The Washington Post

Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 27, 2017

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

When watching UNC & Kentucky this weekend, I couldn't figure out if it was better to cheer for the team that pretends to care about academics (UNC) but really has fake classes, or to cheer for the team that doesn't even pretend to care about academics (Kentucky) with all their one and done players. Who were you cheering for?

I had the same feelings! As I mentioned, not my two favorite coaches. But it was an easy call -- I went with UNC.

The last 15 seconds was about as wonderful a finish as you'll see, even though the winning shot by Maye was an open 18-footer that most of the people on this chat have probably made 100s of times in the driveway or playground. But he finished off a 17-point game with a fluid shot that was as confident as if he were a Carolina star.

Good photo of folks at press row exploding with an "OHHHH!" on the winning shot. That's not "cheering," That's being amazed, delighted you were there to see it...and just being human!

(I wonder how many times I had that expression on my face in Game 7 of the World Series last year!)

No denying that it was a thrilling, acrobatic move, but who else cringed at watching him pivot and dive from that foot to score a meaningless run?

A week ago in Florida, I talked to him about that very play, which he's made in the past -- the head-first slide into home, pulling his arm away, dancing around and diving for the plate. He laughed, said he understood that 32-year-old guys shouldn't probably be doing that and that his agent goes nuts when he does anything like that. His agent, Brody Van Wagenen, even calls Zim to say, "Cut that out!" when he sees that Zim has a stolen base in a box score.

So, Zim went and did it again in a meaningless exhibition game. What does this PROVE? How incredibly hard it is to be a world-class athlete and stop being yourself even when you know better. That was a stupid play by Zim. Even though his wife Heather immediately tweeted out a replay of it -- come on, she gets to be proud. Athletes sometimes just can't help themselves -- they play the way they play. But the cost can be huge. Ken Griffey, Jr., seriously damaged his career by going into outfield walls for amazing catches in parts of mid-season out-of-reach games that didn't matter. "That's just how I play," he said.

So, it's great that Zim feels so healthy. His ability to have two or three more useful bounce-back seasons is one of the bigger pieces of the Nats future. Dusty actually thinks it is Issue No. 1, at least in talking to me. Why? Because the difference between -- me talking here, nut Baker, the Lost It version of Zim and the Found It Again version of Zim has such impact on the whole team and the depth of the lineup. It could be a four-win difference between a -1.5 WAR players and a 2.5 WAR player. But the ripple effect on the lineup could be bigger than that, as well as taking away the option for other teams of pitching around other Nats so they can bury Zim to end a crucial threat.

So, THAT PLAY is the worst thing he can do. It was pointless, innocent but dangerous. But he did it anyway. Even though, if you gave him five seconds to think about it, or maybe one full second, he wouldn't do it. But players firmly believe that if they make last-INSTANT "No!!!" decisions, THAT is when they rip a knee or a ligament because it is unnatural.

Great question. Especially on a team with so many players who are extra-effort guys who can't stop themselves -- Harper, Murphy, Werth, Zim. That's probably part of Eaton's wild-and-crazy style. But the others worry you.       

If Rendon or Turner to well this year, do you see the Nats trying to sign them to long-term contracts well before they hit free agency? I see guys like Rizzo and Goldschmidt who were locked up cheaply well before free agency. And there have been several young guys extended this offseason for reasonable amounts (Odor being the latest). Seems like the Nats never try this approach, but it could be beneficial.

One reason they don't do it because they have so many Scott Boras clients and they/he tend to want to go for the Big Payday -- that's one reason they picked him and he accepted them as clients. Rendon is a Boras client. But Turner would be an amazing player to invest in big as early as possible, the way the Indians did with their Shortstop of Forever, Francisco Lindor.

According to the 6-yr-old old (Brody) of Cleveland GM Mike Chernoff, who blurted it out on an Indians radio show, the Indians are currently trying to lock up Lindor through '23. I think they already have him through '21.

The Indians, as a mid-market team, HAVE to do this. The Nats, with bigger resources, can wait longer so that they don't get hit with the Big Injury to a player they gave a zillion-year contract to. Example: They apparently had feelers out to Ramos several years ago. Very preliminary. But that might not have worked out so well with his knee injuries.

What am I missing here? He says that it just wasn't working out with Scot. They had winning records the past two years. Plus how do you base a GM's work on two years. Bruce has been here since 2010. Maybe it's time for him to go.

Maybe it was never time for him to arrive.

He defines "suit." He always has. There's a place for "suits" in pro sports. But he has FAR too much responsibility, and impact on Snyder from being the closest person to his ear, for someone with his track record when he gets his hands on big decisions.

Assuming that the Wizards lock up home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, who do you think would be their toughest matchup? I'm thinking Miami since they have struggled against them so far.

I just finished re-watching parts of the Wiz win in Cleveland over LeBron and the Cavs. If they play ANYTHING like that, it won't matter who they play in the first round -- they'll KO 'em in six-or-less.

This is NOT the same Wizards, but "just playing well." This is the best and (now) deepest Wiz team since the late-'70's. Pay attention to this team! 

I have sworn off the Bullets/Wiz about 10 times in 30+ years in disgust, then bought back in, to varying degrees. But if this team isn't fundamentally different, and much better than the others, then I give up as a lifelong D.C. hoops lover.

What impressed me most about the Cavs win was not 1) that John Wall had 24 pts and six assists...IN THE FIRST QUARTER or 2) that the Cavs, down by a dozen, GAVE UP with more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter and took out all their star players. Coach Tyronn Lue should be embarrassed, even if some of his players preferred to come out. I don't know if they did or not, but, at home, against a team you may face to go to the Finals, you don't wave a white flag when all your stars are healthy. The photo of the Cavs bench might as well have had a caption that said, "Beaten and Headed in the Wrong Direction."

What impressed me most was that the Cavs actually played a GOOD game -- and made about a dozen decent attempts at a comeback on the Wiz from down 17 early to about 15 times when the lead was down to six or eight points -- but the Wizards immediately counter-punched every time, just like a really good contending team has to do. And they did it with a half-dozen different players making big plays/shots at momentum-in-the-balance times.

Maybe my favorite was with the Wiz up 85-79 in 3Q when LeBron tried to back down Wall -- whom he outweighs by 50+ pounds -- in the low block and couldn't get a good shot, even covered man-to-man by someone five inches shorter -- thenmissed a bad shot. Wall immediately drove end-to-end, blew past every Cav and made a layup to push the lead up from 85-79.

At least 15, or maybe 20+ times in that game, the Cavs made "plays that great teams make to come from behind and break your heart." I thought, "They have serious depth problems, but they ARE the world champions and they make amazing plays routinely." For 30+ years, the Wiz have wilted against such teams, especially on the road. They answered every time. Wall said at halftime that they respected the Cavs, knew how many times they'd come back at them but that they had to keep playing at a high level through all the storms. And they did.

BTW, Wall will not have nearly as great a career as LeBron. But right now Wall is at the very peak of his career -- certainly to date and maybe ever. LeBron, unless he finds another gear in the playoffs, is probably somewhat past his peak. Right now, there isn't much difference, when they play head to head, between Wall and LeBron. Bradley Beal vs. Irving is beautiful. But the rest of the match-ups tend to favor the Wiz a little. In the playoffs, the refs will unconsciously favor LeBron because he is the league meal ticket. And the Cavs have vastly more experience. But I never thought I'd say that the Wiz have a CHANCE to reach the finals this year out of the East. Obviously, so do the Cavs and Celts. But right now, I wouldn't know which of the three to pick. And Toronto is in the picture, too. Who'd have imagined that when the Wiz were 2-8?

The Wiz even beat the Cavs without Bogdanovic (sore lower back) who's sparked them with 15 points a game as sixth man since Ernie G traded for him. The Wiz still had a big bench edge with Jennings, Mihinmi, Oubre and some big unexpected (by me) plays by Jason Smith.

I've never seen a period in D.C. when THREE pro teams had such fine teams or such good chances to make big runs in the playoffs. The Wiz have a huge tough West Coast road trip that just started. Will the Cavs win ignite them or make them complacent.

The Caps have FIVE tough road games in a row coming up with only eight games left to play. That may define their season. They REALLY, REALLY, REALLY need to win the President's Trophy and No. 1 seed. They have a 106 pts to 103 to 103 lead over Columbus and Pittsburgh. They have a game in hand over the Pens. And the Caps have two "gift" wins -- shudder -- at Colorado (43 pts) and at Arizona. 

But the Caps need to come home still, at least tied, for first place. The inevitable FIRST-ROUND match-up between the second and third best teams in the NHL is an idiotic Format Mistake by the NHL. But the teams that finish No. 2 and 3 in the Eastern Conference are really getting the shaft. So, the Caps need to make sure that though unfortunate teams that have to face each other are the Pens and Blue Jackets.

Everybody will talk down the importance of No. 1 seed and say, "You have to beat the best to be the best." Give Me A Break. Yes, you have to beat the best. But you don't want to have to play THREE elite teams in four rounds (for example, Pens, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks) if you can avoid it and play only two of 'em. The cumulative exhaustion of the long Stanley Cup playoffs is a huge factor.

So, if you see fewer answers about the NFL team in D.C., and even about the Final Four this a.m., it's because the Wiz and Caps are in fantastic battles, with fewer than 10 games left in the regular season, to get high seedings that are probably essential to them maxing out their post-seasons.

What are your thoughts on the last roster spots for the Nats? I think I keep Enny Romero in the bullpen and see how he does, also I think Glover earned the last spot and should get a look at late innings. I know traditionalists wont like not having a long man, but we lose Romero if we don't keep him. He might not pan out, but fine we can call up AJ Cole to be the long man if needed. Last Bench spot should be Taylor for the time being. Let Difo play some more outfield in AAA and if he gets the hang out if then he can be called up to be a super utility guy.

I like your thoughts. Enny Romero has too much potential as a LHed reliever -- if he has found decent control of his breaking ball -- to allow him to slip away. This a.m. the Nats released Joe Nathan and Matt Albers. I agree. Nathan made a case for himself to be a MLB pitcher again -- for somebody. But not for the Nats with their bullpen depth. Nats may not have a proven closer but they sure have depth. Albers had a 0.00 ERA in 11 2/3 innings, but with only six strikeouts. He didn't have the swing and miss stuff to make this staff, but he nay have a good season somewhere else.

I like Taylor for the last bench spot -- much more upside, let Difo work on OF defense.

There are rumors that Koda Glover will be the closer. But I'd go with Blake Treinen.

First, the case for Glover as closer is that he "sees himself" in that role and has the stuff to handle it (the Nats think), so why not go ahead and give it to him now and find out? This has two side benefits.

1) Treinen was excellent in the role of High Leverage Reliever last season who works in ANY inning with the game on the line, not just as a closer -- much like Wade Davis and others in recent times. I've talked to Trienen and, while he certainly wants to be a closer, he also grasps the value of the Shut Down Reliever in 6th-7th-8th inning crises.

2) If Glover succeeds as a closer the Nats can say, "SEE, see, see....isn't this better than spending $85M for Jansen or $65M for Melancon? We KNEW that Glover was going to be the Guy (well, probably). So, that's why we made serious offers but didn't go crazy high for a closer in the off-season."

The Nats might not beat their chests that much if Glover worked out well THIS year, rather than in future. But they'd look smart. And everybody likes to look smart.

OTOH, here is the case for Treinen. First, he's earned it through seniority, improvement and a fine '16. And he's pitched well in Florida. So, give him his shot. Also, this lets Glover, who ended '16 with a scary hip injury, get into '17 with less Do It NOW stress. 

There's one problem with this Treinen as closer option. He's a good pitcher. When if he has a 2.65 ERA with 37 saves in 42 chances -- which is likely -- and looks pretty darn good. That means he HAS to be your closer in the post-season, whether you think his "makeup" is as well suited to it as Glover. What if Glover, for this '17-'18 window, is really your "A" option at closer and Treinen is a good-but-not-great "B" option at closer? 

In that case, you "did right" by Treinen, he performed adequately, but you didn't have your four-pitch highest-ceiling closer for the playoffs in Treinen.

It's a close call. There's no dead solid "right" answer. But I'd go with Treinen. Just a gut feeling. And, also, whatever gives Glover the best LONG-TERM chance to be excellent is the way I'd tend to lean. When you see him with 96-97 with movement and three other fine pitches you think, "future monster." I've seen rush-'em-and-ruin-'em too many times, even with guys who looked like you couldn't crack 'em with a 2-by-4. I'd give Treinen his closer chance and Glover his chance to develop at a more traditional pace. 

But, yes, Glover as closer now would be more fun for fans (and me, too, writing about it).  

Am I the only person who recognizes that perhaps the key reason UNC beat Kentucky, was the outstanding defense played by Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson on the two Kentucky freshmen?

I have no idea why but over the weekend when watching the NCAA hoops I focused a lot of just watching the five defensive players, not the ball. And I was impressed by UNC's defense, just like you.

I enjoyed the swings in the closing minutes. Kentucky was up five with 5:00 left. Then UNC was five up with a couple of minutes left. For teams that good, +5 can feel like a lot. But both blew their "winning chances" and it all came down to clutch madness at the end. 

The most impressive performance to me --and I have not seen every game, but most of them -- was Oregon center Jordan Bell against Kansas: 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, 13 rebounds, EIGHT blocks and four assists!

I don't want to overstate it, but it's one of the few times I've seen a college player have a Bill Russell-like impact on a big NCAA game. Lots of people ask, "What was Russell LIKE?" He wasn't like anybody else before or since. Nobody has dominated an era with incredible shot-blocking, rebounding and smart all-around unselfish play like he did. How would be have done playing in other eras? We'll never know. BUT Bell played in a 40-minute college game, not a 48-minute NBA game in Russell's time. So, prorate it. If Bell had had, say, 14 points, 10 blocks, 17 rebounds and five assists it would ALMOST have been a typical Russell game over his whole career. Except he'd have had 22 rebounds. (They didn't count blocks back then. God, I'd love to know if he averaged 4, 6 or 8. Because I watched him a million times and I'd believe any number. It was like "Russell block, Russell Blocks Chamberlain, Russell BLOCKED IT AGAIN, three stuffs in a row, and he starts the break to Sam Jones!" 

Anyway, I know Bell is no Russell -- that may have been his best-ever game. And he wouldn't have eaten up the best players of the last 25 years the way he did the players of the '60's. BUT what Bell did to the entire interior game of Kansas, those eight blocks and changing shots constantly, then doing little bits of "everything right" in every other part of the game all night -- and with such maniacal INTENSITY and out-of-nowhere LENGTH -- that was Big Bill-ish.

(Except Russell played about 6-to-8 inches higher off the floor than Bell did against Kansas. Okay, no more Russell references ever again.) 

The problem isn't Bruce Allen, the problem is still Dan Snyder. He still needs control, whether direct, or through sycophants like Allen and Cerrato. Every time the team seemed to have something positive growing, it's been undercut by Snyder because it wasn't flashy and he wasn't getting enough credit.

You're right. But, actually, on March 27th, who cares? And who cares about it if it's April 27th? Or May 27th? Or June 27th? Or even JULY 27th. We can return to this on AUGUST 27th. Or I will.

Right now, I'm a lot more interested in the 41-point game by 5-foot-5 Morgan William of Mississippi State in the Bulldogs upset of top-seeded Baylor to reach the Final Four. She dedicated her performance to her step-father who'd died three years and one day ago.

What was most remarkable was not the 41 points, or six-for-eight on threes or seven assists with no turnovers. Even the dazzling highlight package on ESPN wasn't what was best.

What should have an impact is that SHE IS NOT A GREAT PLAYER. She is just another very good player in a women's game that is full of them. In her previous three NCAA games, she had a total of 11 points. All season, she had 14 threes, then she has six in one game.

This isn't like Brionna Jones or Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (of now-eliminated Maryland) having an amazing 41-polint game in March Madness. This shows the remarkable depth of talent on the women's side -- not that this is a mystery, but it just doesn't get the attention it deserves, and hasn't for like, you know, the last 25+ years. 

She got inspired, she hit every kind of shot you could imagine and she played a flawless floor game in an upset. And she didn't enter the game as a Star To Watch. What does that tell you about the total amount of talent on the floor?

Too bad about Maryland. But when you're No. 1 in the nation in offense and you get held to 63 points in a 14-point defeat by an Oregon team that is a No. TEN seed, then you just got to go home. 

Yes, I'll be watching UConn-Oregon tonight at 7 pm (ESPN). Would have preferred UConn-Md.

Tom, have you ever seen such a dramatic improvement in decision making in all of sports from a GM? In his first decade, or so, Ernie Grunfeld was channeling Wes Unseld and now he's channeling Spurs GM, R.C. Buford. Is it really Ernie or was he replaced by a super-smart Alien?

I watched an old Sci-fi cult classic for the first time over the weekend -- "They Live!" In which Roddy Piper plays the LEAD -- yes, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the great pro wrestler as a pretty decent actor. The Piper character puts on sunglasses and suddenly can see "the truth" about the world around him on Earth. All of human society is being controlled by aliens with subliminal messaging -- "Obey," "Consume," "Watch TV," "Don't Think" (if there's a remake, Steve Bannon gets a role). 

I felt like, if I put on those sunglasses, I'd see that Ernie had been taken over by some genius alien general manager.

Gunfeld is a pretty decent professional GM and always has been. Which means -- just hypothetically -- that half of his major decisions are good and half are bad. Hey, he just had a very, very long bad streak! The odds evened out. Now he's on a hot streak! For once, Ted Leonsis patience paid off!

(Is George McPhee, now GM of the Vegas Golden Knights, muttering, "That might have happened to ME, if I'd only had 20 years running the Caps instead of just 17 years.")

Actually, McPhee build very-good-to-wonderful teams and just couldn't go deep in the playoffs. To be fair to him, that's very different than Ernie's record. But when I see Jennings, Mahinmi, Oubre and Jason Smith helping to beat LeBron, I do think of a headline, "Wizard GM Abducted by Aliens from Planet And-One." 

With the Wizards' impressive win off the Cavs,and the way Cleveland has anemically played D the last month, is it crazy to think the Wiz have a legitimate shot at winning the Eastern Conference?

The Celtics are tough and give the Wiz trouble. Right now, the gamblers have the Wiz with slightly better odds than the Cavs, but not as good as the Celts. Toronto right in the mix. Of course, none of these teams looks as good as Golden State (59-14), the Spurs (56-16) or even Houston (51-22).

But after such a long wait, lets just do some serious group-think on "50 wins." They have 45 wins now. They have only had more than 45 ONCE since '78-'79 and that was 46 wins. If they can hold together for the next four games out West, including a pair of back-to-backs, then it's going to get even more interesting. The bench is just getting better all the time. Bogdanovic benefited immediately with Wall finding him open for many three-point shots. But it took Jennings a little while to assert his penetration game. Mahinmi gives them the third Big, along with Gortat and Morris. And, once a bench reaches critical mass, its like everybody else says, "Me, too!!" Like Oubre, Smith and, right now, probably Scott Brooks if he put himself in the game.

What's the fascination with Chris Heisey? He's had some big hits, but he's not a sure thing, nor is he a great fielder or base runner. A bench with Lind and Difo or even Taylor (plus Drew and Lobaton) would seem to be more versatile

Heisey and Lind BOTH have among the best pinch-hitting career marks in baseball. That is generally considered a separate and mysterious skill which, once proven, never leaves a Smokey Burgess or Terry Crowley. Since pinch-hitting spots are so often high leverage it's a valuable job. 

Heisey is AUTOMATIC for this team, even before he showed up trim and in great shape. Last year, he hit NINE homers in only 139 at bats! Then he hit the pinch-hit HOMER in Game Five of the playoffs that almost saved the season for the Nats. He was "back in '17" before that ball landed.

In his career, Heisey has 14 homers and 40 RBI in 183 pinch-hit at bats. Multiply by three. That'd be 42 homers and 120 RBI in 549 at bats as a pinch-hitter, a role in which almost everybody fails!!

In his career, Adam Linds, in 108 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, has a slash line of .309/.389/.532 for an OPS of .921.

Bryce Harper's career OPS is the best on the Nats, by plenty, at .884. As pinch-hitters, the career OPS of Lind and Heisey are .921 and .877.

There have been teams with pinch-hitters this good, but not many. Can they do it again? Don't know. But as in everything else the best policy is to go with those who have shown they can do it before.

The '77 Phils had a devastating three-man bench/pinch-hitting group in Davey Johnson (.321), Tim McCarver (.320) and Tommy Hutton (.309). They drove in 77 runs in only 406 at bats combined.

...

Thought you folks might enjoy this, concerning Bruce Allen and "clarity."

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Boz, As you've noted often before, Mike Rizzo tends to make decisions about players - whether they're worth signing, whether they're *going* to sign, and how much he can plan around them - not at the moment or even season of free agency, but a year (or two) before. So this is a big year for Michael A. Taylor in more ways than one. If he "puts it together" in the manner of even a less-good Mike Cameron (a truly great defensive CF, struck out a ton but with enough power to be consistently 10% above league avg as a hitter, career 50 WAR), then the Nats can relax: it means for 2018 they have a full outfield and both don't need to go out and get a slugger to fill Werth's place (e.g., JD Martinez), but also that they don’t need to rush Victor Robles like they did Taylor (who, due to his up and down to AAA, they control through 2021). And given how cheap Eaton, Taylor, and a future Robles would be, a successful year from Michael A. might, seemingly paradoxically, mean that they have a *better* shot at signing Harper. Not at a sweetheart rate, but a market rate: the Lerners have the money if they want. But Rizzo would also have an outfield he could play with even if Harper is wearing Dodger blue in 2019 (my guess, rather than pinstripes). But if Taylor continues to be tantalizing but not a complete player, it very well may force the Nats’ hand into making a big-but-not-Harper-big free agent splash in 2018, a la Scherzer with Zimmermann’s last year. An outfield of Harper, Eaton, and JD Martinez/Lorenzo Cain/Andrew McCutcheon would be a fantastic prospect even if also bittersweet, but may ultimately prove necessary if Taylor doesn’t come through - Rizzo couldn’t afford to be looking from November 2017 forward to April 2019 with *two* outfield spots unfilled.

All good points. And Difo, as nice a utility man as he may be, doesn't have the Taylor "ceiling," even if it's only a 10 percent or 20 percent chance. His combination of tools and character is rare. But he can't hit .229 with a gillion Ks. He knows it. He's tryin'. He's had many years in the minors. He may have been rushed a bit in '15. But he should be as ready as he'll ever be. Isa it better to keep him sharp playing every day in AAA in case of injury? I don't like that reasoning. It's demoralizing to go back down after so many years as a pro. They're all human. It ground down Tyler Moore. Give Taylor another shot. Sure, at some point you give up. But not yet, imo.  

The paper said it was a statement win - I get that mindset - but was that correct or was it a rise to the occasion win? Assuming they get to elite 8 (so to speak) they will face off likely against either Cleveland or Boston - can they beat of these teams in a 7 game series? Oh, and whoever thought anyone would be asking this question based on the season's start?

It was a STATEMENT win in a game where the Cavs played hard and, at times, quite well. Yet, with about 2:30 left, they were beaten badly enough that their starters went to the bench even though they were "only" a dozen down.

Doesn't prove squat about a playoff series.

But it was certainly not like the Same Old Wiz.

Settle a debate please: Who do you think will be the biggest force offensively on the Nats this year: Turner, Rendon, or Murphy?

Harper, Turner, Murphy, Rendon, Zimmerman, Werth, Eaton, Wieters -- in that order. (By oWAR --offensive WAR at baseball-reference.com.

Obviously, nobody could get all eight of those correct! I'll admit that Z'man is somewhat wish fulfillment. Harper looks like Harper. Turner hasn't quite found it. I assume he will. The WBC didn't help Murphy. Eaton must wonder what he's doing down at No. 6-7 after advanced metrics says he was one of the Top 30 players in MLB over the last three years. Even if he wasn't THAT good, it's got to make him think, "???" 

Rendon's very consistent and looks like a future batting champ to some. But until he has the BIG season I still think he's just one level below the very best hitters in power, bat speed, lack of weaknesses. But he's a fine player. Hope his quad, now healed, lets him run more this year. He's gifted on the bases.

A few weeks ago Harper was raking in spring training and Zim couldn't buy a hit. Now, Harper has cooled off and Zim has been hitting great. Spring training means little and doesn't seem to be an accurate predictor of the regular season. But what is your take on what we can expect from them this year?

This morning, I looked at the top 30 players in MLB in spring training in hits, RBI, homers and OPS.

More than half of them were names that I didn't recognize immediately (plenty of them probably rookies) or guys I barely had an image of. Same with the top 30 pitchers for strikeouts (a measure of stuff).

It starts next Monday and, though we wish that spring training was a crystal ball, it's more like a black box. We think we know. We wish we could know. Mostly, we don't. (Or I don't.) Makes it more fun that way.

Assuming I can schedule it this way, next weeks chat will be on Tuesday at 11 a.m. so we can chat about the NCAA Finals, Opening Day and the up-coming Masters.

That's it for today. Thanks for all the great questions.

In the next couple of weeks we're going to learn a lot about the Caps and Wiz fortitude as they fight for playoff positioning. Cheers.

Do you think the Wizards have a real shot to make some noise in the playoffs? Our team is better than we were when Paul Pierce hit all those big shots a couple years ago. I feel like we are built to give the Cavs (or Celtics) problems over the course of a seven game series. John Wall is a top five guard, Beal is being comared to Allan Houston, and we have a legit team.

IMO, you are correct. This is a real team -- better than the Paul Pierce team, though that one really played as a unit. But they are also one of FOUR relatively equal teams at the top of the East. Good news: Nobody is much better than they are, including Cavs. Bad News: At least three teams are good enough to beat them in the first three rounds.

Did I just mention a D.C. team and "third round" of the playoffs in the same sentence?

Hey, it's fun while it lasts. If, out of the Caps, Wiz and Nats one of them plays better than expected in the playoffs, one plays up to expectations and one fails to meet its own expectations, it's still going to be one heckuva next seven months.

Washington  has never had THREE teams with such a legit chance to make noise in the same year. All three probably won't. But this is the opportunity -- to have a lot of fun, and quite a bit of tension,. for a long stretch of time -- that sports fan want to have. 

Tom, I'm curious about your comment earlier about the press box reacting to amazing events in a game and just being human as opposed to cheering for one side. How common is that occurrence (the audible reaction, not cheering)? Do you have any particular memories of an event that got the loudest reaction from press row?

I bet when Reggie Jackson hit his third homer in Game 6 in  the World Series, half-way up the black bleachers in center in Yankee Stadium, I suspect I said more than, "Well, that was mildly interesting." Probably two words with the first one being, "Holy..." I'm probably guilty of being one of the noisier reporters over the years -- not cheering, just 'prone to amazement' or appreciation.

Usually, I suspect I just go "OHHHH!" and then put my hand over my mouth and tell myself, "Shut up." But if you don't really FEEL it -- not 'which team won,' but 'look at what just HAPPENED (!!!),' how can you really write it? Do we send critics to the movies, theater, opera or concerts who don't FEEL what the audience feels, even as they also bring a package of critical skills with them, too? (Of course not.)

Boz - Looks like the Mets are ready to rumble for the NL EAST title - who do you see as the winner there? Barring Injury of course...

Matt Harvey touched 97 mph his last time out. That matters. I thought they were one Big Arm short until he proved he was back. He hasn't really proved it yet. But, for now, it's close enough. And look like a good battle. 

The Mets outscore foes 671-617 last year and basically stood pat and hoped their injured pitchers would recover. The Nats outscored foes 763-612. So, Nats were same as Mets at preventing runs, but much better at scoring, and with a more varied attack than the Mets homer-or-nothing. Nats, on paper, got a little better because they added Eaton and will have Turner for a full year. Their pen, in total, will probably be just as good as it was in '16 with four months of Papelbon (poor) and two months of Melancon (excellent).

So, as long as Mets don't dominate head-to-head, and they didn't last year, I'd give a decent edge to the Nats. But, obviously, the Mets pitching makes them a serious threat.

Boz, you made some comments in this chat a few weeks ago that I can't let go unanswered--because it was one of the few times I think you were off-base. :) Turner (not Eaton) has to lead off, and Werth (not Eaton) should hit second. The reason is simple: This optimizes Turner's singular, game-changing/disrupting skill: speed on the bases. Batting Turner second, ahead of Murphy/Harper/Rendon, will just hinder his freedom to blaze around the bases. He might steal 35 in 40 attempts. Batting Turner first, followed by Werth (OBP similar to Eaton despite lower BA, takes a lot of pitches, fouls off a lot of pitches, not intimidated hitting with 2 strikes) maximizes Turner's opportunities. He might go 75 in 85 tries. Why wouldn't you want that? As for your comment that "you don't trade Giolito, Lopez, and Dunning for a guy who hits 6th"--sorry, but that's about the dumbest thing you've said lately. You bat the guy where it makes the most sense. If I said, "You don't bat a guy 7th or 8th when he's making $18M," you'd say, "Well, that's where Zimmerman belongs in the lineup right now." Batting Eaton actually makes a lot of sense--it's like having a second leadoff hitter midway through the lineup. Which makes your lineup tougher, inning-to-inning, than top-loading it (which almost inevitably means every other inning your lineup looks weak). Turner Werth Murphy Harper Rendon Eaton Zimmerman Weiters Pitcher That's a lineup that's both long and deep. Care to reconsider?

Lot of good reasoning. I decided a while back that you have to give Turner the best possible chance to max out his talent -- and, at this point in his career, that's as a leadoff man. Werth's career and '16 numbers vs. LHers say that you almost have to bat him No. 2 against southpaws.

Who bats No. 2 vs RHers? Which is going to be 65-to-70% of all games? If you go with Turner, Eaton, Murphy, Harper, that's a great way to attack the SP. But are you vulnerable to late-inning pitching match-ups vs LHers with LH-LH-LH? Almost any manager would think so.

So, your line of thinking and the Nats may end up the same.

BUT the Nats have identified themselves as a team that wants Eaton to start 750 games the next five years. You NEED him to prosper in D.C. Werth, for all he has done, has maybe a 130-game future in DC and his confidence is pretty unshakeable anyway. If Eaton is having problems at No. 6, you really don't want to bury him. 

Tough call. That's my main point. A fascinating trade, but especially so because it makes a potentially excellent lineup a strategically "challenging" one, too.   

Which is worse, to have a team of guys who take ridiculous chances because they're so competitive and get hurt more than is necessary or to have a bunch of guys who don't care that much so they're healthier but try less? Is there a stat for the optimum level?

Eddie Murray never took an unnecessary risk. Earl Weaver loved that about him. Eddie seldom got hurt and when he did he could still play excellently at 80-90 percent until he stopped hurting. "Steady Eddie" -- utterly dependable -- but avoiding injuries was part of that dependability that led to 500 HR and 3,000 hits. He's in the HOF.

Cal Ripken played perhaps the most dangerous position on the field and loved to land on top of sliding base runners on the DP to take the heart out of them for the next time they met. Once, after he was hit in the shoulder and cheek by the same pitch by Oakland, he was so angry that he sought out a chance to collide with catcher Terry Steinbach later in the inning. Cal was out by plenty; he didn't care. He knocked Steinbach unconscious with a forearm to the head, even though the catcher (wisely) still had his face mask on. About 20 feet past the plate, Cal, who'd never slid, just obliterated Steinbach, left him in a heap and kept on running, looked back over his shoulder to survey the wreckage. Steinbach left the game. Afterwards, I asked Cal if I could see his right arm. He showed me. You could see the red and black-and-blue outlines of every bar on Steinbach's mask in bruises and marks on Ripken's forearm. (This was, if memory is right, before he broke Gehrig's record.) He didn't care. He only cared that Ripkens all had tempers and he was sure they'd thrown at his head and he was pissed. So, it was a skull for a skull. Cal's in the HOF, too.

So, completely opposite on the take-a-risk thing. Both HOF. Earl loved 'em both, wouldn't have changed either. Takes all kinds to make a world.    

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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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