didn't leave Denver because his offensive theories didn't work. It was because his last several defenses were TERRIBLE. Haslett was part of his move from 4-3 to 3-4.

This defense is really worrisome. Fletcher held it together with his brains and tackling. He usually got better as the season went along. But on Sunday, as he explained, he wasn't playing every down. He was getting some rest. So, he's not the player he was. But he still got an early sack on a blitz and had eight tackles. 

Where is Orakpo? Made one nice open-field tackle, two QB hits. But he has had almost NO impact in any game. He has a player on the other side in Kerrigan who demands attention so it's not like teams can focus on him.

One more BTW, the Lions beat the Skins WITHOUT Reggie Bush. You know, their second-best offensive weapon who had 260 yards from scrimmage in the first 2 Lion games. His sub (Bell) only average 3.2 yards a carry. But Skins still gave up 441 yards.

Maybe Skins should all be given a DVD of "Silver Linings Playbook" because they're going to need it after they watch these films.

Boz, I trust you more than anyone when it comes to the DC sports scene and I acknowledge you're far closer to the principals involved than I am. But I disagree with your opinion that Griffin is healthy and that physically he's "back." I think the knee is rebuilt, which means it's structurally sound. I just don't think the joint and the muscles are at full strength. He's physically limited and is likely to be that way for most (if not all) of the season. Why do you feel otherwise?

You could be right. As I mention every few months, I'm not Dr. Boswell. I had a very bad sports knee injury at about the same age as Griffin, probably more gruesome to look at, but treatment is so vastly better now that it doesn't give me any point of reference. 

Wish I could be more help on the REAL State Of Griffin's Knee, but I don't know how to interview a ligament. (Or even a tendon.)

Patient. Seriously. I'm a Ravens fan who also follows the Skins because I live here and I know the Skins faithful are digging out the pitchforks and torches now and looking for the Shanahans. But this organization has got to commit to some form of consistent player development and a stable football philosophy. I realize if this season becomes a disappointment, that it's hard to call the Shanahan hire a success. But you can't make a change. Not yet.

Patience is a virtue in sports -- almost always.

Shanahan has done a good job of using the draft -- something the Skins neglected or despised (as I've written at length) since George Allen. 

However, it's tough to build through the draft when you trade three No. 1 picks ('12, '13, '14) and a No. 2 ('12) for your QB. Oh, I know, they "exchanged" No. 1 picks with the Rams and traded away two additional No. 1s and a No. 2. Semantics.

That's another reason why the Knee Malpractice -- whether you blame Dr. Shanny, RGIII or Doc Irrelevant -- was such a serious mistake.  

Hello Mr. Glass-Half-Full - Okay, the stage is yours, tell us why/how we should believe even an 8 and 8 finish is possible? I'll buy in if you do! Do I hear 9 and 7?

Everything changes everything. You ain't hearin' nothin' from me. The Skins are in free fall. But the Giants and Eagles are, too. That's three games that look less difficult.

One of the easiest disasters in the NFL world is for a 10-6 team with a big turnover-takeaway season (Skins +17 in '12) to have a couple of problems (RGIII lessened mobility and increased turnovers) that results in what looks like "the same team" going 6-10 the next year. Not predicting that. Just an observation of an NFL pattern.

Why did they draft Kirk Cousins if they don't want to ever use him? Even ignoring this season, they thought Kirk was such a terrible QB last year that they instead used a one legged QB to hobble around Seattle and get killed. And now, when RG's knee is still obviously fragile, they still don't want to use Kirk. If they wanted to be 0-3, they could have just used Rex.

The Skins are committed body and soul to RGIII. If they turn to Cousins when Griffin maintains he's healthy, you have problems that you don't even want to think about.

Is this just a matter of "Any Given Sunday" or is this season looking to upset preconceived notions of who is good? Maybe I don't follow the NFL closely enough, but who would have thought that Pittsburgh would be 0-3, down there with TB and Jacksonville? Is Green Bay really a 1-2 team? What happened to San Francisco? I'm glad I wasn't betting on games this weekend.

The only thing that might make a Skins fan feel better is to look at the highlights -- and especially the comic low-lights -- of the other games on Sunday. The worst Giants loss in 40 years -- 38-0. SF just kicked by Indy in SF. Packers blow big lead. Steelers look bad. Falcons 1-2. On and on.

Ryan Zimmerman , face of the franchise, gets married in offseason. Terrible start (and middle) to the season. Robert Griffin III, face of the franchise, gets married in the offseason. Terrible start to the season. Coincidence, or is there a lesson here?

Jeter, never, married. Hall of Fame.

No, I don't think that is the correct conclussion.

And Zim is now T5 -- FIFTH -- in the N.L. in homers and 14th in OPS, which is a measure of total offensive value. His arm looks slightly better, too. But it has to get another level better so he can play a few feet deeper. Right now, he's too close to maximize lateral range.

Loved the column on Davey. Based on several of the comments posted to it, though, it's obvious some people won't miss him until he's gone. He's a baseball treasure and those who don't think he's a good manager don't know squat about the game.

Davey is one of the great managers of the last 50 years and, among those managers, one of the very best people.

He's the only manager in MLB history to finish in first place with four different franchises.

He's 303 games over .500 in 17 seasons -- that's about as many as Lasorda and Herzog combined in their 39 seasons.

Davey has had .600 teams with three franchises. All the teams he took over were mediocre-to-poor and, except for the Dodgers, where in first place within two years.

Also, a huge part of baseball is the pleasure it gives for seven months (or more) in ways beyond wins and loses. And nobody told more great stories, made the game more fun for players, media and FANS than Davey.

And every day he taught the game to everybody around him. Rizzo said, "He is a Human Encyclopdia of Baseball. But that's just a small part of all the other things -- besides baseball -- that he knows."  

You don't miss your water...

The Red Sox unveiled a statue of Carl Yastrzemski yesterday. Where do you put him in the pantheon of baseball greats? I was nine during the Impossible Dream year when he won the Triple Crown.

Slightly overrated. Look at all the years with <80 RBI but tons of at bats. I try never to say this when I am traveling in New England.

Boz, Nobody in DC, and I mean nobody, wanted the new team to be named the "Senators." They would have been the only Senators from DC, which was before and still is an insulting reminder to all us citizens that we remain second-class.

Point taken.

The Orioles have four players that have played 153+ games (Davis, Machado, Jones and Markakis) - not to mention Wieters' ironman performance this year (47 innings caught over four straight games this past week). Did Buck run these guys into the ground ?

They didn't get hurt. They are everyday players. So play them every day.

The surprise to me in the fade of Manny Machado as an offensive player. His OPS is .744. Adam LaRoche is .742.

OPS isn't everything. But that should give pause. 663 at bats, only 14 HR, 29 walks, 6-for-13 on steals. Fab defense. But there's a reason he's only scored 87 runs despite having a guy w 51 homers close behind him __he's a No. 2 hitter with a BAD on-base percentage (.313). O's are going to have to some thinking about where he fits in the lineup, how to make him better. Great prospect for 21. Great personality for the game. Will keep getting better. But not yet a good all-around offensive player. And he wore out more than any other Bird (look at last 30-day #s.)

What was your take on the Dodgers swimming in AZ's pool? Was the senator right to be miffed?

Oh, who cares.

Look at the top QBs this year and you'll see the standard drop back QB. By a wide margin, Luck is the best QB from last year. The read option was fun while it lasted.

Much too soon to tell. But it wasn't just Luck. Ryan Tannehill, whom the Shanny's liked in last year's draft, had a big day, sure looks the classic-QB part.

How much did the $30M cap penalty hurt the Reskins this year? Are we expecting too much from this team with such a large penalty?

The cap hit, over two years, is a big factor. The worse they do, the more it will be mentioned. The better they play, if they start winning and stay healthy, the more it will be forgotten.

The NFL wanted to Get 'Em and, unless the defense gets a lot better and RGIII's play moves up a level, they may end up "got."

Re the questioner who mentioned him: Girardi's contract expires at the end of this season, and there's plenty of speculation that he'll look elsewhere. So he wouldn't need to get fired to be available.

Rizzo has a high opinion of Girardi. At least he did three days ago. I'd also like to know whether Cal Ripken would really consider a managing job.

Rizzo is in the catbird seat on this and he knows it. He's going to have his pick. The questions are 1) how good will the available picking be and 2) how strong is the desire to stay in house.

That's it for this week! See you next Monday -- perhaps a brighter day.  

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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