Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 13, 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

Mr. Boz After watching several games this weekend without a particular rooting interest , I was struck by the poor tackling on display. I know the CBA limits contact practices, but these guys are pros. What gives?

Tackling in the NFL has been a deteriorating skill for so long that I can't remember when I first noticed it, but at least 10 years ago. In college, everything is offense. That's where most of the talent goes. Maybe that's where the problem starts. Also, every NFL coach knows that "play-making" -- causing turnovers -- is the game's No. 1 stat by far, so they teach stripping the ball (not so much tackling) and want DBs who have a knack for INTs more than wrapping up.

I wanted to jump in with a bright spot about the local NFL team. They are quite a bit better -- or less bad -- than people think right now. There's a good "strength of schedule" tool at that helps create a Simple Rating System for NFL teams. The Skins are -0.8 points a game. That's not so bad. If you go through the rest of the Skins sked and give three points for home field advantage, they would win three of their next four games, including Tenn, Vikings (though that one's almost pick 'em) and Tampa Bay by a huge margin (17 points).

Don't get too carried away. (Though people will if they actually win those games). Then the sked gets tough and they'd lose five of their last six and get blown up pretty badly in two or three of them.

In the end, they'd be 5-11 (as always).

The main reason they are so awful at 1-5, rather than merely a mundane team is that they have the worst giveaway-takeaway ration in the league at -9. Horrid Jacksonville is -8, then Jets and Saints at -7. Who is the worst offender? Cousins is the only NFL QB with eight interceptions. Yes, he leads the league even though he didn't get on the field until the second game.

Cousins can make some nice plays, but his turnovers are a huge problem. Maybe he's trying way too hard to making something happen. He's ranked 21st in the NFL in quarterback rating (not awful, and about what I thought he'd be) and in 27th in the equally inexplicable "QBR" rating than ESPN peddles.

Anyway, enjoy the next four games. That's as good as it'll get -- if they can hold the locker room together and not quit on each other.

What is it with our constant need as humans to look for people to blame when something goes wrong in sports? I realize that you, as sports writers, need to find material to write about, and let me say that I think you are one of the most logical and fair sports writers out there. But I don't think I saw one single comment in all of the articles written about the Nats series regarding well San Francisco played. Of course there were problems here and there with the Nats, but can't we just admit that for those few games, San Francisco got it done and the Nats didn't.

My column after Game 1 was entirely about "how the Giants beat you" and why they don't get enough credit for the clean brand of mistake-free baseball they play, especially in Oct, and how much influence Bruce Bochy has in close tense games.

On the other hand, the Nats should feel much worse about losing to this 88-win S.F. team that didn't have Pagan (their Span),  Scutaro (their Cabrera) and Michael Morse (LF) than they did about losing to the '12 Cards who were a much stronger team.

Jake Peavy lasted four innings (gave up two runs) last night, just as he did in the World Series last year. A four-inning pitcher? I know, quick hooks in Oct. But Hudson and Vogelsong aren't even sure if they'll make the rotation next year. The Giants are "good." And very poised, experienced.  But I don't believe in phoney praise. Once again, SF has a chance to win it all with their "just good" team. The Cards just lost Yadier Molina. They made a great comeback, but they still lost homefield advantage and will have a tough time not falling behind 3-2 in S.F. If the Giants get to the Series, they may meet a Royals that -- one day -- wakes up (like the Rockies a few years ago) and says, "What are we doing in the World Series."

Good teams take advantage of their breaks. The Giants are especially good at it. But the '10 and '12 S.F. teams had remarkable pitching and better offenses than this team. If the Giants win a third world title in five years with this team -- and they may -- it really is one for the books.

And the team that did NOT take advantage of the way the "draw" broke was the Nationals -- in either '12 or '14. This year, if they'd beaten the Giants, they'd have missed Kershaw and the Dodgers and might have met the Royals in the W.S. This will be the second time that part of their punishment is watching the rest of the post-season on TV and thinking, "It would have been hard, but we really might have gone all the way." 

Here's the link to that Giants column.

Can we just not talk about them today?

Actually I kind of want to talk about them some. As you might expect, somebody already wants Colt McCoy! Brian Mitchell.

This is exactly the wrong time to give up on Cousins. His TD-INT ration (10-8) is bad but the things he does well he does quite well. He's THIRD in the NFL in yards-per-game with 314.2, just behind Luck (331) and Brees (314.8). Some of that is garbage time. But not as much as RGIII had last year when games were already lost.

For contrast, here are what the TD-INT ratios look like for top QBs in this era when every rule favors passing offense.

Rodgers 15-1. (What an amazing final drive on Sunday. The fourth down completion -- on the money under pressure. The "Marino Play" where he fakes the spike and completes a hitch for 12 yards to the four with :06 left! Talk about guts. Then the last timing pass for the winning TD looked simple but was amazing. He threw it before the break, hummed it and hit his man in the Adam's Apple. He almost drilled it under the face mask and just above the shoulder pads so the ball would wedge there even if the receiver missed it.

Rivers 15-2, Brady 10-2, Wilson 8-2. Flacco 12-3. PManning 15-3. Luck 17-7.

Maybe Cousins will never cut down on his turnovers. Maybe he will always pre-select receivers, not see that the rout has been jumped and throw it right to the DB. Maybe he will always "just not see that guy" and chuck it to him. I'll admit that his INTs are seldom deflections or botched catches but usually very ugly passes that are gifts INTs.

But I think you have to give him this one big chance. He obviously reads some defenses pretty well. He's distributing his passes well. He's targeted Garcon 47 times for 30 completions and 309 yards. That's about right. He's targeted Jackson 42 times for 23 catches and the longest yards-per-catch in the league (20.8). So he's on the same wave length with DeSean. But he's also gotten 23 receptions for Paul, 20 for Roberts and 17 for Helu.

Cousins is certainly a high-quality backup. That's good and worth the 4th-rd pick, imo. And he probably could be the 20th-to-25th best starter in the league. But Washington has had those mediocre QB's before. They just keep you stuck in the mud. That's why you have to find out how good Griffin can or can't be. But in the mean time, this is Cousins one long chance. Let him have it unless he just starts folding up and losing confidence. (He doesn't take many sacks, along the fewest in the league, in part because he doesn't like to get hit -- who does, but sometimes it's better to take -8 yards, but not interception thrown off the back foot.)

I am a big fan of John Feinstein's, but is he for real with these comments that we wouldn't have lost this year if he we had allowed Stras to get some playoff experience in 2012? Playoff experience didn't really seem to come into play for the Nationals in this series (didn't I see a graphic that Werth has appeared in 50-something postseason games? Where was that experience?). I didn't think then that Stras was our best pitcher and I don't think it now. Can't see how it could've made a significant enough difference. You are either able to pitch on a big stage or you aren't.

Almost everybody now realizes that that the Strasburg shutdown was the right thing to do at the time -- it was obviously correct medically, ethically and competitively since Strasburg's pitching was collapsing in his last half-dozen starts in '12 -- and that it has also worked out for the best now. It's starting to look like the "fragile" Strasburg's greatest strength may be his durability. It's good they didn't risk him in '12. But there always has to be a holdout. The good side is that I'd want John in a foxhole with me because, if we were outnumbered 1,000 to 2, he'd say, "We're not gonna die. This was a good idea. Now I'm gonna tell you how we kill all 1,000 of 'em."

Your guess as to how the Nats would have faired in the playoffs with an experienced manager. Don't be shy.

Williams is getting too much criticism. There are horrible managerial decisions, like LaSorda letting Tom Neidenfuer pitch to Jack Clark in the '85 NLCS or Grady Little sticking with Pedro Martinez far tool long. Those make you scream. Williams decisions just make you mutter.

The really bad calls -- rather than fairly tough calls like the ones Matt had -- are obvious. When LaSorda told "Buffalo Head" (love that nickname) to pitch to Clark I couldn't believe it. Clark was the best RBI man in the league. Make somebody, anybody else beat you when you just need one more out to force Game Seven at home. The Dodgers were up 5-4, men on second and third, two outs in the top of the ninth. The aux box for reporters was in the upper deck in LA. I stood up in my seat and pointed at the leftfield bleachers. Being a wise ass. But that was also my "opinion." A few scribes laughed. Clark hit the 0-0 pitch right there for the three-run homer that ended up clinching the pennant.

THAT is bad managing.

With Little, people were almost screaming in the press box -- not out of partisanship but out of disbelief.

All Williams did was go-by-the-book twice -- iow, do what he'd done in such situations all year. That is not bad managing. But it is certainly questionable managing -- and I questioned it. That's a million miles from 'What a dope.'" Williams is a very good manager. But he hasn't internalized that in the post-season you manage you really, really want to lose with your best in certain very high leverage situations. Like the last out of Game 2 or the 7th inning of Game 4 when the top of the Giants order is up.

This is a very old concept in baseball -- that the post-season is different. Washington has won one World Series -- in seven games in 1924. The winning pitcher -- who worked the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th innings, was Walter Johnson.

Pitching in relief.

The Big Train replaced Firpo Marberry, a brilliant rookie who went on to have a great career and led the league in saves six times, often pitching many innings at a time since he could also be a starter. He was half of a Hall of Famer. But Walter Johnson was one of the original five Hall of Famers. The Nats (they were called that then, as well as Senators) had a rookie manager -- just like Williams now -- named Bucky Harris (The Boy Genius). Harris went with his best. Bucky ended up in the HOF, too.

With the Nats done, the Redskins predictable, the O's off and hoping for a miracle, the Wiz getting into fights and the Caps setting us up again, I didn't watch sports yesterday. I went to a local community theater show. When I walked to my car, there was this thing up in the sky, my wife called it Sun. At the theater watching other people perform live, I laughed and I cried. Went to dinner and ate facing my wife instead of a TV. She's pretty interesting and the food tasted less salty than what I eat during games, there were these ... I think they're called vegetables, not bad. All in all a nice time. Maybe I'll do it again tonig,... wait, GAME 3!! plus MNF?? Where's the remote and chips??!!


I watched the Ravens up to 38-0, then the Packers fouth quarter. Of course I watched the Skins and Cards-Giants. Then I re-watched the Skins. BUT, thanks to the miracle of the "record" button, I spent some time outside and took my wife to dinner, too. It was very nice.

I never understood this phrase until watching the Nats in the NLDS. Funny thing is the same could be said for the vastly more experienced Dodgers and Angels.

That's probably a small part of the problem. Baseball has known for a longtime that the five-game series was both a "flawed examination" of which team is better and also almost always thrilling.

I sure wish somebody could think up a better system. And everybody has tried. When Washington did not have a team, or when the Nats were bad, I frequently pointed out that five-game series (the LCS was also five games from '69 through '84) were almost completely a crazy crap shoot and Don't Miss It because it is so much fun to watch and so slanted (psychologically) toward the underdog. Then it backfires! The Nats become really good, fans invest a lot of time/emotion/money in them, but I can't write, "Ain't this grand! What a hoot. It's about as unfair as anything could be, but what entertainment!"
I'm trying to think up something better. I doubt I'll be the one who figures it out.'s one thought.
Right now everybody plays the other four teams in their division 19 times -- an odd numbers that produces an uneven home-away split (10-9). And who wants to play the same team 19 times. So, cut back to 18 games against division foes. That subtracts four games from the 162 for a 158-game season -- mid-way between the old 154 and the current 162. Then you could still have a WC/WC play-in (which I love), followed by seven games in the Division Series, not five, and still end up with a season of the same length (in days). Sure, it's only a minor improvement. But it feels like the O's have a less-awful road ahead at 0-2 than the Nats did at 0-2.
Owners would hate losing two home dates -- on avg about $2.,7M in revenue per team. But the extra TV money for two more DS games might ameliorate that a bit. MLB worries that 7-game DS are not exciting enough soon enough to suck in fans and viewers. Look how boring the first-rd seven-game series are in the NBA and NHL. The five-game series is such a fabulous kick start to the post-season that they are addicted to it. But is that worth losing high-profile players like Kershaw, Puig, Trout, Pujols, Strasberg, Harper, Scherzer, Price, Verlander, Miggy Cabrera in the first round? Not to mention two LA-market mega-teams.
Trust me, there is a lot of "Know How To Win" on the rosters of the Dodgers, Angels, Tigers and Nats. But once you fall behind in a short series it's like being caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star. It just pulls you in.

Are they this year's team of destiny? They won that amazing play-in game despite all of Yost's stupid moves and have now won five consecutive games against vastly superior teams. '69 Mets, anyone?

They sure feel like it. And they are now 6-0 in this post-season. That WC/WC game with Oakland was amazing. What happened to the A's was (at least statistically) worse than what happened to the Nats in Game 5 in '12. 

When the A's led 7-3 after seven innings (with Lester pitching), they had a 97 percent chance of winning -- higher than the Nats at any point in G5. Then in the 12th it looked like that had it again after they took an 8-7 lead. Their odds were back up to 89 percent.

Since then, it's just stayed crazy with extra inning win after extra inning win and four post-season home runs by their No. 9 hitter Moustakas. And their heroes seem to take turns.

Baseball must have as migraine. If it's the Cards and Royals in the Series, then you have the teams with the fewest home runs in their leagues, yet they have used a TON of post-season home runs to get there. Will they get to the Series and stop hitting homers? Oh, thrilling.

If it's the Royals and Giants, then after crafting a system so that wild cards will have a much  harder time go to a Series or winning one, BOTH teams in the Series would be wild cards.

Actually, I think either the Royals or Orioles would be teams of destiny -- the O's because of all their injuries and that $12M pitching rotation that was so good for so long but now seems to be running on fumes.

Your columns and, especially, these chats during this baseball season prepared me for the sorrowful end of the Nats season. I say this because my first thoughts at the end of Game 4 was to remember with delight that 10 game winning streak that pounded a stake through the hearts of the Braves and the cherry on top--Zim's no-hitter at the very end of the regular season. You've been right all along about the pleasures in following a team all year (and years before this one). Now, how many days until Pitchers and Catchers report?

The only thing that's better than a good attitude is good health.

Baseball is the only sport where a great regular season gives a ton of pleasure and proves a lot. But that doesn't mean you enjoy realizing that Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS would have been at Nats Park on Saturday and Sunday if they had advanced.

Washington isn't really going to know what the baseball experience truly is until the Nats play at least two series in October -- 10-to-12 games in the post-season. You don't have to go to the Series to feel the day-after-day nuttiness and anticipation. THAT can last as much as 19 games and more than 25 straight day.

But you do have to last longer than five days. 

Boz, How can you explain the Royals' post season play so far in the context of your excellent analysis of the Nat's playoff difficulties? Thanks.

They got MO on their side. (And they are athletic and good with a great bullpen.) They had to win six of their last eight games to be the wildcard team with homefield advantage in the WC/WC game. So, they'd been feeling pressure all along. Then their amazing win over the A's gave them that Zombie Team voodoo -- "We are the undead, so how can you kill us?" As underdogs on a magic ride, they experience the post-season exsactly the opposite of the "favorites."

For the record, the betting favorites in Veagas were the two LA teams. And Detroit was the second favorite to go to the Series out of the A.L. with the O's the third favorite. I notice that the people who write and talk about the four DS losers (and now the O's, too) tend to classify them all as "favorites." You can't have five "favorites" for two Series spots.

That's 15 yards for piling on.

I was planning on asking you this before the NLCS and ALCS started but the results through Saturday night only made me more convinced--does this current playoff system actually favor the wild card game winner? They get to start the "real" postseason coming off an all-or-nothing win. Seems easy to just keep rolling from there once you've conquered that.

Thanks. You said it in less words than I just did!

Tom, I stopped following baseball after the multiple strikes way back when and watched many NFL games as that became my sport of choice. The combination of the Nats coming to DC and the dysfunction of the home football team has me now believing baseball is the better sport (more strategy, more unusual things that you will see from game to game, etc.) Have you heard from others who have shifted their loyalties from the NFL (and poorly run franchises) to baseball?

The NFL is the better venue for incredible athleticism combined with danger (and brutality). Baseball is extremely athletic -- look at all the defensive highlights, speed on the bases and power from home run hitters and 100 mph pitchers. But baseball is the better game. The strategy is out in the open. If you become a fan at age eight, by the time you are in your teens you REALLY know what you are watching, who's screwing up, which manager has blundered. The game is more "open to inspection" in real time and in hindsight than any other sport. And this is true by a HUGE margin. The only person who understands a Skins game is Chris Cooley after he spends about 15 hours "breaking down film" of every play the next day for his radio reports. And even then it is impossible for YOU to know whether his analysis is correct or credible. The NFL is FULL of totally fake knowledge. Everybody loves to use the jargon. I played QB (without distinction) on my high school varsity and that is as close as you are ever going to get to "understanding the game" because you can diagram every play, you've watched the other team's film and you have literally called the play, seen the defense when you got to the line and perhaps changed the play. That, obviously, is a very low level of the sport. But what it taught me when I became a sportswriter was "nobody REALLY understands what happens in a football game except the players -- really maybe only the QB totally feels the game -- and they have very little motivation to tell you the truth about it. So why would you want to spend your career writing about it when baseball is an even richer subject, with 10 times as many games and a tradition of 'openness" and availability to the press. And damned if you can't -- almost --understand baseball from the outside."

Well, the fan, in choosing a favorite sport, is in a very similar position to the sportswriter deciding what to cover. Do you want to watch a game with second or third-hand analysis by ex-players -- who can't watch 22 colliding players in real time and truly "know" what is happening much of the time; or do you want to follow a sport that has more "action time" than football (clock it out, baseball has much more action by total time) and which you can watch in real time and actually understand at the level of your interest. If you wanna pay close attention, you can know a lot. If you don't want to invest that much effort, you will still know plenty and, over time, the sport will open up to you.

Obviously there are other opinions! But I've always believed it was clear that, as exciting as football is to watch (and play), that baseball is the better game -- and that's before we all were forced to acknowledge the full gladitorial price that is paid in big time football. (And even youth football, apparently.)

But nine-inning playoff games should not end after midnight following several hours of cold rain and drizzle.

What!? You didn't enjoy the longest post-season game in history!

Okay, THAT was way too much baseball even for me.

But we all did prove that we could write stories while frozen after seven hours in a six-story high press box with the cold wind blowing straight in your face.

There's been a lot of mist in this post-season. But so far no game has really been damaged in quality by rain. That I've seen.  

Naive thought but would LaRoche sign to be a bench player? And considering the injury history of Zim and Bryce, he would still probably get a lot of playing time.

No, Adam is right, it's time for him to move on. 

One of the best things that will happen to the Nats next year is moving Zimmerman to first base. As LaRoche has said, there is NO WAY -- with his gold glove skills at third base -- that Z'man won't quickly become an exceptional first baseman. LaRoche has lost some range. By game 10o0, Z'man may be a defensive upgrade.

Also, if Z'man puts on 6-8 pounds of muscle, since he doesn't have to be as quick/nimble at first base, I'm almost certain that we will see a return of Z'man the exceptional hitter. We saw that guy in '09-'10 when he averaged 150 games, 98 runs, 29 homers, 96 RBI, hit .299 and had the kind of .893 OPS that a top team really needs. He is the Nats best hitter when he's healthy and his teammates would agree. Z'mann didn't turn 30 until two weeks ago. He's got a LOT of excellent years left BECAUSE he's moving to first base. 

Just wait. This is as easy a "call" as you'll see. One of the players most statistically comparable to Z'man at the same age is Gary Sheffield. At age 30, the Dodgers moved him from the tougher defensive positions he'd previously played (third, right) to left field. The next seven years were Sheffield's best -- avg 35 HR, 110 RBI, .307. Okay, there may have been other factors (or not). But I think Z'man has a lot of good years left, and maybe his best years as a hitter. He may team up with Rendon and Harper in the middle of the order better than people imagine now. 

It's hard to blame Snyder for wanting someone he knows well and trusts acting for him with the franchise, but the buddy system seems to be hiding cronyism masked as professional competence. Bruce Allen's background is office, not field. The key people he's hired are Tampa Bay alumni from his days there, and his presnce in the replay booth is way out of character. Is there any hope of Snyder making the right hire in a key position?

You certain raise a valid question and phrase it well. Allen has areas of competence. But he's unproven in many of the functions for which he's now responsible -- in all or in part.

I enjoyed reading this story about Jennifer Yu, a 12-year-old girl from Northern Virginia, winning the World Youth Chess Championship. She's the first U.S. girl to do so. She sounds like a very level-headed kid. I hope she does well and continues to enjoy the game. Is chess a game you ever got into?

Thanks. I loved chess. When I was in fourth and fifth grade I'd go over to the Library of Congress (where my parents worked) and sit in the central courtyard eating lunch and watching all the serious chess players who'd sit at picnic tables with chess boards embedded in them as they played speed matches. They all seemed to have one or two feet that never stopped pumping under the table -- to help them think and play fast -- while no part of them above the table moved at all. Like ducks paddling underwater.

I played on my high school's chess team. No. 2 board. I wasn't as good as a friend of mine named Paul Butler. (A million to one he sees this. But it would be nice if he did.) You never forget the people who could beat you. Chess feels very personal -- losing hurts more than in any game/sport I ever played, including football. Don't know why. You feel like your brain and personality lost. I loved to play out the games of the late-19th century grand masters -- like Capablanca, Morphy. By mid-20th century the games of the great players were just too advanced for me to enjoy -- even with annotations and explanations. But that's the great thing about chess. At whatever your level, when you see a beautiful combination or plan of attack that is at the very edge of your ability to grasp, it's a huge rush! I can't even imagine what the game must "look like" or feel like" in the head of a great player.    

I'll be sure to read your link.

I was in the press box in 1954 for the O's first AL game and saw Sam Mele, Bobby Young, Clint Courtney and that gang begin the trek. Buck Showalter is a more than worthy successor to Jimmy Dykes, Hank Bauer, Mike Hargrove, and even Paul Richards, but it looks to me as if this year's team has stumbled into a no-win situation by losing the first two and going into KC against a team beautifully designed for its venue. Any hope for the good guys?

Yes, there's hope. I'll be glued tonight. But Game 2 really felt crucial, like a break or two, a play or two, would swing it. You could see it was a blow to Buck. I think he senses that, with O'Day giving up homers in Camden Yards and Britton looking shaky, that the Royals bullpen may be even better than his. But that can change fast. The O's have been through a lot of pressure games and have had to overcome a lot of adversity in the last three years. They are a gritty team. Glad they get to hang their hats on beating the Tigers with the three Cys, in addition to the 96 wins. Even now, I expect they'll be a very tough "out."

Don't you LOVE the detail coming out of the MASN court-case documents! I thought that MLB's judgment looked pretty fair, maybe a little too favorable to the Nats, but not by much. They pegged MASN's '12 revenues at about $158M, then assumed fiver-percent margins and split what was l;eft over equally between the Nats and O's. That came out to $53,170,018 for '12 -- or about twice what the Nats were receiving in '10-'11.

We can see the board outlines of where this may end -- with the Nats ultimately getting maybe $50M for '12, then heading up to $55M by '16. That's a very nice $20M+ bump in annual revenue. Of course, it makes the Nats look pretty unrealistic by asking for $109M for '12! Looks like both sides are exhibiting magnificent bad faith in "bargaining" and living down to baseball's usual low standards when nine-figure sums of money come into play. Enjoy the theater. It'll get worked out. AND the Lerners should not hide behind the MASN Mystery Payments as a reason not to pay players -- like Z'mann and Desmond. Judge those contract offers on a true measure of what you think the players are worth. The money's coming. The process is too far along and too public to stop now. 

BTW, the player who is the No. 1 career comparable for Ian Desmond is J.J. Hardy at the same age. And Hardy's new $40m/3-yr deal is as sensible and team-friendly as the Elvis Andrus contract was high. Because Desmond is two years younger than Hardy  he'd be in line for more years. But the Hardy deals means, to me, that the Nats and Desmond can get this done IF they really WANT to get it done.

Because Desmond's HR, RBI and SB are higher, he may think he's better than Hardy.  But advanced metrics, which include Hardy's GG defense, see them as very similar in total value. Both are wonderful central team leaders. The O's really got a big contract done. Nats and Ian, who really wants to stay as long as he doesn't have to do a deal that will hurt the bargaining power of other shortstops in the future, need to do the same. Easy for me to say. Hard for them to do. But Hardy's deal brings SS contracts into a more sensible place.

Boz, Does Matt Williams really believe that he made the right moves with the bullpen in Game 4? His comments after the game, and in the following days, are really troubling to me as far as what we might expect in the future if the Nats are fortunate enough to get back into the playoffs. How can he think that bringing in Barrett to face the heart of the Giants' order in the seventh inning of a must-win game is the right call when Clippard and Storen are sitting in the pen unused?

You can't run the risk of undermining a pitcher with as good a future as Barrett's by saying, "Nah, I wouldn't bring him again." Stand by your guy. But Barrett really looked rattled.  That is part of evaluating your personnel. Maybe he hadn't seen that side of Barrett before.

Again, these are not demonstrable mistakes. (Though hindsight can make it seem like they are.) They are touchy decisions. Now, they will also be teaching points for future Octobers. 

Were they just off their game or did the Giants really pitch that smart to them? Smoltz on Fox Sports 1 during Game 4 gave an interesting and detailed account of how the Giants pitchers were executing a smart game plan when pitching to Werth and LaRoche. But, man, I got sick of seeing each of them standing with there with his bat on his shoulder. Made me dream of hitters like Berra and Puckett who hit the ball wherever it was thrown.

The Fox "analysis" only shows what Fox DOESN'T know. In '14, Werth saw the third-most pitches per at bat of anybody in baseball after Carpenter and Yelich. That is his style. It has always been his style. Telling Werth to "swing more" is as stupid as telling Puckett to "swing less." These guys are stars for a reason. How many pitches did Werth see in the at bat when he hit the walk-off homer to win Game Four in '12. Was it 12 or 13? That's his approach. Go deep in counts, foul off pitches, wait for a mistake. His .393 on-base percentage was THIRD in the N.L. this year. As a No. 3 hitter -- not No. 4 or 5 -- getting on base is a key part of his job. He was the third toughest out in the league! So, he should go up hackin' or worry about taking a strike? BTW, his OPS this year was .849 -- above his career average. For 35, in a non-PED period, that remarkable longevity. Maybe he's right that he'll keep on going strong like his buddy Raaul Ibanez who kept tearing it up after 35. 

If Pence doesn't rob Werth of an RBI triple with an amazing catch as he hits the wall, and if Werth doesn't have a ball knock down by wind in Game 2, it may be a different story. Small sample size. LaRoche was a similar case -- one of the league leaders in walks this year with 83. You change to correct a weakness. You don't change to get rid of a strength!

If the Redskins go 5-11 again this year that means they'll have to get four more wins. From where? I can see Tampa and St. Louis giving them wins, but that's about it. Are you assuming they'll beat an NFC East team at least once this year?

Using the SRS system, they'd be favored by 5.3 pts vs Tenn, +0.9 vs Minny, by +17.8 vs Tampa Bay and by +12.0 vs St. Louis. In every other game they'd be underdogs by 4.6 to 17.3 pts. Of course, this changes every week. But it's not unrealistic, imo.

I can' argue that the Redskins name isn't a derogatory term, but I support Snyder's legal right to keep the name if he wants to since he owns the team. That said, I wish he'd stop it with his nonsense that Native Americans love the name. Even if they do, it's just so unctuous to see him parade the ones that support him. He has a legal right, not a moral one here, so he really needs to just shut up about this and hope it goes away if he knows what's good for him.

You mean you weren't touched by the sincerity of Dan with the Navajo Nation president in his box?

Since there's not much happening in Washington pro sports, although the Caps looked good in Boston, I took a closer look at the college football polls and saw some new or newish faces. Mississippi State at the top for the first time and schools like TCU, East Carolina, Utah, and Marshall making a bit of noise. Yes, they've been there before, but they don't show up nearly as often as schools like Oklahoma, Ohio State, or Alabama. It's good to see the new names.

Do you think its time to call this season what it is...a season to evaluate and see what we have on the roster? Guys like Amerson, J Jenkins and Orakpo, as well as Cousins, need to prove themselves as players, trade assists or dead weight. Young guys like Breeland and Jordan Reed need to prove they can grow and learn. (I thought Breeland played Larry Fitzgerlad perfectly on that one catch on the sideline in the second half, before Larry used experience to reach back and catch that ball. Breeland has showed some flashes and I think we have a gem there.) Do you agree that this season needs to be about growing and getting better, instead of being mad and distraught that we won't make the playoffs?

Yes, I agree.

But then I said that before the season began. It's a rebuilding year for a broken franchise. And NEXT year will be a rebuilding year, too. Go back through NFL history: After a 3-13 season, the average record for an NFL team over the next TWO years is 11-21. This team is absolutely typical of what you should expect.

You don't have to CALL it rebuilding if you're ego (and marketing) can't tolerate it. Just so long as you actually KNOW that you are rebuilding. And your GM and coaching staff know they are being measured with a realistic yardstick.

Is that the case with this team?

Well, there's always a first time.

What's your take on Jayson Werth's disappearance both during and after the NLDS? I'm about ready to put my gnome on ebay and sell it for $150 profit.

He had an excellent season and a durable one. He's probably the No. 1 leader in the clubhouse. He went 1-for-17 with some hard outs. He should have talked after the last game, imo. I was standing 10 feet from him for several minutes and I thought, "This is a guy, sitting in on a chair in a suppressed fury/funk , who is about to smash his head against his locker, not a guy who is about to answer questions." So I went up and wrote without benefit of his wisdom. You can't ask 'em to "lose hard," then blame 'em when they lose REALLY hard. Sure, it would have been better to talk. It's a nice theory. I've never been forced to practice it, though I sure ask others to do it.

Putting the Gnomes in the outfield was just about the head-shakingest thing I've ever seen just minutes before the start of a playoff series. 

Outta here.  

Boz, do you ever get tired (or laugh or roll your eyes or whatever) when National fans whine and complain when you write about the Orioles?

No. I get it. Part of me agrees with disliking an owner who fought a team in D.C., ruined his own team for years, etc.

But the professional part of me -- which is several times larger --certainly doesn't feel that way. Every time a team wins 96 games is located 40 miles away and is in a playoff to reach the World Series, I'm pretty sure I'm going to consider it part of any sane sports writer's job to write about it. The people who hate 'em can hate 'em. Have a ball. The people who love 'em can love 'em. But it IS an excellent story.

Happy Birthday Tom! Just looked you up on Wikipedia to see if I had missed any baseballs books since your excellent ones from the O's days. When might we see a Nats book?

I didn't know my birthday was this month. I guess I'll have two this year. (But that might tell you something about Wikipedia!)

You folks are too much fun, but I gotta leave. Cheers.

I just don’t know how I’m going to be able to enjoy a regular season again until the Nats win a playoff series. I followed this team all year – from the cold start to the hot finish and can’t imagine being as excited next year – even if they win 100 games. Is there any way to get rid of this feeling?

Wait about 137 days. It's a cure that's worked for >100 years. It'll probably work again.

Bad rap. If each guy he brought in did his job, we're not even talking. Even better, if the mid-order bats hadn't died, we'd all be still cheering. Not Matt's fault.

Nothing wrong with ending on a generous note.

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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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