Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Sep 25, 2017

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Of course this will play out over time, but any thoughts on how the Kaepernick story and the owner's arm-in-arm stance with players will co-exist?

I was proud of so many in the NFL taking a stand -- not perhaps courageous but outside their comfort zone -- to rebuke President Trump while defending the basic U.S. principle of free speech/peaceful protest. Although who, but an enemy of democracy, would oppose it?

When the NFL, especially some of its owners, jump out of your runaway clown car, who else is left inside?

Plenty of people have to wait decades, or a lifetime, to be seen accurately for taking difficult positions. Some never get see accurately and die misjudged. Now, that won't happen to Kaepernick, I don't believe. His willingness to take a stand has been vindicated -- not that the right to say controversial things ever needed to be vindicated. The specifics of his views are, as with anyone, a subject for debate, perhaps rejection by some or many. But I think his stature has risen considerably in the last three days. This is a pattern with our President -- those his rips in his 140-character venomous rants almost always end up growing in respect while he steadily shrinks. It's a pleasure to watch. Trump's method is to evoke hate or the darkest emotions from the largest number. It is the ultimate political cynicism. But, apparently, the easiest thing in the world for a dysfunctional narcissist.

All Kaepernick did was make a peaceful protest, based on his best serious evaluation of major problems in society. That's at the core of democracy. His specific views may, with time, be seen as perceptive or somewhat off the mark. That's not the point. Issues of police brutality are as plain and undeniable as the statistics in recent years -- some of which the Post broke ground in documenting. But Kaepernick did nothing whatsoever wrong. The abuse he's taken for exercising his free speech is a disgrace. Trump says more dishonest, more inflammatory or, at times, outright despicable things every week, and sometimes it seems every other day, than Kaepernick ever has.  

As much as any one thing, sports stands for unity, teamwork and the mutual tolerance of teammates from a vast number of backgrounds and with widely different views. The NFL, almost to a person, stood up for that principle all across the country. It is just the latest defeat for the darkness that has plagued us for the last couple of years. Long way to go to return this country to far more civil public life and constructive discussion of difficult problems. But the last three day was one small step, but, like all the other steps, important. And considering the high spotlight that is always on the NFL stage -- essential.

Has Donald Trump finally mis-read public ethos bigly, including possibly members of his "base," by obscenely denouncing NFL players who peacefully demonstrate during the National Anthem? I suspect Trump may finally have "jumped the shark" politically. In particular, props to the Steelers and Tomlin for their leadership in being the first team Sunday to stay off the field (except for military vet Villanueva).

You can only hope. I have many close friends in both parties, as you might expect living in the D.C. area all my life. Of course Democrats rip their hair over Trump. But I can't tell you the intelligent conservatives who have told me -- I realize everyone already knows this -- this guy is not a conservative or a Republican. And they go on to their own specific descriptions of him -- almost never favorable in any material way. Trump didn't run "against Washington." He ran against intelligence, rationality, 250 years of American principles and, in many cases, common decency.

But I seldom think about Trump at all. What I do think about, and often, is this: What does it say about America, our present state and our future, that we can elect perhaps the one person in public life, the one famous person who jump up and run from President, whose personal character is the worst. AND everyone knew what he was as a PERSON. Yet enough dismissed that anyway and elected him. That shows deep problems in this country that have barely been addressed at all which Trump tapped into and exploited. For many of those voters, Trump will prove to be almost the least helpful politician they could have elected to help them with THEIR problems. Trump only cares about HIS problems -- of perception, of inability to get anything done.

It's just such a sad time for our country. My wife and I have been invited to the White House by three Republican presidents, all of whom I respected, even though I disagreed on plenty of things. I've had Presidents call me at home -- granted, to talk about where to find somebody to help them with their putting or where to catch bass in the Tidal Basin. Now I look back over a lifetime in Washington and realize that every past President now looks like what he was -- a well-intentioned patriot, though with widely different views. Some went astray, or even went bad in office. But they arrived as patriots and tried to serve in that spirit. Now this guy.

Okay, that 5,000 times more than I've ever said about politics. And it'll be 48 more years before I do it again. So, you're safe. I'm pretty sure I won't be around in 2065. 

We have a President who inserts himself into, and generally degrades every institution in our society. He merely added sports to his list. And, thus, virtually ensured that, at least for a few days, sports and politics were going to collide. 

I hope the image of NFL teams linking arms yesterday, even with some kneeling and teammates still touching their shoulders pads, can become something of an image for society -- each trying to figure out, and reason with "the other" as part of the same team. Yes, I'm corny -- the broad, crazy difficult but exceptional American team.

Good Lord, now lets talk some sports.

It could have been a perfect game except 10 penalties for -77yds, two fumbles deep in our own territory. In another game we probably wind up on the short end.

The Skins played one of the most exceptional, and almost immaculate games that I have ever seen them produce.

And you nailed it -- except for the penalties (not TOO many and not TOO bad) and the two gift turnovers deep in their own territory -- they played an almost perfect game. As I tweeted at the time, deep in the fourth quarter the Skins had 463 total yards and Oakland, which was supposed to have a powerhouse maybe-Super-Bowl bound offense had 71.

Afterward, Gruden said, "I think it was as good a defensive performance that I've seen in a long time BY ANYBODY (my italics)."

You seldom see an NFL admit the degree to which they have been dominated like the Raiders did. Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said, "They had a good game. We had an ugly day. I'm glad they don't count for more than one. We definitely took one on the chin today...I've got to be better...All in all, we just took one today."

Derek Carr added: "We just got our butt kicked. Hats off to Washington. They came out great. They got after us. There's no going around it...We DID get punched in the mouth."

Here are some pertinent links to previous questions.

The NFL beat Trump. Soundly.

It's been a long time since a Redskins win was that much fun

Before Alejandro Villanueva stood alone, he discussed Colin Kaepernick at training camp

When A's Bruce Maxwell knelt during the anthem, his college coach disagreed. Then they talked.

Who's faster????


Robles is close. Because he's a rookie trying to make an impression, as he should, he's showing his full speed every chance he gets. Turner did more of that last year. But he had a leg injury in the spring and, even though he's back to full speed, as his stolen bases show, he's not going to push for the last couple of tenth of a second on triple when he knows he'll be safe by a mile anyway.

But what a great topic! Maybe, a year from now, with more Statcast data, we'll have to revisit it.

It seemed to me that no owner was willing to take a risk on Colin Kaepernick because of the threat of lost revenue far beyond whatever his salary might be. Now Trump has declared that the NFL teams should be boycotted if anyone takes a knee during the anthem, and the players and owners are fighting back. This could be seen as taking away a disincentive for signing Kaepernick, if the revenue is already lost. Do you think that this situation gives him a second chance?

You may be correct. This is just a case of "wait and see." But the issue of athletes taking a stand by taking a knee has certainly gone a long way toward being legitimized in the eyes of the whole NFL culture.

Wow. He has to be on the postseason roster, right?

Yes, I think so.

Since Goodwin appears to be out for the season, or at least the first round, the decision should be easier.

There's only one question -- is De Aza's experience -- more than 1,000 career hits, several years as an everyday player -- worth considering. He's MUCH less likely to do something breath-taking and wonderful. But he's also much less likely to make a youngest-player-in-the-majors mistake.

I'd go with Robles. Yes, he could lose a game with a misplay, but I think he's more likely to win one because of his talent AND his sense of himself as a future star who belongs on the October stage.

I think the winner of the Nats-Cubs series will go to the World Series. The Dodgers are in deep trouble. Since the All-Star game, their run differential is only +7! And they are 26th in runs. In September, of course, they are atrocious: 8-16 and 29th in MLB in runs. 

However, until we know that the "real" Bryce Harper is back, and until we see the Nats start to show some decent offense, I'd have to say that I'd pick the Cubs to beat the Nats in the first round. That view may change over the next week as we see which Harper shows up -- the 1.000 OPS star or a player just trying/straining to get some semblance of his timing back. Could be either.

Luckily for the Nats, the Cubs have cooled off a little in September -- 14-8, 4.29 team ERA. But the Nats have had really serious offensive problems for a LONG time. They're not just fourth in runs in September, but 18th since the ASG. 

You don't want to take a cold offense into a four-day break before meeting the Cubs staff, even if that staff isn't as good as it was last year. Carlos Quintana just pitched a complete-game there-hit shutout on fewer than 100 pitches. Arrieta has been much better in the second half. Lester still looks rocky. Lackey should be past his expiration date, though he's too ornery to admit it. Hendricks is first-rate but not as sharp as last year. And a wonderful bullpen.

Nats-Cubs may be an absolutely classic series. And the winner may well meet Cleveland in the World Series. The Tribe has been so wonderful that you want to see them in the WS so that the NL rep has to "beat the best."

Boz, the beauty of baseball statistics has always been that they are easy to understand. But now I'm not so sure. Can you -- can ANYONE -- explain pitchers' WAR? It seems like it risks becoming the baseball version of the QB rating in football, a number created by a secret sauce that no one understands (and, therefore, no one pays much attention to). Case in point: the WARs listed on ESPN's site. Kershaw: ERA 2.21, WHIP 0.93, WAR 4.6. DeGrom: ERA 3.53, WHIP 1.19, WAR 4.5. Gio ERA 2.68, WHIP 1.13, WAR 6.8. So this would have us believe that DeGrom, with an ERA a run-and-a-third higher than Kershaw, has basically the same value, and that Gio -- who is having a great season, but c'mon -- is worth two more wins than Kershaw is. (Ask Rizzo if he would trade Gio straight up for Kershaw, and he'd say yes before you could finish asking the question. That should tell you all you need to know....)

I  absolutely agree with your point.

Does ESPN use the WAR from that has Gio far higher than most would view as sensible considering his modest FIP?

There's far too much mystery around WAR. "Proprietary" my foot.  FansGraphs WAR, especially for pitchers, passes the common-sense test much better. And it has Scherzer as the Cy Young leader -- which I think he should be. But if I were Max or Clayton, I think I'd pay good attention to my last start because it could help make CYA an easier decision for voters. I voted for A.L. Cy Young Award for many years. It's a tough job if you take it seriously. The new metrics help now.

Max really jumps up on WHIP, OPS-vs and especially his incredible batting-average against (.180).

The Nats broadcast on Sunday had a wonderful graphic. Here are the pitchers who were hardest to hit since 1920 (the start of the Lively Ball Era).

Pedro Martinez, Boston in 2000 = .167 batting average against.

Luis Tiant, Clev, '68 (pitchers were so dominant that year that MLB lowered the mound for '69) = .168.

Nolan Ryan, California, '72 = .171

Nolan Ryan, Texas, '91 (19 years later!!) = .172

Sandy Koufax, Dodgers, '65 = .179

Max Scherezer, Nats, '17 = .180.

Inclusion in that list is the sort of thing that will win you a third Cy Young. And a significant chunk of a HOF plaque, assuming your career finishes on a normal gradually-declining but not abruptly-ended path for a star pitcher.

Note: FansGraphs has Scherzer ahead for NL CYA with a WAR of 5.9, followed by STRASBURG at 5.3. Kershaw is a few spots back at 4.7. Plenty of voters will give weight to this WAR method.

Look, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. Conceded. And when people say he's never won anything or won a game in the playoffs and only made postseason once, they are generally correct. This isn't basketball. It's not his fault. That said, let's review the record here. In the one series he had against the Royals, he was utterly terrible (1-11). Then this year, the Angels go into September with a golden opportunity to make a run for the 2nd WC. Surrounded by utter mediocrity from the Rangers, Rays, Orioles, Royals, and for a long while, the Twins, the Angels merely needed to play WELL...not even great, just WELL. Justin Upton comes over and goes absolutely bonkers all month hitting like a billion homers. All the Angels need is their superstar to NOT go into his worst slump in 2 years at the worst possible time. And he does. So mostly it's not Trouts fault that baseballs best player has had zero October impact, but a TINY bit occasionally is. Shame to have a sports best player not be in the biggest games. (Although I don't really think Trout as national superstar is ever going to happen no matter what. In contrast to Bryce, the guy has the personality of warm chamomile tea.)

Interesting and fun to read, too.

So I looked up the Angels hitters for the last 30 days, which would be the pennant race period. Trout has hit .253 with an .876 OPS. So that is hardly an awful slump, maybe barely a slump at all -- just not Grade A Trout. But I bet there is a bad week inside that 30 days. Here are all the Angels if you are curious. Pujols .305/.805. Not bad for a gimpy old guy.

Sitting with a group of marching band parents on Saturday, even we were commenting to each other that there was no way that Terps QB Kasim Hill should be scrambling around the field like RGIII, especially when they had already lost their first string QB for the season in week 1. It was only a matter of time before he got injured, and sometime in the 1st quarter, he was already being carried off the field. We really hope he is okay today, but D. J. Durkin needs to realize that sometimes being "aggressive" is just being dumb. Even us marching band parents could see this injury coming from a mile away.

That was an ugly game to watch after Hill's injury. However, it's hard to turn a team over to a true freshman QB and then tell him "but change your style." 

I see more bad luck here -- with both QBs -- than blame.

What did you make of that?

His public statement was the closest to complete meaningless mush of any team. But it was better than nothing. And standing with his team, even as a half-dozen of his players took a knee, was a clear statement that he was NOT going to do what Trump screamed __fire 'em, punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights. 

You know, the FIRST Amendment to the Constitution.

So, a "C" for Dan. A passing grade.

But an A+ for his team once the game started. And an A+ for Gruden and his new DC Manusky, too.


It's entirely possible that these 3 will all hit somewhere in the top half of the order in 2019. All I can say is. They might steal literally 175 bases between them.

Yup. But there is limited utility in SB unless they are accumulated at a VERY high percentage. As long as they ALSO hit -- and Turner and Robles may both be >.310 hitters with extra-base power -- they could be both fun and productive.

Gotta start Lind in LF. He has been MURDERING right handlers and has I think proven that he can be adequate in the field. Starting Werth against RHP is just such a dumb mistake. Forget how poorly he's hit recently. He hasn't hit righties since 2013. Not that anybody on the Nats has been paying attention----I guess you just aren't allowed to platoon a team leader/highly paid player or something. But make no mistake. He has hit like one for years. (I will set aside for now the fact that I prefer Kendrick against Lester and Quintana-----as long as Lind starts vs the righties. Come on Dusty.)

I am VERY close to agreeing with you. If Werth doesn't get hot -- I don't mean 'decent' but actually look like he is ready to take off -- I would start a Lind/Werth platoon against the Cubs. Werth has always killed lefties and the Cubs (Lester, Quintana) and Dodgers (Kershaw, Hill, Wood, Ryu) are full of them. But Lind has been too consistently wonderful not to start vs RHers and Werth has looked too "off" against them.

Jayson and Dusty, by early next week, may need to have a little chat about this, maybe even initiated by Werth, who really is a Team First man. But lets give Werth another week to 'find it.' He IS a leader. And the Nats best lineup probably starts: Turner, Werth, Harper....


Small fan bases and low attendance in L.A., empty 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, and the popular team in Oakland is leaving. Add jilted fans in San Diego. What's this telling us about the league's future?

They often say that California sets popular-culture trends that the rest of the country follows.

I remember Greg Manusky being a fan favorite when he played for the 'Skins ... we knew he was no HOF'er but he was tough and determined and a spitfire. It looks like some of that is rubbing off on the D and it's so nice to see it. No more missed tackles (well, not as many), tough attitude, mob the ball. Refreshing!

He's doing a wonderful job. You can hang your hat on last night's game for quite a while.

However, many, including me, have been ranting for at least the last four years that Joe Barry ('15-'16) and Jim Haslett before him, had poor to horrible records as defensive coordinators wherever they had been in recent times. Haslett's small track record of success was achieved when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Manusky showed that he knew how to double down of pressuring the passer when he got Oakland back on its heels. Two sackes were back-to-back. The other two were in a span of three plays. Part of that is coincidence. But it certainly created the impression -- on Carr, I bet -- that Manusky had good ideas on how and when to "turn 'em loose."  

Have you ever seen a time where "politics" has been at the forefront of professional sports than right now?


Maybe the '68 Olympics.

I might suggest that our first amendment and freedom of expression are more of our identity than songs and symbols. Seems our pro athletes know that even more than the politicians and powerful owners.

I don't believe that Jefferson and the other framers of the Constitution mentioned any songs.

Not a huge Scot disciple here but I believe we finally saw the team he promised--tough defense, hard-running, and physical.

Scot may have jumped higher than Doctson on that 52-yard TD bomb.

Also a good night for Kendall Fuller (interception, third round '16), Matt Ioannidis (0.5 sack, fifth round '16), Preston Smith (second round, '15). 

We will find out, but do you think Doolittle's (essentially) one-pitch repertoire will succeed under pressure of playoff baseball?

Yes, if he commands it as well as he has been. Hitters tighten up in post-season, especially when chasing high fastballs (Doolittle) or low breaking balls. It's one of the places where tension shows.

Mariano Rivera threw his cutter 100% for more than 10 years. Kenley Jansen throws his cutter more than Doolittle throws his fastball (88 percent). That said, Doolittle is a very good reliever having an exceptionally good period. He is not having a GREAT career. However, October is chocked FULL of very good relievers -- plenty of them not as good as Doolittle, imo -- who ended up closing, and doing it successfully in the World Series. Remember Keith Foulke, with the weight of an 86-year Curse on his shoulders?

The question will not be his repertoire but his use of it. He seems to love the emotion of the 9th. If he can channel it -- because it gets even more intense in October -- he'll be all right. He needs to avoid "too amped" as he was in a couple of his first save spots when he joined the Nats. The Cub series will be so quick and brutal in its pressure that Doolittle will really have to focus on having the proper amount of situational insanity. Just enough and he gets a little more hop on his fastball and is even tougher. A little too much and he's wild high, the lead-off man gets on and the pressure increases. I think he's up to it. At the moment, I'd be most concerned about the Nats poor offense for the last 10 weeks. Yes, blame much of it on the absences of Turner (two months), Harper (almost six weeks) and others. But it's hard to "flip the switch." At least they have a week to work on it.

This week MATTERS for the Nats. When the "real lineup" plays, they need to have a post-season-worthy game plan and grind down the opposing starter, then crush him. They probably have three or four chances to do that in the last seven games. I hope they know it.

Do you think the win over the Raiders was a fluke, or will we continue to see the Skins dominate on defense?

Fascinating question and one which will obsess D.C. until they play the Chiefs.

Gruden said it was one of the best defensive games he had ever seen ANY team play in a long time. That means: Don't expect a repeat of this kind of 463-yards-to-71-yards dominance, by any team, any time soon.

But the defense HAS to have added confidence after this. Also, the Skins have now played three teams that are all 2-1 and look decent-to-good. So, their 2-1 record, and 20.0-points-per-game against (ninth in the NFL) looks better.

Dan Steinberg did a good column on Sunday on the influential but controversial Pro Football Rankings of players. Entering Sunday night, several Skins had awful two-game grades. Best were Kerrigan 80.2 and Norman 77.3. Lousy were Swearinger 38.6, Everett 38.4, Hood 46.1 and McGee 50.9. What's true? Nicholson looked extremely good in his second game at safety. He may already be an upgrade on Everett.

But "how good is this defense REALLY?" is the next big question.

When the facts change, you have to change your view. Last night's "facts" were a view-changer for me. I've gone from expecting 7-9 or even worse after the Eagle game to thinking more like 9-7 now. The Raiders were shocked and I suspect not ready -- looking past the Skins.

But "things changed" last night. After watching the game again, Cousins has seldom if ever looked better. He even had a Doctson drop on a ball that hit him in the gut and another drop in a 25-for-30 night. Thomspon is such a threat catching passes out of the backfield, or running draws, that Gruden said afterward that he would NOT give him the ball more often because he was so valuable in his current role and they didn't want to get him hurt. Next time you watch Thompson run, try to compare him -- for running style -- to Joe Washington, if your memory goes back that far. To me, he looks like this generation's EXACT duplicate of Joe W when he's got room to make moves. Joe, even at 179 pounds, was more of a traditional running back who was also an exceptional receiver. Thompson won't be the 15-20 carry RB-type, more the special receiver who also carries some.

After a 3:15 a.m. bed time last night, I think I'll cut this chat off now. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. after Skins-Chiefs and as Nats gear up for the Playoffs! It's warmin' up around this town right about now! Cheers.

I can't remember the Skins playing so well against a quality opponent in prime time. I'm going to enjoy it for awhile like late summer fruit. Can a change in defensive coordinator make that big of a difference?

I can't remember the last time the Skins, AS AN UNDERDOG, dominated a quality opponent by this much.

So there must be some element of Best Case Scenario. But it sure makes you think there are going to be a lot of interesting games coming up, not a season of "Oh, no!"   

It's sort of amazing the difference in the Nats offense since Bryce went down. I believe it's 5.4 runs with him, 3.9 without. Watching games is such a different experience. You feel like if the opposing team gets a bases clearing double or 3 run homer, that it's *probably* curtains for the Nats, who have gotten by the last couple months with brilliant pitching---save for that Number 5 starter slot. The sabermetric axiom is that lineup quality /construction doesn't affect a single player's performance. I think that is true for like 95% of players. But with somebody like Bryce, his absence is like a planet being removed from a solar system and screwing up all gravitational forces. I saw a stat that literally NO Nats starter has better numbers this year with Bryce out of the lineup than in the lineup, except Taylor who is roughly the same (and he's not near Bryce in lineup). Certainly SOME of this is coincidence but that is still fairly insane. I'm sure pitchers are just distracted with him looming, and every other hitter doesn't get "zoned in" on quite so much, and they gets more mistakes to hit. And am I nuts, or does the entire game have a different energy when he's playing? Anyway. I know that it's a popular opinion that he's somehow overrated because he's visible and marketed and that Anthony Rendon is just as valuable/more valuable. Put me down for the belief that some players are meant to be stars at center of the solar system making all planets around them better, while others burn brightest as complements. WHEN HEALHY, Bryce is just different. Here's to him coming back and getting his timing!!

Excellently stated. In the case of the NATS lineup, maybe not every lineup, I think there is a lot of truth to what you say. He is the mega-star, the supernova, that lets all the other stars shine their brightest. W/out, they just don't seem as confident or beat down other pitchers as they do with Bryce at No. 3.

The biggest argument in favor of offering Harper a huge deal to stay with the Nats is exactly your argument -- that in the case of the Nats lineup he has a synergistic value that adds to the strength of the whole lineup. Would that he the case on lots of other teams. Don't know. But in '19 and afterward, when you may have a lot of speed -- like Turner, Difo, Robles, maybe Taylor -- you may need LHed THUMP, meaning Harper, even MORE than you do now.

It's not my money. If Ted wants to go crazy, I'll stand back and cheer. He'd bring the town a ton of fun if he and Harper got together on the Big One.

That's for the future. Now lets see what this lineup WITH Harper does in the NEXT THREE WEEKS. Because, by Oct 10th, at the latest, the Nats will have beaten the Cubs, and I think, be on the way to the World Series, regardless of who they play in the NLCS. Or it'll be all over -- again.

I may change my mind, but IU think the Cubs will be all that the Nats can handle. But, if they play their best, they can do it. But having an .850+ OPS Harper -- a Bryce that is a FORCE -- is essential to that.

Consider the following Player A vs RHP, and let's put aside our prejudices, opinions of clubhouse morale, nostalgia, and other ineffable considerations. Player A vs RHP: Career .777 OPS 2015 .658 2016: .668 2017: .712 Clearly this player cannot hit RHP, and REALLY has not been able to hit RHP over the last few years. Now consider Player B vs RHP: Career .853 OPS 2015: .883 2016: .729 2017: .917(!) This is Jayson Werth (A) and Adam Lind (B). In the short term, Lind has been hitting everything, but especially MASHING righties...and Werth has looked like somebody who either doesn't have his timing with a week left, or is almost ready to retire. But let's set aside the short term. Lind is better against RHP by a LOT---he is the equivalent of an all star and Werth is the equivalent of a replacement player. He has always been better. In the field, neither are quality outfielders. Fielding metrics suggest they are similarly bad, both with poor range---I think it's fair to give Werth the small edge. On the bases, they are both savvy but slow---again, tiny edge to Werth if you want. The fact remains: A lot of people have been asking whether Kendrick should play over Werth in the playoffs. Against Lester and Quintana, perhaps that's the right question. But against Hendricks and Arrieta, there is no real debate. Dusty should not even CONSIDER starting Werth over Adam Lind. If Werth doesn't find his timing, he is virtually an automatic out. If he does, that's great---but he still is a substantially worse hitter than Lind against righties.

Thanks for fleshing out my previous point.I'd really lean toward starting Lind vs RHers, unless Werth "finds it" this week. And even then I'd wonder how smart it was, especially the way Lind is now using leftfield, sometimes for power.

FWIW, Werth is still a much better defensive OF than Lind who, if you gave him truth serum, would respond to "How comfortable are you in LF" by screaming, "AAAARRRGGGGHHH!!!" And Werth, who still goes 1st-to-third and second-to-home quite well, is a MUCH better base runner than Lind, who is a human moving van in low gear.

BUT Lind can mash RHers. And he'd really strengthen the bottom of the lineup and allow interesting ideas at No. 2, like Rendon or Harper.

However, I'd start Werth against LHers because he's killed them his whole life, he's a Playoff Animal and the team would really feel shocked to have him benched. I don't think you can consider just sitting him for Lind/Kendrick. Not good. Not going to win. And with Lester and Quintana it would give Werth a chance to have an impact early.

1. Max's velocity has been noticeably down his last few starts. Yesterday he threw multiple fastballs at 92. And generally sat at like 93. I'm not concerned, and his results were excellent, so who knows. But he hasn't been his usual insanely dominant self since his neck injury thing. Which makes it extra bizarre that 2. Dusty/Max had that weird "we decided to lengthen Max out for the playoffs and get used to throwing like 8 million pitches so he can pitch while he's exhausted and labor through 4 batters when he's clearly done" plan. I never bought this, and felt like covering for Dusty just making a bone headed mistake in an effort to get Max a win. Particularly because the guy threw 85 pitches yesterday and not a ton the previous start. It all just doesn't add up if you were trying to build up endurance. (And endurance for what? To throw over 115 pitches? You'll never feel awesome at 115 pitches). In any event, Max is pitching fine. But he's not pitching like MAX IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Maybe in his last start he will dial up the velocity to the norm. But the drop was noticeable. Even the Mets announcers (god I wish we could listen to these guys on a regular basis) mentioned it.

OK, that's frightening. Are you reading my mind? Or listening to me by bugging my house?

I mentioned to a group of people at the Post on Thursday that Max's previous start had good results but that if you watched the hitters' reactions to every pitch -- how off-balance they were or weren't, how many times they were "on" his pitches -- I did NOT think that Max was as dominant as he was most of the season before The Neck.

His fastball was efficient, against a weak lineup, on Sunday. But if the playoff energy doesn't jump his fastball up by a couple of mph, I think he'll have trouble being more than "pretty good" against the Cubs. I always worry that Max is so invested in his image -- which isn't an "image" but is really the person that he is -- that he can't stop being Mad Max, super indestructible competitor. So, yes, he concerns me. I haven't liked what I've seen the last three starts, except that his slider, change and curve have been such bastard pitches that he might be able to "pitch backwards" and hold down the Cubs with a 92-to-94 fastball with hop and command, but not blow-'em-away Max dominance.  

Did you see what the Rays and old friend Steven Souza did to Lester last week. I hope the Nats are thinking hard about how to exploit him running---Difo, Turner, Rendon, Taylor, and maybe Robles should be taking notes. You actually DO want to get a giant lead, because he is crazy quick to the plate, despite his inability to throw to first. (Side note-he also has been pitching horribly.)

Lester has worked on the slide step and is no longer easy to steal on. Net-net, he's normal. Or maybe even a little hard to run on. Luckily for the Nats, he's pitching like crud.

Cubs pitchers over last 30 days.

You'll note that Hendricks, Quintana and Arrieta are pitching well.  

This is a question for next year, since it can't be solved for the playoffs. The Nats got the worst production of any team in Major League Baseball from their catchers. 32nd in baseball. I'm not just talking offensive. They were last in WAR. Granted you can say some stuff catchers do is not reflected in WAR, like working with pitchers and game calling. Fair enough. But I can also note that framing is arguably the most impactful skill that is unaccounted for in such stats. And Wieters is among the 2-3 worst framers in baseball, according to strikes/balls stolen scores. Lobaton has been...well....horrid. I personally love how Pedro Severino plays behind the plate on defense and his energy, but he doesn't appear to be an adequate hitter. This is all to say that Catcher is easily the biggest problem position on the team. It's not close. What can the Nats do, though, besides hope that Wieters is a bit less God awful next year?

Hey, Matt calls a good game.

Otherwise, lot of painful truth to what you say. He brings out the best in Gio. Lot to be said for that. And he (finally) hit a HR the other day. But it would be nice if he could get back to being a .240 hitter for the playoffs. Not much is needed -- but "something" would be nice. He's the only Nat who may be helped by the four days off next week before Game 1. I hope so. Great super-smart baseball man.

If I don't cheer much louder than a golf clap, can I wear a Cubs hat to Nationals Park during the playoffs? Or is this like Philadelphia where opposing fans risk having people accidentally spill their beers on them? (I've been in DC for decades and love the Nats, but if you have to choose, you always cheer for your boyhood home team.)

You will probably be engaged in courteous conversation and, if the Cubs lose, be joshed gently about your misery.

I suppose this is good. However, if you were sitting next to ME, many years ago before I covered baseball, you wouldn't have been so lucky. I would have fit right in with crowds in Fenway and New York. Though I never reached the Philly level.

I'm happy but confused by last night's domination on both sides of the ball. Was that a turning point for this team (i.e., should we expect a new level of competitiveness going forward), or just an inspired night against a tired team playing on another coast?

Even Cousins admitted afterwards that he didn't know what to make of it.

I hope the Skins don;'t make TOO MUCH of it. In the last 20 years, they MUST lead the NFL in premature self-infatuation. This will be a perfect opportunioty for them to fall into that trap again. I get the sense that Gruden gets it. Whether he can prevent it, in a sycophantish town that FEEDS any self-delusion within the teams, remains to be seen. 

Thanks again for all the fine questions, including some equally fine barely-disguised analysis, thanks very much!

Not ruin the euphoric feeling around here - but is there an update on the MASN conflict? Will we know a final result BEFORE Bryce goes on the open market?



you correctly note that the Cubs are 14-8 in September (good but not great), but think about the content of the 14-8. After getting swept at home by the Brewers (very bad), they swept the Cardinals in Wrigley, split two games in Tampa, and spent the weekend winning 3 of 4 in Milwaukee. All the St Louis/Milwaukee games were tense, playoff style contests. The Cubs, to me, showed incredible grit. they never quit, and they some games where maybe they didn't play better than their opponent. My point is that kind of toughness (you can see it but you can't quantify it) seems like what the Nats have lacked in previous playoffs. Should be a very interesting match up.

I agree. I've watched all parts of a few recent Cubs games. They are an excellent tense preparation for the playoffs, something the Nats have not had at all. As I said, right now, I'd pick the Cubs over the Nats. And that would be part of the reason. But lets wait another week. Is there such a thing as the Real Nationals? And will we see it for the first time this entire season this week? And will it, can it, begin to jell in just a few days? Big task. 

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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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