Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 17, 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 was at game five early and was standing over the bullpen when Scherzer warmed up. Maybe I was just seeing what I expected to see, but he appeared exhausted from 24 hours of contemplating the "biggest game of my life" and more than a little wild. The bullpen folks seemed worried about what his lack of control. He didn't have his best stuff early, but he battled and battled and seemed to be settling in. Getting adjusted to the stress and tension and weathering a few storms has to be a great benefit to the mental stamina and control required for elimination game pitching. He was through that and, while still not sharp, was at least near to the point where he's thinking more about pitching than the fear of what might happen when he pitches. My question is, then, do managers factor this in when making decisions in through-the-roof level high leverage playoff scenarios? It seems to me that if you have a guy that is dialed in and through the worst of the butterflies, he's going to have a big advantage on a guy fresh from the pen. We saw this in a few of the Nats relievers (Scrabble, Kelley, Solis) and even Dayton for the Dodgers, guys who are lights out under normal circumstances but might need a batter or two to get adjusted in a high-stress moment when they are frazzled by nerves and amped up. I'm not saying that nobody can do it or that you always stick with a guy who is settled in, but it does seem like it should be a heavy weighting factor in favor of staying with the guy who is pitching. Not true during regular season or other low-leverage situation where a left-on-right change moves the odds in you favor, but in these elimination game scenarios, I wonder if there isn't a bias in favor of sticking with the warmed-up righty? As you can probably guess, I wanted Dusty to stick with Scherzer to 120 pitches, but that's not the intent of my question. I'm not looking to criticize Dusty (his decision to pinch hit Heisey and his faith in Espi earned us all three meager runs). Just wonder if managers condition the probabilities on the stress level of the moment. Thanks

If I had answered that question an hour after Game 5, I would have largely agreed with you. But the press box at Nats Park is so high -- one of the three or four worst in MLB -- and the press box cameras (in this post-season) have no time delay, so it is basically impossible to see the location of pitches.

I watched Game 5 again. Scherzer had amazingly good command and stuff. Much better than I thought from five stories high. Even the HR pitch to Pederson was "doted" perfectly low and away. The only problem was that Scherzer had started him with exactly the same pitch on his first TWO pitches of the previous AB. So, Pederson was sitting on it. In real time, I'd have taken Scherzer out at 99 pitches, just when Baker did. (I'd note that managers are also almost "blind" on the quality of a pitcher's location -- the only worse spot to sit is the dugout. SO, you have to count on your pitcher and catcher to tell you, "I'm razor sharp tonight." With hindsight and a couple of hours of slo-mo replay -- see how much easier it is for us than for a real manager in the heat of the moment -- I would have stuck with Scherzer for at least another 15 pitches to ~115. He was that good. Scherzer's playoff history is that he tires more quickly -- by as much as an inning -- than he does in regular season. Maybe it is "energy burn," especially with an extra hour to wait (and pace) before an 8:05 game. 

Another reason that I would second-guess MYSELF now is that Lobaton and Scherzer really had the Dodgers tied in a knot with his changeup. Lobaton called far more change-ups than Ramos ever does. In DC, Scherzer has dropped from 20 percent changeups in his last five years in Detroit to 12 percent in DC. I think it's one reason he has given up so many HRs. Lobaton called four straight vs Gonzalez for a K. Also every vital pitch of the game, Scherzer went to the changeup low-and-away to lefties and it was perfect or close.

So, put me down in real time as: Dusty was right.

With hindsight: Dusty wasn't WRONG. It was a tough call. But Scherzer was really sharp. And that's better than "Scrabble" and Treinen out of the bullpen.

In tennis, you never see a coach halting play to amble out for a nice talk with a player over what to do next. With pitcher visits, frequent lefty-righty matchup changes, extra commercial times in playoffs, the batter and pitcher taking turns stepping off, replays, and pitchers going into deep meditation before each pitch, baseball is not as exciting as it once was. Will anything be done?

I have changed my mind about one basic baseball tradition. I now think that the MOUND VISIT -- by anybody at any time -- has to be banned.

Why does it exist in the first place?

You have signs to call pitches. The manager or pitching coach FREQUENTLY calls pitches -- sometimes ALL pitches -- from the dugout.When you take out a pitcher, just wave to the ump. What is a manager going to say to a reliever when he comes in? "Throw strikes but don't give him anything good to hit." ("Ball Four" reference.)

As for catcher-pitcher visits, figure out the damn game before the game. Or else between innings. DON'T WASTE MY TIME watching you guys do all the stuff that you should have done as BASIC HOMEWORK before facing the other team.

That isn't going to save 30-to-45 minutes a game! But it's a start. And I wouldn't have to consider screaming every time I see a post-season mound conference in what will probably be a 3:45-long game.

(On managers or pitching coaches calling pitches without visits: Billy Martin often called MANY pitches in many games. He once called every pitch of a game. Then, ninth inning, bases loaded, two outs, tie game, he turned his back, went to get a drink of water and let his catcher call the biggest pitch of the game. They lost -- but it wasn't Billy's fault. And people wondered why his players loved him in Year One, tolerated him in Year Two and hated him by Year Three.)

Bos, I'm writing this Friday morning as I sort through the many despairing moments from the Nats' Game 5 loss last night; hopefully I may not care so much by Monday... My question is related to the horrible decision by Henley to send Werth home on the Zimmerman hit to left. Seems to me that Werth must have known as he approached third that he had little-to-no chance to score. What's the code in baseball about a player ignoring a coach's direction? Any problem if Werth had done that? Or is Jayson, the player who so strongly "respects the game", the least likely to do that? Bob Engelstad Kensington

It's the coach's job to watch the ball and the fielders -- be the base runner's eyes. It's the runner's job to run as fast as he can and watch the third base coach. That's it. Period. Since there is no "second-base coach," runners have to make their own judgment there, watching ball, fielders and deciding. Also, round first on a hit, the decision to "stretch" obviously belongs to the runner because the play is "in front of him" usually.

Can a runner stop at third? Sure. Just like he can run through a stop sign by the coach. But I've watched that relay many times now. You can see EVERYTHING. Henley kept his eye on the batted ball long enough to see it go into Toles glove. He's about 6-to-8 feet behind third with a clear view of the LF corner. He's also in line with third base so Werth can see him -- waving "GO" -- as he approaches the base. 

In general, Tom Verducci made a good point about third base coaches moving "down the line" -- closer to home plate -- so they can have an extra fraction of a second to decide whether to "wave 'em home." But on this PARTICULAR play, it wasn't a factor. Henley saw what he needed to see, then made an instantaneous -- and atrocious --decision to send Werth. If he'd given himself another fraction of a second to decide, might his synapses have worked differently? Well, maybe.

It was the worst "send" I have ever seen in a post-season game. As I tweeted at the time, I didn't think it was possible to get thrown out at the plate by 50 feet. Grandal had time to eat a pizza while he waited for Werth. On replay, he was only out by 40 feet.

Players choke, managers choke and (I bet) sportswriters choke. It happens. Henley choked. You can find a kinder work for it, but I don't see why you'd bother.

Would it have mattered? Normally, with Danny Espinosa up next in a playoff game, I'd have said, "Well, probably not. He'll just fan." But in hiss last two ABs of Game 4 Espinosa singled to left -- line drive --and lined out hard to rightfield after hitting two loud foul balls. Then, in his first AB in Game 5, he took a Rich Hioll curveball to the OPPOSITE FIELD for a line drive RBI hit. ALL YEAR, Espinosa had ONE opposite field hit while batting RHed. So, there's grounds to think he was "seeing the ball" better or had changed something to shorten up his swing.

You cannot "assume sequence" -- meaning that every subsequent action would have taken place the same way in the same order. The Dodgers changed pitchers -- Dayton for Urias. But it's still (mildly) interesting to note that Espionsa walked and Heisey HOMERED as the first two Nat batters after Werth was thrown out at the plate.

The point is not that they WOULD have gone walk-homer if Werth had stayed at third. BUT it does illustrate what COULD have happewas ned. As much as it seems like Espinosa makes an out every time up in the playoffs, he on-base percentage against the Dodgers was .333 (just like a normal player!). Yes, that was three HBPs, a walk and only two hits. 

But that awful "send" did change the feel of the game. Pederson hit the next pitch out of the park in the top of the next inning. Did a "tone" change have any impact -- after all the, the previous 2 innings had ended with Harper picked off 1st base on the Urias balk and Werth thrown out at the plate. When things like this happen in a one-run game, the team that is behind says in the dugout, "They are WAITING for us!"

BTW, Werth, who had a fine series (.389), did have two terrible clutch aat batss in Game 5 with a man on third and one out. The MLB odds on bringing that run home -- man on third, less than two outs -- is the same EVERY year and it has been the same for many decades. It's 50 percent every year -- within a percent or two. It's just one of those "baseball eternal ratios." Werth had two shots and fanned both times. He got his pitches, he just flat missed them or fouled them off. Against Hill in the third, he got a 91 mph fastball over the plate -- up and way, perfect for a sacrifice fly to rightfield --- and swung through it. Against Jansen in the seventh -- first and third, one out -- I think he wanted to win the game, not just tie it. But, as he knows better than anybody, if you just try to get a "ball to drive to the outfield" for a SF, you have just as good a chance to hit it on the screws for a double or homer. In the seventh, he got FOUR "pitches to hit" from Jansen. Yes, they were all 95 mph cutters. But Werth hit one of those 450-feet in Game 4 for an insurance run to give the Nats a 5-3 lead late. I'll ask him sometime, if I remember: Was he unconsciously trying to "pull" too much instead of just hitting it straight away. (Was he thinking, in the back of his mind, about Game 4 in '12?) Anyway, he's the guy you want up there. He's got 15 post-season home runs and a career post-season OPS over .900. That is rarefied air. In this series, he had four singles, two doubles, a homer, four walks and an RBI-HBP. Pretty tough to rip a guy with an 1.189 OPS! But he'd have traded some of those good at bats earlier for one or two decent ABs in those man-on-third, one-out spots when he got the pitches he wanted.

Rendon, OTOH, who fanned to end the seventh, got two b*astard pitches from Jansen on of his three strikes.

People have asked why Baker left Scherzer in to start the 7th, but I didn't understand why Baker had to take Scherzer out after the homer. It wasn't a bad pitch, and he had plenty of gas left.

Taking him out after the sixth would have been OK. He was at 98. Give a reliever a "clean inning" and a lead. Leaving him in under somebody reached base (or hit a homer), but not letting him face the go-ahead-run past pitch 100 would also be normal PLAYOFF strategy because, with your whole bullpen available -- with a day off before Game 5 and a day off after it, too -- you don't want to lose with a tiring arm when you literally have 10 OTHER arms. But, because he was so sharp, you could justify leaving him in after the HR. Sometimes there are multiple "competent" answers, not one answer.

If you want to second-guess Baker, and blaming the manager is an inalienable right of suffering fans (whether entirely justified or not), I'd focus on taking Solis out, when he looked calm and had good stuff, in favor of Kelley to pitch to the Dodgers best hitter (against the Nats all of '16). Justin Turner. Everybody has pointed out that Turner had "reverse splits" THIS year -- meaning he has hit significantly BETTER against RHed pitchers than LHers, even though he is RHed -- his OPS was .919 vs RHer and only .640 vs LHers (in roughly 400 and 200 ABs respectively -- a big sample). In '15, it was .908--to-.745. For his CAREER, the his "reverse split" is .832 vs RHer and .695 vs LHers.

So, one of the reasons the Dodgers are SO bad against southpaws is because their "best" RHed hitter is actually a LHed hitter! (There have been year, like '14, when Turner was equal vs both LH and RH.)

So, I'd start from the premise that the Nats SHOULD have known this about Turner (and may have) and should only act against that intelligence if Turner has had a hard time hitting Kelley IN PARTICULAR.

Well, Turner was 0-for-3 in his career against Kelley.

See, it's never easy. Small sample. But if you are the manager you are still thinking "Kelley is my veteran set-up guy. It says he is ".ooo" here vs Turner. Why should I risk losing by leaving in a rookie (Solis)?

It was certainly symbolic, though I don't know of what, that Kelley lost feeling in his fingers on THAT pitch to Turner -- the one he hit for a 2-run triple that ultimately was the entire difference in the game. Otherwise, I really do think they probably win, 3-2. (Just "probably.") The actual pitch -- since it was the Season Losers -- probably needs an autopsy. It was 83 mph, didn't break as much as many Kelley sliders -- which may have indicated that he hurt himself on that pitch, trying to snap it off -- but it WAS low-and-away. Turner had to go out and get it. It was not some awful "hanger" down the middle like the back-to-back hanging sliders that LA's Joe Blanton threw to the Cubs' Miguel Montero to lose Game One of the NLCS. The second Blanton hanger was on 0-2. He almost never does that. And Montero almost never has an extra-base hit on 0-2. So, he almost hit it onto Waveland (or is it Sheffield. I can never remember. So you know that am officially not a Cubs fan).

So I'm guessing after his poor season and poor postseason any type of contract extension is off the table. So what do the Nats do with Harper? Do you seriously think they'll consider trading him? Seems like we'd be trading him "low" now, although another year like this past one and his value will drop even more. But if they don't plan to extend him, it makes sense to try and get something for him before he walks in 2018. What is the likely return at this point if he is traded?

This is one of the most fascinating problems I've ever seen. Options:

*You can move him to CF. He's only 24, has speed (>20 SB in '16), has five years experience as an OFer, including a year in CF in '12 and has a strong arm. Then you could move Trea Turner to SS. That makes Danny Espinosa a very good insurance plan and utility man, or a trade piece. Then, if Harper hits in '17 as he did in '16, he's a good offensive CFer, rather than a so-so RFer (who did little after April).

* You can do nothing and assume that his mechanics or his body will be 100 percent by next year. And he'll move back up to some level BETWEEN '15 and '16 -- which would still be wonderful. Has he been hurt in '16? To what degree? The Nats have done everything except give him truth serum and he tells them he's OK. Maybe family, friends or representatives are saying otherwise. There's a lot invested (even by sponsors) in his "rep" as the Harp of '15 who just had an "off year" in '16 that can be attributed to Factor X.

* You investigate his trade value as a part of a major change in the team's construction. That is adventurous, dangerous and has a LOT of moving parts. But in four of his five years, Harper has been one kind of player -- very good (not great), but streaky and injury prone. In one year, he has been Ted Williams. But he WAS Ted Williams for a year. How many players have EVER had a year that great and then NOT had more years like that. I've searched. I don't think I could find anybody with an 1.100 OPS year at a young age who regressed, then stayed at a much lower level.

So, I suspect the Nats will do nothing.

* Or they could try to hire Matt Williams as their third base coach to replace "Send 'Em (to their Death) Henley AND also an Bryce's personal guru. They talked constantly before games and before at bats in '15 with Matt discussing what pitches to look for, etc. Not mechanics. But mental approach and patience.

Yes, this is a (sick) joke. Dusty and Matt are old friends but, NO, no manager ever comes back to a place where he's been fired in such sad/mad circumstances. 

I'm sure I'll deal the Harper Question at length in future.

During World War 2, the German army sent General Rommel to North Africa to stiffen Axis resistance to the British army. In short order Rommel pushed the Brits out of Libya and into Egypt. Winston Churchill paid an unheard of tribute to his enemy, saying "Across the gulf of war I salute a great general." I'm a diehard Nats fan, and across the gulf of competition I have to salute Clayton Kershaw. The man is incredible.

Actually, he IS a wonderful man, but his ERA in two starts vs the Nats was 6.17. They scored three runs and five runs off him in five innings and 7 1/3 innings. That SHOULD equal at least one win. It resulted in none. That's a huge part of why the Nats lost the series. They "beat" Kershaw twice -- to the degree that you ever beat one of the best pitchers ever -- but didn't end up beating him either time.

Normally, I would say it was exceptional (or something) that a player in the midst of an historic career, still in his late 20's, with many more fine years ahead of him -- but coming off a DISC injury and on ONE day's rest -- would volunteer/agree to pitch in relief when there is a chance that he could get a career-changing injury. Just a chance. But if that combo -- short rest, warm up fast for relief when you've never been a reliever and do it when you're just back from a "herniated disc" -- if that combo wouldn't put you at risk, what would? But he did it.

The other side is that, UNTIL LAST NIGHT, his post-season record is very poor for an all-time great and mediocre-at-best for ANYBODY. He's had bad luck with "inherited runners" scoring after he departed. But that also means that he got KNOCKED OUT. 

Maybe he was due for a couple of breaks. Nobody mentioned it on the telecast last night (of course?) but at least one homer (Baez) and one or two others earlier in the game were probably (or almost certainly) kept in the park by the wind. Once, you could tell that Kershaw "knew it was gone" then just looked in relief/disbelief when it wasn't. As I said, he was due for his luck to even out. His post-season record in 17 games and 13 starts is now 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 84 innings. And that's about how well he's pitched -- not well.

He's fabulous in Dodger Stadium. Will he pitch there on three days rest AGAIN in a Game 5, or will the Dodgers try to keep it going so he starts in a Game 6 in Chi with five days rest so he can recover form all he's done?

The Cubs looked pretty worried last night? In fact, Chapman has looked worried a couple of times. When a team -- any team, no matter how good -- stops hitting in a post-season series, they better turn it around fast because the Team Slump for a Favorite, who then gets upset, is about as frequent a story as October predictably provides.

The Dodgers still have a mountain to climb, but they did what they had to do in Wrigley -- split. No, it doesn't look like they have the starting pitching to cope with the Cubs. But Rich Hill, who had the second-best ERA in MLB (after Kershaw) among pitchers with 100 IP, can  be very tough. He's probably the key. The Cubs are better. But...

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Here's a fun read by Dan on the ridiculous officiating call in the Skins game against vernon Dean for shooting a jump shot with a football. These days the NFL just can't wait to make itself look foolish.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dc-sports-bog/wp/2016/10/16/no-fun-league-claims-another-victim-nearly-costing-the-redskins-a-game/

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Also, the officials "explain" that Davis was using the goal post "as a prop." Looks like the officials are only using their heads "as props," rather than as a repository for their brains.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dc-sports-bog/wp/2016/10/17/nfl-vp-of-officiating-explains-why-vernon-davis-was-penalized-for-his-jump-shot/

What happened to him this year, and does he have a future in DC?

In batting practice, he looks like a 300-homer, 1,000-RBI player -- IOW, a player who'd have a career like Dusty Baker.

At this point, guess he's a AAAA player like Tyler Moore. But Taylor has far above average grades in FOUR of the five tools in baseball -- run, field, throw and hit for power. But the only ESSENTIAL tool out of the five is: "Hit." Meaning: Make contact. I'd think the Nats would give him one more chance. Baker loves him. I'm pretty close to thinking he's just one of those players, and really nice young men, who just make you feel bad with you think of them years later -- like Maryland grad Justin Maxwell who hit .220 in more than 1,000 ABs and is now 32 and in the Korean League, I believe.

Have you ever seen a worse season from an MVP, and how does he get fixed at this point>

Sure, there is a perfect example: Reggie Jackson in '69-'70.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/jacksre01.shtml

47-118-.277 to 23-66-.237

I said a couple of years ago, before '15, that if I had to guess I'd say that Bryce Harper's career would be like Reggie Jackson, or better. Meaning Reggie never hit for much average (.270's), struck out a lot, was streaky, looked to be the center of attention, didn't mind controversy, had speed and a great arm early but both declined with time, often played best in October.

However, Harper seems to get hurt more than Reggie. But Reggie never hit .330! Bryce already has. Bryce is a better fielder than Reggie ever was. And Bryce is a better teammate. Reggie really could be a pain in the butt, didn't care and annoyed plenty of his teammates. Bryce doesn't. (He annoys some fans. That's much different.)

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For those craving Capitals, here's a link to Isabelle's Q&A.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capitals-insider/wp/2016/10/17/evgeny-kuznetsov-on-baked-potatoes-family-feud-and-meeting-alex-ovechkin/   

You suggested in a column this weekend that the Nats should consider trading Harper given they can't help him fix his hitting. Were you serious? Do you think the Nats would actually consider it, and if so, what is he worth after such a lousy season?

There is no such thing as a "player who can't be traded." Especially if he is a huge drawing card.

I think Nats fans feel connected to Harper and want to see him come back from '16. It was interesting to me that late in the season and in the post-season Harper seemed to concede that he wasn't going to be '15 Bryce again this year and started focusing on hitting more to LF (like the key hit off Jansen in the seventh of G5 to LF) and drawing walks. He was focused, but also realistic, as if, "I'm not going to get this fixed this year. But I can still get on base and contribute. Against LA, he reached base 10 times (six walks) for a ,458 on-base percentage and stole THREE bases. But 0 HR and 1 RBI. 

He succeeded in NOT being the reason they lost. 

But that's the best I can say.

Tom, I think you commented recently about how Danny Espinosa had a statistically decent year for someone batting in the 8 spot in the order. But due to the Wilson Ramos injury, I think Danny batted 7th throughout the post season. All else being equal, it seems to me like this threw off the Nats' offensive balance just enough to do damage. In Game 1, Danny struck out with bases loaded in an opportunity to knock out Kershaw early. (Would Severino have been any different? I don't know but at the start I said I would have penciled him in there and let Danny bat 8th.) In game 5, the Nats say one of the reasons Werth was waived home on Z-man's liner was because of the lack of faith that Danny would bring him home from 3rd with two outs. What a pessimistic view to have of your assigned 7th hole batter! Injuries happen and I know it's pointless to cry over them, but I have to wonder how the postseason would have been different if we had even a replacement-level offensive threat at catcher that could have batted 6th or 7th and kept the Nats' season-tested batter order in place.

One other factor: Steephen Drew could have played a game or two at SS and batted seventh, BUT he hits LHed and four of the five LA starters were LHed. So the flexibility you had in theory didn't get to play out in reality.

The Nats deserve some sympathy for not having Strasburg and Ramos. There are two sides to that: 1) Would they have won if they had both of them? Probably, imo. 2) LOOK AT THE INDIANS. They have injuries that make losing Stras and Wilson look SMALL. And they have knocked out the Red Sox in three games and are up two games on Toronto. So, team CAN overcome injuries, including injuries worse than the Nats. The Nats just didn't DO it.

Cleveland had one of the best five-man rotations in baseball. Now, in October, Josh Tomlin had to start Game 2 and they don't even HAVE a Game 4 starter -- it's a "staff game" of all relievers.

It would be like the Nats going into the playoffs with a rotation of Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, A.J. Cole and Bullpen Game. And going 5-0 so far. (Well, maybe not QUITE that bad.)

When Matt Jones needs to come out of the game, the Redskins have 40 seconds to replace him. When Alex Ovechkin needs to come out of the game, the game doesn't even stop at all. When Max Scherzer needs to come out of the game, the replacement pitcher gets a half hour to make sure his arm feels nice and warmed up.

Actually, the reliever gets seven pitches. And there's a two-minute 15 second clock on him for his first pitch after being waved into the game.

The verdict is in for me, you re-sign this guy. We know what he is, he might even get a bit better. He can move the offense and is pretty certain to make one "Bad Kirk" decision every game. But we could do worse. And with the right defense, he could take his team deep into the playoffs.

That is an end-of-year decision -- not after six games. You make a good points, but I'd say, "Not so fast."

Cousins performance this year -- 65.0 percent completion, 9-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio and other useful ratio and ratings (QB rating and QBR by ESPN) -- are very close to his CAREER numbers. BUT they are not as good as '15. And in TD-INT where he was 29-11 last year and QB rating, where he was 101.6 to 89.7 not nearly as good.

So, is CAREER Cousins good enough to be your franchise QB? Or does he need to be close to '15 Cousins?

Everybody hates every QB "rating system." But, FWIW, the basic NFL QB rating has Cousins 19th in the NFL among starters. That's not so hot, is it? And ESPN's inscrutable "Total QBR" has him rated 18th among starters.

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Sunday was one of the weirdest games I've seen. I thought Jerry Brewer really nailed how odd it is to see one team run EVERY play in a 75-minute span of time (and almost 20 minutes of game clock -- or 1/3 of the whole game).

That exhausted the Eagles defense, especially their defensive line. The Skins D-line said that they had to do EXERCISES before the second half because they had stiffened up because they had to sit and rest so much! Imagine the opposite -- if you were on the field ALL the time, like the Eagles defense! That's one reason for the huge Skins rushing total -- huge O-linemen wearing down D-line.

BUT, leaving that aside, I did not think I would see the Skins dominate BOTH lines of scrimmage in ANY game this year against ANY decent-to-good team. But they did. There were asterisks. Kerrigan was opposite an emergency rookie tackle who was easier to beat than a revolving door. That disrupted one entire side of the Eagles offense. Kerrigan is All-Pro but not All-Universe. But Philly had to "chip him" or give help on every pay play because they're 5th-rd rookie was so out of his depth. The Skins knew it. So they could send pressure EVERYWHERE ELSE because they knew 1 1/2 or 2 blockers would always be assigned to Kerrigan.

Because I was on the road, I didn't get to watch the Skins-Ravens game until Saturday and, as many have noted, man, were they fortunate to win that game. So, I thought they have their hands full with the Eagles. Instead, they were VERY impressive. And finally determined to throw the downfield an adequate number of times.

Yes, everything changes everything. Look at the rest of the Skins schedule NOW. There are plenty of games that are :"roughly even" and a couple where they'd be underdogs. But it does not look NEARLY as intimidating as it did before the season.

The Skins point differential is Zero: 142-to-142. That might make you think they are still a .500 team in 4-2 disguise. But the combined record of the teams they have played is very good -- 18-11. And when those teams have not played the Skins, they are 16-9.

So, they look like a very entertaining, pretty gutsy team that, with some evening out of luck -- mean bad luck still to come -- might be 8-8 but with pretty good luck the rest of the way could win 10.

When a team shows you something good that you did not expect from them, then you should pay attention and have an open mind. After two games, or even three, it looked like the defensive front seven was a major problem and that the running game might never click.

But they outgained Philly on the ground 230-to-94 and Matt Jones was ENJOYING stomping and romping on people during his 135 yards in only 16 carries.

It's a LOT of fun to watch (and analyze) a team where you say, "How do you balance the negatives of the Cousins Pick Six and the 86-yard kickoff return for a TD against the huge positives in the yardage advantage?" Remember, only two years ago, it was NO fun to watch or analyze a team on its way to 7-25 when the only question we asked was, "Are they really this awful or are they even worse than that."

Boz, I look like you and am maybe a few years younger. And now it's time to call these excessive celebration penalties what they are, "Touchdowning while Black." This just looks suppression.

That thought has crossed quite a few minds.

People are saying it was, but what made it so? Was it Roberts' pitching moves? BTW, 8 pitching changes in the 7th inning make for horrible TV.

It was classic because the first six innings were close and exciting -- 1-0. The four-run Dodger seventh seemed to have ended the game. Then the Heisey HR made the whole place go nuts and, for the next hour-plus all of Nats Park was standing and cheering as the Dodgers did every unorthodox (and desperate) thing imaginable to prevent the Nats from beating them.

And you still ended up with Kershaw, on one day's rest with all his post-season demons, against Murphy, the .347 hitter who has killed everybody in October the last two years -- especially Kershaw, against whom he has hit FOUR home runs -- with two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth. It was an absolutely great moment.

That is a LOT of ebb and flow, a ton of strategy and wonderful drama at the end. Plus Jansen and Kershaw did things that they have NEVER done in their careers -- Jansen throw more than 50 pitches and get seven outs and Kershaw save an MLB game!

Kershaw has only saved ONE other game as a pro. It was in the Gulf Coast league early in his minor league career. It was a game between the Dodgers and Nationals affiliates in that league! Who was the catcher? As Fox pointed out on its post-game show: It was Kenley Jansen who was then a CATCHER in the minors for LA.

Note: Only two players have ever hit four homers off Kershaw: Murphy (a LHed hitter) and Adam Dunn -- whom I would have guessed was the last person on earth who could hit Kershaw -- who is 8-for-13 vs Kershaw with a couple of doubles, too. The Big Dunn-key's career OPS vs Clayton is 2.336.

...

Don't read this unless you are bothered by why Difo -- not Rendon -- was the last hitter of G5 vs Kershaw. And even this explanation is not a satisfactory explanation. My advice: Skip it.

Rendon had a generally poor playoff (.150) EXCEPT for a two-run homer and a two-RBI single. But those were both big hits. At the time Rendon came out of the game in the top of the eighth -- on a double switch when Melancon came in -- I was surprised when I saw him walk off the field, looking dejected and surprised.

Was taking Rendon out a mistake -- since Difo ended up as the Nats final batter vs Kershaw, instead of Rendon.

I have tried to figure out how this could have been avoided or foreseen. I'm not going to force you (or ask you) to read an explanation -- it's is hopelessly long and convoluted. The Nats wanted Melancon to finish the 8th and also pitch the ninth -- a good and necessary idea. The "least-bad" idea was to switch out Rendon, rather than one of the No. 1-through-5 players in the batting order. That double switch shows how complicated the late innings of Game 5 truly were?

The official MLB Final Notes on the game -- with every play, every switch of players, noted on it -- DOES NOT ever have Rendon leaving the game! Oh, he was taken out. But the whole thing had everybody so confused that the official MLB account of the game never mentions him leaving.

"Dodgers eighth --Defensive switch from CF to second for T Turner. Defensive switch from second to first for D Murphy. Defensive substitution: P Severino replaces C Heisey, batting eighth, playing catcher. Defensive substitution: M Taylor replaces J Ross, batting 9th, playing CF ....(later in inning)....Pitcher Change: M Melancon replaces O Perez, batting fifth. Defensive substitution: S Drew replaces pitcher O Perez, batting sixth playing third."

Right there at the end, Rendon came out. Almost nobody noticed.

Until, in the very end, it mattered. DIFO is up!? And everybody said, "How the hell did THAT happen?"

Falls in the blighted category of: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Since 2012, all the Nats playoff losses are by 1 run. They've lost in the longest 9-inning playoff game and the longest extra-inning playoff game. Is that just bad luck? Is there something going on that causes them to be in this kind of situation repeatedly?

There is no "cause."

And there is no curse.

But it does add to the evidence that baseball is probably the most brutal game to invest yourself in -- when your team loses. SO much could have reversed the outcome.

Boz, The Nats are 0-6 in their last six one-run playoff games (2-6 overall). In the last two postseason series in which they've played, they've been eliminated by losing three games by one run apiece. The Nats are 2-6 at home during the postseason, 3-3 on the road. It's surely appropriate to question whether there's something wrong with the Nats' play in the postseason. But that has to be balanced against the fact that, were these games to have occurred during the regular season, smart people would be saying that teams tend to play .500 in one-run games and that the Nats' luck would even out. But "reversion to the mean" relies on a large number of games being played, which for the playoffs may take a loooong time.

Just to make everybody feel worse, I'll mention that, in Game 5, the hardest hit balls by the Nats, except Heisey's HR, were line drive out by Rendon in the third with two on -- right at the CF-- and by Murphy on a rocket right at the rightfielder after a leadoff walk to Werth. OTOH, in the top of the seventh, Kendrick shattered his bat on his single off Treinen and Ruiz single to put LA ahead came on a ground smash off the tip of Rendon's glove. A broke bat, which was Treinen's goal, and a grounder, though hit hard, which was Solis' goal.

Lotta BABIP (luck) come into play in October. It takes the fun out of the sport to talk about it too much -- every win is only half-earned and every loss is sour grapes.

So I prefer, except in chats, to just say that the balls that find holes are heroic and the line outs are good pitches. But we know better. (And some will spend the winter pulling their hair out. Luckily, Rizzo doesn't have any left to pull out.)

Nats won't let him get away, will he? You could feel the difference when he came onto the field during important games vs. guys like Papelbon, Storen and Soriano.

I suspect somebody will give him a five-year deal. That is a lot for a 32-year-old reliever (next year). But his last four years have been uniformally amazing. Among all relievers in that time he is: third in saves, third in ERA, second in WHIP, second in innings, second in games. That's enough. But there's more. He's second in fewest HR-per-9/IP. He's fourth in WAR (FanGraphs).

Here's the link so you can argue where he ranks in the top 5 relievers in baseball. But he IS in the top 5. He just doesn't LOOK as dominating as Chapman, Wade Davis, Britton, Kimbrel, Betances, Jansen, Andruw Miller.

But he is.

He's not going to accept a "discount" just because he looks like some normal-sized, normal-looking guy who walked in off the street with a MLB-avg fastball around 92 and an overhand curve. It is a GREAT cutter. He has GREAT command. He walks NOBODY. His curve, as I always say, breaks so later and deep that it is almost a trick pitch. And he's tough as nails.

But there is a bias, a strong one, against giving long, fat contracts to relievers at 32 or older. 

I think he's the Nats toughest decision of the winter.

I think they have a huge World Series window the next two years if they add ONE big OF bat, probably switch Turner to SS next year AND resign Melancon, figuring he'll be wonderful in '17 and '18 but after that how can you know. But elite relievers are still the least respected and relatively cheapest superstar performers because advanced stats think "anybody" can be a closer and that how much REAL value can they have if they only pitch 75 times for 75 innings (in Melancon's case) or 65 and 65 for others?

One factor: Melancon pitches more games and more innings than any of the big names. (Only Shaw and Watson are ahead of him in games and IP -- Chapman and Kimbrel have pitched 50 fewer innings over the last four years.) He can pitch 4-5-or-6-out saves in post-season as well as any of them, even though he doesn't look like a horse. More than six outs? I doubt it.  

....

That's it for today. We've had some Terps questions I haven't gotten to. So I thought I'd give you a good Terps link. We're had a lot of good things on D1 on them recently.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/maryland/

Boz, Well - that was a helluva season. There were for sure ifs and buts, but overall I have nothing to complain about with this team. They played a team that was, at the time, slightly better, to basically a draw, but didn't get a couple of breaks (Reddick's almost-drop) and had a couple of key mistakes (Henley's send, Espinosa's bunt) that might not have ended up mattering anyways, but didn't feel great. But really: they played a great series, Dusty managed a great series, and they got beat. It happens. I doubt it feels any better to them than 2012 or 2014, but I had a great time watching this team and am proud of the job they did. So, on to 2017! I agree with your thoughts of last week: Danny and Gio are good guys and solid players, but are now more use to the Nats as trade chips, than as everyday players, especially in October. Whatever remains of Michael Taylor's upside, probably the same. Opening Day 2017? Probably something like: SS Turner LF Werth [really his best use at this point - he put up a .363 OBP in the 2-hole] 2B Murphy RF Harper 3B Rendon 1B Zimmerman CF ????? C Severino/Lobaton [a semi-platoon/job-share probably is best for both] Bench OF Goodwin OF Heisey IF Drew* [hopefully, unless someone gives him 3 years] IF Skole* SP Scherzer Strasburg Roark Lopez Cole/Giolito RP Kelley Treinen Solis Glover Perez ??? ??? Big questions: Do they sign a closer, or go with Kelley or Treinen (both of whom have closer-level stats)? Do they make a big splash for a CF, in FA or trade, or do they do a job-share, with Turner there some days, Goodwin others, Harper others? Do they use trades to maximize value of assets (Espinosa, Gio) or do they put together a huge package (also with Giolito, or Fedde, or others) to get a Big Name?

Nice. Maybe they need an assistant GM.

I noticed you left out Melancon. And I suspect you are right. They have "big arms" like Glover and Reynaldo Lopez coming along and it is easy to think that they will become exceptional set-up men or closers. But it is a LOT easier to assume that progression than for it to come true. It always felt like Melancon was "passing through" in the Nats eyes. Why "block" all those good arms on the way up and pay a fat price with dollars you could use on a Braun or Cespedes? And McCutcheon, I believe, can opt out of his deal in Pitts this winter.

They'll be very interesting to watch this winter.

But I'll go ahead and say it.

It sure as hell feels like they ought to be playing the Cubs RIGHT NOW to go to the World Series and that there should be NLCS games at Nats Park on Tues, Weds and Thurs nights. No, they probably wouldn't win w/out Strasburg and Ramos. But they might've! And, man, it sure would have been fun.   

I'm "all in" on this guy, ever since the Red Sox dumped him for having too many idiots in the clubhouse. Nice to seem his team sweep Boston away.

You can bet he LOVES it.

And it wouldn't break his heart to beat Theo's Cubs in the World Series. Though, by then, Terry might have to go out and pitch himself. If they won the Series, with a demolished pitching staff -- and pitchers even injuring themselves "fixing their drones" -- now that really would be a miracle.

Fewer penalties, fewer turnovers, better tackling. Things are going in the right direction during the streak. 9-7 still in the picture!

Nice to see the other guys making more dumb penalties. I thought the Skins had taken out some kind of NFL patent on Most Penalties and Most Turnovers for about the last 20 years. Hey, maybe the patent ran out!

Has to be shorter. After 4 hours I don't care who wins anymore, I'm mad at myself for sitting there for so long. The commercial breaks really kill the flow of things.

You're right. Huge problem. Good column subject after I get to talk to lots of people in baseball at the NLCS and Series.

I know there's no statistical basis for this. But watching Miguel Montero come off the bench and deliver that grand slam made me think back to Game 5 of the NLDS, of Anthony Rendon and others who came up with runners in scoring position and went quietly. Is there some element that Sabrmetrics hasn't captured yet? Or is October all just truly random?

If Blanton had thrown those two POS hanging sliders to Rendon the way he threw them back to back to Montero, including on 0-2, there would have been a Tony Two Bags on one of 'em. Blanton's had an excellent year and threw good pitches to get out of that jam in L.A. by striking out Rendon in Game 4. Maybe the Nats wore him out. Does that make you feel better? (No. I didn't think so.)

The FS1 broadcast didn't do a great job of explaining every move throughout the painfully micro-managed series, so I was at a total loss as to why Rendon and Zimmerman weren't in the lineup, down a run with the season (and franchise identity) on the line. As a result, your last chance at bat falls to ... Wilmer Difo. Bottom line: did Roberts outmanage Baker?

Roberts managed well...and a little lucky. Baker managed adequately...and a little unlucky.

It's better to get beat by the greatest pitcher of the era and a top-flight closer than by Pete Bleeping Kozma. I'm still not over the 2012 loss, but I'm already past 2016.

Yes, this one was different. Until the last inning of Game 5 in '12, I thought the Nats really played tough against a very good, very experienced Cards team that doubled the score on them -- I think it was 26-13. The 6-0 blown lead and the ninth inning -- down to the last strike twice, and those checked swings, was brutal. As for '14, THAT, as I wrote, was a choke job. Yes, credit to the Giants. But, come on, Hudson, Peavy and Vogelsong, but you beat Bumgarner.

This one felt different -- great series -- and it took Kershaw starting on three-days rest and relieving on one-day's rest to eek it out. 

I wrote in last week to say I was excited about the Nats having hit pretty well in the NLDS and going into Game 5 with Scherzer on the mound. I'm disappointed, obviously, and frustrated that there were a lot of points during the series where a timely hit or defensive play (or a hold call at 3rd instead of the Henley Windmill) might've swung the outcome. But that's baseball, and life, and it was a heck of a lot of fun along the way this season. 2016 will always be the Season That Trea Came to Play for me. See you at spring training, Nats.

I suspect that what will matter in retrospect is that 365 days also the Nats were, in all of sports, one of the Top Franchises With Big Problems To Solve. Things could have gone South. Instead, they won 95, found a a manger, developed eight rookies, including Turner and have lots of flexibility to get better this year.

And they got beaten in the playoffs in Five Games by Sandy Koufax.

(The Nats scored three runs in both Game 1 and 5 for Scherzer. They didn't all arrive while he was in the game,  but they arrived. I assume Max feels like he should have found a way to win one of those two games. If his Game 5 start had come in Game 1, then there might not have BEEN a Game 5.)

Boz, What a season for the Nats. Honestly, I have nothing to complain about. Losing in the playoffs isn't great, but it's also not really a reflection of the season as a whole, especially with the missing players. With that in mind, here's my initial list of what won't happen in 2017, that did in 2016, for both good and ill: Good: Bryce Harper won't put up a .243/.373/.441 line again. Fangraphs projects him at .286/.409/.534 which, given health and an offseason to refine his approach again, seems about right. Jonathan Papelbon will be a Nat for 0 days in 2017. Ryan Zimmerman will not have another career-worst season. Nationals leadoff hitter/CF will not be the worst position and lineup slot in baseball for more than half the season There will be a full season of Trea Turner Bad: Daniel Murphy won't put up a .347/.390/.595. Fangraphs projects his true-talent level at .313/.357/.487, which doesn't really account for his power fully. The last four months of the year he hit a very-similar-to-that .318/.369/.573, so something like that (high-average, overall 900 OPS) seems reasonable. That's still really good! But this was almost certainly a career year, even if it portends better than his previous numbers, going forward. No Wilson Ramos :( They do have to figure out who's closing, again. Both Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen have the stuff and performance to be better-than-average closers - but do they have that plus the *nerve* to be the top-10 or better closer/fireman that each of the remaining playoff teams has at *least* one of? Maybe. They have to find a starting CF in a terrible free-agent market where all the options have serious questions. Carlos Gomez was so bad this year he got cut by a team in playoff contention - and then in September hit .319/.404/.582, even *better* than the 2012-14 stretch where he hit .277/.336/.483 and was one of the best players in baseball. Which one is closer to real? And who's the real Ian Desmond? And can you even pretend Yoenis Cespedes can play CF (career -19.3/UZR 150 there - and -20.6 this year)? Or do you find a partner for a BIG package (which the Nats can do) and get a player who can play CF or LF for years?

All really good points. Thanks. High-quality chatters!

Let the great Centerfield for '17 discussion begin.

(Does everybody reading this chat have a feeling for how  far D.C. has come as a baseball town since '05! Like the very loud crowds at every playoff game, the town has come of age in talking the game, understanding it. That will develop even more. It's fun to watch. Baseball is the best "talking" game, I think. But all good talks -- and chats -- must come to an end. It's good to wrap up the season. But also good to move on. See you next Monday at 11 a.m.)

Does the D-Backs' hiring of a new GM mean that Rizzo is off the table? Reports said the D-Backs had to ask for the Nats permission to interview Rizzo, presumably because the position was at the same level as his current one. Unless the Nats were itching to dump Rizzo (which doesn't seem to be the case) why would they grant such permission?

It was never ON the table.

DC United is the most popular men's professional team in this area to have won any championship in the past twenty-odd years. Nearly 31,000 fans were at RFK yesterday to watch them clinch a post-season berth. My question is, how about a shout-out to the Black and Red to congratulate them on a hard fought season and wish them well into the post-season?

You got it!

Boz, Is there really any better landing spot for Wilson than Baltimore? Fits perfectly with their general offensive philosophy, and his swing profile would do very nicely in Camden Yards. Plus, a team that has enough bat-first players that they could easily fill DH for the first half of the year, and slot him back in as needed for a spell, presuming (as I do) that he'll be able to return to catching at least half-time, going forward. 2/$25MM?

Good points. But all his problems have been on the same knee. He is a huge man -- like a 6-foot-1 Wes Unseld. He doesn't need to lose weight. He's just constructed on a different scale. So there is a justified concern about his future, as a catcher but also simply as a player. I assume he'll be back. But it's not a certainty.

That 2yr/$25M is a number I've thought of for him for an A.L. team.

Once Harper got picked off, and then Werth got gunned down with about 5 seconds to spare, I feared the baseball gods would inflict their wrath and the Nats were in trouble. Every out counts in a winner take all game. Did you feel similarly after those gaffes?

The Werth "send" got the spooky music playing in my head. The Pederson home run on the next pitch raised the decibel level. Then after the Heisey homer -- in a Facebook chat before the game I was asked what to "look for" in the game and I said Heisey'd had an amazing BP and look for him to hit a PH homer ("you can look it up") -- the whole place was up for grabs. After Clint Robinson's pinch single, I thought, there's no way they can stem this. They've already used Blanton, Urias and Dayton. Their whole pen has been stretched out or burned up by all their bad starts. They're out of options, except to pray.

Then the LF bullpen opened and I thought, "Then again, there might be ONE way for them to escape for a while. But who the hell is going to relieve HIM."

Guess we found out.

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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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