Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jun 09, 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

I was just reading last week's chat and your comments about Frank Howard. I wanted to share my favorite Howard home-runs. It was probably 1969, I don't remember who we were playing or who was pitching but...Howard hit a line drive into the center field mezzanine level. Center field at the time was 410 feet from home plate. It looked to me like the ball was just starting to come down when it went into the seats which suggests to me it could have gone on for another 300 feet or so for a 700 something foot home-run. In the summer of 1970 I was an usher working in the centerfield stands (upper deck.) I was looking down at my ice-cream when I heard the crack of the bat. I looked up and over to my right to see the ball and a bunch of fans heading out through one of the exit wells.

Nice tone setter. Thanks.

Where does he fit in when he returns?

Last Thursday I was in the group that chatted with him before the last game of the homestand. He came right out and said "I like CF" and added that "my numbers are a lot better (playing center)." Then he quickly added that Denard Span was one of the best centerfielders "if not the best" and added that "I'll play where they want me." 

I was a little surprised that he'd make it so clear when there's a veteran incumbent who would be out of a starting job if Harper plays CF -- especially if he ended up playing it almost every day with Z'man in LF and Werth in RF.

Harper also said that "I'm not going to rush back. I'm not going to do anything stupid....If it takes much longer, then thaat's what it will be."

Matt Williams had, the previous day, talked about the possibility of him returning around July 1. Harper left every possibility open, but also used the phrase "after the All-Star break."

IOW, it was a pretty polished job of saying a lot and also saying nothing that could be definitely pinned down. But the subtext -- maybe not even so "sub" -- was: I'd rather play CF. And I'm not going to hurry back.


Boz, You gonna be following the World Cup? What do you think about Klinsmann leaving Donovan off the roster? In my opinion, it's complete madness to leave the best US soccer player of all time off the roster. Basically, a power trip on the part of Klinsmann, who was never a fan of Donovan going back many years. So, according to Klinsmann, 18-year-old Julian Green (who made the final cut) is better than the best player in US soccer history? C'mon!

Klinsmann seems to be on an ego trip. But that was his MO as German coach and that worked out well.

His comments about Donovan and U.S. culture -- a sense of entitlement for past success, Kobe's contract -- are "unfortunate." For decades soccer has been trying to draw the United States INTO its sphere, not drive us away. Is this how you do it?

Success is always a good deodorant. Klinsmann seems to be betting on it. Otherwise, the Landon Donovan decision will just be the first illustration by critics of why he "stinks" as coach.

Good luck with the Group of Death. At least Germany-Portugal-Ghana-U.S. would have given some excuse for a poor showing. Now, the focus may go from an initial "Go U.S." to "Goodbye, Jurgen."

Maybe he knows something about the psychology of the U.S. team. He certainly shook up the German team, talking about the need for a "revolution" in its approach in '06. Lets hope that's the case with the U.S. team, too.

How much do you think it'll take to resign him?

The better he pitches -- like his amazing two-hitter Sunday -- and the more LONG homers that Ian Desmond hits, the more discussion we'll have about their contracts. The short answer: If he has a good year, then well north of $100-million.

Both are signed through '15. But it's a complex issue. Do the Nats try to extend Fister or Z'mann or both? Just about every day Danny Espinosa takes balls at SS. One of maany reasons that his recovery at the plate is important to the Nats is because he's under team control THROUGH '17. So, he's an insurance policy -- of sorts -- is Desmond leaves after '15. Priority No. 1 is to sign them both.

So how long will the league suspend him for, and more importantly, how long will Buck make him sit as a lesson on how to play the game right?

Well, we're not short of controversies or hot-button topics this morning. I watched the O's-A's series including the bench-clearing events on Friday and Sunday which Machado caused. He might say that he just reacted.

I think Machado should be suspended for throwing the bat at A's pitcher Abad on Sunday. How long? I'll trust Joe Torre to get that roughly right. But there's little or no doubt -- after everything that preceded it -- that he did it on purpose. This isn't a legal issue or even a beyond-a-reasonable doubt call. You can't let players throw the bat at other players -- even if they just had two pitches thrown inside and even if they miss the pitcher by 50 feet. As context, Machado and Donaldson, both star third basemen, had a bench-clearing confrontation on Friday. Later in that game Chen hit Donaldson with a fastball. On Sunday, after Machado had twice hit A's catcher Norris in the head with the bat on his follow-through, Abad threw at Machado's knee, which probably angered him because of his knee injury at the end of last season.  

The O's TV announcers were candid about Manny's heave.  "Uh oh, you know where that bat was intended to go -- at the pitcher," said Thorne. Bordick: "That did not look good." "I can't read minds but if I'm an umpire. that was intentional," added Thorne, who's one of the best.

The thing that bothers me most, but which no one but Machado really knows, is the TWO times that he hit Oakland catcher Derek Norris in the head (helmet) with his bat on the long follow-through of his swing on Sunday. The whole series had bad blood, started when Machado threw his helmet in Donaldson's direction after a semi-hard tag on Friday. The first time Machado hit Norris was in the first inning of a 0-0 game. I assume that was innocent. But the second time the score was 10-0 Oakland. And Machado really torqued himself far around on his follow-through. Norris was out on his feet and had hard words for Machado after the game. wasn't too bad. Manny probably overreacted.

Machado is still just 21. He definitely needs to grow up. Buck is exactly the person to help that process.  

Bos, While always possessing great "stuff," our Nats rotation -with the exception of Jordan Zimmermann - has always seemed to lack the toughness that marks truly great pitching. Do you think the additions of Fister and Roark - two bulldogs - changes the equation? And will their mentalities rub off on Stras (or Gio)? Thx!

You're certainly right that Z'mann, Fister and Roark have great aggressive makeup.Yes, Gio seems to need work in that area. Maybe there will be some "rub off."

I'd say that Straburg is making unnoticed strides in a lot of areas this year. And toughness may be one of them. He's on pace for 271  strikeouts this year if he makes 35 starts. (In theory he could still make 36 starts, but 35 would be most likely.) That would put him ahead of the career-best of an incredible list of pitchers: FelixHernandez (232), Scherzeer (240), Greinke (242), Mark Prior (245), Kershaw (245), Guidry (248), Don Drysdale (251), Blyleven (258), Tiant (264), Johan Santana (265), Lincecum (265), Kerry Wood (266), VERLANDER (269).

Yes, there are more strikeouts these days. But that quite a list. If he heats up with the summer, here are some others just above 271. Bob Gibson (274), Dwight Gooden (276), Yu Darvish (277), Denny McLain (280), Roger Clemens (292).

Lets see how Strasburg handles his next three starts in big games (by June standards) -- Giants tonight, then Cards and probably next against the Braves next week. Those lineups will test him. But, then again, maybe it will be Strasburg who is testing those lineups?

SS still has an abnormally high career percentage of unearned runs (15 percent). Part of that is because, in the past, he has let errors rattle him. But, also, part of it is that there have been a lot of errors behind him. 

What I see in Strasburg this year is slow steady progress in almost every area. He is MUCH better at holding runners.

Few have noticed but the Nats pitching staff is now the second best in baseball at stopping the running game, behind only the Cards with Yadier Molina catching. Almost nobody even tries to run on them -- especially the relievers, who have greatly improved (like Storen) -- and the Nats have thrown out about 40 percent of those who have tried.

Not sure he did it on purpose, but regardless of that, what do you think the press would be saying about it and the player if it was Puig or Harper? And is Rendon now a better third baseman than Machado?

Plenty will be said about it. I'm just as concerned about Machado's hitting -- .235 and only .636 OPS -- and whether his knee is 100 percent yet. Did MLB spend the winter getting a book on Manny? Does he need to make some adjustments? I'm hyper sensitive to his knee injury (kneecap dislocation) because I had the same injury at about the same age and never really got completely over it. Of course, they know how to treat it much better now.

Rendon is a good third baseman who still has rough edges and makes a few careless errors. He's not up to prime-Ryan-Zimmerman yet. And, good as he is, he is not from the same universe at Machado was last year -- almost as good as I have ever seen and I watched Brooks Robinson for many years. I say "almost" because it was "just" one year. Let him do it for 10+ more years.

Hello Tom: Can you explain to me why batters can often sacrifice bunt to advance a player from first to second but they can't bunt to beat the shift? Chris Davis is hitting only .230. The other day when he was batting, the A's third baseman was closer to second than third. Is it that hard to lay down a bunt to the left side that rolls past the pitcher? If Davis only succeeds half the time, he is hitting .500 in those situations. Shouldn't he be practicing his bunting?

We're watching yet another "dialectic" play out. Thesis (pull hitting). Anti-thesis (versions of the Ted Williams Shift become common place). Synthesis (even Adam LaRoche actually starts to learn to hit to all fields, well, sometimes, and has a .400+ on-base percentage.)

More hitters will learn to use more of the field and learn that it isn't "weakness" to take what the defense gives you. In part, hitters don't want to mess up their swing -- and their power stroke -- by going the other way. Fine, then develop a modified method when you want to beat the shift. There are still a couple of hitters who b at with their hands split by perhaps 3/4 of an inch. But it's been rare for generations. Yet both Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner hit with their hands more than an inch apart on the bat -- for much better place-hitting control. The first time Cobb and Wagner were together in the World Series as batting champions of their respective leagues they were asked by photogs to pose together. They'd never played against each other or even SEEN each other play (the story goes). Cobb stood up lefty and Wagner righty and, supposedly, to their surprise they both had the same unorthodox hands-split batting style but from opposite sides of the plate. One of my favorite stories. I wonder if there is any way to find out if it is actually true or an illustration of "too good to be true."

Anyway, I've wondered why bad-hitting pitchers haven't tried it. None ever has, to my knowledge, or hitters who want to beat the shift. 

Hi Bos. While California Chrome's owner was a little over the top, we shouldn't dismiss his underlying point. But instead of banning horses who don't compete in the Kentucky Derby, I think they should increase the time between races. Is there any reason that they cant have a month between races for the horses to rest?

Everybody should given themselves a treat and read, if they haven't already, Andy Beyer's followup column on Chrome's owner (sounding like a sorehead) and his jockey perhaps killing Chrome's best chances with a bad decision early in the race -- not to go to the lead when it was clear the pace was slow -- that got him caught in the middle of traffic with lots of mud in his face.

If you make a change that fundamental to the Triple Crown then you fundamentally change what it is and make all comparisons with the past 100-plus years almost moot.

I've covered three or four of those Failed Triple Crown races at Belmont. They leave the whole sport sad. The Sport of Kings has needed a break for 20 years and never seems to get one. Even great horse racing movies don't seem to spark the game. One side of my family, in Delaware, usually had a trotter or pacer that would race at Ocean Downs. Nothing high quality. I remember, in the summer, watching my uncle Josh drive in races as my grandfather and great uncle cheered for him. So, whenever racing gets a disappointment I always feel a tiny pang of sympathy.

Boz, If the Nats catch fire right before Harper is set to return from his rehab, would the Nats consider just keeping him on the bench until the streak cools off?


So, I don't know if you saw the interview last week, but Michael Wilbon is returning to the Post next month and says he wants to be THE sports columnist focusing on baseball and golf, though he's willing to do anything, of course, but that's what he really wants to do. How do you, Tom, respond, when you were named one of the top three sports columnists in the National League last year, are a solid team player, and are on a particularly hot streak lately, helping right the Post product after a bad stretch?

Welcome back, Michael! Love ya, Big Guy.  

(But make sure to get yourself a food taster.)

Bos, In your humble opinion, who is the greatest tennis player of all time? Is it: a) Pete Sampras, b) Roger Federer, c) Rafael Nadal, or d) other. Ready. Go! - Alexandria, VA

First, I'd suggest, to anybody who didn't, reading Liz Clarke's wonderful gamer on Nadal-Djokovic's French Open final. She really has a sense of what clay court tennis takes out of players. "...extending a record that exceeded what many have deemed humanly possible on a tennis court."

That match deserved the big play we gave it on D1 today.

I was the Post's national tennis writer for a few years, covered US Opens and Wimbledons, but never a French. But I covered countless sweltering clay-court matches at 16th and Kennedy Sts, N.W. I thought the players might die and if they didn't the fans might and if they didn't I was seriously thinking about just collapsing myself.

What makes me sad is that the lack of top U.S. men's players -- almost total extinction, as our story over the weekend pointed out -- has reduced interest in men's tennis. I even noticed that Chris Evert tweeted that she was heading home after Sharapova won the women's side. Someone asked how she could leave before the men's final and she just said family was more important.

Just wanted to note that, apparently, some of our literal minded chatters didn't understand that a previous question -- about Wilbon returning to the Post -- was (OBVIOUSLY) a joke. And, of course, so was my answer. Jeeez.

The chatter was making the point that Bryce Harper was, perhaps, throwing his glove in the ring for the CF job while Span still HAD the job. And it would be similar to...

I assume very high standards for chatters, so I figured 100 percent would get the joke. But 100 percent is a very high assumption!   

What did you think of the draft pick?

By the time you get to the No. 18 overall pick, nobody knows and nobody even has very much of a clue. Only about 1-in-6 draft picks at the No. 18-level have had noticeable MLB careers. Willie Wilson (KC CFer) was the best -- a batting champ and also had 133 runs and 230 hits for the '80 Royals who made the Series. A pitcher like JHoe Magrane would be considered a "success" with No. 18 overall. The A's recently got excellent Sonny Gray with that pick.

But if the Nats get a pitcher with impact at that spot they were 1) smart and 2) lucky.

Once again, they played the TJ surgery card picking Fedde two days after he had the elbow surgery. That's a good strategy -- go for high-ceiling talent that has what may be a temporary injury problem.

I believe that (Erick) Fedde rhymes with "risky."

Nats starters have issued one walk in the past six starts. That might be the most amazing thing to me over this stretch of games.

Great pitching. But against very injured (Texas) or slumping (Phils) or awful-hitting (Pads) teams.

I can't wait for the Nats-Giants series this week. It might be a preview on the NLCS. (Yes, there are a whole bunch of others, too. But this one is plausible.)

SF has been wonderful (42-21) but has also had almost perfect health. Belt (1st base) is the only regular who hasn't played in almost every game. So the apparent gap between the two teams on early-season record is at least part illusion.

But the Giants are very mentally tough and still have that excellent rotation, which now includes Tim Hudson who has owned the Nats his whole life. The Nats will m iss faciung Lincecum who pitched on Sunday and whom they tend to hit hard. So, they'll face the Giants' best and will use Blake Treinen, who did well vs the Pads, in one start.

(It was smart to give Gio another rehab start after he got shelled at Potomac but said his shoulder felt "great.")

If Nationals go 2-2, it will be a good job. 

Any real favorites? Without Tiger playing, it loses its excitement.

For me, the Open always generates its own excitement as the week builds to Sunday. And the leader board at the U.S. Open usually has plenty of odd names. It's part of the tradition.

But, yes, golf needs Tiger. And it needs Phil, too. Great athletes tend to be able to focus -- sometimes focus their very best -- when they need to block out "distractions." You know, distractions Or an insider trading probe.  

How much do you attribute the Braves' recent struggles to their relatively difficult schedule in May and how much do you attribute to the team's hitting and pitching flaws? If the Nats can't beat this Braves team over 162 games, it may suggest that the Nats aren't as formidable as we all hope they are.

I'll say this while they are tied for first place. The Nats look stronger. But can they play the Braves well enough head-to-head? 

The Braves have had terrible luck with pitching injuries. But they did an excellent job of plugging with Earvin Santana and (OMG) Aaron Harang. But that problem won't get better this year. They'll have to keep their fingers crossed on that rotation all year. Also, looks like the vacuum at second with Uggla and the bad $75M contract to B.J. Upton will continue to be problems this year. So, the Braves, I think, have a modest ceiling for '14. They've outscored the league by only eight runs and are on an 85-win pace. Maybe "that's them." OTOH, what have the Nats done despite all their injuries. They've outscored the league by 38 runs and have been three loses "unluckly." Run differential says they are a ~93-win team -- even with their injuries so far.

What do the Braves have going for them?

The Nationals.

The Nats have played their worst baseball when head-to-head with the Braves for the last two years. If the Nats can play .500 against the Braves, they should win the N.L. East, imo.

(The Marlins are much improved and if Jose Fernandez hadn't gotten hurt we'd be looking at them hard. But he was. So, lets give the Marlins full credit, but not go crazy over them.)

The Braves are a very strong team mentally and fundamentally. That's exactly the kind of team, and test, that the Nats need to prove that they can handle. If was easier as an underdog in '12.

But you frame the question well: If the '14 Nats, assuming they stay in reasonable normal MLB health, can't handle the '14 Braves, with their problems that will not go away until '15 (at the earliest), then the Nats probably need to reevaluate themselves at some positions.        

On a scale from one to the greatest story ever, where would Phil conquering his final demon and winning the US Open at the site of his first (of many!) major heartbreaks rank? Corollary: Is his game in shape to do it? He's had a very poor year by his standards.

It would be amazing because he hasn't played well, his game doesn't seem to be in peak shape and he wants to win the Open so badly.

IOW, all the "extra" factors make it an even better story.

Yes, as you say, they might have to change the name to "Philhurst No. 2."

Boz, I realize the Nats haven't been playing the class of the NL of late (or the AL, for that matter) but they've really turned their hitting around. Is it an abberation? I guess we'll find out the next four games, huh?

The Nats are 15th of 30 teams in scoring right now, even with all their injuries. So, where will they ended up with better (but far from perfect) health? About 10th, I'd think. The Nats were 10th in runs-per-game in '12 when they also were hurt early then rebounded and hit much better.

And they are now No. 2 in MLB in ERA (3.00) and first in the N.L., ahead of Braves (3.02) and Giants (3.07).

When things are going poorly, we say they're going poorly. Right now, this looks like a team that's about to click. BUT the Soriano blown save on Saturday prevented a 6-game win streak. And the Giants and Cards in their homes for 7 straight games is a test that even a very good team might do well at 3-4. 

Every part of a season feel important at the time. But I suspect that the next two weeks will still feel very important -- in defining this team -- in September.

Tom, if you were Nats manager how would you handle the outfield when Harper returns (given that everyone is healthy)?

It's an almost perfectly balanced dream/nightmare scenario for Matt Williams! It's a "good problem to have." Not many teams get to say, "Which way makes us Even Better." But, man, it is also a PROBLEM because adult behavior is going to be required of somebody or several somebodies.

I'm seeing more and more young/youth soccer players cross over to lacrosse and never come back. What do you see nationally? Is lacrosse taking over soccer in the US inevitable?

Soccer will kill baseball (just you wait and see).

Lacrosse will kill soccer (just you wait and see).

I thought lacrosse was a great sport in '69 when I was going to college games as a fan. I thought soccer was the "coming" sport when I covered it in pro leagues for the Post in the '70's and '80's.

Lacrosse and soccer were and still are great games. But as our Post poll on soccer over the weekend showed, major shifts in sport-popularity happen VERY slowly, if they happen at all. And soccer support now isn't much different than it was 20 years ago.

Everybody loves their own favorites sports in exactly the order that they value them. The one thing they don't want to hear is: The more things things changes the more they stay the same.

Some sports do shrink dramatically during one lifetime: boxing, horse racing. And others rise. But America really seems to love its Big Three sports over long periods of time. And not let others quite supplant them. Why?

IOW, why was I watching LeBron score 35, and wondering whether the a/c in San Antonio would malfunction in the 4Q last night. We build up a personal history -- of emotions and of ridiculously detailed knowledge about the sports we grow up on. They own a huge portion of our Mind Share. It's very hard to change that. I always say: Enjoy what you enjoy. Don't try to over-analyze it. And don't get mad about what other people enjoy or call them names. They are probably right, too. SOMEDAY I am even going to enjoy NASCAR.

Have you been to Pinehurst yet? If so how does the course look, and any predictions on who might contend this weekend?

I went last May to see the course changes. Without the rough the course is much less scary to the eye (and the game) of the average lifelong hacker (me). I played from almost 7000 yards, played every shot down and shot 94 on No. 2.

But with that nasty patchy tufted grass all over the place the course may seem just as scary to the pros. I looked at No.2 and thought, "Not as tough as it used to be....for me." But I bet it'll be plenty tough next week.

It'll also be fascinating to see the women play their U.S. Open on the same track the next week. I know how great their games are. But I suspect lots of general fans will understand their gifts better if they watch both weeks of play on No. 2.  

Tom, It seems to me that the Nationals will not be truly an elite team until they can beat GOOD teams with regularity. What I'm seeing this season is that similar to last season, we beat the teams we should beat but when it comes to the elite teams, we struggle. This is a shame because individually, we seem to have so many good pieces. Your thoughts?

My thought is that I've seen relatively few pitching staffs as good as Strasburg, Z'mann, Gio, Fister, Roark, (Treinen), Soriano (2.59 career ERA, 2.58 as a Nat, despite Saturday's "meatball"), Clippard, Storen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Detwiler and reinforcements at AAA.

Really good deep pitching usually stabilizes teams emotionally when they face tough opposition. We'll see soon if that applies to the Nats. First installment of How Good Are They Really is in the next two weeks.

Nothing like an aging coach who got a big contract because he won a World Cup to lecture folks on entitlement.

He's set himself to take a lot of heat along these lines.

The argument that horse racing needs a triple crown winner to help the sport seems wrong to me. The reason the tripe crown is so compelling is it has not been accomplished in nearly four decades. The moment it happens, why watch again?

Another Triple Crown winner would increase interest, I think. For many years it was unusual but not THAT unusual. And the sport seemed to feed off those periodic hero horses.

No offense to Ben Crane, but are you a little concerned that there aren't bigger names playing well the week before the US Open? Who do you think is going to show up and play well for four straight days this week?

Yes, I cringed, too, when I saw Crane had won the St. Jude's -- and closed with a 73. That's the second straight week that the final round was "unimpressive" by the leaders.

So, here's my prediction: An incredible Car Crash finish next Sunday with one of the great U.S. Open group gags. 

Those are fun, too.

Bos, this is akin to how big a lead you need before you stop stealing bases. I believe the conventional wisdom is seven runs. Yesterday Bob Melvin successfully challenged a close play at first in the ninth inning with his team ahead 11-1. The review took hnearly four minutes in an already over-long game (17 walks). He saved his shortstop a throwing error, which I guess is good, but the few remaining fans booed long and hard when they saw him come on the field. I'm with them!

There was plenty of bad blood all weekend. So maybe that was the A's thumbing their noses at the O's when they had an 11-1 lead. 

This is mostly a hunch, but: I think that Desi ends up signing a long-term contract extension, and J.Zimm does not. I don't think either will give a hometown discount, exactly, but Desmond seems more keen on remaining a Nat for his career than Zimmerman - and, as an up-the-middle position player, is a better bet to provide real value on that contract than a pitcher in his Age 30-35/6 seasons. As a fan I'd of course be thrilled to have them both, but every great start from Tanner Roark and Blake Treinen shows, I think, how even high-end pitching is a much more fungible commodity than a reliable, elite position player.

Generally speaking, if you have enough pitching in your pipeline, then the everyday player (Desmond) is less difficult to project -- or justify -- as an investment. And it is VERY tough to find a 20-plus HR SS who is also a team leader.

In the abstract, you hope both get extended, but I suspect it'll be one or the other. If you want to call Espinosa a Desmond insurance policy, okay. But I'd rather have the real Desmond signed. The benchmark shortstop contract right now is Elvis Andrus. The Rangers owe his $118M for eight years AFTER this year. And he came through D.C. last week hitting .253 and jaking it on a play that cost the Rangers a run. That kind of thing scares owners/GMs and makes them want at least some semblance of a hometown discount before they sign over the entire farm.  

Tom, with all due respect, I think your comments on Klinsmann are a bit short-sighted. I was as stunned as anyone else that Donovan was left off of the roster, and I'm still not sure whether it was the right move - however, I have come to understand the logic behind it. In addition to his sabbatical, which rubbed people the wrong way, Donovan openly admitted that he couldn't always give 100 percent in training and felt that he should be a starter. He's 32 and has a ton of mileage on his legs, and with an unsettled defense, Klinsmann is expecting the midfielders and forwards to track back and help on both ends of the field. Is Donovan capable of doing that? If not, was he mentally prepared to play the role as a "supersub", or would he end up being in someway disruptive to chemistry? The US has an unfortunate history - in all sports - of relying on old warhorses and looking for tales of rebirth and redemption. We did it in 2006 with Claudio Reyna and Eddie Pope - two of the finest players in US Soccer history who were past their primes. Other nations, admittedly with far better "reserves" of talent available, have cut or demoted legendary players - Ronaldinho in 2010 in Brazil to Klinsmann's own benching of Oliver Kahn in 2006. If we hope to advance as a soccer playing nation on the World stage, we should not accept the successes of the past as evidence of progress that could be made in the future. We need to emulate the best countries in the world, in development and in tough roster decisions (and everywhere in between), and not turn to an "insular" American viewpoint. We're not going to bring more people into the sphere by bringing Landon Donovan and struggling to get out of the group - nor are we going to bring more people into the sphere by struggling to get out of the group WITHOUT him. We're going to bring more people in by winning and by growing as a program across all levels. US Soccer has decided for the time being that Klinsmann is the man to lead us there. Whether he is or not, that remains to be seen, but "old reliable" tactics and attitudes haven't gotten us there yet.

You're certainly correct that "old reliable" hasn't done it and Klinnsman got a third-place finish at the '06 World Cup after shaking up the German team. Hope it works this time, too.

The Giants, who are the Nats' next opponent, are the only team in baseball that look like they might run away with their division. Everything else is pretty competitive. Beyond the NL East, I am paying most attention to the AL East. I'm interested to see that Toronto looks like the team everyone thought they'd be last year, and that Tampa Bay looks just wretched. Which races are the most interesting to you this month?

The Oakland A's are playing like an absolute monster, despite serious injuries before the season. They just grind you down with patience and smarts. Drew 11 walks on Sunday. (Okay, the five from Ubaldo Jimenez, who looks like a major bust, barely count.) Is THIS the year that Moneyball finally reaches a World Series or wins it?

That's it for this week. Again, thanks so much for far too many excellent questions.

Mr Boz, The late senator Robert C Byrd had a great saying , " Don't roll your pants legs up until you get to the creek ". It's a long time until Harper is ready to play everyday and lot of things can still happen between now and then. Injuries, slumps, etc. Relax folks. MVMD


I don't mean I wish he were still managing the Nats. I just miss him. He's been admirably absent letting Matt be the guy. Any idea what he's up to?

What he's always up to, whether he's in baseball or not. Enjoying life and making everybody around him laugh or shake their head at a story they never heard before. It's hard not to miss a manager who stands in the middle of the clubhouse and explains, idly, like it's no big thing, the best way to kill a rattlesnake in mid-strike on a golf course with a two iron. "Done it twice." The players look at him like, "You know, it MIGHT even be true."   

Who do you like in the U.S. Open this week? I don't think Mickelson is playing well enough consistently enough to do it. He may play well for a couple of rounds, but then will post a big number. With all the changes to the golf course, previous experience won't mean as much. That may open the door for someone like Jordan Speith or McIlroy (if he can keep his head together) or Adam Scott. Steve Williams may be able to help him out on the greens.

You know I'm big on Speith. But it just feels like it's still too soon. Love to see it. Rory? How is he going to win with all of Caroline's needles sticking through that doll of him?

The recent pic of Bryce Harper wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat has set off a mini firestorm with the Washington Football team's fanbase. Since he's not impacting the play of the Nationals on the field, it is not usually wise to make headlines in other ways. Is this another sign of youthful lack of self-awareness, or a non-issue?

This really isn't the best way to go.

Unless you want to be traded to the Rangers.

(It's a non-issue.)

Why not try out Ryan Zimmerman at second base in place of Danny? Seems like Ryan could handle the short toss to first and we'd have more batting power.

MANY fans ask about this. It seems reasonable but to baseball people is a non-starter. There may never have been a 6-foot-4 225-pound second baseman (Zim's size). You need to be nimble at second so you're not killed turning the pivot with every runner arriving from behind/beside you, as opposed to SS where you have the runner in view. Several other "wrong size/skillset for the position" issues. Also, Sax/Knoblauch had their psychological throwing problems surface at second. Why risk that, even if it's a small chance, after everything Zim has played through the last three years?

Outta here. (Hello, No. 2!)

Adam Kilgore recently raised an issue I've wondered about. I've never seen a team warm up as many pitchers who don't eventually enter the game as the Nats. For years this has been considered bad practice. Matt Williams says it's just the way the games have gone, but I didn't find that fully convincing. thoughts?

This has been mentioned around the Nats in recent weeks. It takes a long time to get a read on whether this is a managerial tendency or a short-term blip. But pitchers notice. Jim Palmer once kept an abuse chart of how many times Earl Weaver got Tippy Martinez up to get warm in one season -- Palmer told us about it when the number hit "300." (Matt isn't in any danger of breaking that record.) 

How soon is too soon to start believing in Tanner Roark? Seems he keeps putting up one impressive start after another. I want to go all in — but as a D.C. sports fan, I've been hurt before.

Only slight negative I can find -- and I had to look hard -- is that his average fastball velocity is down a little this year. Otherwise, it just looks like they totally stole one. Not a 2.50 ERA, but 3.50 would be a huge theft. 

Did I read that right?

No, you read that wrong. Sorry. That was just a chatter's very savvy post, making a joke about Harper/Span.

(Among other things, Michael's my favorite NBA talker.)

Boz, that was the weirdest article I've read about trying to promote the sport of golf and attract new players by using a soccer ball and wide holes. While I admire 'thinking outside the box' that just seems too off the wall, to me, to really make a difference. There's got to be a better way.

Yes, but it shows you how dramatically golf-rounds-played have dropped in recent years. Really good story by Barry.

If the Maryland baseball team was to win today and go to the College World Series, would it be the most unlikely success story in the history of area sports - pro or college?

Shout out! Maryland-Virginia tonight, win or go home.

College World Series is a great event to attend if any fans are thinking about the trek to Omaha.

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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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