Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 16, 2017

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

..saying that the Nats lacked intensity/killer instinct in critical games, a call for a new manager? It sure could be read that way...

No. In fact that never even crossed my mind. They aren't connected. The degree to which a player is intense, competitive, perhaps obsessive about finding a legal edge, is part of their basic athletic nature  by the  time the reach the majors.

If I had anything in the back of my mind that I forgot to emphasis, it's that Adam Eaton is exactly the kind of passionate, student-of-the-game player who brings the same kind of plus-plus defense to RF that Heyward does for the Cubs. Also, analytics say he's amazing at taking extra bases constantly (rather than stealing, at which he only averages about 15 a year). I've never seen anyone "cut the bases" better. In fact, his dad taught him how to do it using the "wrong" foot which, he believes, makes you even faster if you have the balance to do it. He looks like he's at about a 30-degree angle off the ground when he rounds 2nd . (That's probably impossible, but it looks that way.)

So, if that slice of my analysis has some truth to it, then Eaton is a "fit" as part of the solution. And if I'm wrong, then he's still a 3-to-4.5 WAR player replacing Werth who was a -0.5 WAR player this year. 

Why is Dusty still playing Werth? He hasn't demonstrated he can be effective since coming back from his injury. Dusty has many superior offensive options (with no detriment to defense) that he's leaving on the table. I just don't get it (other than sentimental reasons) when the team is so desperate for offense that he continues to play Werth.

This is, I take it, a pre-Game 5 question. I've chatted and tweeted (not that it makes any difference) that I thought, by Game 3, that it was time to play Lind in LF vs RHed pitchers. That does multiple things. Lind hits sixth, giving Z'man protection. You can keep Harper at No. 2 while he's finding his stroke -- and he never did quite find it (.211-.725 OPS) despite a big HR -- with Rendon, Murphy and Zim behind him. That way, if No. 2 really is the best place for your best hitter, then you have Harper there. Also, you don't have Zim thrown into the Maddon (IW) psychodrama of being Harper's protector. I didn't like the Game 5 lineup because it threw Zim back into that role of No. 4 behind Harper at No. 3. It was a disaster. Zim came up four times with two outs with a total of seven men on base, four of them on second base, and he fanned three times and popped up a fat curveball to LF to kill FOUR rallies.

Boz - it used to be that the best of the NL and the best of the AL, as determined by the regular season, played in the Series. Do you have any feel for how often this has happened since the current playoff format started? Thanks for your chats and columns!

Your question prompted me to look up my e-mail response the other day to a reader in which this question of The Old Day versus the 10-team playoff format (which is essential because you HAVE to keep half the teams in the sport competitive until deep into the season to have a viable business model -- and it IS also a business.) Anyway, here are those thoughts.

...

The reason you have to love, and value, the regular season so much, and appreciate your special players or people so much, is because small-sample baseball -- one game or a five-game series -- will drive you nuts with “what ifs.” Some sports/events are “over-determined” -- like a five-set Wimbledon match where there are a zillion balls hit. The better player that day has an enormously good chance to be the eventual winner. A 72-hole Masters is “under-determined” because the sample of shots hit, decisions required, etc., isn’t enough to identify “the best player that week” with high precision. Lotta luck, bounces, 40-foot putts or 40-yard pitch-ins that warp -- in a thrilling way -- the outcome.

A one-run, winner-take-all post-season baseball game, ESPECIALLY one with a 9-8 score and 40 (forty!) men reaching base in just nine innings, is going to be just about the ultimate in terms of an “under-determined” outcome. If I met a Cubs fan who said, “We won!” I would respond, “Really? In what sense of that term?”

I covered a lot of the post-season games of the Braves teams that won 14-straight division titles, went to “only” three World Series and got only one ring. I suspect, as long as Rizzo stays, the Nats may be six years into an XX year run as a serious contender, like Atlanta. I also watched, then covered the O’s teams that had the best record in baseball over a 23-year period yet, even in the days when you only had two teams in the post-season (’61-’68) or four teams (’69-’83) or one freak 8-team year (’81), they “only” went to the World Series six times and won three.

Under the ’61-’69 format, these Nats would already have gone straight into the World Series TWICE. And in the ’69 to ’93 format, they would probably have gone straight into the NLCS FOUR times -- in ’12, ’14, ’16 and ’17.

Of course, maybe that all plays into The D.C. Curse theory. I try to remind myself that teams are only SUPPOSED to reach the WS once every 15 years, win it once every 30 years and that with just a little bad luck you can go 50 years without winning the World Series -- as MANY have. The Astros (formed ’62), Brewers (’69), SD (’69), Expos-Nats (’69), Seattle (’77), Rox (’93), Rays (’98) have never won a WS ever. The Rangers (Senators) haven’t won since ’24, Indians since ’48 and Phils have won two WS since 1887.

In general, if you don’t enjoy the pleasure of the 162-game season, and the fun of following specific players, or the unique games (Max’s 20K), plus the thrill of the crazy post-season, then you are just setting yourself up to feel letdown or cursed.

Baseball is my favorite form of ENTERTAINMENT. And a wonderful subject for writing. But I try not to fall into the trap of thinking that the RESULTS of post-season MEAN a great deal. Perhaps I find this easier because I covered “everybody else” in MLB from ’75 through ’04 and even from ’05 through ’11 was focused, as far as titles went, on other cities. So, for more than 35 years I watched other towns turn themselves into pretzels with this “We won!!!” or “OMG, we lost AGAIN” stuff. I did a lot of head shaking and eye rolling, wondering why anybody would approach baseball with anything except a desire to get very real YEARS and decades of enjoyment from it, but with “pain” that is shrugged off in a matter of days.

 .....

I'd add to that: When you get knocked four straight times in the first round, you need to think about THAT. If it's not a pattern, and I would say that it IS a pattern now, it's awful darn close.

 

How did the Nats, Cubs, and media get from Chicago to DC on Wednesday night? Did they take a charter together? Fly commercial?

Post writers have never flown with the teams from D.C., I don't believe. I never have. You just book your own travel, hotels, etc., independent of the teams.

It's interesting to me that baseball teams, in particular, have so many illnesses -- throughout the season -- that run through teams infecting a whole bunch of players at the same time. Why? They certainly try to do everything they can imagine to sanitize the locker rooms, showers, etc.

Maybe a small part is that so many players have young families with small kids who, as we all know, are germ machines. When my son was young even I got his germs and I "never" get sick. But another part is that all 25, plus coaches, etc., go EVERYWHERE together.They all bus together to and from airports. They bus to and from games to the hotel. They stay at the same hotel. They always fly together on the same plane -- and studies show that having even one sick person on a plane greatly increases the odds that others will get sick after the flight.

This will never change. But one thought did cross my mind. What if every player traveled the same way as every Post writer on that beat? They'd take different (commercial) flights, stay at several different hotels, take cabs or Uber to and from games, etc.

Why will this never happen? Because I've never seen a MLB team where if you simply said to all 25 guys at 11 p.m. after the last game of a homestand, "Show up in Cleveland at 3 p.m. tomorrow for a 7 p.m. game" where the result wouldn't be comic opera. I doubt you'd have enough players show up to field a nine-man team. These guys are taken care of from the day they sign -- even if they are taken care of in cheesy conditions in the low minors. Here's my uniform -- wash it for me. When does our bus leave? And on and on. It starts when they are 18 if they sign out of HS or 20-21-22 if they sign after junior year of college. Yes, of course there are plenty on every team that are mature, self-sufficient. But one reason teams get so sick -- and the Nats were hit by it vs the Cubs -- is that they travel like a circus.

I asked Werth how sick the team was after Game 4. He said, "Oh, some guys have it. But it's not nearly as bad as the (playoff) year we all had the Swine Flu."

If, starting Sept. 20th, you made all these guys set up their own travel, and not glot together, would the Nats have gone to a couple of World  Series because thjey were the Least Sick Team.

Okay, this is intended to be mostly silly. But not entirely. The first team that solves the Team Plague problem will have a 162-game and playoff edge. MLBers, who are young and fabulous specimens of health, get sick far more often than the rest of the population. I can't prove it, would love to see a study on it, but I certainly believe it.

Loved your column about the Nationals' postseason shortcomings. To your question of whether the team has that fierce drive to win, we might also question whether their manager has it. During his odd Strasburg press conference, Dusty talked about the team feeling sick, the mold count in Chicago and having to change hotels! He seemed more interested in making them comfortable than firing them up to win. If your motto is "One Pursuit" and you have a manager who has won the division 2 years in a row but failed to advance from the NLDS after making some forehead slapping decisions, clinging to underperforming starters and neglecting to use his talented bench -- does he deserve a new contract?

Dusty didn't help himself during the seven days of that series. But "blame the manager" is the oldest, easiest and usually lamest reaction to a painful defeat. Remember, these teams were dead-heat even in pre-playoff analysis. As I tweeted, I realized that I picked the Cubs to win last week in this chat, then several hours later, picked the Nats to win in our picks for the paper. Yeah, a veteran scribe move! But it was THAT even.

If you want a list of people to blame MORE than Dusty, start here.

Gio: Two starts, 6.75 ERA and spit the bit again in a Game 5. On full rest, went only three innings and, in my book, should have been yanmked when it was still 4-2 because it was so obvious his nerves had him by the throat. His third pitch of the game was so wild -- I replayed it in slo-mo -- that it would still have been a ball if the entire LH batter's box had been part of home plate and the hitter had been eight feet tall. It was almost as wild as the WP that hit the Durham Bulls mascot in "Bull Durham."

Trea Turner: hit .143, on-base-percentage .217. One run, 0 RBI, 1 SB. NO FACTOR. After one game, I listened to him explain how he felt perfectly in control of himself, no problem. I was thinking, "Mr. Turner, you area classic case of a player in the grip of post-season pressure and the fact you don't know it is one of the symptoms. But everybody ELSE can see it. Great young man, excellent player. But his quick-twitch nervous system, so value to him, has to get turned down a couple of clicks in post-season. His '16 NLDS was mediocre -- not bad, but not much impact -- except for three hits in G5.

Here are the starters who hit between .143 and .176: Wieters (0 RBI), Werth (0 RBI), Turner (0 RBI), Zim, Rendon (1 RBI). Here are the players who hit .211: Harpere and Murphy.

BLAME THEM FIRST. The Cubs pitching, seventh in MLB in ERA, is very good. It's not great. And it sure isn't good enough to explain those offensive numbers.

Michael Taylor had a 1.177 OPS and EIGHT RBI. He proved that you COULD hit those guys.

Also, Sammy Solis (9.00) had a bad series. And Max Scherzer gave up FOUR runs in one inning of relief on two days rest. Two runs were tainted. But he gave up a single, single, double and had a hit batter to push home a run. He was so flummoxed on the Wieters passed ball that, with three Cubs running around the bases in every direction, he just went into a fog and walked slowly a few feet from the mound, never backing up any base, just momentarily giving up. If Zimmerman or Murphy had snagged Wieters wild throw, there might (probably) have been a play at the plate on Russell. But no Nat was covering home -- not within 40 feet. It was Max job. As they say in acting, "He 'went up.'"

After you fire all those guys, you can get around to Baker. He had two 45-55 decisions in Game 3 where I thought he took the "45" end of the bargain and both resulted immediately in RBI hits. But who says the "55" choice would have worked. And who says that I'm right in saying which was the 45 and which the 55? In one of those match-ups, Perez "won" by sawing off Rizzo for a weak popup. It fell, barely. Maybe there's a 5 percent chance Taylor gets it with a dive, but I doubt it. There was no reason to take Werth out for defense in a TIE game. You put in the glove m,an when you are AHEAD. Next year, Eaton or Robles probably/maybe gets that ball. (Unfortunately, it was hit THIS year.)

Also, Dusty caused plenty of media confusion/fuss when he misspoke about who would start Game 4. But Strasburg that all moot. In hindsight, who cares? It did cross my mind that Dusty, by saying Stras couldn't pitch G4 because he'd had his pen session THAT day, might be interpreted three ways. Dusty just got the day wrong. Dusty has always let Mike Maddox take care of the staff on that stuff -- and that's fine by me. Or, three, if this had been the 1980's there would have been plenty of managers named "Sparky" or "Billy" or "Tommy" or "Whitey" who, in the same situation, with a genuinely sick pitcher -- and Strasburg WAS sick -- might have wanted to be a 'player's manager" and make sure nobody accused his guy of being "soft" for not "taking the ball" (and all that macho crap) when the manager KNEW he was having chills, fever, dehydration, IV's for fluids, weakness. What might a Tommy Lasorda or Sparky Anderson have done? Maybe tell a little white lie to get his guy some breathing room -- and besides being sick, he threw his bullpen session TODAY, preparing for Game Five,. so he CAN'T pitch G4. And besides we've gotta win BOTH games, so what the hell difference does it make whether my guy wins G4 or G5? We're going with Roark." 

I am NOT saying that is the case. Who knows/Probably not. But it's a footnote for readers that things like that did go on for many years to take pressure/scrutiny off players. But it's been 25 years since ANYTHING like that stays private. Within ONE minute, the four Post reporters were saying to eachother, "WHAT???? How the hell do you let him throw a bullpen TODASY when everybody in MLB has know this game would probably be rained out for the last 24 hours -- at least." So, it was a SNAFU. But in the scales of Do You Bring The Manager Back it weighs about as much as a feather.

Here's my main view on Dusty. You have a team of BIG stars, some of whom also have big star personalities -- just look at those who have been, or will be All-Stars: Max, Strasburg, Harper, Murphy, Rendon, Turner, Gio, Wieters. And this team, IF it has a good off-season, will be just about as good as this team, or probably better on paper. (However, the '17 teams probably had the best Oct chance because EVERYBODY (except Eaton) was healthy on Oct. 1. Do we really think that EVERYBODY who matters will be healthy NEXT Oct 1?)

Is this a team that should be managed by a bright young ROOKIE manager? Are you kidding? Matt Williams supposedly checked every box when he was hired. Yet by mid-'15, he was avoiding his players, looking for shoulders to complain on and showing that, while A Fine Guy, he was NOT a manager for a ready-to-win team. (Remember what a hot managerial prospect Manny Acta was? Seriously, there's NO potential rookie manager available right now with more industry "buzz" than Acta back then.)

So, what does that leave? A proven VERY GOOD manager who is available. Is there one? Somebody better than Baker who IS a Very Good manager. (But not a great one in post-season, in my book. That current 0-10 streak in potential clinch games is a big anchor on his reputation.)

If the Orioles were dumb enough to fire Buck, I'd hire him. John Farrell? His win percentage is .518 in seven years and five of those years were with the $$$ Red Sox. He won a World Series his first year with a team he inherited. Could he inherit the '18 Nats and win with them? I don't know Farrell that well.

All I'm pretty sure of is that WITH Baker you'll be right back in the playoffs in '18 with (maybe) an upgraded team with Eaton, a better catcher and a mid-rotation starter so Gio isn't so prominent in post-season.

Would it be outrageous to fire Baker? No, imo. But he took a broken clubhouse with Pap choking Harper and fixed it in a blink with a big personality that is perfect for deals with big personality stars. Are fundamentals, intensity, sophisticated strategies going to be part of the Nats DNA as much with him as with Francona or Maddon? Not. But are Francona or Maddon or Buck available? No.

You get me the PROVEN "name" manager who is available who is better than a very-good-but-not-great Baker, and I'll take a position on THAT name. You don't need a magic manager to win the World Series. I learned that when Joe Altobelli won with the '83 Orioles. I thought something like, "This guy is just a respected cruise director who tries not to do anything real stupid.And he just won the WS in an era of 'dynamic or brilliant or motivational' managers like Herzog, Anderson, Martin, LaRussa, LaSorda, Remember, it's 95-to-98 percent the PLAYERS who win and lose."

Did the umpires blow the call of the play when Wieters missed the third strike and got hit in the head by the batter? Why s didn't Dusty ask for a review?

Someone wrote to me saying that Jerry Layne used an “extrajudicial right of interpretation” to make that call. Well, at least it's the best phrase for it that I've heard. 

Many/some think the rule is vague, imperfectly worded. I’ve read it ~6 times. I’ve defaulted to the old dictum for gaining perspective on difficult issues: Always invert. If the same play had happened to the Cubs catcher (dinged in head but not altered in his ability to complete the play after he’d already missed the pitch) and the ump had declared the inning over on what amounts to accidental incidental contact, and had done the Nats out of the consequences of the Cubs’ flub, I suspect I would have said, in the two most used words in baseball, “That’s horse****!”

Wieters missed a pitch that never even touched the ground. He threw wildly when a man of his IQ (very high) should have held the ball once he retrieved it. If the rule, to me, seemed crystal clear, then go on and apply it. But to me, it’s murky. So I’m not bothered that the spirit of the play (Wieters screwed up twice) won out over the letter of a (possibly) ambiguous law.

In other words, I don’t REALLY know. But I can’t get myself to get worked up over it. I have an “outrage” button, but not on this one.

So many of the questionable strategic blunders that led to Thursday's loss belong to Dusty Baker - starting Gio instead of Roark, batting Zim fourth, not pinch hitting Kendrick for a struggling Wieters in the sixth but taking him out in a defensive move the next inning, etc. Rarely do we say of Dusty, "Wow, that was a clever bit of managing." Instead, it's more often, "What was he thinking?" Or, "How did he miss that?" So, obviously my questions are: Should he be replaced? Will he be replaced?

You ailed the Big Three decision in G5 that didn't work. Doesn't mean they were wrong. But "didn't work" doesn't help your cause.

Ironically, if you hit Kendrick for Wieters in the sixth, you might have been able to double switch Lobaton into the game batting ninth and the batted the next pitcher (Solis) at No. 7. Then in the eighth you would STILL have been able to PH Lind for Madson in the seventh spot with two on and none out.

In other words, you would have had "the gun loaded" twice in the late innings with a total of five men on base and could have you'd both of your best pinch-hitters -- Kendrick and Lind -- in vital spots. Kendrick never got in. FWIW, in 572 ABs this year, including Howie's ABs with Philly, Lind/Kendrick hit .309 with 23 homers and 100 RBI. In a 9-8 game, I think you kinda wanna find a big spot to use BOTH those guys.

Remember, Maddon ran out of pitchers, basically, and HAD to use Wade Davis for a 7-out save. In the eighth, Turner was the seventh man he had faced -- two on, two out. If Turner rips one in the corner or up a gap and the Nats win, either on that or in any way whatsoever, then everybody is pointing out how PERFECTLY Dusty manager HIS bullpen. Baker used all of his best arms out of the pen -- Scherzer, Kintsler, Solis, Madson and still had Doolittle ready for the save in the ninth, adequately rested. And that buffoon Maddon, he was so scared of the Nats that he wheeled in Duensing, Strop, Montgomery, Edwards and Quintana -- five guys -- to get only eight outs. Dusty used his five guys BETTER to get 15 outs! And still have his closer perfectly position.

But Lobaton got picked off, Turner never got to hit.

Baker had a starting pitcher who who looked like a guy on a sinking life raft by the middle of the third inning. Yet he managed his pen so well that if MAX SCHERZER had just pitch one fringin' shutout inning -- and he was throwing 98 mph -- or even if he had only give up one or two runs, the Nats would (maybe) have won 8-5 or 8-6 or 8-7.

Scherzer was beside himself afterwards. Good for him. He should have been. A million star starters have gotten big outs in post-season in winner-take-all games. That's how Washington won its only World Series in '24 when Walter Johnson, coming back from losing Game 5 -- he pitched a complete game in that defeat and gave up 13 hits ('cause he was OLD) -- pitch four shutout innings of relief in Game 7 for the win. And they were the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th innings and he got out of multiple jams. 

BTW, in '24, they played seven games in seven days. No "off" days. Just take the train back and forth from NYC to DC.

Wieters undermined Max. But Max had already blown the lead by that times.

Hwere are some interesting CAREER ERAs in post-season for Nats: Gio (6 starts) 4.78, Scherzer (16 games, 13 starts) 4-5 with a 3.73 ERA, Strasburg 0.47 ERA (!!!) with 24 K's in 19 innings and only 18 base runners allowed.

Doolittle, 11 g, 3.00 ERA. Madson 2.85 ERA in 46 (!!!) post-season games.

And what are the career OPS for the Nats starters?

Taylor: 1.047 (2 HR in 17 AB)

Murphy: 1.020 (8 HRs in 93 AB)

Werth: .893 (15 homers !! in 227 AB)

Zim: .838 (3 HR, 10 RBI in 19 g)

Harper: .801 (5 HR, 76 AB)

Rendon: .675 (2 HR, 14 g)

Turner: .532 (1 RBI in 43 AB)

Wieters: .372 (.119 BA, 0 RBI in 42 AB).

Bet you didn't have those in anything like the correct order. Well, at least I sure didn't.

Boz, I completely agree with your assessment of Stras and his unfairly impugned history as a 'hothouse' plant--which I think goes back to his being shut down in 2012. In the long run, it helped him (we see what happened to the 'Dark Knight' being overworked a year out of TJ surgery a few years later). Second issue: the ongoing media obsession with 'weeny Nats fans'. Funny, I didn't see or hear any media criticism of Cubs fan streaming out of Wrigley Field on October 11 after Michael A's grand slam. Or the Cubs complaining that there wasn't enough cheering in the 9th inning to 'energize them' and lift them to a 5 run comb-backer (it has been known to happen, after all). So why the disparate treatment? If Nats fans all bolted in the 8th inning out of a playoff game at Nats Park in the 8th inning to catch the metro (an excuse that doesn't apply in Chicago, a city with an actually reliabe public transit system) every sports jockey in town would be quacking about the miserable fans in Washington DC. Can we all agree the topic is silly, and just stop?

You make two great points.

First, Nats Park was at least as loud as Wrigley, maybe louder. And Wrigley fans got the "spooked" silent quality as least as much, if not more than Nats fans. This stuff about Nats Park exuding angst if overdone, and possibly downright incorrect. Compared to what other parks? Yankee Stadium kind of has a history of winning, so it's hard to shut those folks up. But I've seen them "taken out of the game" plenty of times in post-season.

I'd say that the GAP between the insanity level of fans in regular season versus post-season may be the widest at Nats Park! On Sept 30, Nats Park seems to be reading Spinoza. In the playoffs, it's NUTS and from the first inning -- everybody standing in both the top and bottom halves of the inning in G5. By the third inning in G5, almost nobody sat down, except for exhaustion sometimes between innings.

Let me make this clear, and this is one of about two things on earth that I'm actually an expert because I've gotten shipped everywhere since '75 for MLB post-seasons: Nats Park in the playoffs can hold its own with any other N.L. crowd, including St. Louis, Cubs, SF and certainly Dodgers.

As for Strasburg, I wanted to compare his supposedly suspect "durability" with the "tough" Harper.

In the last five years, since the shutdown in '12 ('13-through-'17) where you Strasburg and Harper rank in the durability stats for their positions?

Of all starting pitchers, Strasburg ranks 30th in most starts with 139. Kershaw has 141, Price 139, Felix Hernandez 137, Cueto 134, Arrieta 133, Keuchel 133, G Cole 127. This is fragile? No, this is pretty darn durable.

Where does Harper ranks in games played in the last five years. You are not going to get this one correct.

90th in games played. That's 9-0.

And that doesn't count the ~50 games in '16 when Harper played (and did almost nothing) because his shoulder hurt and he now says he shouldn't have been playing.

So, who's pretty durable? Strasburg. Who's not very durable? Harper. Is Harper fragile? No. But he gets hurt on meaningless plays. If he averages only 128 games a year from age 19-through-25, do you really think he is goinmg to average MORE in his first six years of free agency from ages 26-through-31). Except for Paul Molitor, find me one example of a great player who got hurt LESS as he aged.

A few other interesting tidbits. In his first 6 yrs, Harper averaged 128 games a year. In his first four years, 128. And in his last two years, 129! Kind of a pattern. About five weeks a year lost to injuries.

That dampens his total production. In his 6 years, Harper has averaged 459 at bat, 25 homers and 70 at bats with a .285 average.

In the last nine years, Adam Lind has averaged 128 games, 433 at bats, 20 homers and 70 RBI and hit .273.

In his last 12 years, Zimmerman has averaged 128 games, 490 AB, 21 homers, 78 RBI and hit .279.

In his last four years, since he became a regular from Opening Day on, Rendon has averaged 134 games, 500 at bats, 18 homers and 73 RBI).

Harper's average WAR in his six years is 4.35. Rendon's, in his four full years, is 4.28.

What makes Harper better than these numbers imply is that he walks A LOT. That jacks his on-base percentage, which is very important, up to .386 career and .416 (!) the last three years. So, his OPS for his career is .902 and .977 the last three years.

Still, while I could see a sensible team offering Harper a seven-year contract at big dollars per year, I think it's starting to look nuts to see him as a 10-year investment at those same kinds of dollars. Somebody WILL offer him 10 years, I bet. 

But it's starting to look like the Nats were smart to get Strasburg done for seven years for $175-M, even with two opt outs, while, so far, apparently not going after any of the $400M/10yr or more estimates on Harper.

Every year there is a big Harper Reevaluation. I guess we're gonna have to have another one this winter.

As for Strasburg, I think people are starting to see him correctly. He's not Mr. Never Miss A Start, like Scherzer. But he's durable ENOUGH. And if you have him healthy and primed for October, he may be a beast for years to come in October. Some gifted players "get over a hump" in October. In the last 10 days, as a Game One starter and a sick Save The Season Starter, who went seven innings both times with 0 earned runs, I'd say Strasburg didn't just get over a hump, but practically jumped over a mountain.

You never absolutely know what a player will produce in post-season until they actually DO it. Strasburg just did.

The Nats clearly did a lot of things to lose the game on Thursday, but to me, the worst part of the game was the completely botched call on the obvious take-out slide by Jon Jay. A run scored that shouldn't have, and the final margin was that one run. How is it that the umpires didn't see that that was an obvious attempt to take-out Murphy, and that Jay had a leg up and made no attempt to go into the bag? He slid a foot wide of the base!

They showed the replay several times. You are wrong on all points. (You may have been at the game and only seen it once). He never left contact with the bag. The only thing he might have been called for was a leg whip. But that was close and not clearly a violation.

The take-out slide is not banished. But it now has much tighter parameters. Jay was within them. Or close enough.

Sir: You wrote "But in the new world of baseball challenges and replays, doing things that would have been satisfactory since the 19th century is no longer good enough. Lobaton’s foot came off the base for an instant. The Cubs challenged. And he was ruled “out” after the crowd of 43,849 waited in agony for 96 seconds." With a few days since you posted this, would you care to rephrase? Because it sure sounds like you only want replay if it benefits the Nats, or more broadly, that you'd like runners to be able to overrun a base yet be called safe. That, and your colleague Adam Kilgore's multiple articles decrying perceived injustice by the umps on the Nats reminds one of the adage that "Sour grapes make bad 'whine' ".

No, I'd like the stupid "you were off the base for a micro-second by a millimeter" rule to be changed so it conforms to baseball common sense for 100+ years. And I want to apply it to everybody.

If I were whining, I'd be crabbing about Layne's call on the Wieters passed ball. I'm not. And that cost the Nats two runs -- and probably the game.

Oh, those Cubs fans. In the words of the criminally insane Dr. Emilio Lizardo from Planet 10 (John Lithgow), "Laugh while you can monkey boy."

Michael A. Taylor is a high strikeout hitter who rakes in October. Doesn't that remind you of Reggie Jackson? It might be too early to ask this, but should the Nationals consider offering Taylor an extension?

Too early. But, as I've said before, and now rally believe, see the dead flat identical career progressions of careers of Tony Armas (2 HR titles) and Mike Cameron (three GG in CF and > 275 homers and >275 SB). We're seeing the start of a VERY nice career.

Now that the disappointment has cooled somewhat, in retrospect that was a great series. Rarely have two teams been so evenly matched. Both sides had fielders that screwed up, were victimized by bad calls, had bats that went cold against great pitching, used pitchers that they shouldn't have used. One run decided the durned thing. Yeah, I'm sad and a little piqued that the Nats couldn't get out of the first round AGAIN... but unlike 2012, this was not an embarrassment. We kept up with the reigning WS champs. Agree?

Good point. There's a big difference in the overall quality of the Nats showings in '12 and '14 versus '16-''17 which were both "A" or even "A+" series in which the Nats lost by the smallest margins while, both times, outscoring their opponent. This time: 20-17. Yes, I realize they don't keep score in that fashion.

Boz, just a small correction. The Rangers (Senators) franchise has never won a World Series. The '24 Nats became the Twins, of course, in '61. In my view our Nats misery goes back to that '24 WS title.

Correct. Thanks.

Just what is he looking for? By him not signing he IS demanding. To put it succinctly he is "robbing" all the other players for him get such an exorbitant amount. Getting the amount he wants will diminish what receivers he throws to the RBs who help take the pressure of the passing game and from the linemen who protect him. Is he looking for a fully guaranteed contract? Is he looking to be the highest paid player in the NFL? If he is looking for fair market value that should be somewhere just above the middle of the 31 other QBs because that is the way he plays and just not yesterday's game. That is pretty much every game.

Here it is, folks, out of an enormous list of questions: ONE on the Skins!

Sorry, I'm not going into Cousins contract. But this gives me an excuse to comment on Sunday's win.

Sometimes you lose, but -- to an outside observer -- you win. Like K.C. I don't believe in "moral victories." What I'm talking about is the impact on an objective analysis of the new info offered up by each game.

Sometimes, you win, but to that outside observer, you lose. That's what happened Sunday. Cousins did hid part. But, man, are those wide receivers mediocre and the DBs are just getting killed by injuries week after week.

Will Dusty be back and should dusty be back?

In simplest terms, you're odds of getting a better manager than Dusty for '18 are perhaps 10 percent. It is hard to get somebody who is better than a Very Good Manager. You're chances of getting somebody worse -- to the point where you say "OMG, why did we do that? Look at this MESS. We couldn't stayed contenders for years," is probably on the order of 30-40-50 percent.

So, go right ahead and try to get better at manager, but you better understand that the odds are 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 or 5-1 that you'll screw up and wish you had Dusty back.

The Nats have a strong lineup for next year, but, as with any team, they have some holes to fill, most notably in my opinion catcher and starting pitching. What trading piece do they have? I submit that Murphy has more value to an AL team - he can be the primary DH but also provide flexibility at several defensive positions - than a NL team which must rely on him too heavily in the field. And the Nats have an adequate replacement in Difo.

Murphy would be a 1-year rental if you traded him now. So you wouldn't get much in return. Certainly nothing like the value Murphy will bring to the Nats in '18.

Root Cause Analysis is a term from industrial engineering for a process of identifying the causes behind recurring problems. Other than your observation that only a handful of Nats are experts of the game within a game, what would you venture are the root causes? While we're at it, what are the root causes -- other than a curse -- for the Capitals inability to go deep into the post-season?

The ROOT cause of the Nats going 0-for-4 in first-round series of five games is the capricious small-sample nature of the playoff format. Derek Jeter, with Bernie Williams, Pettitte and Posada with him as the Core Four, lost in the first round SIX times. 

In the case of the Nats, we are not dealing with a bridge that collapsed. In '12, they were very young, not ready and the Cards doubled the score on them in the whole series. It speaks well for them that they battled back, won G4 and led 6-0 in G5 WITHOUT Strasburg.

In '14, they choked. They were better than the Giants, even beat Bumgarner when nobody else could. Then the draw opened up when the Angles, who'd also won 98 games, were SWEPT in the ALDS by the Royals as Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton went 3-for-37. Think about that: Trout was MVP in '14. Pujols still had 28 homers and 105 RBI. Hamilton had been MVP in '10 and drove in 128 runs in '12. They went 3-for-37.   

In '16, the DODGERS were the favorite after the Nats lost Strasburg and Ramos for the playoffs. They didn't "blow" anything. They took it to the last out. Lets keep some distance here. And this year, the Cubs were defending champs and the BEST team in the NL in the second half. It was a coin-flip series before it styarted and it ended that way, too.

If form had held in all four series, the Nats would be 1-2-1 not 0-4. Everybody acts like they "blew it" four times.

The Caps are a different issue. The Nats problem is six years old, just starting grade school. The Caps problem is 30 years old, has flunked out of school, can't even hold a job parking cars and lives at home in its parents basement.

Not the same.

What makes this FEEL so bad is that while Cubs fans may have gone 108 years without a title, not ONE Cub fan lived through it all. But in D.C., the Wizards have gone to the final four since '79. The Skins haven't been since '92. The Caps have only gotten past the round of eight ONCE in the last >25 years. And the Nats, well, they've only been around 13 years. But it ADDS UP emotionally. A hypothetical fan born in 1972, now 45, would have seen 38 years of Bad Wiz, 25 years of Bad Skins, 30 years of Bad Caps and 13 years of Bad Nats. Bad in the sense of no huge end-of-season payoff in the playoffs. That's 38 + 30 + 25 + 13 = 106 seasons!

So, plenty of fans in D.C. REALLY deserve pity, or at least empathy, because, thanks to multiple teams, the Washington fan may, in a PORTION of a lifetime have had as many disappointments as a Cubs fan who lived to be 120 and suffered the entire 108-year blight.

I know this isn't apples-to-apples. But it was a "fun" exercise. Yeah, some fun.

For helping deplete/tire out the Cubs's bullpen? Say what you will about the series between the Nats and Cubs but it sure seems like the Nats got the better of the Cubs bullpen again and again.

Yes.

Absolutely.

Nats consistently reliant on home runs to score, whereas other teams have a bit better balance in that area. Do you think it's in the Nats' best interest to look and modifying the structure of their team a bit in terms of hitters to look less at power and more at guys who get on base? Obviously the long ball is important, and runs are runs, but if you can get a guy who strikes out 75 times but hits 25-30 home runs, versus a guy who strikes out half that, and gets on base with singles and doubles, who is more valuable come playoff time?

Actually, that's backwards. The Nats rely LESS on the HR than most playoff teams this year and are better at manufacturing runs, stealing bases and stringing together hits.

Nats were 14th in MLB in homers -- nothing special. But they were fifth in runs scored, and adjusting for Colorado, fourth. How? They were fifth in stolen bases and SECOND in slugging average. But their slugging average was built on high totals in hits (fourth in MLB) and doubles, as well as 211 homers.

They were pretty much constructed exactly as you would want. But, post injuries, Werth never got it back, neither did Harper, although he was getting closer and Wieters fell off the world. Then, in the playoffs, Turner didn't get on base to start the whole machine working correctly.  

As I'm sure you'll get a lot of Nats questions - what about the Caps? While the team is just ok so far, glad to see Ovi silencing the "over the hill" critics.

I was amazed at the Ovi goal splurge. Good, no, GREAT for him. I'm going to watch a couple of Caps tapes later.

Do we declare him "cured" and assume he can put similar numbers up in 2018 or start planning on a platoon situation for 19-20? He was without a doubt the brightest note from the regular season but how long can we bank on it>

My view is almost the opposite. What if spent the winter working __really working, not just talking about it__ on elevating his launch angle? In '15-'16 his launch angle was ~7.5 degrees. This year, it went up to 8.45 degree. That's NOTHING. He put up .303, 36 and 108 with one of the worst launch angles in MLB. He did learn to be more aggressive in counts __hit earlier__ and his BABIP was somewhat lucky (.335) just as it hasd been unbelioevably unlucky in '16 (.248). His career BABIP is .311.

Zim crushes the ball. Whjat if he ever got the damn thing up in the air? Before he gets too old to have such great contact? What SHOLULD his launch angle be?

Harper 14.1 degrees.

Murphy 17.2 degrees.

Rendon 18.3 __which is why he went 25-100-.301.

Launch angle doesn't just produce more HR, it produces more HITS because the ball gets over the infield into the wide-open-spaces of the underpopulated outfield.

A guy as smart as Zim ought to be able to figure out how to get to 12-14 degrees. Lord knows what he'd do. But, unfortunately, this year was so great for him that I'm afraid that he'll be afraid to change ANYTHING. Just when he SHOULD be changing.

How HARD does Zim hit it? 92.1 mph off the bat. Of players who put the ball in play at least 250 times this season, that is FIFTH best in MLB. Who are the others? Aaron Judge (52 homers), Nelson Cruz (39), Giancarlo Stanton (59 homers) and Khris Davis (43). What do they have in common? They ALL have a higher launch angle than Zim __their average is 13.3 degrees. 

I honestly think that Zimmerman SHOULD be a 40-to-45 home run hitter as hard as he hits the ball. Until the last few years with StatCast nobody COULD have noticed this. Now, how can you NOT notice it???

In '15, Murphy changed and went from a pretty good hitter to a great hitter. In '17, Rendon learned from Murphy and had a career year even though he "only" increased his launch angle from 15.4 to 18.3. If Zim just made an improvement of 3 or 4 degrees, and continued to be the 5th-hardest-off-the-bat guy in MLB __and he was 5th velo off the bat (among qualifiers) in BOTH '16 and '17__ he'd hit 5-to-10 more homers.

I hope, at 37, when he's worried about staying in the game, that he doesn't finally say, "OK, OK, I'd get some uppercut in my swing" and become a classic case of "too soon old, too late smart."

Zim thinks something changed this year. It didn't. His batting luck just went from awful to better than average. Don't believe it?

In '14-'15, this was his slash line: .261/.321/.459. OPS .780.

In '16-'17: 265/.319/.482. OPS: .801.

Career: .280/.344/.476. OPS: .820.

SAME GUY. Just not quite as good as when he was younger.

This is EXACTLY the time for him to make a REAL improvement in his game and inc rease his launch angle. Other wise, he's just going to go right back to being that .263/.320/.470 guy of the last four years and everybody will say, "What happened to Zim? Was '17 a fluke?"

NO. He KILLS the ball. He just hits it too low. MUCH too low. Players change their stances and their hitting styles all the time. Look at pics of Zim's early career walkoff homers. His stance looks way different. He's changed. (Everybody changes.) But he should DELIBERATELY change to get the ball in the air MUCH more.

He DID NOT do that this year.

People joked about how weird it was that Zim's 3-run homer in Game 2 was almost TOO high and barely got into the flower bed. That is BACKWARDS. He won the game because he DID have a high launch angle. If he'd hit it at 8.4 degrees of loft, it would have bounced twice in the infield. Think THAT would have driven in three runs? 

 

What in your opinion would be an ideal offseason strategy for the Nats in terms of trades and free agent acquisitions?

Get a catcher. Eat Wieters contract or keep him as a very expensive back-up. Get a No. 3 or 4 starter. Don't let Werth, much as we all like him, talk his way back onto the team as some fourth OFer or something. Time to move on. Replace Kintzler with a seventh inning reliever of comparable ability, assuming that Kintzler's going to want to make "decent closer money" by signing someplace else.

Only get a new manager if it's somebody you are SURE is better than Dusty. That would be HARD to do.

Think outside the box. Is it time to trade Harper? I doubt it. But I would think about it. And I'll probably write about it.

Also, Victor Robles crowds the plate and gets hit by more pitchesthan anybody I've ever heard of except guys like Ron Hunt who were TRYING to get hit by pitches. As a pro, in 1501 plate appearances, he's been hit 91 times. That's astronomical. That means if he got 600 plate appearances in a season he'd get hit with 36 pitches a year. Contrast: Zimmermasn has gotten hit by 28 pitches in his whole MLB career. Or about 2 a year.

How is Robles going to survive? His stock is very high. Do you consider trading him for a starting pitcher, and hope Taylor, Eaton, Goodwin, Soto are your future OF. Or do you REALLY try to sign Harper and then trade Robles.

I know he looks wonderful. And Don Baylor got hit with 19 pitches per 162 games, yet played 19 years. But Robles is FEARLESS -- walls, too. That cuts both ways.

Tom- I have always enjoyed your columns and these chats. My question is - how much do you think that the weakness of the NL East affects the Nats' readiness for close playoff games such as in the previous series? They were never seriously challenged and clinched the division early. Contrast this with the Cubs having to overtake the Brewers and fight them off until nearly the end of the year. You may have discussed this before but I think it might be worth considering. Thanks

I did the numbers for you.

This year there were only 12 teams with .500-or-better records. But there were three teams at 80-82. So, when looking at how many "winners" a team played, I think it makes more sense to ask how many times you played a foe with 80-or-more wins, not the conventional 81-or-more.

The break down is dramatic. The Nats schedule was pathetic, by far the weakest in baseball and among playoff teams.

Games against teams with 80-or-more wins.

Washington...46

Houston...66

Dodgers...76

Arizona...77

Cubs...80

Colorado...80

Cleveland...81

Yankees...81

Boston...81.

On the other hands, Nats had so many days lost to injury by major players that I think they'd have won about 95 games against an average schedule with average team health. (But there is no formula for that.)

Thanks. That's it for this week. See you next Monday when we'll talk about more different subjects. But this wasn't the day for that. Weather's beautiful. Why don't we all take a walk!

Don't say, "Off a bridge?"

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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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