Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 10, 2014

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

Interested in your thoughts on the elbow inflammation? While I'm certain we shouldn't jump off a cliff yet, are we being a bit too optimistic thinking this could turn out like Greinke?

It's easy to say, "Be extra careful." But I'll say it anyway. The Nats have a history of under-worrying about some of their spring training injuries in the past. It's not the injury that's the problem because players are going to get injured, but the re-inuries, like Morse a couple of years ago when he missed the first chunk of the season.

When a pitcher works 208 innings, then a couple of starts in the postseason and has no arm problems, like Fister last year, that means (to me) that's he's in a sound groove mechanically. But every starting pitcher has a self-inflicted injury every five days. That's the nature of the job. Then the days between starts are for healing. So, Fister works 220 innings -- hurts, heals, hurts, heals for seven months. Then you have an off-season. The danger, to me, is when the pitcher cranks up the first few times the next spring. Does he have the same exact mechanics after taking time off? Is his arm strong enough -- built back up enough -- to take the strain of normal maximum effort? 

So, just go slowly with his return. He's a vet, so that helps. But just because he's your hot off-season pickup, don't worry about showing him off. The Nats have plenty of starting pitching for April, with all its off days, if one of two starters have minor problems and need time to heal fully.

What you don't want to see is what the Braves saw yesterday -- Medlen walking directly off the mound to the dugout in mid-inning with a "strained elbow." They'll take MRI on Monday. Braves seem to think it was as bad as they feared at first from Medlen's reaction -- which was similar to the way he walked off after the elbow injury that sent him to Tommy John surgery a few years ago. BTW, Atlanta also does not expect to have Mike Minor in its rotation the first week or two of the season with a minor injury. Long season. Neither team should be in a rush to get these guys back.

I don't want to take anything away from the Golden State Warriors who proved that they were the best team that year. The Washington Bullets were so formidable during the in 1974-1975 season (60-22, defeated the previous NBA champion Boston Celtics is only six games in the Eastern Conference Finals), I am still perplexed as to why we performed so poorly in getting swept. (You'll have to excuse the fact that I was only eight years old at the time). I remember a long time ago, prior to when the Detroit Pistons upset the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Championship, Rick Barry said that it was the greatest upset in NBA championship history. What's your take?

Okay, that's funny. Why would Rick Barry think that? Because it was the high point of HIS career. He averaged 30.6 ppg for the winning Warriors that season.

At the time it didn't seem like a huge upset to me, just an upset. The Washington bench wasn't as strong as the later Bullet teams, including the title winner. Mike Riordan was third leading scorer behind The Big E and, yes, Phil Chenier. Kevin Porter was a good point guard but not wonderful. But the Bullets lacked the seventh, eighth, ninth men -- off the bench -- to be a great team. But the Bullets won 60 that year, the Warriors only 48.

To answer: the sweep was surprising but it wasn't considered an earth-shaking upset at the time __at least as I remember it.

Does Ross Detwiler being the only lefty in that race give him any advantage?

It's probably a disadvantage because it's so obvious that he could be slotted as the second LHer in the bullpen with Roark or Jordan as the fifth starter. If all things look equal, I suspect Roark is the fifth starter, Jordan gets full work in AAA and Detwiler is in the pen. Just my guess. That's IF Roark continues to look at sharp as he did last year. Jordan struck out six Braves in 2 2/3 the other day and almost apologized for not getting more quick ground outs. He's showing the better stuff that Nats people said should return the second year back after missing much of '12 with surgery (elbow, I think).

Detwiler is trying to add a cutter AND throw more curves and changeups. That's a lot of pitches to work on in one spring training when you've been pretty effective by commanding your fastball on 85 percent of your pitches. Might want to make sure that FB command is still there -- all polished up -- before worrying too much about your third and fourth best pitches. But I like the idea of adding the cutter.

I have been back from Viera for about a week, and have had time to digest the experience. The item that surprised me the most is how much fun Danny Espinoza seems to be having. He seems to be happy to be at spring training. The other thing is the following that the Nats are getting....I was at the complex the last two days of workouts, and probably 50 percent of the people were from DC. At the games (first two in Viera), there were probably more than 500 people from the DC area. Yesterday was close to a sellout (on TV), with a strong Nationals fan support.

When the fans start going to spring training is healthy numbers that usually means a team's core fanatic fan base is growing. So, a good sign. Also, the more people learn about a hometown team the more they want to take their connection to the team to another level. (Cliche alert). Hence, spring training.

Espinosa looked like he was having fun yesterday with his fine play to his left, then throwing to Strasburg covering first. And he's making better contact, especially hitting LHed, with a shorter stroke. But good off-speed stuff can still leave him looking helpless, like his last two bad-looking swinging strikes vs the Cards' Seth Maness. Glad to see him get off to a solid start and also use his speed on the bases. Matt Williams really likes the extra base. As long as that style doesn't produce too many injuries it's fun to watch. But there's risk and it looks like the Nats will be very aggressive on the bases. Desmond already has four steals in spring training. (It's nice for him to set a tone of doing what the new manager wants but I don't think he needs to do too much more of that in Florida games.)

With a trip to the playoffs less than likely, will Ted have the sense to try a new direction after 17 years of relative futility?

I doubt it.

McPhee is smart, Ted is comfortable with him. And Leonsis may want to see if the addition of Kuznetsov, plus any off-season moves, get them back to the playoffs. The Caps are very "good" at seeing how "close" they are to whatever goal they have set. There's a fine line between being clear-sighted and not panicking (on the one hand) and rationizing your short-comings and hating to change (on the other hand). The Caps seem to me to be right on the border between the two. (Some of the Caps fans would say that they have jumped up and down all over the "line" and obliterated it.

When the "window" was open, you wanted to let it play out without blowing things up -- especially at the top with the GM that built the team. Now that the elite-status "window" is closed -- and like many other middling teams the Caps are now a team that has to get hot and play perfectly just to make the playoffs, then advance -- it feels like it's too late to blow everything up. Ironic. I'd be very surprised if McPhee isn't back. (I can hear the howls as I type.)

Anything new on the MASN front? I hope this does not impact the Nats long term.


It hasn't yet. And it probably won't.

The Nats are one of MLB's best-set teams financially in free cash flow and other metrics. And, independent of the baseball team's operations, the Lerners are billionaires. It needs to get solved because it's ridiculous to let it fester this long. But Selig is FAMOUS for dawdling and hoping that "something happens" that will solve the problem for him or make the answer suddenly obvious or a consensus forms that he can jump in front of. That may yet happen. I doubt he wants it to be part of his legacy that he didn't have the will to get this worked out on his own watch and left it for his successor. 

You could hardly find two teams, and owners, with stronger resources to carry out an argument over what Selig calls "an internal dispute between clubs." So, let 'em do the back-room wrestle.   

...until 84-year-old Peter Angelos goes to the Great Courtroom in the Sky? When that happens, either the heirs may be more flexible, or the team will be sold, giving MLB leverage to place conditions on the sale. (While everyone knows what the Nats succession plan is, I'm not sure anyone knows what the Orioles plan is. Do you?)

Well, that would be the ultra-ultra-cynic's point of view on Selig's inaction. It's not mine. And I doubt that it's his.

Will the thought of losing a job to Kuznetsov focus some of the other forwards a bit?

Possible. But you can bet that somebody is going to lose a job to him next year. He was a two-time KHL All-Star and the organization has been hyping him, presumably with good reason, for four years. By next year he is going to play. These last 17 games are probably not a fair measure -- like a playoff atmosphere for a player in a new league, new style of hockey, etc. But NEXT year will be a fair test. 

After the Caps wretched seven-game series loss to Montreal at the end of the 2010 season, the team changed coaches and styles. You noted at the time that this change might not be for the better. The team now is in the bottom 1/3 of the NHL. In hindsight, what could the Caps have done differently? How can they become good again? And what lessons can the Nats and Wiz learn from this? (The Skins NEVER learn.)

The Montreal loss was such a crusher -- so quintessential Caps, such a prisoner-of-their-past kind of disappointment -- that it changed the whole shape of the team's future for the next several seasons, imo. The main insight after '10 -- the column you may be referencing --was that the Caps style of play often did a VERY poor job of getting results in the playoffs where, among other tactics, opponents were willing to take the punishment of throwing themselves in front of all the Caps favorite slap shots. "Blocked shots" against the Caps always skyrocketed in the playoffs and frustrated their snippers while underlining how poor they were at getting garbage tough-guy goals in front of the net.

They waffled on Boudreau -- didn't fire him after Montreal, then DID fire him in mid-season the next year and went to a coach/style that was exactly opposite of his fun-free-wheeling offensive approach. Then after Hunter didn't come back, they got a hybrid in Oates, who's very smart but had to establish a third system within a short time. 

Net result: Split personality? Or no clear team personality?

Any and all attempts at "proper lessons" which chatters care to offer would interest me a lot. I love to steal the good stuff from you good folks (!) and this one -- the Caps Dynasty that never happened -- is a brain teaser.

It seems like a common practice for some other NBA teams engage former stars/alumni to provide intensive training to expedite the maturation of their top picks but it often seems like the Wizards' approach is to push 'em into the deep end to see if they learn to swim on their own. While it's been gratifying to see the progress John Wall has made as a floor leader, it seemed like for far too long (and even occasionally still) he tried to force outcomes that resulted in turnovers. Before Wall we all watched the painful (lack of) progress of numerous big men drafted by the franchise. And one of the league's most successful 'quick learner' guards of all time, Sam Cassell, has been seated next to the Wiz' coach since 2009. Is there something about the organization that isn't inclined toward a more hands-on, intervention-type tutoring of their youngsters?

Maybe it's simpler than that. When a franchise has been mostly bad and often atrocious for more than a third of a century, it gets desperate. Each new young talent is seen as the savior and is pushed too fast or tutored too little. (How will the Wiz get the best out of Otto Porter.)

That's why I enjoy watching the Wiz so much right now. They actually play like a TEAM and often like a smart team. What a novel idea -- a core of smart vets to set a tone and teach. Gortat, Nene, Ariva, Webster -- what a pleasure. Too bad it's not a "young core" group, but more like a collection of how-long-will-they-still-be-here guys. Nonetheless, Wall, Beal and others have a chance to remember what actual professional basketball felt like. There have been entire multi-year periods when I thought that watching a Wiz game was like a punishment to anyone who had ever seen the game played properly at the NBA level by top teams. You just wanted to scream.  Now, I watch and often smile. Hope Nene gets better fast so this group gets to play out its long-awaited nice little season of real progress to the best of its ability.

Were you surprised to see him cut in the first round? I understand that he needs more time at the plate, but did you think we'd see him hang around longer in March?

They sent him out early because they DO like his future, not because they don't like it. He was hurt 99 percent of last year. They want him to get every possible at bat all year. And by March 10 it's harder and harder to get at bats in spring training games because the regulars want to get three at bats, one one or two.

BTW, did you see Stephen Souza's head-first slide into home plate with the reach-back one-hand tag of home plate? And his catch in the gap in right center after a long run, followed by a graceful drop into a slide so he would collide with the CFer? That's a lot of agility for a 6-foot-3 220-pound guy.

Granted, Souza has been in A, A+ and AA ball the last two years. But his combined numbers for those two years in 636 at bats are a .939 OPS with 121 runs, 46 doubles, 38 homers, 131 RBI, 36 steals and 79 walks (154 Ks). You better believe that he has the nats FULL attention. His bat makes that true "crack." Where does he play and how fast does he move up? How do you keep him down? OTOH, how can you cheat him out of a full year of ABs in the high minors?

Skole, Souza and Walters define the term "nice problems." But they are going to force some decisions in the next couple of years.

What on earth is Strasburg doing thowing sliders with his surgically repaired elbow? He has three supposedly "plus" pitches already; what does he need to endanger his elbow (given his somewhat fragile history to date) by learning a slider (and hanging a few, like everyone does)? Why not further sharpen the three weapons he has, and spend the extra time learning how to field his position and hold runners on base? Nats are nuts to let this guy throw sliders. That's my opinion, anyway.

That was my first reaction, too. Okay, maybe not THAT violent a reaction but a big cartoon "?" over my head.

There are different ways to throw a slider with different kinds of strain on the elbow. I want to find out how Strasburg throws it. But I have watched its impact on hitters. It gives him a pitch at the mid-point in velocity between his FB and curve. In effect, in his slider and his (very fast) changeup, he has two pitches at 88-89-90-91 that break in opposite directions. 

It's sure tempting to put together that weaponry if you can. Maybe Strasburg thinks he's 25, his arm is as mature and as healed as its every going to get, so, what-the-hell, lets see how good I can be and stop worrying about all this other junk.

Oh, he IS 25. And I bet that is how he feels. Time to take the last shreds of the shrink wrap off. Hold your breath.

Caps fans like myself are excited about the skills, youth and energy Kutnetsov will provide to the lineup. Even with only 17 games left in the season, what can Caps fan expect of him the remainder of the season? Is it too late for players including Halak, Penner and Kuznetsov to make a difference?

It's a very tough 17 games. Thee harder you look at it, the harder it looks right back at you and says, "NO. Not going to make it." 

But if the Caps do make it -- probably need 92 points -- I suspect that Halak, Penner and Kuz will be a big part of it. Halak likes to play in a goalie tandem. So that works. And he hung tough after he allowed a soft second goal vs Phoenix and kept the Caps within reach for a GREAT comeback on Saturday night -- the opposite of their blown 2-0 lead late vs the Flyers six days previous. That really woke up a dead drowd. You can prevent a season from dying without actually saving its life -- and I think that's what the Caps did with that win.

Penner score-from-close style, and his SIZE in front of the goal, are a nice piece for the Caps. He should help. As for "Nessie," I suspect he'll get perhaps 12 minutes a night pretty soon and could be a nice spark. At least these three give you some reasons to keep watching, instead of covering your eyes as they probably missed the playoffs.

I look at those SE Division banners in the roof at the Phone Booth and wonder if that weak competition all those years helped or hurt the Caps. If TB plays poorly and misses the playoffs, ALL of the teams from that division could miss the playoffs this year. Lightning probably makes it. But still... 

Hello Boz. I hear the Red Sox got fined for not sending enough "Opening Day Starters" vs the Marlins. Why? Is it the Red Sox fault for selling tickets at "Premium" prices for a game that doesn't really count? I mean the Marlins know there are split squad games and you get what you get. Who's to determine what the "Opening Day" line up will be when you still got old and new players joining teams? I mean some of those Minor league guys may make the Opening Day Squad! Isn't that what Spring Training is all about? We're talking the Marlins here. This is the team that promoted a "Friends and Family of Gio Gonzalez" promotion when the Nats came to Miami. Gio wasn't even going to pitch that day! We're talking the same Marlins team that built a new stadium with a faulty roof and then traded or sold All Their Opening Day Line Up befor Opening Day of 2013. It's LORIA who should be fined and have no room to complain. Thanks for letting me rant!!!

Loria should be fined every day just on general principles.

But I'm glad if it's true that the Red Sox (or anybody else) gets nicked for sending a lousy "B" team. Somebody's actually thinking of the fans?! I'm shocked. 

Boz, your column last week about windows closing portrayed the Caps as somewhat powerless in their own decline -- "their exceptionality just slipped away" as the years went by is how you put it. But isn't that letting the Caps' management off the hook? They made certain decisions and moves that have led to their current decline -- whether it's deciding to switch from the offensive style that had gotten them much regular-season success to a defensive style that brought them less regular season success and no great postseason success, bringing in more "gritty" players to complement that style of play, annually failing to upgrade the defense and poor drafting in recent years. (Oh, and trading away a great young prospect for a guy who is no longer with the team). Isn't this more a case of a GM failing to continually improve his team than just a team's "exceptionality slipping away"?

My point was that the window wasn't smashed by one or two awful moves that left everyone saying, "What an incredible blunder! THAT'S what sank 'em."

The Caps window cracked and crazed, it didn't smash. The message is Sense Of Urgency. When you see Desmond stealing bases and Strasburg throwing sliders in spring training that speaks to urgency -- peaking now, not "some season" in this long wonderful entirely-hypothtical window. But that approach has its risks, too. (That's another reason we watch.)

But, no, the Caps were not powerless in their own decline. They just weren't grossly incompetent. And if, eight years ago, you had said that Ovi would be in his ninth season (with three MVPs) and never have gotten past the round of eight, I assume most fans would have thought, "There must have been some HUGE screwup to cause that." There were plenty of (hindsight) mistakes, but no one or two catastrophes. It's interesting to me that such a dramatic result can have such subtle causes.

The need of many fans to demonize McPhee arises, in part, because it has to be SOMEBODY'S fault. Right? Right? In sports, we demand this kind of simplification. In our own lives, where we know all the details of decisions, I suspect we are more willing to kick the furniture and say, "It just didn't work out right. Life's a *^%#@."       

Boz - Great column on instant replay and it's significance for baseball. Without sounding too geeky and getting too into the weeds - a question about it's implementation in light of the Dodgers/Angels game last week when there was a Trout collision at the plate. If umpires call for a review (in this case to see if it was a collision at the plate) and see that Trout was safe in the process can they reverse that call even if it wasn't the reason for their review?

Good question. I have no idea.

If, in looking at the replay, the umps see one of "America's Most Wanted" sitting in the box seats, are they obligated to call the FBI?

The perennial contenders mid-market Cardinals have signed many of their good young players to long term contracts, and they are No. 1 in Baseball Prospectus' ranking of teams w/the best talent under age 25. Good news: the Nats are No. 2 and the Orioles are No. 6. Even better news, the Yankees are 28th!

The Cards continue to "do it" because they are:

1) Smart 2) Have always believed in building through the farm system all the way back to Branch Rickey 3) Have such a great tradition that they draw FAR more fans than they should be able to attract which allows them to have a "healthy market" payroll in what, demographically, ought to be a smallish market.

If the Nats system really deserves that No. 2 rating -- I would haven't gone THAT high -- then perhaps they have a shot at some Cards-like longevity as a contender. And in a top 10 market with more revenue potential. (Card ticket prices -- set for their market -- are lower than the Nats. So, the same crowd in DC pulls in more $ than in St. Louis. I realize this is obvious. Just sayin'...all crowds of 30,000 are not created equal. One in Boston is worth a lot more than one in Oakland.

I find it impossible to believe that Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins and Mo Cheeks do not have the knowledge of the game and how to compete that it takes to coach a team of pro basketball players; and yet they can't seem to hold on to a job? In the 80's, if Red Auerbach had a coaching vacancy and Mike Woodson was available back then, he would have learned his craft with the Celtics instead of wasting his time with the self-destructing Hawks and Knicks organizations he has worked for - Bad Breaks. So why would Phil Jackson be interested in working for James Dolan? All he has to do is talk to any coach who has worked for Dolan, Snyder or Jerry Jones (et al). Please explain.

Money talks.

And even past-70 Zen Masters crave the fame.

(Okay, not if they are REAL Zen Masters. But we never really thought Phil was that, right? That was his coaching schtick.)

This is probably the first non-Nats question I've ever submitted. As a Gator, I'm loving watching the basketball team this year. They play in an abysmal SEC this year but seem to have a lock on a No. 1 seed, and have looked very good in their big non-conference games. I don't know if you've seen enough of them to handicap their odds, but what do you think? And my real question... how nice is it to watch a mature, senior laden team in this era of one and done's?

My only thought is that -- just my gut guess -- those rare senior laden teams tend to outperform in March Madness. Is there a real college hoops maven in the house to offer examples -- or dispute the proposition? Isn't that one reason that mid-majors -- who have less underclassmen bolt to the NBA -- have had an era of outsized success in the NCAA tournament?

Tom, does it seem to you that Tanner Roark doesn't get the respect his stats would seem to deserve? Based on last year's performance, it would seem to me that he, not Detwiler, would deserve the fifth spot on the rotation. Instead, Detwiler has the in side track. Why? Better sheer stuff? Could it be that the front office, having invested a high pick in Detwiler, is biased in his favor?

Sometimes you have a player who "finds it" a little later in his career. When you do -- and Roark's career fits that prototype -- you REALLY need to find out the next year if you have a late-blooming star or a fluke. And you will find out fast. If he reverts, the 5.00+ ERA will arrive soon.

IMO, the Nats are aware of this and, to the surprise of many, will give Roark a big chance to prove he can duplicate the precise command and bulldog attitude of '13. If he can, you stole one. If he can't, the sounds will be very loud -- but it was still worth it to get the correct answer.

It takes so much practice to become good at golf. I've never imagined why players' bodies don't break down from so much practice. It isn't that most of us aren't as dedicated to golf as others. It is just that we can't play it eight hours a day and not break down. This seems to be finally happening to Tiger. Can he find a long enough window where he can practice enough to win a major?

Tiger concedes that this has been a real problem for him as several points in recent years.

He was in so much back pain on the back nine Sunday at Doral that he could barely bend over to get the ball out of the cup. (He shot 78, his highest final round as a pro.) The problem to mention will really be a concern for him between now and the Masters. What is the price of "getting sharp?" When is it better to go the Fred Couples method and rest your aching back, show up, depend on muscle memory, talent and nerve and play well anyway?

Because Woods WDed the previous Sunday I suspect he felt doubly pushed to finish Sunday.  (He even said that he hates to have his young kids see him quit.) When he shot 66 on Saturday, his decision to play Doral looked exactly right. Twenty-four hours later, it looked like about as foolish a decision as a golfer could make a month before a major. Tough game, tough calls. Especially when so many parts of your body tend to bark. Woods has had problems with both knees, his back, his neck, his elbow, his Achilles, his wrist -- just about anything you can hurt or wear down playing and practicing golf. If he ever wins those 19 majors, he deserves all the more credit for how hard it's been.  

The problem with the Caps has been defense. This has become even more apparent this year, with stretches of time when Alzner and Carlson have been the most experienced players on the blue line in a given game. There's very little depth there, and past those two there is no consistency. I know folks love Erskine's "toughness" and Green's supposed offensive prowess, but neither of those guys would get many minutes with other teams (though I imagine someone would take a flier on Green, given his past production). After that? Rookies and Orlov, who has yet to blossom. Oh, and Hillen, who can't seem to stay on the ice.

My dogs Mac and Molly have been all over me to make sure the Caps realize that their defensemen, as a group, really stink. Mac even raised his leg, just to make his point. So, I think that makes it official: EVERYBODY KNOWS!

Is Tiger's ego writing checks his body can't cash? Does he now have to make a choice: either try to be the number one player in the world or go for Jack's majors record? Looking at it from afar, it looks like the effort he put in to get his body and game ready for the early part of the Tour season is going to cost him any chance he had to win the Masters. Is he going to have to be more realistic about how much golf he can play in a year and when?

Nickalus career was so long because he rested so much and just peaked -- mentally and physically-- for majors. As Chi Chi said, Jack was "a legend in his spare time." For Tiger to win at 46, he may have to be a legend with spare parts.

Have you seen the new documentary about Dock Ellis ("No No: A Dockumentary")? Sports Illustrated had a breakdown about it with some fun facts. For instance, I never knew he was suspended 10 times for wearing hair curlers on the field.

Dock was one of only two players who actually threatened me the next day in the lockeroom after a story. I'm glad I didn't respond by saying, "Come on, man, are you trippin'?" "Cause maybe he was.

Bryce Harper said that, with a healthy knee, he should be able to stay in on left handed pitching. What type of performance should we expect to see with him against lefties, that will be indicative of a breakout season from him?

Many have suspected the knee hurt him vs lefties. Harder to hang in and hit against a firm front side. But, in a way, it's good to hear him say that this was true. It's a lot better than "wow, he sure has a problem with southpaws."

Oh, you want numbers! You came to the right guy. In '12, Harper's slash line against lefties was -- .240/.300/.415 for a .715 OPS. Decent for a rookie.

If he hits something like .260/.325/.460 for .785 OPS this year vs lefties, you could see a real break out year. His slash vs RHers last year was .300/.388/.560. He'll get about twice as many at bats vs RHers.

So, if he reaches the levels I cite above he would be about a .900 OPS -- a real power-hitting star.

A couple more and outta here. Hard getting to so many good questions/subjects.

After yet another middling, disappointing Terps season in which the team showed little improvement and lacked a remotely signature win, and with the move to the Big10, when does Turgeon's seat get warm? Terps will be loathe to buyout his contract, but his style may not be working. No true PG and heavy reliance on Dez to save the day aren't adding up to wins. Steve Blake is not walking through that door.


Perhaps you didn't notice the win over No. 5 Virginia yesterday?

His seat wasn't hot before that game. Now it's quite cool. Maryland has lost a lot of tough close games to good teams this year. That worm turns from season to season. He'll win his share -- yesterday in OT was just one of them. Turgeon's going to be at Maryland a long time. Just my two cents.

After the Caps loss to Montreal in 2010, I felt like I was a lone voice in saying "don't change anything." Was I the only one who remembered 1971 and that Dryden kid out of Cornell stealing a series from the Bruins? The Bruins didn't change their style after that and went on to win in '72. Even with the Canadiens looking like a bunch of musk oxen surrounding their young, there were plenty of shots that got through and really tested Halak. Like Dryden in '71, he made a bunch of key saves that stole the series. I still believe that all of the pundits were wrong in saying that the Caps couldn't win playing that style. I am sorry that Bruce lost faith in himself there. When he did, he lost the room.

Very interesting. I did think that Bruce lost the room. And Halak certainly stole the series, though by Game 7 the Caps were so tight they were squeezing their sticks to the breaking point.

But one game can have long consequences. Bruce is loving life now. The Caps, not so much.

Will we see him with the big club in 2014? I really like him and want him to succeed and stay with the organization. . .but. . .he's not a super star and he doesn't really fit, especially if RZ is going to spell AL at first. Your thoughts?

I've always thought his swing and his absolute monster numbers his last 1300 minor-league at bats -- 81 homers, 273 RBI -- meant that someday he would be "Josh Willingham" for somebody.

Some second-division team would be wise to trade for him, put him at first, LF or DH (or all three) and leave him alone for the next five years. He's 27. They'd get most of his prime years.

Your column last week mentioned the Nats' window and how it won't be open forever. And yet you didn't mention that in year 1 of that "window," they shut down their best pitcher before the playoffs because they felt that they would have many more chances before that "window" closed. And yet you vocally supported the shutdown. How do you square these two positions--if a window is only open for a short time, how do you justify not finding a way to keep Strasburg going in 2012?

Both are right. The Strasburg decision was correct best-practices medical opinion and defended the career of a potentially great player. One reason the window was open in '13, and will in '14-'15-'16 is because Strasburg is healthy and throwing sliders in spring training, not going through a second Tommy John surgery like Christian Garcia.

The top pitching prospect in the minors right now may be Lucas Giolito. Nobody thought he would sign with a MLB team coming out of HS. The Nats drafted him anyway, knowing he might be on the verge of needing TJ surgery. Giolito has specifically said that one reason he signed with the Nats (who took him with the 16th overall pick) was because of the conservative responsible way they handled Strasburg's comeback from TJ, including his shutdown. 

The wisdom of the Strasburg decision was apparent at the time and it's secondary benefits continue to appear.

And Strasburg was pitching on fumes the last month of '12, looked very poor and Detwiler, who took his place against the Cards, was the key to winning Game 4.

Windows don't stay open forever. And doing the right thing -- because it is the right thing to do -- is STILL the right thing to do. Both can be, and are, true.

It's fun to focus on the performance of guys like Espinosa, Jordan and Walters right now. It's also fun to see the established guys get ready for another season. But what's really exciting to me is something you've focused on several times in the recent past: this team is as well positioned to make playoff runs for the next 5-7 years as any team around. It doesn't mean it'll happen, but it's hard to believe it won't. In some ways, I think the biggest reason for that isn't the current 25-man roster but the guys coming right behind them. Walters, Solis, Giolito, Taylor, Goodwin, etc., will either provide additional talent to round the out the rotation, the bullpen, the bench or even the starting lineup or they'll provide trade bait to provide any missing pieces. The core of the roster is comprised of 20-somethings with real talent. The only remaining questions to me are will they "learn how to win" (gak, but it's true), and is Matt Williams a good enough manager to let it happen.

I agree with so much of that -- I may have to look into the possibility of putting you on retainer. (But maybe I couldn't afford you.)

To me, the Caps are most like the Senators or the Canucks. Good in the regular season for a long stretch, but never having that much post-season success. I think the moral of the story is that hockey post-season is too dependent on hot goalies and essentially a crap shoot, so you need fewer teams in the playoffs if you want the best teams to have a decent chance of winning the cup. MLB might be the same if 16 teams qualified for the post-season. Imagine how often an 80-win team could take 3 of 5 from a 104-win juggernaut.

Good points. But the NHL has always needed the 16-team playoffs to keep interest in its teams (and its sport) alive in as many towns as possible. It's been a financial survival issue.

If you're Bruce Allen, do you desperately try to fill every hole in this leaky dam of a roster by signing free agents galore, or do you build piece by solid piece for the future with the understanding that there's no way you can fill every hole this year? That was the longest sentence I've ever written. Sorry.

Will the Skins act out of impatience and over-estimation of their current talent or will they acknowledge that they are a 3-13 team that will need multiple seasons to rebuild?

Ouch, that's a question that usually answers itself.

Thanks again. We'll chat again in TWO weeks. (Off next Monday).

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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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