Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 14, 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

The Nats have now played 12 games. It's a small sample, but what conclusions can you make about Williams as manager? What do you like? What do you think is going to need some fine tuning?

He's brought a lot of energy. He's extremeely prepared on analyzing his lineups and defensive positioning. And we're certainly going to get to see how he reacts to adversity -- an absolutely central quality for a manager -- with Fister, Ramos, Zimmerman all out for several weeks. I doubt any will be back until May or late May in Z'man's case. And no concussion is "mild" for Span because he had a really serious concussion problem in Minnesota that cost him a big chunk of a season. Uggla should be ashamed of his clumsy or borderline dirty play in crossing Span's path between first and second. Maybe accidental, maybe not. Uggla's error led to three Nats runs and Spaan had just gotten an RBI hit to put Nats ahead 6-5. Looked like Uggla wanted to make Span change direction (against the rules) by cutting in front of him, maybe get him to trip, etc. Then they couldn't avoid eachother and Span got hurt. I think Gio hit Uggla on Sunday. Haven't checked. If he did, probably about as accidental as Uggla, pissed at his own error and Span's hit, getting Span's way. "Accidents" happen both ways.

So far the biggest worry with Williams is this fetish with "aggression" on the bases because he has an "aggressive personality" -- according to everybody -- and he wants his team to mirror his attitude. (Except he was a slugger and not an aggressive base runner.) Do the Nats have players SUITED to this kind of thinking. Or are they more likely to run into both outs and injuries?

Desmond, Span, Espinosa and Harper can be aggressive -- to a degree. It's in their nature/DNA as ballplayerss. Werth can go first-to-third. Other than that WHAT IS THE REST OF THIS NONSENSE ABOUT? LaRoche has gotten thrown out three times in crucial situations all on marginal gambles for a good base runner. As I wrote, he's not running carrying a piano on his back, he's running with the truck that the piano came in strapped to his back.

How did Z'man get hurt? Got picked off second with first and second, one out and the Nats down 4-1 in the fourth inning. Where is he GOING? Why be "aggressive" in that situation. It's a mindset. Well, it's a mindset than can get some valuable mid-order hitters hurt while they try to do what they think the manager wants them to do. That's a "big-inning" situation, not a get-an-extra-base situation. Regardless of what was in Z'man head, it illustrates how unnecesssary base-running dives, tags, slides, etc., open up the chance of extra outs and injuries.

The Nats need improvement on FUNDAMENTALS. And in poise under pressure -- like Gio's leadoff walk on Sunday, then picks up a sacrifice bunt and throws it away past first base. Awful. And too typiucal of Gio's nerves in big games (yes, Game 5). In effect, Gonzalez gave the Braves two runs to start the game. He got rattled, they got good and nailed him for six runs in the first two innings. Just a way-below-pay-grade performance by a pitcher with great talent. Williams needs to impact fundamentals and poise -- both of which he was tops at himself. The extra basse stuff is gravy. So far, not much change their fundamentals or poise on Saturday and Sunday.

Don't know if Williams is partially responsible for their tenacity in all their excellent comebacks from early-inning deficits. That's possible -- more patient good at bats. The Friday game would have been a brilliant win if Clippard hadn't given up the homer in the eighth.

Finally, the most worrisome moment so far for me was sending Barrett back to the minors after one minor glitch and still with a 0.00 ERA. Confidence is tricky. He's beeen loaded with it. Williams seemed like he sent down a pitcher who was blossoming so he could lengthen his bullpen for one game versus Atlanta. I want to find out more about that. If so, very nervous short-term thinking. Maybe there's no better rationale. I'll see.  

What's up with Clippard? Every time he comes in, he gives up a soul-crushing run.

Clip has a serious problem with the Braves but almost no one else. His ERA against them in his last ~10 games is about 10.00. Maybe he is tipping his pitches which would be a big problem since he relies on his fastball and change almost entirely and if you know which one it is it eliminates a lot of his deception with the goofy windup. But then why hasn't anybody else figured him out? He's one of the hardest to hit pitchers -- batting average against -- in the history of baseball.

A lot bigger problem would be if the Braves just own him -- have a bunch of hitters in one lineup that "see him well" and have good at bats. Partly, I think their success against him has gotten in is head. A couple of the HRs have been on awful pitches right down the middle.

So, try to find out if you're "tipping." Execute better. And let the law of average work in your favor -- NOBODY can continue to hit anybody as well as the Braves have hit Clippard. You couldn't do it in batting practice.

Clippard has been, and will continue to be one of the best set-up men in baseball as long as he'ss healthy. And he is healthy -- hitting 94 mph with his fastball which is as fast as he's ever thrown it. He's added a decent curve over the last two years to mix in. He'll turn around. But against the Braves it needs to be a huge turnaround.

I have two statements to make about the Redskins this season. First RGIII should have Joe Montana on speed dail for the rest of his life. He should have every type of film on Joe. His game is most like Joes. Second, Haslett should have no excuses. Our defense should be in the top five or 10. Pass this on the Redskins Nation. Thanks.

Haz has never had a defense that good in his life. And nothing remotely close to top 10 in the last >10 years. There is no visible evidence that he is even an average defensive coordinator. I'm amazed he still has his job. I'll be glad if he succeeds next year. But the record of his teams since he left Pittsburgh (long ago) is dismal. The Skins line of argument is that Shanahan -- the universal explanation of all problems -- would not let Haz be Haz. Oh, please. I've publishedd the record of the Haz-Mat defenses in the cht before. 

Nobody who is a mobile QB wwould be hurt by studying Montana. Bet RGIII has. As for Skins fans, looks like the team has improved some -- just subtracting the Shanahans and their poison relationships within the team should be worth a couple of games. So, an improved team but not yet a good team. Can the Skins and their fans cope with that reality? If both could manage it, it would actually smooth the path to them becoming a good team much more quickly.    

Tom, a week ago you spoke of having to do well in the six games vs. the Braves ... so where are we? Thanks.

It's the nature of baseball that any team could go 2-4 in those games and MAYBE you could say, "Well, an ump and replay got a ruling wrong in the home opener and the game Friday was an April classic and the Braves pulled it out, but it's not too terrible." 

But 1-5 means you had a major early challenge to face and you sucked. I saw the first four games, will watch the replay of Sat and Sun when I get back. But they seemed to be gradually worsening efforts. Injuries, sure. But the Braves have even worse injuries with 3/5 of their starting rotation still out. You get beaten by Aaron Harang in an important game.

Lets look at the importance of "Double Games" head to head. Nats are one game behind Braves. If they'd gone 3-3, they'd be three games ahead and if they got 4-2 they be FIVE games ahead and the Braves would be stunned. So, Atlanta did exactly what they needed to do -- good fundamentals, very focused, great bullpen and Justin Upton, who'd been ice cold got red hot the day before the Nats got to Atlanta.

The bad news? Going 1-5 against a division rival who has vision. Las Vegas sure thought it. Owned you is the definition of BAD NEWS.

The good news? Man, hand me the rose-colored glasses. There probably is one small one. Many thought the Braves were hurt so badly that the Nats would have the easiest path to the playoffs of any team in any division. Las Vegas sure thought it. Well, now NOBODY thinks it -- especially the Nats. Between now and June, when they meet the Braves next, they can focus on teams they CAN beat and they can get healthy. But by June the Braves should have Mike Minor and Gavikn Floyd in their rotation.

The Nats had a chance to knock the Braves down in April if they'd gone 4-2 or 3-3 and give them a standing eight count. They squandered it. And the Braves TOOK it. Teams like the Nats, after Game 5 and the sickly first 111 games of '13 are in danger of getting a reputation that no team wants -- bad under pressure. You can't avoid it. You have to face it. It may not be an 800-pound gorilla yet, but I'd say it's gaining on 400 pounds. When people say the Nats lack grit to match their talent, these series are an example. Matt Williams has gotten an up close look, and feel for the problem. He's been in the dugout as the Sunday game turned into a 10-2 stinker. How do you add mental toughness? Thed Nats certainly had it as underdogs in '12. With MANY of the same players. How do they regain it now as an overdog team?

Over to you, Matt, what's your answer?

BTW, a LOT of piece puzzle pieces in the first 12 games. remember, 7-5 is the season record, not 1-5. Harper back up to .310. Rendon(.345) maybe having break out year. But Roark and Jordan looked shakey enough in Atlanta that you can see why the Nats wanted Fister so badly.

If Fister is 100 percent, I want to see him against the Braves. He has big-game presence. He's one potential balance-of-power attitude changer as the LONG season goes on.

Just started, folks.

He's missed parts of the last four Aprils. Is this conditioning issues or a product of bad luck?

Not sure it's four straight. He's in shape. A lot of his injuries have come on head-first slides or dives into bases -- three of them, I think.

So, maybe, head first is something that Ryan Zimmerman should NEVER DO AGAIN on the bases. Because he dives so much at third base, maybe he thinks that diving back into second or into home plate is similar. It isn't. Coming into home you're going full speed -- a much more violent shock. When you dive back into bases you may jam your hand into the base, get cleated, many things. Live and learn. But he's 29. When does he learn?

Boz, the first two games I was impressed with Angel Hernandez - a first for me - for the way he handled the constant challenges. Then he was behind the plate on Sunday and I was reminded why Chipper Jones said he'd never watch a game with Hernandez umping a game. Is it true that an umpire shouldn't "give" a pitcher both sides of the plate? There was an AB with Jayson Werth (I think) where Hernandez called a strike off the plate well outside and then another well inside. How is a batter supposed to do anything other than strike out?

Everybody has players/umps that rub them the wrong way. Angel does that to me. Less in recent years. He used to pick arguments with players, initiate rather than just respond. Maybe he's toned that down.

Tom, Looks like the Nats new manager has instilled in them the "right way" to play, with no more giving away several outs a game on the basepaths and giving the other team extra outs. Or perhaps not. At what point will Matt pull Bryce from the game for making Little League baserunning mistakes? Sure looks a lot like last year.

Look, after a well-deserved Manager of the Year, you mean it wasn't ALL Davey? The players might have had something to do with being all-but dead with seven weeks left?

Davey had a bad year, in my book, after a well-deserved Manager of the Year season in '12. But one reason he was so frustrated was that things he couldn't control -- like some of the left-side-of-infield errors, mental mistakes and poor fundaments that we've seen against the Braves were an almost daily problem for months. 

Williams is assumed to be a "player's manager." Don't throw 'em under the bus. But he needs to reach them some way. Probably not after 12 games. Presumably the veteran core is furious with themselves.

Remember, praise or blame the manager is the easy way out. Fans want to admire and root for players -- you've noticed that they wear thousands of player jerseys to games for every ONE manager's jersey that you see. So they are quick to forgive players and quick to blame managers.

The Nats have a chance to face their OTHER nemesis -- the Cards -- in four games at home this week. So if they want to show that they can play with poise against a contender who'ss been confident against them in the past, then do it Thursday-through-Sunday. You don't always get a chance to atone quickly. Nats are banged uip. That's bad. Gives them the chance to band together -- as they did in the face of even worse injuries early in '12. That's good. Or could be. 

Why would they send down arguably their best pitcher this season to the minors?

Good question. I don't get it. At all. I'll ask. One risk: What if he goes down, gets in the dumps and has a hard time getting back up? Don't mess with a good thing.  

Boz is currently at a Waffle House (not the one Bubba Watson was at) and wanted everyone to know that it appears celebrating a Masters win at Waffle House is easier than getting consistent Internet connection. He needs to catch a plane in Atlanta and apologizes for the brief chat. He will be back chatting next Monday at 11 a.m. 

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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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