Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 10, 2017

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

If needed, game 5 is scheduled for April 21. The Verizon Center is currently scheduled to host a Chris Brown concert that day. What happens if game 5 is needed? I see two options, the concert is cancelled/rescheduled, or the game is played in Toronto.

No schedule conflict discussions yet!

I worry a little about Toronto because I remember the swift Montreal team that ruined the '10-'11 season for the Caps.

This Toronto team, which "embarrassed" the Caps in their first meeting, 6-3, according to Holtby, then sent Holtby to the bench in their second meeting (before the Caps won 6-5 in OT), is not to be taken lightly. We all saw the Caps 4-1 win over them recently. Don't put too much weight on that.

Big picture, the Caps have their best team ever by Simple Rating System, which uses goal differential and strength of schedule. They were +0.99 goals a game this year. Last year +0.70 and in their other President's Trophy year +0.90.

That +0.90 didn't help in spring of '11 against Montreal. For comparison, Montreal was -0.14 that year and was actually outscored by six goals. Toronto now is a decent +0.11 and +9 goals.

Sure, you figure the Caps take them seriously. But the playoffs tend to be lower scoring with lots of p;layers willing to block shots. Also, the Caps have had trouble with teams that play a 1-4 style and try to stop them before they get into the zone. Toronto may use that some.

There just isn't that much difference between hockey teams, especially the top half of the NHL. That's why a hot goalie, low-scoring games and willingness to commit to defense are so important.

Even with all those caveats, I think this is going to get a long exciting hockey spring. Emphasis on LONG.

Kuchar celebrating like a kid after the hole-in-one, then signing the ball and tossing it to that kid in the Snead hat, was glorious, but it also reminded me that at that point there were four or five guys who were still in it. But when it became match play among two pals, that was even more fun. What do you think is the difference in Sergio, his fiancee? Maturity? Whatever it is it was a joy to watch, especially after flipping back and forth from it to the Nats bullpen woes.

Some people just take longer to grow up. I'd say Sergio has been 10, maybe even 15 years behind most folks. But part of that is the life distortions of being such a prodigy that he played in two European Tour pro events when he was only 15. That gives you the "I'm a star" mentality. Then when you don't win as much early as is expected, the world feels hostile, overly-critical. And then your own self-doubts appear.

Garcia went through all of that and more. It's good to see what happened with him yesterday. I think it's been a long process. He said he'd gotten "help," but wasn't specific. Maybe a sports shrink. Maybe we'll know someday. Maybe the best thing was that he said he still had "a long way to go" and that, if he can drive out all the negativism he thinks he's "just at the beginning" of his best days at 37. That's unlikely, but good to hear him say it.

I've always thought of him as Eeyore in "Winnie the Pooh." I don't think he'll ever turn in Tigger, the bouncy always cheerful character. But somewhere in between would be nice -- for him.

Did Dusty ever say why Strasburg didn't pitch on Saturday, which would have been his regular place in the rotation?

Not that I heard. But he was strong Sunday, so no problem.

They'd been discussing using Guthrie or someone from AAA for a week. When baseball says goodbye to you it can come fast. Guthrie started Game 7 of the World Series in '14 after going 13-11. Now he gives up 10 runs in 2/3 inning and is probably done.

That 12-0 1st inning was so ugly I'm actually going to watch the tape of it when I get home.

The Nats can find bullpen help, but they can't replace Turner. Please tell me Dusty is being overly cautious and there isn't anything to worry about.

I assume that the "just a few days" talk is correct. There is no reason to disguise a real injury. NOW the key is not to rush him back. Doesn't matter if a few is 2-or-3 or 10-or-12. Turner is central. And he WILL hit. He's hit everywhere. Just a question of whether it will be .275 or .315. Either is just fine because he'll steal bases, raise hell, show some pop and, from everything so far, play a nice SS.

Finding bullpen help isn't as easy as you make it seem!

Rumor has it that he may be kept down in AAA until the 22nd. I don't recall the particulars, but I thought him originally being sent down was matter of roster convenience. Should we be concerned that this is actually more merit-based?

I hate it when young players who are assumed to have a big future are sent back to AAA FOR ANY REASON. They seldom know what to make of it. It gets in their heads. I remember Tyler Moore, not nearly as prominent a prospect as Ross, I'll grant, being sent back to Syracuse for "a little while" and he went into such a swoon that he never got back. 

As soon as they said Ross was going down, I said, "WRONG!" It would have been better for him to have the rocky game on Saturday. At least it would just have been part of a process of him being in the rotation. Forget his recent form. As long as he is healthy, get him back up before his confidence is damaged or his stats dictate that he stays at AAA. Don't forget, he's part of the long-term future. Done jack him around -- even if you don't mean it that way, it can feel that way to a young player. I think Joe will be fine. But my fingers are just a little bit crossed.

I got nothing. Please help me understand.

He's an old pitcher at the end of the road who was (overall) mediocre with a 91-107 career record. I guess it was chilly, he lost his control, walked four, got the jitters because he wanted to make good so badly in this last chance and the roof caved in.

No big deal. All that mattered in that game was that Turner, apparently, wasn't hurt much. AND was smart enough to come out of the game before he DID get hurt.

Am I the only one who can remember the nickname that was listed on at least one of Roy Sievers' cards: "Roy the Boy"? I believe it stemmed from his time with the Browns, when he was their answer to the Cards "Stan the Man". Also, why don't we ever see the old stat of Runs Produced (RBIs plus Runs Scored less Home Runs)? Seems to me that is a decent indicator of players' relative value to the Club.

I never heard "Roy the Boy." But I was barely born when he was Rookie of the Year. He was known as "Squirrel." Something about it being a basketball nickname because he tended to stay back, looking for a long pass and an easy score -- like a squirrel looking for nuts to collect. Odd. Maybe wrong. Anyway, he was certainly called Squirrel by many teammates.

I heard from Roy's biographer after my appreciation ran. Who knew he had a biographer! The book is apparently due out by the end of this year. The writer was sorry Roy wouldn't get to see it. But he knew it was  coming. Obviously not a "big book" but probably aimed at the St. Louis market, where Roy was born, played and returned, though he always said his Senator years were his fondest memories. I was glad to here from the biographer that the man he knew in recent years, and all the interviews with those who'd known Sievers, were in sync with the view I presented. "Everybody" has a Roy story and almost all of them are about him doing something nice for somebody, above and beyond what anybody would expect -- like waiting for me when I was 10 for half an hour when I was lost so he could give me his autograph personally. 

He was 90, but I was surprised at the strength of my reaction to the news. R.I.P. One of the true modest gentlemen -- and 318 homers, too.

Assume that Sergio somehow lost on Sunday by one stroke. Do you think people who have been ranked in the top ten out of a whole universe of golfers should be so criticized for not ever winning a major? Even if that person is generally agreed to be extremely whiny? Most days I am very happy that I am on this side of the television screen and not held to such impossible standards.

You're correct -- it's a tough standard and often unforgiving.

But the other side is that sometimes players do things really are shabby. Sergio won the D.C. PGA Tour event one year, collected close to $1M. You ALWAYS return to "defend" any title you won the previous year because the event will make you a central figure in its advertising. You'll be a big part of the PR push. The next year, Sergio's face was everywhere for weeks, even on the sides of buses, selling the Washington tour stop. He pulled out less than 48 hours before the event, then, as I remember it, ended up playing in an exhibition in Europe for guaranteed money. That's the maddest I've ever seen the D.C. golf people in 40 years of covering local PGA Tour events. It was considered beyond the pale. He's grown up a lot in the 10 years since. But he brought plenty of the bad stuff on himself, like his public apology to Tiger, with whom he was having a feud, for a racially insensitive comment a few years ago. 

It was a great day for golf and for Garcia. But some still won't "let it go." A well-known ex-SI golf writer contacted me to say, "How could you be so nice to Sergio? Don't you remember all the stuff...etc." I remember. But now I chose to turn the page and forget.

A compelling ending to the Masters and the display of sportsmanship between Garcia and Rose was a big part of the story. Your description of Augusta National as "this ugly dump" in the Jon Rahm story was somewhat surprising to me, was this your final Masters?

That was a joke, en passant. Maybe a little too sly for my own good.

Yes, the sportsmanship, between two old friends and Ryder Cup teammates, was good for golf -- once again showing the high standards it tries to set. Part of what was nice for Garcia about Sunday was that he was playing with one of the people who like him most and know him best. And in front of the American crowd that cheers him most and likes him best.

He's waited a long time to be seen in his best light. We all have a "best side" and a "not so good side." He not only deserved a major win, he merited a win that was nicely airbrushed by providence. And he got it.

Is the MASN lawsuit actually affecting the ability of the nationals to improve the bullpen and make other salary-increasing changes, or does that strike you as merely an excuse?

It's either influencing them or it's their excuse. Because some Nats players -- and all players and their agents talk among each other --don't think that the offers to either Melancon or Jansen ever had a realistic chance of being accepted.

One MLB player said to me recently that the offer to Jansen for $85M had so much money deferred for so long that "the offer probably came back rejected before the screen went black." Meaning, I assume, that the smart phone had a time out mechanism to save power (like mine). Anyway, it was a colorful description. But not a flattering one.

According to the stats website 538, it's very likely that the only reason Kaepernick has not been picked up by her team is the politics. Do you think the Redskins should get him? It seems like he would be a good fit given both the liberal politics of the town and the need for another pro starter level quarterback.

I think there are teams that won't touch CK because of his politics -- especially some owners. But I also think there are plenty of teams that wouldn't care if they thought he fit their needs. I don't see him fitting the structured Gruden offense with all its emphasis on reading defenses, getting the ball out quickly and letting "the system" work.

Quoted in the Post today: "Glover said. “I learned today you can’t walk people. It’s going to come back and hurt you.” WHAT?? Is the pen so bad that its denizens don't know that walking the leadoff guy is a bad thing? Are we in trouble with this pen or will things shake out as we enter week 2? Can we bring back Livo?

Well, when you walk the first hitter on four pitches in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, you are SUPPOSED to lose. Especially when the guy isn't even a power hitter.

A relief pitcher who can't throw strikes isn't a relief pitcher. He's an ex-relief pitcher. Glover IS a relief pitcher. But he can't do that very many times and think he'll end up a closer.

Ancient story. The last words of the old manager on his death bed, whispered to his loving family in a croaking voice: "The walks will kill ya."

Boz - It's clear from your columns that you generally approve of guys being "tough" and playing through pain. You recently wrote a column about how Scherzer's knuckle is a good example of this. But to the a person like me it seems as though there are many examples of players hiding injuries, trying to "tough it out" and then getting themselves injured and therefore hurting their teams. How many guys "felt something" and then kept going and tore something? Was Bryce hiding a neck injury that could have healed with a few weeks off? Aren't you glad Trea Turner took himself out instead of risking further injury to comply with a tough-guy code? Do the 86 Red Sox wish Buckner wasn't playing hurt?

I'm ambivalent, and always have been, about the "tough guy" thing. It's certainly part of baseball. If your everyday players can't gut it out sometimes how do you field a team for 162 games? Pitchers, imo, have to be more careful. And speedsters, like Turner, with leg injuries.

Young players -- not pros, just people playing in high school, college, heck, in Little League -- should be MUCH more careful. But for an average salary of >$4M-per-player in MLB, I don't think it's too much to play with a barking shoulder or an aching knee. How much pain? That's for each player to decide. 

Buckner is the perfect example of "too tough." As I've mentioned, I wrote a column BEFORE that Game 6 in '86 asking if he should play and pointing out all his injuries. I said, "The game will find you." It found him.

Boz, I've long been both a fan of, and frustrated by, Sergio Garcia. Probably, Sergio would say the same. At some point in the last several years I think I basically wrote him off as someone who'd ever win a major - his early career chances having fallen just short, he seemed now to have been eclipsed by the younger, post-Tiger generation. So it was nothing short of a joy to see Sunday - and to both the missed putt for the win at 18, and the surely gut-wrenching sense of "oh not again, not again," and the pure, exultant, *earned* joy, mixed with a career's worth of relief, on Sergio's face as the playoff birdie circled home. How often in sports does that kind of redemption and validation really happen? What else can you think of that comes close?

Well said!

Sports has a lot of redemption stories. I remember the Cowboys running back (Duane Thomas)  who was asked after the Super Bowl how it felt to gain 100 yards in the "ultimate game." On live national TV, he answered, "If it's the ultimate game, how come they play it again next year?"

Oh, for (the best of) that '60's-'70's vibe.

My answer would be that "they play it again next year" so that the losers get to redeem themselves. In life, we all mess up. But we don't all have a chance -- every year -- to Do It Over. Sometimes, you never get one chance. (That's another reason we like sports: it fits our sense of the way life ought to be -- fairer than it is.

Oh, I get great e-mails. Here's one that just landed. I won't use the person's name, of course.


He wrote:

Sergio has always seemed to me the perfect embodiment of Will Rogers” third type of man. He said: “There are three types of men in this world; those who learn by reading; the very few who learn from observation; and then there are the rest of them, who just have to go ahead and pee on the electric fence, and find out for themselves.” I’ve always loved Sergio, because just like me, he’s clearly been peeing on the electric fence all his life. I’m so happy he finally grew up yesterday! I hope I grow up someday before it’s too late!"


Boz can you recommend 4 or 5 good titles on how to fix a bullpen quickly?


If only there were ONE.

Reminds me of my favorite book title in my library: "How to Play Golf in the Low 120's."

Just kidding. How much fun is it to imagine a May in which the Wizards and Caps are playing for Eastern Conference championships while the O's are coming to town for a series against the Nats?

I almost can't stand it.

The Caps certainly look ready.The Wiz not so much. I really liked the idea of missing LeBron in the second round. With the Wiz locked into fourth place in the Eastern Conference, it's going to be fascinating to see how Cleveland-Boston (both at 51-29) plays out for the top spot. I don't care about "recent form." It's good not to face LeBron under any circumstances.

The Nats pen is "good" and will probably look that way by the time the O's arrive.I wonder how much Matt Wieters knowledge of the O's hitters will help the Nats. I suspect quite a bit.

The problem with the Nats pen is that it appears to be ONLY "good," not very good or excellent on a team that rates as very good or excellent in almost every other area.

Right now, the Nats look like a team that can win a lot of regular season games but are going to know, in the back of their minds, that the bullpen is a potential problem in October. That's a real bad problem to have. Maybe you win one round with a Not Top 10 bullpen, bujt I can almost promise that you can't win three rounds.

Will Treinen evolve? Dusty probably shouldn't have used him Friday, even though he escaped after giving up a two-run homer. Blake threw 31 pitches vs Boston in an exhibition the previous Saturday -- so he was working his fifth game in seven days and his third in a row. With a three-run lead, I thought somebody/anybody else should have pitched.

It's assumed you can trade for a Top 10 closer at the Aug 1 deadline. Assuming is easy. Getting it done is another. Romero is the only one who's looked bad enough to really worry about. If Kelley's healthy, he's proven. Hoiped Solis and Glover could get off to good starts. They still can.

But, sure, feel free to worry.

Boz, How concerned should we be about the Nats bullpen? I think it has to be at least a little concerning that just about everybody that Baker has called for has had shaky moments already. Additionally, I found it really curious that Treinen was used in each of the first 4 games.

You have enough good arms and enough leadership for the pen to settle down decently. Just be patient.

Bringing Joe Nathan back -- have they done that yet? -- to go along with Kelley and Perez for vet presence can only help. Nathan looked serviceable in Florida and will give you what he's got left. Maybe he's now a 4.00 guy and not much help. But it sure would be fun to see him work out better than  that if they can find a place for him. It's crowded out there.

What is your short-term and long-term belief in Kelly Oubre Jr? The organization seems to bend over backwards to praise his play (length, energy, etc). However, statistically he is a dead weight for being our 6th guy (see ESPN PER rankings). Again, the team traded up to get Oubre who had been entrusted to 21 min per game in college.

Oubre is a high-energy, defensive intensity, high-raw-talent project. All the advanced metrics -- VORP, =/- defensive and offensive boxscores, PER and Win Shares all show him as being the 7th-to-10th best player on the Wiz.

IOW, he has to get better to have long-term future value. What he is now won't quite cut it, even as a valuable bench player someday. Got to get better. Can he hold his own in the playoff series coming up? It'll be a challenge. Brooks seems to like him, including in 4Q spots. It's going to be a coaching challenge in each series -- analyzing matchups -- to figure out how to use the sixth-through-10th men for the Wiz.

Bad luck (.371 BABIP allowed so far), bad execution from good pitchers, growing pains, or TIME TO PANIC? My own feelings: all of the former and not the latter, but also happy to see that Albers and now Nathan are still in the organization.

I'm with you -- word-for-word -- on this one. Thanks for the free answer! And I didn't know the BABIP, which is interesting.

Boz, What are your big takeaways from Week One? For me: 1) Zim is healthy, and hitting. Almost no better news possible. 2) Stras is good out of the stretch; Scherzer showing no signs of lingering knuckle issues. 3) Turner SEEMS not to be majorly injured which is, as you say, a bullet dodged. 4) Murphy clearly is not having a WBC hangover. 5) Sure, the bullpen seems to need to get sorted out, but probably will.

All in all, I'm extremely encouraged. Almost every question (except the bullpen) is looking VERY positive.

The Nats have six of the top 60 OPS hitters in baseball right now. Tiny data sample, but hot starts really help many players, even if it's only a week.

Harper needed to show he's Harper again. He is with two homers, four walks and a .976 OPS. On Opening Day, I asked him alone if he'd hurt his shoulder making an awkward catch and banging into the wall. He said, "Oh, I'm OK. It was the other one." And he nodded his head toward his right shoulder as being "the other one" that, I'm assuming, was BOTHERING HIM LAST YEAR. Thanks, Bryce. Woodward and Bernstein had to use flower pots in windows to get this kind of oblique confirmation from sources. Jeez.

Zim is downright heartwarming. I'm sure he had WEEKS last year that were just as good as last week statistically. But he looks better. And he's being more aggressive. He's only seeing 3.64 pitches per at bat. Bravo! That's second fewest on the team. That was one of his spring goals -- don't let hittable pitches go by early in the count so you can wait for a perfect meatball.

Eaton has a .444 on-base percentage and, to me, looks like he should hit second against RHed pitchers. Let Werth (1.010 OPS) hit second against LHers.

Wieters and Murphy are hitting! Murphy doesn't have all his timing, and hence power, back yet. But, after that WBC mess, I didn't think he's start off this well, even if he has been hitting in good luck. Wieters focuses on his own pitchers, so a 6-for-16 starts gives him a little cushion.

Turner and Rendon are young and will hit.

And the four top starters have all looked solid.

That's a lot old good news for one week.

Here's the bad news: I have to drive to Atlanta to catch a plane home RIGHT NOW.

Sorry for the slightly short chat. Had fun. See everybody next week. Look forward to your questions.

In This Chat
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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