Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 03, 2016

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

I'm from Chicago. At least we won't get eliminated in the playoffs by the Cardinals.

You probably have to be a lifelong Cubs fan to understand St. Louis Cardinals Fear!

But I think the only team that has a chance -- out of the Cards, Mets and Giants -- to give the Cubs a fight in the first round is San Francisco with its rotation of Bumgarner (who, if the Giants beat the Mets, won't be ready to face the Cubs until Game Three), Cueto, Moore and Jeff Samardzija.

But I do think the Giants can give the Cubs fits IF 1) it's a low-scoring series and 2) the SF bullpen doesn't implode. Those are big ifs. Cubs are large favorites. But so were '14 N ats -- those Washington then was not nearly as good or complete a team as '16 Cubs. I'm rooting to see Giants-Cubs. Arrieta has looked very vulnerable his last 15 starts with a 4.50 ERA.

Let the fun begin!

I've read that one reason the US has trouble in the Ryder Cup is that the US throws away its home-field advantage by picking major-championship courses that US pros play once a decade, whereas Europe picks courses their pros play all the time. This year seems to bear that out. Hazeltine has hosted one PGA Tour event in the past 14 years (the 2009 PGA). When Europe hosts in 2018, it'll be on a course their tour has played every year since 2001.

???

Well, it didn't keep the US from CRUSHING Europe, 17-11 on Sunday for the biggest swing in Ryder Cup trends in many years. It, for me, has revived interest in an event that was great for many years but had lost some shine because the U.S. has played like a dog so many times in recent Cups.

A new U.S. Ryder Cup star was born in Patrick Reed whose matches with Rory (Roary) McIlroy are now classics. There match Sunday, which Reed iced on the 18th with a birdie putt, was the most swaggering, in-your-face, finger-wagging, crowd-silencing, crowd-inciting match-play battle I've ever seen (this time on TV).

Yet, after the eighth hole, when McIlroy  sank a 50-foot birdie and gave the business to the hostile (and on Saturday unsportsmanlike) U.S. crowd, Reed sank a bomb of his own. At that point, they'd combined for eight birdies and an eagle. Reed wagged his finger at McIlroy -- as he'd done on the previous hole. But then Reed walked off the green and the paiur fist-pumped and back slapped. The competition, the Rory anger at the crowds and Reed stirring the crowd up were all real. But so was the sportsmanship.

It's a shame this match got lost amid an NFL Sunday, college football and the last day of the baseball regular season. Somebody did a bad job of scheduling. At the least they could have avoid the last wildcard race day of MLB. This was the Amazing Golf Theater that the minimum possible number of people saw, or read about. And the US won by such a huge margin in the end that there was no Closing Hour Drama. Too bad, because there had been three days of drama, including the shocking 4-0 sweep by the US in the first matches on Friday in fourball. You NEVER see that. Sports Center showed ONE shot this a.m., then a photo of Ricky Fowler NOT getting kissing by anybody -- as he mugs to the camera -- while many other Ryder Cuppers are smooching. Oh, well.

Guess there was no reason to show the 4-hour battle between Phil Michelson (10 birides, would have been a 63 in medal play) and Sergio Garcia (nine birdies) that ended in a halved match. 

Great golf. The Ryder Cup -- and the U.S. team -- is back on the radar. Now, get it on a weekend when somebody in the U.S. cares about it.

Surely he can't be washed up already at 31? Surely there's an alternative explanation for his dreadful play this year?

I don't think he's washed up. But he certainly could be. The Dodgers will start four lefties vs the Nats in five (maximum) games. With RHed hitter Ramos out injured, Zimmerman suddenly becomes a key bat. That's scary -- for the Nats. Zimmerman says he's done OK vs Kershaw. (Anything over .200 is OK versus that guy.) Ryan doesn't have to be wonderful. But he can't be a cypher. He has to get on base an average of once a game (that's not much to ask AT ALL) and he needs to have one major game-changing hit somewhere in the series. He can't be Mr. .125. He needs to be Mr. Kind of Productive .250.

That may be too much to ask, even though he's hit a LITTLE better recently. "I think we're going to stay with our regular lineup," said one Nat, meaning Zim plays first against the Dodgers. The Nats have to real choice. Clint Robinson and Stephen Drew are LHed hitters who have barely faced LHer at all this year. You're going to ask them to face Kershaw or Hill's big curveballs? No way.

There are lots of keys in this series. Severino has looked good recently and he hits RHed. How many times do you start him? EVERY lefthander gets the Dodgers out. Their TEAM OPS against lefties is .626. That is INCREDIBLY UNBELIEVABLY awful. That is 60 points lower than Danny Espinosa's OPS this year!!

Nobody in their entire lineup hits LHers, and a LH rookie named Blach who was in his second career start shut them out for 8 innings on Saturday when they really wanted to win to keep pressure on the Nats for homefield. SO, in Game Three, can Gio Gonzaslez, who's only allowed the Dodgers one runs in two starts against should win. hem in the last two years, maintain his famously rattled composure and pitch the game that he should be able to pitch against the Dodgers in LA in Game Three. With his pedigree and stuff, THAT is a game the Nats could/should win. (Well, you can't really ever say "should" in baseball. But that's as clean a shot as you get on the road versus a playoff-caliber team.)

Roark has a 2.23 ERA this year if you exclude the three early-season starts against the Marlins when they were stealing his pitches and crushed him three times. Tanner fixed it. In his last three starts against them, he allowed a TOTAL of three runs. So, he's an ultra-competitive guy who's pitching very well and gives the Nats a good chance on Saturday. Kenta Maeda, 28, a "rookie," but a veteran of baseball in Japan, starts Game Two. He's a good four-pitch pitcher, but doesn't have a big fastball. And he got crushed on Sunday by the Giants, giving up five runs and only getting a few outs.

Zim is a key. But there are so many others.

Will anybody be able to hit either Kershaw or Scherzer in the early-inning shadows on Friday if the Nats get the "early game" as you can bet they will so the darling Cubs can get the featured night time. Despite the two gopher balls he allowed on Sunday, Scherzer has still only given up 10 homers in his last 16 starts. That's very encouraging and may mean that, right now, he isn't really a 31-gopher-ball pitcher.

As he said, "Can't wait."

Toss up series, even with Strasburg and Ramos out. Why? Nats aren't good at everything, but they are not B AD at anything either. The Dodgers are bad on the road (for a playoff team) with a 39-42 mark on the road after being swept in three games by the Giants. They are a bad team (by playoff standards) against LHers (22-25). And Kershaw, while GREAT on the road, is UNHITTABLE on LA where his ERA this season -- and career -- is about a full run lower in Dodger Stadium. You don't ever want to see him. But the Nats got the least-bad option and have a $210-million probable-Cy-Young-Award winner ready to face him. And, in bad twilight, Scherzer (with 284 strikeouts this season) is even more of a strikeout pitchers than Kershaw who doesn't have 97-98 mph in his back pocket for big moments. But OMG that Kershaw curveball!

Did Scherzer win the Cy Young yesterday?

Probably.

Lester helped him by losing and allowing 5 runs on Saturday so that his ERA -- his big selling point -- went up to (wonderful) 2.44. And Lester ended up at 19 wins, not 20 like Scherzer. That's a cosmetic "counting stat" perfectly illustrated by the fact that the Nats scored runs in Sckerzer's last TWO starts that got him wins after he was already out of the game. But "20" still looks nice to go along with better WAR numbers and an Inning title as well as K crown and the best WHIP in the NL. Also, Hendricks of Cubs gave up four runs Sunday to knock his great ERA back above 2.00 to 2.13.

This is one time that a pitcher will probably end up saying, "Thanks you WAR and FIP," because Scherzer wins in WAR and looks better relative to Lester and Hendricks in FIP (a less luck-influenced kind of ERA stat).

BTW, can Max add to his resume that he led all pitchers this year in sacrifice bunts (13) and, after four RBI on Sunday, was second among all pitchers with 12 RBI (behind Wainwright's pretty amazing 18 RBI).

So the Rockies lose their last two games, both in extra innings, with their best hitter glued to the bench. Care to comment?

What a lame move by LeMahieu. Maybe I could swallow it if he didn't play in Colorado -- the most hitter-friendly and especially BATTING -AVERAGE friendly ballpark in modern baseball history. Larry Walker and Andres Galarraga were outstanding hitters but the mile-high altitude in Denver necessitates incredibly deep outfield fences creates an uncoverable amount of vast outfield space. That lets God knows how many hits drop untouched. So it's like Colorado hitters already start with at least a 20-point advantage in batting average on every other player in the league.

At home, Colorado hit .304 this year. Lemahieu hit .391. On the road, under "fair" condition, the Rockies hit .246, 10th in the NL. LeMahieu hit .303.

Is That Clear Enough?

LeMahieu was getting a discount batting title anyway. Then he sat games when he was totally healthy to protect his average. That's pretty close to a baseball disgrace.

You can't take the title away from him. But you kinda wish they could, don't you?

Murphy, by the way, sat out the last three weeks ENTIRELY because he was hurt. And the Nats STILL aren't absolutely certain that his buttocks strain will allow him to run well enough to play in Game One. You can't play second base (or first base) if you can't run.

It would have been justice if he'd gotten a hit on the line drive he crushed foul as a pinch-hitter on Sunday. But it curved foul in the RF corner. Even then, Baker waited until a two-out situation to use Murray because he was afraid -- old-school hard-nosed baseball lunatic that Murphy is -- that if he hit a potential double-play ball then Murphy wouldn't be able to stop himself and would run it out full speed to beat the throw, no matter how many orders you give him not to do it.

Talk about a stark difference in the RESPECT that two different players each show to the game. LeMahieu got his title. But he didn't gain much respect. And, yes, Ted Williams had a .399+ batting average going into the final day of the season in '41 when he was trying to hit .400, which he called the greatest accomplishment of his career. His average ROUNDED off to .400 and he'd have gotten credit for .400 if he'd sat out. Instead, he played both games of a doubleheader, got SIX hits and ended up at .406.

THAT'S how you do it.

I felt sick watching Ramos's injury. What happens to him now with free agency ? How much of a hit is it for him financially? Any chance he works something out with the Nats?

It's a disaster for him. He won't be back until mid-season of '17 -- earliest. It's possible that he may never recover enough to be a catcher in future, although I'd say that the balance of probability is that he WILL catch again.

It's doubly clear now that the AL is a much better place for him now --with the DH. Probably the only place.

Would the Nats give him a qualifying offer -- which he'd probably grab in an instant for ~$17M in '17. I doubt it. It's a nice gesture, but a very expensive one. I wouldn't do it. So, the Nats lose, too -- if Ramos does sign as a free agent anywhere, even for a much lower price than the ~$60M/5yrs that some have guesstimated -- Washington would get no compensatory draft pick if they didn't make that "QO."

Ramos was in the locker room yesterday. Ballplayers are just....different. Wilson is a vast slab of human being. He's walking with a knee-brace, but no cane or crutch. A tall 200+-pound Nat -- that's still at least 40 pounds smaller than Ramos -- walks over and belt him, seemingly trying to knock him off balance. Ramos doesn't budge an inch and slugs the guy back -- like a 6-inch jab or backhand forearm shot -- and it sounds like a Rocky Marciano hook just landed. (Or what I imagine it would have been like.) They do this several times, acting as if they are angry. Somebody says, "Oh, they do this ALL the time." It's a sign of bonding...or something.

So, you're hurt, you just lost maybe $50M off your next contract. You're limping. You have no support to keep from falling. So, I'll come over and clobber you -- which will make you feel GOOD and still normal.(The only reason I don't give the other guy's name is not because he did anything wrong -- he absolutely didn't -- but just so nobody can try to "make something" of behavior that the people involved consider "nothing."

Long ago, B.J. Surhoff and John Stearns, both of whom looked like college linebackers, slugged each other as hard as they could in the chest EVERY TIME they passed each other as Oriole teammates. They'd watch out for each other. But one or the other would get the better of the other, get off a punch, then the other would respond and the punches sounded like gun shots. I thought they were insane. I played on lots of teams with lots of horseplay, some of it mean, plenty of "shots" at each other for "fun." But they were off any chart that I recognized. But they laughed. They were buddies. Nobody ever got hurt. Fans think they understand the pro sports culture. My guess -- they probably don't. I probably think that because, after 40+ years around it, stuff still happens, like Ramos yesterday, where I just shake my head. Plenty of them are PROUD that they have gone around the "Good Sense Corner" and don't plan to come back to the world of rational behavior any time soon.    

So the 2016 regular season is over. Harper significantly regressed in every single category. He looked nothing like an elite player outside of 3 weeks in April and 2 in August. And he's been lousy in September which doesn't cause a lot of optimism for the postseason. So was 2015 a fluke? Is he really just a .270ish, 20-15 HR hitter who had one of those magical years where everything went right but he'll never ever come close to matching again? Because that's what it feels like after watching him for the past few months. He went from being the most exciting player in baseball to being a complete afterthought on his own team.

You may be right. But I VERY much doubt it.

However, a more informed view might be that of Mike Rizzo. On Sunday, I asked the GM a more tempered variation of this question about Harper's regression. 

He said, a paraphrase: The world is full of (baseball) scouts. But the worst "scouts" of all are the media. Somebody goes 4-for-4 and the media gives (grades of) '70' across the board -- Hall of Fame. If they go 0-for-4 the next day, they 'can't play.'

"I got a lot of things to worry about," said Rizzo. "Bryce Harper is not one of them. He's healthy. He never had a 'shoulder injury.' He had a neck injury that kept him out a few days. That's all. Every time I see him hitting clean up for us, I feel really good. I expect him to get a hit every time. Despite everything that's been said, he's had a good solid year (84 runs, 86 RBI, 147 games, 24 homers, 108 walks, .814 OPS). He's played great defense for us. And he is NOT HURT."

Does Rizzo have his players backs? Yes. Have I ever known Rizzo to tell a direct lie? No. The only time he goes out of his way to take a stand like this is when HE thinks it is true. Does that mean it IS true? IOW, could he be wrong about what the truth is? Sure, anybody could. But he's pretty much gone on a search-and-destroy mission to kind out the True State of Harper. 

So, sometime in the future, we'll probably find out how accurate Rizzo's intelligence actually is in this case. But I think it would be a poor use of money to bet that he's got it significantly wrong. 

Talked to Harper on Sunday. He sure seems cheerful, rested, looking somewhat better at the plate and psyched for the playoffs. Asked how his mechanics felt, etc. He shook his head "no," as if how he felt this minute was pretty much irrelevant. "The playoffs are different," he said. I suspect he meant that some people rise to them while others shrink, and he probably thinks he knows in which category he fits.

I wouldn't have give nickel for Harper's chances of coming to life against the Dodgers lefties in this series -- until you asked this question and, a few minutes ago, I looked up the '14 season. That year, Harper played after a bad hand injury cost him 62 games. His OPS for the year was .763. In his last dozen regular season games, his OPS was even worse -- .683 -- and he had ZERO  homers and ZERO RBI. He'd never won MVP. MANY thought he was injury-prone, over-rated and would be shown up by the vet Giants in the playoffs.

What happened when "the lights came on?" In four games against the Giants, he had three homers -- two of them tape-measure -- an RBI double and a single. He slugged .882 and had an OPS of 1.257,

So, there's that.

Hi Mr. Boswell, what can the Redskins do this week to shore up their porous up the middle run defense?

I watched the Skins game after already knowing what had happened. I thought they deserved a "C." I'm in the camp that thinks they were lucky they were playing Cleveland. In the second half, every time the Browns got into a potential winning position they had an absolute panic attack. "Here, take the ball. We don't want it. Would you like a stupid penalty? Here, take two."

The Skins get credit for winning. But, in my book, the Brown LOST and the Skins ACCEPTED the victory. Plenty of Skins teams in the last 15 years would have Given the Victory Right Back.

Washington's running game, and Matt Jones, looked encouraging, both last week at the Giants and this week where Cleveland's defense aided the stats. But the Skins tackling, and run defense generally, were truly bad. If I thought they were an 8-8 team coming in, I probably think they look like 7-9 now.

Does that change every week or every three or four weeks? Well, yeah. The Skins are not a team with an established identity or a level of consistently competent play. They are still on Double Probation every week. And they are fighting through a lot of injuries.

BUT that offense has a ton of receivers who can drive any defense crazy and, if they can keep the run-pass balance pretty sane in most games, they are going to give most defenses a lot of problems. Cousins threw a bad (first down!) interception. Again. As I've mentioned here before, Norv Turner, who really always has been a top NFL offensive mind, once told me that first-down interceptions were always inexcusable -- unless a perfect pass bounced off the receivers hands to a defender. Fool that I am, I asked why. He said, "Because...it...is...FIRST....down." 

Ohhhhh, NOW I get it.

Also, a RB missed an assignment to block a back-side blitzer and got Cousins sacked (he fumbled) and could have gotten him hurt.

You're right about the "phantom flag" late in the game against Cleveland on the Jackson bomb. That turned what would have been a third-and-very long into a first down on what became a TD drive. I don't want to here any more Skins whining -- and you hear it most years -- about how they don''t get their share of the flags. That was a game-changer that was also a gift.

So, kicking game: Strong. Receiving: Elite. Running game: Getting better. We'll see how it does against better run defenses. Defense against the run: Bad. No D-line. No hard tacklers in defensive secondary. Ball-hawking on D: Good. If they can't tackle you or scare you at least they try to steal the ball from you. Cousins: Some regression from end of last year. Better than earlier in the year. But he's not back up to Franchise QB level yet. And he was THERE last year.

They're going to play a lot of exciting up-in-the-air games like the last three weeks. But they just had a hard time winning perhaps the easiest game on their schedule at home. So, I assume, for now, that they will have a great deal to trouble beating any of the five remaining teams on their schedule that went to the playoffs last year. And their six remaining NFC East games all figure to be nail-biters and gut-wrenchers.

It'll be entertaining. But they definitely need to play better, overall, than they did on Sunday.

Should the Redskins consider re-signing either Perry Riley, Jr. and/or Terrence Knighton to sure up the run defense? I understand they are still unsigned. Thanks

The Skins seemed to think that Pot Roast was an admission that they were just patching holes temporarily and not really trying to get better long term and develop young players at key position -- like D-line.

Right now, if he's in shape and as decent at stuffing the run last year, I'd go for some Pot Roast right now and the heck with The Advanced Theory of Team Building.

.209/.306/.378 and strikes out 29% of the time. Tell me the Nationals can just move Trea to SS and end the madness already

You guys....Espinosa had the biggest hit of Sunday's win and Max's 20th win. A two-run homer -- that's 24 homers, second on the team, and 72 RBI. And a lot of the HRs have come at meaningful times.

I've analyzed Espinosa every way I know how. Including eye-ball and feel-of-the-game. He's lopsided. But he's also about the 15th best starting shortstop in MLB. Ironically, the very slash-line you site undercuts your argument. The batting average means almost nothing if the on-base percentage is decent -- and .306 for a No. 8 hitter with no protection IS decent.  

What would i do? First, I'd say, "Thanks, Danny. You proved you're a legit MLB shortstop." Then I''d investigate trading him (he's a FA after '17), along with 1-out-of-3 from the list of Giolito, Lopez and Cole, for a quality CF, so you could move Turner to SS next year. But I wouldn't push it. Espinosa can come back. Giolito still has a lot of value, despite what I thought was a disappointing, not-ready-yet showing this year; he'll probably develop into a rotation fixture for somebody someday. Lopez may just look too good to trade...period. And Cole's value is decent but limited.

But Espinosa's value is high right now -- despite what this chatter (has a right to) think. And he's always hit LHers better than RHers. So, he'll strike out plenty vs the Dodgers. He always does. But will he do some shock damage at a big moment? He could. I remember being at a game with friends and Espinosa had to face Aroldis Chapman. They laughed. I said, "If he throws him a knee-high fastball, no matter how fast he throws it, Espinosa may turn it around even faster." He almost hit it through the LF wall. One of Danny's oddities is that he is equally likely to strikeout against anybody. But he's also equally likely to crush a pitch from anybody.

His bat stays on the plane of the pitch for as SHORT a time as anybody. That's bad. You want to stay on the ball to promote more contact and foul off, rather than swing and miss, at pitches. His HR on Sunday came on a fastball BELOW his knees. He still laid that upper-cut lefty swing on it. The bat was on the same plane as the ball for about two inches, not two feet, but it was the right two inches. I watched it over and over and just said, "This guy must be the ultimate hitting-coach-nightmare. But he battles. He brings energy, toughness and defense. And just as you say, 'I can't stand to watch this guy look hopeless striking out ONE MORE TIME, he blows somebody up." 

He had a BAD last month. So, is he "due." Or does he just drive you crazy for another post-season series?

Just saw some Vegas odds.

To win World Series.

Cubs 12/5

Boston 5/1

Texas 5/1

Nats 13/2

Dodgers 15/2.

Throw out Texas. They played 91 games against winners (60-31). So, congratulations on the 95 wins, equaling the Nats for second best in MLB.

But they were an impossibly high "14 wins lucky" as measured by their tiny run differential. They aren't going to get through three rounds that way.

Are the Nats really the third most likely team to win the Series (if you throw out Rangers). I don't honestly think so. The AL is the better league -- +31 wins in head-to-head AL-NL this year. And the AL has homefield edge in the World Series, too.

I'd put Cleveland ahead of the Nats, too, along with the Cubs and Bosox. Interesting that at least one Vegas book has Nats over LA -- slightly. Maybe because the Dodgers looked so flat in SF over the 0-3 weekend. 

Forget that. I'd say the LA-DC is dead flat even. I'm not going to spoil my own in watching with a prediction on a series that may turn on a flyball lost in the Nats Park "Sun Monster" sky in October.

Have you ever seen anyone back into a batting title like DJ Lemahieu? Sitting out 4.5 of the last 5 games as a healthy scratch does not lend itself to sportsmanlike battle that Harper and Dee Gordon had last year.

I just realized, after my previous answer on this subject, that when LeMahieu has been retired for 10 or 20 or 30 years, he'll probably be remembered for one thing. No, not winning a batting title, but being perhaps Example No. 1 of backing into one. Gotta think about stuff before you do it  -- "After I do this, THEN WHAT comes next?"

I'm wrong a lot when trying to guess at players and outcomes. Which bad guess from this season sticks with you? Did someone under perform when they should have over performed? Or vice versa?

I sure wouldn't have guessed that Trea Turner's OPS would be 120 points higher than Bryce Harper's!!!

As I've mentioned, Reggie Jackson went from 47 homers at age 23 to 23 homers and an awful season at 24. I contacted him through a friend to see if he had any thoughts on Harper but he didn't want to comment.  Now I've seen it all: Reggie Jackson -- no comment.

I wouldn't have guessed that Tanner Roark would have a lower ERA than Max Scherzer in a year when Scherzer will probably win Cy Young Award. Nor would I have guessed that Roark would be No. 1 in MLB in Lowest Hard-Hit Ball %, as well as No. 3 in MLB in Highest "Soft-Hit Ball" percentage. The master of five-pitch, avoid-the-heart-of-the-plate speed-changing weak contact.

I wouldn't have guessed -- EVER -- that Ubaldo Jimenez would have helped CARRY the O's to the WC down the stretch. Good for him. Great self-deprecating smiles every time he is congratulated on TV.

I'd never have guessed that the Nats could steal Mark Melancon -- one of the top five closers in MLB -- at the trade deadline for a player I have NEVER HEARD OF.

I wouldn't have guessed that, for the sake of making the wildcard game, that the Mets would have pushed their young pitchers so hard and sop long that only Thor is, basically, still standing. 

Kyle Hendrick for MLB ERA champ -- by a LOT! No way. He's Cubs' version of Roark, but with two feet less fastball.

Oh, I forgot. Daniel Murphy led the N.L. in SLUGGING (.596) and hit .347. No, I don't think I had that.

Within five minutes, I teased Rizzo on Sunday about making a mistake with Matt Williams and being lucky signing Murphy. He said, paraphrase: So, when it doesn't work out, I'm wrong, but when it does work out, I'm lucky. So I lose both ways. Thanks. No, we were NOT lucky on Murphy. He was our second choice (to sign to play second base) all along and we were pretty sure that our first choice -- Zobrist -- was going home to Chicago.

I think I lost that one about 100-0.

FWIW, I thought the Nats were an "88-to-90 win team" before the season.

Bos, how worried are you about our defense, specifically against the run? I feel like the Skins got saved yesterday by some fluky turnovers, except for the Norman pick. Apart from those plays, they ran the ball down our throats, missed tackle after tackle, and we got almost no pressure on their rookie QB. Is this fixable?

Getting takeaways is part of an NFL team's DNA. And with Norman leading the way, I think that's part -- a big part -- of the Skin defense's identity, always trying for the strip and looking for the INT. It exposes you and, perhaps, is an admission that you know your limitations. But it's basically the only way that an undermanned or injured defense can compete. So, the Skins do have that going for them. And Norman, though he gets beaten occasionally, really does "clamp" and put turnover fear in the other offense. He's an impact corner.

Oh, and he was following Pryor all over the field on Sunday. Wasn't that against NFL rules -- or something -- the first couple of weeks of the season?

How times change. The whole world screams at the Skins to balance the run-and-pass on offense and, for crying out loud, to put the most expensive DB in the NFL on the other team's star as much as possible, rather than just putting him predictably on the same side of the defense every time. The Skins have actually done both and seem better for it. Breaking News: Skins Listen to Outside World and Decide to Change.

(Okay, Gruden said they got the offensive balance wrong in post-game press conferences twice. So, he knew. But at least he didn't "triple down on wrong" to be consistent.)

If the Orioles get by the Jays tomorrow, I think they can go far. Teams tend to just swing for the fences in playoff ball. The O's have done that all year, and will be better at it than anyone else. Also they have Britton.

The O's have been fascinating and gutty. You're right. If they get past the Blue Jays tomorrow, they play the over-rated ripe-for-the-picking Rangers and have an excellent chance to win. I'd pick the O's. The Rangers won the season series 4-3, but, typical of them, were outscored 32-31. OK, not by much. 

What I loved about the pumped up nature of that match was that it was in good fun. Rory & Patrick had no animosity. But I wonder, when Rory says he ran out of gas at the end, if he didn't pay a price for spending energy sparring with the crowd.

Yes, he probably did. But Reed was exhausted by it all, too, and came back to earth after the eighth hole. Neither played well on the back until Reed made his birdie at the 18th, closing out Rory before McIlroy got to putt his shorter birdie attempt.

 

Bos-- It's remarkable what Buck Showalter has done for the Orioles organization. Every year, his team has no shot (according to the pundits), and every year it seems, his club fights and competes and is in the playoff conversation. Mind you, this is done every year with a patch-work starting rotation, and a starting lineup that hits bombs at a dizzying pace year after year, but has trouble getting on base and manufacturing runs. The guy is a magician, and I for one believe he deserves to be Manager of the Year every year he coaches under these circumstances and has these results.

You're right, Buck is pretty much manager of the year every year. He's got that Underdog Thing working with his club right now. But they DID want to play that game in Baltimore. Nonetheless, the O's went into Toronto last week and won 2-of-3 when it mattered. In August, they lost 2-of-3 to Toronto in Baltimore. Just so its a bandbox -- and Toronto's park always has been a launching pad -- the O's don't care. Bombs away for both of 'em. The O's have 253 so far this year -- about 30 more than any other team. 

What's your prediction for the bench and the bullpen?

"Scrabble," Solis and Perez as LHers in the pen. No Glover. He's got a minor injury -- hip or something -- and has pitched a lot for his first year out of college. Baker loves Belisle (1.76 in 40 games), even though some would leave him off.I'd expect to see Lopez over Petit as the first man into Game Four after Ross goes as far as he can. Unless the Dodgers (or Nats) have swept by then.

Melancon (1.64 ERA in 75 games, 47 saves), Kelley (2.64 in 67 games) and Treinen (2.28 in 73 games) is a nice back end of the pen. Probably good enough, if they get the chance, to beat the Dodgers or Mets or SF, but probably not the Cubs.

Stephen Drew is a big weapon off the bench. Clint Robinson and Heisey give you thump, too. Revere gives speed and defense. Just don't kid yourself that he's coming out of a .217 slump NOW. Sure, sure, anything can happen. Surprise heroes. Severino and Lobaton are both hitting about as well as they can right now. I think they'll split the duty and not have one "regular catcher," in part because it now looks like Severino is the starting c atcher next year. His defense and presence have been exceptional __what an arm. He's hit a couple of Jack-Rabbit-Ball Bombs, too. Severino looks like he THINKS he's a Player. We'll see. Taylor's dinged. Difo has a future, but on this roster he'd only duplicate Drew who's been exceptional all year (.863 OPS, eight homers in only 143 ABs.)   

Boz, That anecdote also reminded me of something FP said in the Nats' broadcast the other day after ANOTHER Trea Turner homer - that he's a lot more solidly-built than most people would think, watching on TV. Probably at some point pitchers will stop challenging Turner like they have! But not yet (though, the Marlins did walk him four times over the weekend).

Chen tried to get up-and-in with him on a 90 mph fastball. Don't the Marlins have scouting reports? Hope Kershaw tries to "get in" on the rookie -- on general principles and because he's Kershaw. He could get a surprise.

Would you start Gio in Game 2? Allows him to pitch at home and take advantage of the fact that the Dodgers are terrible on the road.

No.Also gives you a chance to go down 0-2.  Game 2 goes to the best available pressure pitcher -- like Joe Torre always taped Andy Pettite for No. 2 over bigger names or guys coming off better seasons. For Nats, that's been Roark. First playoff starts can be a shock to the system. But starting Roark, who went seven shutout innings against LA in LA in mid-season, in bad light conditions may give him some early-inning wiggle room and get him "into the game." Once he's rolling, he's tough the second and third time through the order. IMO, you want to give Roark a chance to impact the series ASAP. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. But he's going to be one of your main guys for the next THREE years, as long as he stays healthy, so put him in an important spot, but not a possible life-or-death spot on the road possibly down 0-2. Let him have a chance to get you even 1-1 or ahead 2-0. It'll be an interesting match-up against 37-year-old often-injured LHed curveballer Hill who's bounced around, has blister problems that sometimes drive him out of games and was signed as minor league free agent by the Nats two years ago. But when he's healthy and 'on,' he can be very tough.

That's it for today. Going to be a fun week. Nats-Dodgers. O's-Tor and then Skins-vs-Ravens in Baltimore. Emotion week. Cheers.

I know they really only care about the TV ratings but do you think they would be more inclined to give the Nats early games to avoid the metro exodus?

The Metro problem needs to be solved in Washington. It's not MLB's problem.

Metro MUST be open late enough to handle any night games. If there is a Game 5 next Thursday (and it would be at night unless there are rainouts in the AL that change the schedule), then, IMO, there is a compromise. Metro should change its current rules and make an exception for the playoff game and the Lerners, who hate to blink, should get something in their eye (call it hometown loyalty) and pay for the extra time that Metro is open. I'm not a Metro expert. But it's a national embarrassment if thousands of fans leave a winner-advances-to-play-for-a-spot-in-the-World-Series game or if the home town owners won't help the problem with some cash. They can both (honestly) hide behind "it's an exception" not  a slippery slope.

Hey Bos, Simple question. What's your #1 favorite moment from this past Nats season?

Tough to top 20 Ks, tying the all-time record, by a 20-game winner who stands to be the Cy Young winner.

Scherzer has had some post-season disappointments in Detroit. He's right in his prime. Maybe this is the Year of Max. But he's got his hands full.

What the heck happened on that Browns 'fumble' that the Skins recovered? Browns player clearly pops out of pile with the ball. That was incredible.

I never saw a clear replay. Would like to see one.

Dear Tom, You just wrote that we should judge DJ LeMahieu by the "fair" conditions of his road batting average, not by what he hits at Coors Field. But if we apply the same to pitchers, Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood should win the NL Cy Young. On the road, Chatwood was 8-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Max Scherzer, who you recently wrote should win the ERA, went 12-4 with a 3.28 ERA. If road ERA is the fair way to judge Rockies players, shouldn't Chatwood have the same consideration?

No, we can't "adjust" everybody's numbers when we give awards. Just saying it's pretty bold to "sit" on a .001 batting title lead when you're healthy and already have a .391-to-.302 edge in your season home-road splits because you play in the easiest batting average park ever built in the U.S.

Who you got? I'd give the slight edge to Bumgarner in the NL game given his history and Syndergaard's struggles holding runners on. I don't know enough about the other matchup to hazard a guess. Also, do the Division Series start times get announced after the wild card games?

Blue Jays and Giants. The Giants feel it after sweeping LA, and the O's had it on their racket for homefield and didn't get it on Sunday -- a letdown. Also, Toronto's really good.

But in one game? JUST WATCH.

Is he next year's starting SS or CF?

He's pretty fast. Maybe he could be allowed to play both positions at once and bat twice.

When anticipating next year, remember Turner's numbers in 83 games in AAA. He hit .302 with a .842 OPS and a half-dozen homers, plus lots of doubles and triples and 25 steals. If you want to multiply numbers by two to guesstimate next year, it might be smarter (and more fair to Turner) to multiply the Syracuse numbers by two, not the almost nutty MLB numbers. Be happy, very happy, with something like .302, a >.350 on-base percentage, 50 steals and 12 homers with 30 doubles and 12 triples. That's a ton. Maybe even too much to ask. Let Trea be Trea. And we'll all find out together who that is.

Better, worse, or about what you expected irt the job Dusty did this year?

I've known and watched Dusty a long time. He has quite a career record. In 21 years, he's had teams that won 103, 97, 97, 95, 95, 91, 90, 90, 89, 89, 88 and 86. And in every case, he took over teams in four towns that all had problems and showed large to enormous improvement in his first year. So, I expected very good. And that's what I saw. Two of his three previous teams also got better in their second season under him.

He's 17th in history in wins. However, his .529 percentage, while good and ahead of a long list of famous managers, is not in the top 50. It helps to inherit a dynasty. Those "around" Baker's win percentage, but not in the top 50 all-time, are:

Tony LaRussa .536

Joe Maddon .535

Whitey Herzog .532

Dusty Baker .529

Tommy Lasorda .526

Buck Showalter .521

Jim Leyland .506

Bruce Bochy .505.

So, you can only "manage" so much. The players are pretty important.

Someone at Fangraphs did a quick Trea Turner comparables analysis. Molitor, Jeter, and Sandberg were 3 of the top 10. (You get credit for, while not calling it a comp, comparing Jeter and Turner's minor league careers!) Regardless, it'll be fun to watch him, for years to come and -- first things first -- as the Nats' not-so-secret weapon against the Dodgers (and others, hopefully).

Turner was just getting his feet wet when he played three games against the Dodgers in July. But they probably remember him.

In the first game he had a two-RBI triple and scored. In the second game he had an RBI triple and then stole home with a head-first slide. In the third game, he had a single, stole third base and scored. Only 3-for-13, but still had a lot of impact plays.

I sometimes see comments and your responses here in the chats that whose subject often comes up in your future columns. How much of what is said here do you use as notes or fodder for upcoming columns? It seems to be a smart way of using what could otherwise be a big time suck for someone on deadlines.

I assumed I'd use more than I have over the last dozen years. There's something about being fresh that instinctively makes me shy from using things in a chat, unless I really, really like them, although it ought to be ripe ground. I think it does a good job of letting me know what readers feel, letting THEM express themselves (since about 1,500 or more words of every chat are questions) and it sends me off on brain-storming or fact-gathers "missions" that help my general understanding of subjects. One reason the chats take a while is NOT because I am typing every second but because I think, "That is a really good question. I don't have an adequate answer this second. So, I'm going to think for a few minutes, or look up info, so I can give it the answer it deserves, if I can. And sometimes I write an answer and think, "That is junk." So I don't post it. 

See you next week.

Just announced: Friday 5:30, Saturday 4:00.

Thanks. I'm going to assume this is correct and post it. (If wrong, sorry. Double-check for yourselves, obviously.)

Editor's note: Game 1 on Friday will start at 5:38 p.m., while Game 2 will begin at 4:08 p.m. Saturday. Read Chelsea Janes's blog post for more information.

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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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