Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Aug 29, 2016

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Am I crazy for thinking that Trea Turner is going to be a better all around player than Bryce Harper?

Yes, you are crazy.

But it is a nice thought.

I talked to Harper a few days ago about Turner, asking for help, as I often do, in evaluating players by asking other players for their (sometimes off-the-record) opinion. BTW, it's just as tough to get a  candid/critical opinion from someone on an opposing team as it is from a player/coach/manager/scout/GM on the same team.

Harper's now in his fifth year. Believe it or not, he's a "veteran." He's totally tickled to have Turner on the team, called him "electric" and "a game-changer for us." I told him I was concerned about over-selling Turner -- which can contribute in some slight way to weighting the player with over-expectation while also making the writer (me) look dumb. He said, "No, no" that he really meant the good stuff he was saying. (Teammates really do have some responsibility to speak well, or at least not badly, about each other out of team loyalty. You have to get past that and it's a great help to find players who'll say of someone, "He's good. And he could become really good. But he's still got a ways to go.")

Turner has played in 41 games in MLB this year. He's hitting .345. To show what a small sample size that actually is, since the All-Star game -- more than 40 games -- Joey Votto has hit .431. That doesn't mean he's a .431 hitter.

Nonetheless, Turner has hit .319 at "all levels," including MLB, since the day he turned pro with a .842 OPS.

Gary Sanchez, the hot young Yankee catcher, has hit 11 homers in about 20 games. How good will he REALLY turn out to be? He's 23 and played parts of 7 years in the minors. In about 200 games at AA, his OPS was .760. In about 100 at AAA, it was .820. So, he's a good hitter. But he'll "seek his level."

So will Turner. My WAG is that, including speed and defense in the package, Turner may be roughly as good as the Anthony Rendon of '14 and '16 -- which is PRAISE. Rendon was fifth for MVP in '14 (6.6 WAR). And he is having a hidden excellent year this season with what will probably be a 4.5 WAR (he's now at 3.6).

But if you want to get excited, and I know many do, Turner's WAR is now 2.2 and 2.1 in 1/4 of a season according to Baseball-reference and FanGraphs. Or maybe 8.0 for a full year if you are ultra-optimistic. Trout's annual WAR's: 10.3, 10.5, 7.9, 8.9 and on pace for 9.6 this year.

So, looks like Turner's probably a .290+ hitter with 40+ steals, 100+ runs and .800+ OPS. But you never know. Right now he's even better than that.

Is Anthony Rendon one of the most underrated players in baseball?

Thanks for that question. Yes, he is. I mentioned to him last week that, since mid-May when Dusty Baker moved him down from the No. 2 spot in the batting order that he'd hit the best of his career. Hee smiled and said softly, "One day at a time." He doesn't like to talk about himself and is, I suspect, pretty superstitious.

Since the switch -- on the first day of the first Mets series, Rendon's slash line is .297/.374/.527. In those 313 at bats (a bit more than half a season) he has 26 doubles, 14 homers and 55 RBI.

Shhhhhh. Don't tell anybody.

Do you think Daniel Murphy has a chance to win NL MVP? Or can no one take it away from Kris Bryant at this point?

It certainly feels like a Cubs year for awards. But lets look at this closer to the end of the season. 

Right now: Old school would put Murphy close to Bryant in Triple Crown categories. Murphy: 25 HR, 98 RBI, .343. (.994 OPS) to Bryant'ss 35-89-.986.

But I'm basically New School, especially the stats that try to include defense and base-running (even if they do so imperfectly). In the NL, the leaders in WAR is Bryant with positive impact from both defense and base-running. Then Seager, LAD (6.9), Crawford, SF shortstop (4.9) and then Murphy (4.8).

Surprises on that list (to some). Rendon is seventh in NL WAR at 4.3, just ahead of the Cubs Anthony Rizzo.

And despite all the wailing about Harper's season, he's 12th in NL WAR at 3.8 -- which is pretty accurate. And he seems to be hitting better. As Baker says of Harper, "He's 'warm.' He's not 'hot' yet." 

Every year I read pundits that say it's easy to develop relievers internally. Glover looks like a stalwart for the future but are there any additional guys in the system that we should be looking out for?

In October (and the Nats are >99 percent to win the NL East), you could see Joe Ross (high likelihood), Koda Glover (near certainty) and Renaldo Lopez (outside possibility) in a Nats bullpen with Mark Melancon (one of the best closer), plus Kelley and Treinen in what would have to be called a "power arm bullpen."

You need a lefty, preferably two -- UNLESS the RHers are REALLY, REALLY good.

In post-season, with a 3 1/2-man rotation -- Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark and Gonzalez -- you AUTOMATICALLY get a better bullpen if your fifth and sixth starters are young live-arm guys who can come out of the pen blowin' up a storm. Also, the Nats first playoff game (unless they blow the division somehow) would be Oct. 7 with the last game of a seven-game World Series on Nov 2. So, the Nats (or any team) would have a maximum of 19 games (5+7+7) in a period of 27 days. That's at least EIGHT days off! And probably more. You can use your best relievers in (almost) every game you have a chance to win.

For the future, good twice, but not so good twice, Glover's a near-lock for the back-end of the pen. Reynaldo Lopez has looked so good twice, but not so good twice, that you wonder whether he's a rotation or pen guy. Right now, I think he looks too good to think of him as anything but potential starter. (But where do you put 'em all? Giolito will presumably mature quite a bit from age 22 to 23 next year. Gio is aboard in '17. It's a crowded train up there in First Class.)  

How concerned should we be with him being out most of this summer? Are there any concerns about his long term future? Did he pitch too much last season?

The Nats don't act concerned.

I'm always concerned when I hear "shoulder" about a young pitcher who throws more sliders than almost any starter in MLB. He must be feeling much better because he had his first rehab start at AAA on Sunday. You don't get that far in the process of returning unless the player and the trainers and the docs all agree that everything is 100 percent -- as far as they can tell. 

BTW, it's unlikely/impossible that Ross would get his endurance back up to the point where he'd start again this year. So the bullpen is the logical place for him. As longer as his shoulder really is totally OK, then it's almost as if the Nats, by accident, escaped the "innings limit shutdown nightmare" with him in '16 and can justify using him in relief all the way through the post-season. 

What do the Nats do about Harper and his outbursts? Does anyone in the organization hold him accountable for his actions? Its been five years and he still hasn't learned how to control himself. Between the ejections and his admiring his own hits rather than running hard out of the box, he seems like a nightmare for a manager to deal with.

If he were a "team leader" type, then it would be a problem. But he's a superstar type. Very different. This is Dusty Baker and Daniel Murphy's team. I don't even think that Harper, at 23, wants it to be "his" team, except in terms of raw performance.

In THAT context, two ejections in a season, even if the second one is immature and puts the team in a bad spot in extra-innings, is just one of dozens of surmountable aggravations in a season. He admires too many almost-home-runs. But not as many as Ramos. Again, if you are trying to be a true team leader, someone who never ever lets up, who plays the game "the right way" 99 percent of the time, who sets an example and who is deeply upset when he doesn't live up to that standard -- like Murphy and Werth now and Desmond in the past -- then it's a problem. That's not Harper. He plays hard -- MORE than hard enough. And he has bursts of remarkable (eye-catching) intensity. But he isn't the relentless mature grinder/leader yet that two of his heroes were -- George Brett and Pete Rose. Maybe he'll get there. But he doesn't have to be Brett -- that's extremely rare. Harper is already 10,000 miles ahead of Reggie Jackson (and plenty of others in the HOF) in self-control, team-first orientation and getting along with teammates. But, of course, he's a diva. And wants to be. From the glowing shoes to the great (photogenic) hairdo to the wanna-be-the-face-of-baseball ads, that's all just part of the "Elvis" in him. That's OK. He works his tail off and he plays when he's dinged up plenty of the time. His legs are covered with scabs from sliding, diving. Yes, I think he played through some pain in his right shoulder that, to some extent is still there. The week off that Baker basically forced on him was a good idea. Some more days off in September would make sense. I asked him about the shoulder. He gave a veteran answer: "My right shoulder feels good, my left shoulder feels good, my right arm, my right leg, my left arm and my left legs -- they all feel good." I said, "You mean they feel good for late August in a big-league season." Harper grinned and said, "Yes." He can play for my team any day. You need young/old, energy/wisdom, decency/red-a** and a lot of other yin-yang aspects to a good team. And you probably need old school/new school, too. Great by me. I like it all.  

Just so SOMEBODY -- a few somebodies -- are traditional hard-nosed leaders and NOBODY is a major problem, a team can function very well. That seems to be where the Nats are now. As a 100th example, Danny Espinosa tries to pull the ball far too much -- 53 percent of all balls in play. EVERY good hitter on the Nats -- the entire lineup (including Zimmerman) -- has the same profile in terms of hitting the ball to all fields: within a couple of percentage points, they are ALL 40 percent pull-35 percent up-the-middle and 25 percent opposite field. I asked three of those regulars why Espinosa, who CAN hit with authority to thee opposite field, won't do it more when it would probably help him. One said, "Come on, you know how stubborn Danny is." The other two basically laughed. But they all like/respect him, even admire him because he is absolutely the toughest eat-pain, stand-in-on-the-DP, spit-in-your-eye, hit-it-to-me-for-the-last-out-of-the-NLCS guy on the team. Everybody doesn't bring every quality. And it's not Harper's job to be perfect either.

Yeah, I talked to Danny about his pull stats. Just wondered if he knew how extreme they were. He wanted to know if the numbers were broken down by hitting RHed and LHed, etc. I'm sure it'll be a career transforming revelation to him -- like nobody's even mentioned it to him 8,000 times before. Heck, he's got 20 homers, 62 RBI and the same solid (for a strong-defending SS) OPS of .723 that he's had in all of his most solid previous seasons. So maybe he's doing exactly the right way ---- for him. 

Ballplayers live together for seven months. They are VERY tolerant -- of different personality types, backgrounds, quirks and pain-in-the-butt traits. You'd go nuts if you didn't overlook a lot of stuff. It's the Whole Package that matters. Which is another way of saying that Harper shouldn't have gotten himself kicked out -- I mean, he SPIKED his helmet at the ump's feet! -- but in the context of a big-league clubhouse over 162 games, that's a quick-passing summer squall and, by now, nobody probably cares.        

Since that sport seems to be dead would you mind telling us a good boxing story from your career? Thanks.

A movie is coming out -- "Hands of Stone" -- about Roberto Duran. Before the first Leonard-Duran fight, I was sitting in a nice Hyatt Regency-type restaurant just off the lobby -- one of those where you can look 25 stories straight up. Duran and his entourage come in. Duran orders a big steak. When it comes, he stabs it with his fork, right in the center, like he was trying to kill it. Then he picks it up -- it looked kind of like you'd look if you were holding an old-fashioned phone beside your face in your fist -- and for the entire meal he just keeps the steak there, in mid-air on the fork in his fist, and ripped off pieces of meat to eat with his teeth.

I thought, "I don't think Sugar Ray has fought a guy quite like this before."

Also, Duran's jump-rope sessions were so amazing that crowds gathered 20-deep around him to watch them at the end of his training sessions. The rope would go so fast it was almost invisible and Duran would do every rope trick known to man -- crossing hands, doing like 10 squats in 10 seconds as the ropes was flying -- and this goes on for MINUTE AFTER MINUTE as the crowd gets louder and louder and when he finally finishes the last trick at human-blur speed, all in one fluid motion he just FIRES the rope straight up in the air about -- who knows, 40 feet -- and the crowd goes absolutely insane cheering and screaming.

Almost all boxers are amazing with the rope as part of training. But I doubt that any of Duran's opponents ever came to watch HIM jump rope. You'd never have gotten in the ring after seeing that.

He looks really really bad at the plate. Is there anyway the Nats sit him for the playoffs if this continues? I have to imagine Robinson would be better at this point.

He looked so bad on Sunday K-K-K-pop-fly, that I thought, "Either THAT'S the bottom or he really is a changed/damaged player who got old fast." I'm still hanging onto Answer No. 1.

But look at this "zone chart" (from the catcher's perspective) of where Zim is pitched and where he gets his hits/HRs.

http://m.mlb.com/player/475582/ryan-zimmerman

He has more hits (17) and more home runs (3) on pitches that are low-and-inside OFF the plate (iow, they are "balls," not "strikes") than he does on ALL the pitches he has seen all year (287 of them) that are OVER the plate on either the outside third of the plate or the top third of the plate. 

What sport is he playing, cricket? You look at this and say, "He can't hit anything on the outer third of the plate or the upper third of the strike zone. BUT DON"T THROW ONE AT HIS FEET because he'll crush it."

If this MLB zone chart is right, he's seen 454 pitches that are low-away strikes or low-away balls and he has a total of nine hits and no homers. Also, he's seen 253 pitches that could be considered up-and-away either over the plate or just off it and he has eight hits and no homers.

But then, luckily for hitters, most pitchers can't REALLY target the ball all that precisely. Want proof?

Mark Trumbo:

http://m.mlb.com/player/444432/mark-trumbo

He's hit 40 home runs. Only FOUR of them have been on pitches on the outer third of the plate or up-and-away or low-and-away. But you still see people throw him strikes on the inside third.

There will always be a home for a "mistake hitter" who clubs it when he gets one where he wants it.

I asked Dan Duquette what made him want to trade for Trumbo when few others wanted him after last season. (Duquette gave up an obscure back-up catcher named Clevenger who has four homerss in six seasons.) Duquette said that the Orioles study stats to look for "comparables" __comparable players after the same number of years playing pro ball. (Not age, but pro experience, if I understood him correctly.)

"Every year Trumbo kept coming up as a 'comparable' to a player on our team __though Trumbo started his career a class (year) sooner," said Duquette.

And who was that "comparable player?"

"Manny Machado."

Rim shot.

 

Boz, As a child, one of my favorite early TV programs was “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie”. My guess is that you may have watched this program as well. Now, the greatest weakness for the Nats in the post-season is their bullpen. It is unimaginable to me that +40% of that bullpen might include “Koda, Yus, and Ollie”. What can they do to address this dilemma, especially if Sammy Solis is not ready? Dave G. (whose fantasy team is the CubgNats)

You win.

I don't know what.

But you win.

A month ago I would never have questioned this, but do you think that Petit makes the Nats postseason roster? Dusty didn't use him for a couple of weeks, and he has been abysmal since then. Given the multitude of options with fourth and fifth starters performing long relief duties in the playoffs, is Petit close to getting himself off of the postseason roster?

Petit has experience. That matters. (Ask any member of the '14 Nats if they remember him  from Game Two vs SF. He shut them out for seven hours of extra innings in sub-arctic conditions.)

Butt, man, is he going to have some competition.

A terrific picture of Josh Norman defending a Bills WR in the WP. Unfortunately the caption was inaccurate. It described him as batting away a pass. It should have been labelled "Josh Norman committing pass interference against a Bills WR." Just check out his right hand holding the left arm of that WR.

Maybe.

But almost every play in which he showed up made me say, "Wow."

Of course, he's going to have to be almost as good as Deion Sanders to keep people off his case after all his talking. Snyder seemed to sign expensive high-visibility ex-stars who talked (about themselves) non-stop AFTER they couldn't play worth beans anymore. Looks like Josh can still play __a lot.

The Skins, in general, looked rusty. Which, if they start the season poorly, will open up questions about why they sat the 8 regulars the previous week. But that doesn't bother me much. Mostly, I thought they looked "rusty but pretty darn good once they get polished up."

Doubt they'll drop that many passes in any month of the regular season. But, even for an NFL era that is totally pass-crazy, the Skins sure look thin at running back.

Loved Dan Steinberg's piece on Frank Howard from last week's paper. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dc-sports-bog/wp/2016/08/26/senators-legend-frank-howard-is-humbled-and-thrilled-to-enter-the-nats-ring-of-honor/ You even got a shout-out! The comments are also excellent providing lots of additional memories for those of us who grew up in the DC area when Howard was playing. Congrats to your colleague for a lovely article!

I really enjoyed it, too. Gentle Giant, but a real gentleman, too.

Favorite memory. When I was a young reporter, I was sent to interview Hondo when he managed AAA in Spokane. He was the friendliest person I ever interviewed. I was a kid and he was a two-time HR champ. He couldn't do enough to help, wanted to know about how all his old baseball-beat-writer friends were doing, where they were. I went to dinner with Frank and a whole bunch of his young players. He picked up the whole check. People said he'd done well in real estate as well as baseball and was managing because he loved the game, not for a salary. It sure seemed that way. As for grabbing the check: "Hell, these kids don't make any money down here in the minors."

Those were different times, indeed. At that meal, Hondo told his players, and I put in the Post in the profile on him, his instructions to his team: "How can you wheel that lumber tomorrow if you don't pound that Budweiser tonight?"

In his Senators days, several players would sometimes rent together to save money. Frank liked to cook and would make huge bowls of everything at the day's big meals. I asked one of the guys who lived with him -- I think it may have been Dick Bosman or Tim (The Worm) Cullen -- how those Paul Bunyan-like meals went down. Howard would say, "Boys, take everything you want. Then leave the rest for me." And he'd just eat everything that was left in the serving bowls.

He was huge -- 6-7, 275+. But not fat (at all). There's nobody in baseball today, including Stanton, who is quite built to thee same proportions. And Howard had been a star basketball player (at Ohio State, I think) and had excellent hand-eye coordination, even though, when running, it took quite a while for him to reach full speed. They used bigger bats in those days and took bigger swings with more upper-cut action. Ernie Banks was ahead of his time and, if memory serves, used a 31-oz bat. Now, plenty use light bats. I seem to remember Howard used a 35-36 -- length and ounces. It would be considered huge today. But he made it look like a toothpick and was always swishing and flicking it around when he was at or near the plate -- nervous energy. But the pitchers must have looked in and said, "He thinks that big bat is weightless."

Average fastball velocity wasn't as high then. There were few "cutters" or "splits" (except Elroy Face). Even good sliders, like Jim Bunning's, were still considered a little unusual. So you could get away with the gigantic swings -- spine-rippers -- that Howard and others took. You still saw those Ruthian spin-around swings and misses. But when Howard connected....

I saw one of the White Seat homers in person -- the one in the middle in left-center. When the Nationals came to DC in '05, the new players (the ex-Expos) would look at the three white seats in the outfield upper deck at RFK where Howard's longest homers had landed. They'd ask me, "Where was home plate back then?" I'd say, "Right where it is now, give or take a foot or two."

Not one player ever believed me. They considered it impossible. I'd tell them that I wasn't a kid back then, I was in college or even working at the Post. I wasn't guessing or having an eight-year-old's hero fantasy. Nope, they didn't believe it.

Tommy John (same one) gave up the white seat in CF. I asked him about it. He said Frank hit the ball so low that "I almost started to jump for it." Then he turned around and saw it land -- probably 20 feet away if the upper deck hadn't stopped it. John said, "If he'd hit it lower, it would have killed me."

One night when I was a teenager my parents and I went to RFK. At that time, 100+ strikeouts in a season was still considered almost a sin for a hitter. And Frank once led the league with 155. He was also a lumbering outfielder, though he tried 100 percent for everything and caught everything he reached. As a result, Hondo had plenty of mockers in the stands. One big middle-aged guy stood up every time Howard came to bat and would bellow sarcastically, "Hondo, my hero, if you hit a home run...I'll eat this newspaper!"

So, every time up, we hear the "Hondo, my hero" routine. Even though we were back in the general admission grandstand you could hear everything -- average attendance at Senators games from '55 through '58 was 5,519. (I looked it up in a moment off perversity.) In '68, when Howard won the HR title, the Senators averaged 6,700-a-game. But NOBODY drew back then. The New York Yankees of the entire Howard period in DC only averaged about 13,000-a-game in New York.

His last time up, Howard hit a home run. The heckler, to his credit, stood up and tore the front page of the sports section into long, thin strips and -- ate them. It took him a while. But he did it. And the whole section laughed almost the whole time. 

Once Ted Williams got hold of Howard, he made him a better hitter. Probably, by '69-'70, an under-rated one. In '69 Howard had 48 homers, 11 RBI and struck out LESS than he walked -- 102 walks, 96 Ks. The next year, 44 homers, 126 RBI, and 132 walks to 125 Ks. 

Frank wasn't in any sense a circus act. In '68-'69-'70 he finished 8th, 4th and 5th in AL MVP voting for mostly bad teams. 

So, it's great to see him in the Ring where he belongs. And the stature of him in front of the home plate entrance to Nats Park does him justice. That's just how he looked -- and, like the statue -- he seemed to be about nine feet tall.

What is the latest on the MASN negotiations?

Has someone "negotiated" yet?

I thought the whole point was to refuse to "negotiate" and fight, instead. That seems to be going exceptionally well.

Tom, Giolito's status as a superstar prospect disappears without his upper 90's fastball. Have you heard anything about why he was reaching only 93? That's the elephant in the room.

Scouts say that while he hit 99 mph in the Futures Game in '15 and was clocked at 100 before his TJ surgery, those were short bursts. In his starts, where he's expected to go 100 pitches, he supposedly has always averaged about 94 with a 92-96 range.

The reason he's so highly rated is because he's huge, yet a fluid athlete and in excellent shape. His curveball really is excellent. He has that Jim Palmer (or Storm Davis) windup. And he reaches out so far toward the plate that his release point is (exactly) 7.0 feet in FRONT of the rubber. Many pitchers release point is 6.0 feet in front of the rubber or maybe 6.5. So, his fastball "plays" faster than its measured MPH by maybe 1 or 2 mph. That's the idea anyway.

But right now he really needs to trust his change-up. Even when he leaves it up over the plate it doesn't seem to get hit (yet) because every hitter is sitting Dead Red. Why wouldn't they? He's thrown 75.1 percent fastballs. That's ridiculous. The goal is usually to have enough variety in pitch selection  to get down to 57-56 percent fastballs like Scherzer and Strasburg, though you can work with 62-64 percent fastballs. But not 75 percent. Not unless it really is 98 mph with movement. 

His curveball is "plus." His command, apparently, hasn't been as good in games as it has been on the sidelines or in the minors. I assumption with him is that he'll end up with really good command because he's so coordinated and that he's so teachable that he'll get a third and fourth pitch down pat.

Maybe so. He seems like a really great young man. But a "straight-ish" 93.8 mph fastball, a fine overhand curveball that you don't want to throw too often (elbow strain after TJ) and a change-up that isn't being trusted yet (by the catcher calling pitches, or the pitching coach or Lucas saying, "More changeups, please") isn't quite enough unless your command is excellent. And his has been spotty in his four MLB starts. 

Just remember what Werth said. One year ago, when Trea Turner was the same age that Giolito is now, Turner "didn't have the look (poise) yet" and hit .225 in 40 at bats. "They evolve," said Werth.

Gotta give 'em time. Especially after time lost to TJ. All that's been shown is that he's not one of the Instant Stars at 19-20-21 like Dwight Gooden, Fernando, Saberhagen, Mussina, Feller and MANY others. BUT, to be candid, there HAVE been many pitchers who arrived very fast and looked a lot better, and more at home, at 22 in MLB than Giolito has so far. Lopez has certainly moved ahead of him in ETA because he has three plus pitches, trusts them and, in one game, threw 70 percent strikes. He got lit up by the O's. It's a tough league! But, in time, I bet that Giolito, Lopez and (lower ceiling) AJ Cole, too, all spend plenty of years in somebody's rotation. Cole's increased maturity on the mound -- just old-fashioned presence-that-comes-with-age -- helped his stock.  

I've been a baseball fan since I was a little kid in 1967, and has the talent level risen as much as I think it has, or was my viewpoint warped from watching all those Senators games?

The game gets better and better. 

The high quality of athletic defense now was unimaginable at one time. If you can't hit 97 these days, you can't play. And on and on. The fundamentals of the game, and the need for internal team chemistry, remains the same. The demand for toughness for the long season and iciness for October baseball are still the same.

All in all, these are certainly the good old days for baseball.

Tony Romo's newest injury made me think about how most NFL teams are set up around a single "superstar" (usually QB). When that player goes down, it means they drop quickly to mediocrity since it's hard to keep 2 "great" QBs on a team, since most don't have a "great" supporting cast when the superstar goes down. Obviously, last year's Broncos relied on their defense as Peyton struggled, unlike the 2011 Colts after he went out. Looking back at recent Super Bowl champs, there are some with great QBs (e.g., New England), and others with serviceable QBs but great defenses (e.g., Seattle). I realize that neither model is easy to develop (or draft). How much of a factor in winning teams is a good GM, versus a good coach, versus pure dumb luck?

As everyone has said for years, the NFL is a coach-and-QB medium. Or is that QB-and-coach. Yes, it sometimes looks like the best GMs are at that same level of value -- more important than any player except the QB.

The centrality of the QB, as well as all the increased awareness of concussions, has led to rule changes to protect the QB (and everyone else to a lesser extent) that are probably financially sensible and civilized.

But there were two roughing the passer penalties in the Skins exhibition game that were excellent football plays throughout the entire history of the sport and with no intention to maim. But they are, INHERENTLY, dangerous. As I watched with my son, I probably would have made Red Grange in his leather helmet proud: "What sport is this? If you can't do THAT, then why even bother to call it football anymore." Then I calmed down. Jeez, the season hasn't even started yet. Save some indignation for the real games.

That's it for this week. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks again for all your great questions.

Hello! I know that most questions on here will be about the Nats and probably football but what are your thoughts on John Wall and Bradley Beal, the two players you would think the Wizards organization would want to build a successful organization around seemingly not really liking each other? Or do you think this has been overblown in the media?

I actually buy the "Two Alpha Males" school of thought. But every great guard combo in NBA history has worked out an almost perfect functional relationship between the two backcourt stars. It's been done countless times with many different variations who who gets how many shots, who compliments the other and how it's done. Wall and Beal need to figure it out and fix it, other wise, "2 + 2" can equal 3 for a loooong time.

Hi - i know this is more of a Nats chat but question about the O's. Their pitching is starting to fall apart. Has the house money started to run out for the O's or do you think they can put together a strong last month push for the AL East?

My son, the big O's fan who never gives up on his teams prematurely, said, after the back-to-back 14-4 and 13-5 drubbings in NYC and the Tillman-to-DL news: "They're done."

The nerds say they have a 42.7 percent chance to make the playoffs. And Showalter/Duquette have built a never-give-up clubhouse. But their +9 run differential (which means they've been 5 wins "lucky") and my son's evaluation that Bundy has thrown about as many innings as he can provide this year, are an ice-bath for the Birds. 

What I want to know is when reality catches up with the Rangers who are ELEVEN wins lucky!??? Or does it catch up in some future season? Their bullpen isn't special. Yet they may set the ALL-TIME record for best winning percentage in one-run games -- they're now 29-8. The nuttiness is just part of the fun. Everybody has their turn for a miracle season, an incredible run of luck, a team that can't yet somehow does -- except the Caps and Cubs. (And that list may get smaller.)

...

Correction: The chat next week will be on TUESDAY at 11 a.m. Monday, of course, is Labor Day. Sorry. See you then.

Hondo. Discuss - fill us in on the 40 year relationship. He and Epstein and Bosman and a few others - despite all the losses, were really my hero's growing up.

None of them disappointed me when I eventually met them. They were bad. But they tried. They even cheated trying to win for us! It turns out Bosman had a good spitter -- or greaseball. He sewed a tube of jelly inside the pocket of his glove. He'd just catch the toss back from the catcher in the webbing of the glove. But when he wanted to load up for a strikeout spitter, he'd catch the ball in the palm and -- squish -- a gob of goo would come out through a tiny hole in the glove, right on the ball.

He didn't even have to go get the grease, jelly, whatever, from some part of his uniform or mouth. He had invented The Self-Loading Spitter. And he won an ERA title and a pitched a no-hitter. He never told me whether he was using his special pitch in those days. Lets pretend he wasn't.

Naturally, he became a successful MLB pitching coach.

What do you think of Melancon's performance so far with the Nats? I was a bit worried when the Nats got him that he was one of these closers who gets the job done with a bit of luck, smoke and mirrors - unlike a Chapman or even an Andrew Miller. And the lack of a reliable high-leverage closer has hurt us in the playoffs in 2012 and 2014. But he's pitching very well so far.

Melancon's been a top-5 closer in MLB for the last four years. But nobody gets noticed in Pittsburgh. Mariano Rivero taught him the cutter when he was with the Yankees -- and he has one of the best. And his curve is so sharp, from a straight over the top delivery, it's almost a trick pitch. Every hitter says he's really nasty. Allows almost no homers or walks, throws lots of grounders (for DPs). That often describes a sinkerballer who doesn't get a lot of strikeouts -- which would leave him vulnerable to seeing-eye ground-ball hits at the most heart-breaking times. But he gets plenty of K's, too. For somebody who doesn't top 93 mph (and doesn't want to), it's quite a combination. Not unhittable, but almost certainly the best closer the current Nats have had. 

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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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