Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

May 21, 2018

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Last week I wrote: "So... the Caps have a 2-0 series lead. Where have I seen this before?" Do you still think this season is not going to fit into the "narrative" of Caps history?

This series, if nothing else, has clarified for me something that I've understood for a long time but, probably, never formulated succinctly. (And I probably won't achieve "succinct-isity" today.)

We often see sports stories where two or three narratives are in play concurrently. And this often confuses fans, media, me and sometimes the players themselves. It shouldn't. But it does if we don't separate valid but simultaneous narrative.

Narrative 1: The Caps of '17-'18 are having a WONDERFUL over-achieving season and are just two wins from playing in the Stanley Cup finals. This bodes well for '18-'19 unless vets like Ovi, Backstrom and Holtby regress far more than currently expected. EVERYBODY (in D.C. or Caps fans) should be very excited about tonight's game and, within reason, optimistic. The ONLY narrative that is truly ALIVE right now is this one. The tendency to give equal or greater weight to the narratives which follow may be a tip off that you have a pessimistic nature or, in 1% of cases, even tend toward Troll-ism. 

Narrative 2: Ovechkin, a HOFer is in his 13th NHL season and he has had Backstrom, a possible HOFer beside him for the last 11 years. Yet neither of them has ever been to a Finals, much less won it. And they've only reached the Conference Finals once (this year). This is a horrible career blotch for two such outstanding players. And this year IS PART OF IT.

Why? Because over a whole career -- say 12 years -- a pair of great players may have 2-3-4 years when they don't have a Cup-quality team around them. And they may have 2-3-4 years when they are one of the Top Three teams in the NHL. The Caps have been President's Trophy winners THREE times in this period.

However, there are also likely to be a half-dozen years -- as has been the case with the Caps -- when your team is "good enough" to make a deep run and reach the Finals because, in the NHL, any team in the top 10 or 12 -- as I charted in last week's chat -- is good enough to get hot and reach the Finals, and even perhaps win it.

So, if the Caps don't win the Bolts series it will be ANOTHER lost year that can't ever be recovered by Ovi, Backy and Holty. It becomes another stain on their narrative -- blowing a 2-0 lead with both wins on the road ought to be AUTOMATIC advancement to the Finals as it has been for the last 21 straight teams in this position. None of those 21 even needed a Game 7 to advance.

Narrative 3: The whole horrifying (in a sports sense) history of the Caps FRANCHISE for the last 33 years in the playoffs. Teams like the Cubs and Red Sox carried around this Third Narrative for generations.

IMO, Narrative I deserves the most attention, by far. But Narrative 2, because it is about current stars, should get due weight, too. Dragging up Narrative 3, especially if you do it constantly, is beating a dead horse. I try to avoid it, or balance it against the other two narrative, always pointing toward the opportunity for new plots, like beating the Pens or getting to the Final Four.

Trying to keep your own personal analysis and emotional response glued to just one of these "tales" doesn't do justice to the complexity, and richness, of what is actually happening. The reason we feel conflicted about all this is because we probably should. If the Caps win the Cup, it becomes the final chapter of all three narrative. But if they don't, all three will have to be revisited but with, imo, No. 1 the most interesting, No. 2 pertinent but No. 3 just as an overarching "context," but not The Story.

When the postponement is that long (unlike the next day) how do you “pick up where you left off?” When play was stopped, Harper was at bat with no outs and a 0-2 count. Does Harper have to be the one to hit. Suppose it was the pitcher at the plate, and he’s not pitching when play is resumed? Or if the at-bat player is on the DL? Or just in a slump?

Everybody has to go back exactly where they were if they are still on that team and not on DL. Including the count.

If a player has been traded, obviously you substitute. If a player has been sent back to the minors, I don't know!

But, in theory, if a pitcher got traded from one team to the other, he could be BOTH the winning and losing pitcher in the SAME game. Does anyone know if this has ever happened? Seems to me it has.

All teams have trouble with this but without doing a statistical review (I leave that to your staff) the Nats seem like they must be several standard deviations off the chart. Two in 2 days (Bautista, knee, Kendrick, ruptured Achilles). Added onto--just since March Goodwin, Wieters (within the past week), Robles, Zim, Grace. And the hold-overs Murphy, Eaton, Benoit, Glover--I've probably missed a couple and those are just the ones still out--Rendon lately just back, Kelly ditto. Do you think this is a training issue or just incredibly bad luck (if so, stretching back to last year). In any other line of work, OSHA would be conducting an investigation by now! And BTW reports of the Dodgers on the ropes seem to have been slightly exaggerated. Sweeping a dh is not a sign of a moribund team.

I was talking to LAD prez Stan Kasten yesterday. "How's it going," I said. "Terrible," he said. "But it's a beautiful day."

"Every" Dodgers starting pitcher is on the DL, and "every" Nats hitter is on the DL.

For Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw (back pretty soon), Hyun-Jin Ryu (late July), Rich Hill (left Saturday with ugly bust blister) are all on the DL. So is their hot prospect of '16, Julio Urias (shoulder) out until second half of '18 and, I suppose, with some 'career questions' after shoulder surgery. Alex Wood, who started yesterday, left with cramps and may not make his next start, though I assume he will. Even emergency-plan stockpile starter Tom Koehler is long-term DL

That is much worse than the Nats who have their top five starters, two of their best back-end relievers, plus fine hitters in Harper, Rendon, Turner, Adams as well as serviceable hitters like Difo, Reynolds, Zimmerman (soon) and Michael A. Taylor if he could ever clear his head -- man, has the slump demon got him in its grip -- and stop messing up his career in D.C. 

Nats almost totally fired their medical and training staff three years ago (I think three) and felt they had seriously upgraded themselves on preventing injuries. They, like many other teams, regard "injury prevention" as the next breakthrough, just as analytics changed the game as it was adopted.

Well, it's not working out so well. Kendrick (1,500 games) and Wieters (1,000 games catching) are just vets who play hard and, at their ages, sometimes things just "snap" while doing normal baseball movements. But these Crash Injuries, while they have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, are worrisome -- especially if the Nats as an organization encourage, or even condone, fool-hardly play. I watched Adam Eaton's NASCAR-smashup head-first slide into home in the first week of the season. CUT THAT OUT. He over-hustled on his huge injury last April, and was apologizing to teammates for it as he was being examined in the club house. But now he's back at it with the crazy play in spring training -- catching a FOUL fly ball in a exhibition game and crashing into the ball-person and chair down the LF line, then barely missing a huge smash with the wall. Eaton is still playing like he is still some small-talent 25th man on the roster who has to be the over-achieving Little Guy. Somebody please give him the memo: He is an outstanding hitter who also has an excellent batting eye and makes a star-level top-of-the-order batter with a >.360 on-base percentage. He is an excellent outfielder WITHOUT crazy catches. Some of his throws after changing ground singles have been clock at >100 mph. So, BIG arm. And he's excellent at cutting the bases and maximizing his scoring chances. All that adds up to a 4.0 WAR player -- which is a star. When he comes back, SHOW SOME GOOD SENSE, please. Love the guy. But he's a key to the next 3 1/2 years for the Nats -- but only if he's on the field.

Robles' injury in AAA was totally unnecessary and just youthful craziness on his part with a nutty dive for a meaningless bloop in a meaningless game. When he gets back, if he looks close to 100 percent, I wonder if the Nats should think about trading him while he still has large "No. 5 prospect in baseball" value. He averages getting hit by >30 pitches per 600 ABs and doesn't seem to care that it's a problem.  He LOVES great defensive plays, no matter the risk. The Game Tells You what level of risk you can take with your body over the first few years of your career. You need to listen. The "game" told Pete Rose to keeping being gung ho because he never seemed to get hurt. The "game" told Cal Ripken to do whatever the heck he felt like doing -- run over catchers, roughhouse with teammates and play full-court basketball year 'round, sometimes with NBA bench players in the game. The "game" told Harper to gear back around walls and on some other risky types of plays -- and he HAS! Bravo! The "game" told Pete Reiser to stop running into walls and getting beaned; he couldn't stop and had one of the worst of all unfulfilled careers (late '40's). It's time for Robles to listen to the game -- or be TOLD by his employers.

Answer: I don't know why they get THIS many injuries. But baseball is a 162-game sport, not 16 games. You can't take the danger out of the game. It's just there -- less than NFL or NHL, but much more than NBA or pro soccer. But some Nats need to stop confusing MLB with NFL or NHL.

As to the quality of medical/training treatment, I would have no idea how to evaluate it fairly. My  "M.D." got lost in the mail.

Bos, you have wisely counseled all of us chatters to enjoy the whole baseball season with the Nats and not just obsess on October winning and losing. Good advice. But, that said, I don't think many of us are enjoying the "journey" so far through April and May. This is a team that has been jinxed with injuries, played indifferently with sloppy play much of the time and at the moment seems to scare no one who plays them. To borrow a phrase of your colleague John Feinstein, over the next three weeks, this is A Season On the Brink. A terrible injury to Howie Kendrick. Torn Achilles’ tendon. Out for the year. Sigh. Bringing 19 year-old Phenom Juan Soto up is a desperation move. Let’s hope it works. The lineup looks lifeless. Bryce looks agitated and perplexed. Michael A. Taylor, when they need his bat the most, has regressed to 2016 and stinks. Completely lost. When Victor Robles gets healthy (a month?) Taylor is out of a job - and should be. Hitting .183 in late May! And when you have four regulars out of a lineup that was supposed to be great - Murphy, Zimmerman, Eaton, and Wieters (and remember Rendon was out for two weeks) - plus great bench guys like Kendrick and Goodwin out, well, the outlook is not good. Even the scrubs are going down! Rafael Bautista hurt at Syracuse and out for the year! Plus, pretty sure I’m correct on this, the Nats are the only one of the 30 MLB clubs whose 5 starters haven’t missed even one start. Odds are that won’t last. I think the season is hanging in the balance over the next three weeks. Your thoughts?

Yawn.

I see all your points. But except for the loss of valuable BENCH-PLAYER Howie Kendricks, which is unfortunate, none of what has happened so far should wreck a title contender. NONE of the point you make have anything substantial to do with how this season will be remembered.

By the Fourth of July, or long before, the Nats lineup should be Eaton, Turner, Harper, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman, Soto, Wieters, pitcher, with a bench that includes very solid utility man Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin, Severino (who'll get plenty of starts) and maybe Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds as the LHed-RHed hairy-chested bench bats that Davey Johnson always wanted.

Matt Wieters said yesterday that he should be back in about 8 weeks. That's very good news. He'll probably be restricted to 40-or-50 percent of the starts just to be cautious. But by Sept-Oct he should be fine. 

The starting rotation has been FABULOUS -- second only to Houston's which may be historic. Jeremy Hellickson can't possibly be this (2.20 ERA) good. But he's been a 3.50 guy in the past and might be this year. Assuming Madson's pec injury is minor, the back three in the pen are an A-, Solis is OK. You still need one, maybe two more GOOD middle relievers.

I talked to one Nats vet who said, "We've been playing great -- so well our last two weeks -- up until the last (27 hours) after all those (four) days off. We've really come together as a team. Davey's done a great job, especially when things were going bad (7-16) and he set such a positive tone.

"Losing Howie stinks, especially because he was such a great teammate. But that's part of it (baseball). Nobody has run away (in the N.L. East) and we haven't even had OUR TEAM on the field yet. There's still, what, 115 games left (grin)? I think we're going in the right direction and a lot of young players have gotten to show what they can do. By August, they'll have enough experience in high leverage situations to see how they play when there's more pressure in a (division) race. This is kind of a new roadmap for us. You'd like to run away with the division every year, like we have (four times). But you can't always do that. Having more competition doesn't have to be a bad thing."

If these comments had been negative, I'd have quoted the played by name. But because he was so positive -- and I think his judgment is excellent -- I won't name him because the WORST thing you can do in 2018 is be Too Positive because that's a kind of crime against the predisposition to a  dismal mood.

Yet, as in all centuries, the people who accomplish the most and are the happiest tend to be, not in all cases, but tend to be the optimists.

The Nats right now are not a glass that's half-full. Looked at with just a LITTLE more perspective, moving the calendar out just 4-to-6 weeks, they are a team that has had a tsunami of injuries with a rookie manager, including a 7-16 slump for almost a month, but they are 24-21, doing fine even though thy lost three in a row to a team that won 104 games in '17 and is starting to wake up.

There are MANY things that can go wrong that Really Matter, that damage a season, like the Dodgers losing one of their two best players in Corey Seager. That would be like losing Harper or Rendon for the season. Not one of them has happened. Max Scherzer has gotten to 100 Ks faster than any pitcher in history. If he -- knock on wood -- goes down for the season, THAT matters. Or Starsburg, who hasn't been as sharp as last year, but good enough. I swear Gio has learned to pitch well past age 30 -- something I'd very have guessed. Roark of '18 looks just like the Roark of '14 and '16.

Also, quietly, Trea Turner is playing himself into being, maybe/probably, the starting All-Star shortstop now that Paul DeJong (Cards) is out with a broken hand. in his last 30 games, Turner has slashed .299/.379/.504 (.883 OPS) with 23 runs, seven doubles, five homers, 14 RBI, 14 walks, seven steals. And he thinks he hasn't gotten hot yet. "I missed (fouled off or took) all kinds of good pitches on Saturday."

Also, and nobody has mentioned it, the Nats have played 33 of 45 games against teams that are .500 or better. Record: 18-15. (That doesn't include six with the Dodgers who'll be over .500 soon.)  

The games against losers, including 19 against the Marlins (17-29), six vs O's (14-32), three vs Reds (16-32) and three vs Pads (20-28) this week, are still ahead. Most of those teams, some outright tankers, will be shedding assets as the season progresses and, if anything, may be weaker than they are now when the (presumably healthier) Nats play them.

This chatter means well by his/her question. But it's in a fan's nature to bounce off the walls, which is the opposite of the baseball mentality. The Nats won 13 of their last 18 games, despite all the injuries, and are finished with their two toughest West Coast road trips. 

Yes, I'm tellin' ya to "enjoy the journey."

In baseball, some of the best times are when a team is really banged up and still plays .500 ball.

Or, in the Nats case, is still on a 13-5 run that "shouldn't" have happened.  

Hi Boz, Let's say that Harper ends the year with a batting average about his weight (about .240) and maybe 30 HRs which we have seen from him in the past. Would he become more likely to be affordable enough to be resigned by the Nats, but perhaps more importantly, should he be signed? His general lack of hustle in the outfield and base running--the opposite of what he was known for as a rookie--is not pleasant to see. If one of Robles or Soto pans out perhaps there's not much drop off, and with the money saved they can address 2B or perhaps bolstering their aging starting rotation.

Good question.

But, first, let me be clear that I disagree with any general statement running down Harper's defense or hustle. He's under a constant microscope. He can have four straight "plus" defensive games, like he did in Arizona, and few say a word. Let him make one TOOTBLAN and he's a Public Enemy. 

Harper is not as good a fielder, or hustler, or leader as some. But he is a WAY better fielder, hustler and team-impacting presence than MANY stars I have covered. None of these areas are more than an occasional minor annoyance. As far as I can tell, there is not even ONE area of his game or personality that would make you NOT want to have Harper on your team. That doesn't mean he's an "A" in everything. Who is? But he gets no "F's" or "D's" on my card, and only a few "C+'s" out of a lot of subjects.

OTOH, the Nats ALWAYS make plans to replace their major free agents if those players do not make it clear, a couple of years before their walk year, that they WANT to stay in D.C. and have no problem with a modest team discount. Zimmerman got his $100M extension done a couple of years early. Strasburg shocked many (like me) by going to the Nats to work out a good-for-both deal at a sensible number.

But Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann showed no interest in extensions for >$105M and >$120M. So, the Nats traded for Trea Turner and signed Scherzer for $210M. They made no further offers to Desmond and Z'mann, though they LOVED them as players and people in the clubhouse. They just assumed that it's-a-business-too and they're as good as gone. That worked out great for the Nats and reinforces their preference to view team construction that way.

They have Difo to replace Daniel Murphy, who's presumably even more on an A.L./DH type player after his major knee surgery. Kendrick, assuming he can resume his career after such a major injury -- which is not a given -- is signed for '19 as part of the second-base picture. And their best prospect after Robles and Soto is a middle infielder, Spencer Kieboom.

As I mentioned in my column, it's OBVIOUS that the same factors are in play with Harper. They love him as a player. The Lerners adore him personally. Charm, charisma, crowd-appeal and an MVP Award go a long way with owners. But he is in EXACTLY the Strasburg Spot. If he and Scott Boras want to talk to the Nats about an extension, then arms wide open, and lets see if we can work it out. But if that doesn't happen, I doubt that the Nats will ever make a contract offer to Harper, now or after he's a free agent. They don't want to "bid against themselves" now and they don't want to "bid against everybody" later. That's just my take, not some scoop.

Even if Soto hits .200 for 4-to-6 weeks and goes back to AA, they aren't going to change their minds on his future -- he's going to be a Nats corner OFer for 6-or-7 years. As long as Robles comes back 100 percent physically, and he's supposed to, they aren't going to change their minds that he's their CF for 6-or-7 years. And they "traded the farm" -- RLopez, Giolito and Dunning -- for Eton who, when he's played, has looked EXACTLY like the player they craved. Eaton, as a Nat, has slashed .308/.400/.508 -- Harper's career OPS is .901) with an INCREDIBLE 34 runs in 31 games, plus 18 RBI.

The writing isn't just "on the wall," it is on billboards and might as well be plastered on the scoreboard. Harp is just like Desmond and Z'mann in their walk years in '15 -- everybody's trying to win a lot of games and win the World Series. In '15, things went sour. Maybe they will again in '18.

But the Harper Situation, at this point, is one of the easier "big stories" to analyze that you could imagine. It's just that many people don't want to hurt anybody's feelings by saying what's obvious. But nobody's feelings SHOULD be hurt by what's going on here. Desmond, Z'mann, Wilson Ramos, Werth -- everybody -- who has left the Nats felt they were treated properly. The Nats say nothing but positive things about Harper and Harpoer keeps saying "I'm a National now." Which is just what he should say. Part of this no-harm-no-foul situation is that Boras also represents Scherzer, Rendon and others. Everybody's in win-win and they all want to keep it that way. 

But that doesn't mean that realistic business isn't being conducted and that plans aren't being made. And, until something changes, that means a Nats OF in '19 that's probably some collection of Eaton, Robles, Soto, Taylor and Goodwin with the Nats quite active in the free agent market this winter, looking for a SP for sure, as more than $75M (from memory) comes off their payroll.

The flexibility that's built into the Nats planning is remarkable. Like the Caps, they're very good at it, with the Nats probably even better. Quite a contrast to the Skins and Wiz who often can't get out of their own way on roster building. It's like Washington fans are getting a masters class in how to build, and how not to build, a pro sports team. We've got the whole spectrum.

And now we've gotten one of them to the Final Four in its sport with just two more wins for the trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. No snark allowed. The Lebrons were "dead" two days ago. Now they aren't. The Warriors looked like they might be in some trouble, then suddenly Steph goes atomic on Houston on Sunday. We have almost NO IDEA what's going to happen in the rest of the Caps-Bolts series. One game, two games -- anything can happen. And that might be the greatest thing about it. 

No sour grapes, no excuses, they're just a bit better than the Caps. Offensively and goal tending especially. Doesn't mean Caps can't win it still, but they'll need a healthy dose of good fortune.

Is that why the total score of the series is Caps 16, Lightning 14?

Or that the Caps have played much better than Tampa Bay in three games -- even Jon Cooper wouldn't disagree -- and the Caps also had the momentum in the last 30+ minutes of Game 5 with the Bolts (probably correctly) playing turtle to protect a 3-0 lead?

I really enjoy being a hockey fan, but not fanatic, in times like this. I thought I was going to break the Twitch Meter -- you know, when you're squirming in your seat and going, "Ohh!" every 30 seconds, or three times in five seconds -- throughout all of the third period of Game 4 and Game 5, too.

Boz, How can the Nats convince Michael K. that with his speed that he really needs to concentrate on putting the ball in play rather than swinging for the fences?

In the last four years, from age 24 to 27 now, Michael has gotten every chance that anybody could ask for. In 377 games, he's .237 with a .684 OPS and an OPS+ of 80, which means he's 20 percent BELONG an average major league hitter.

Can you tolerate an OPS+ of 80, even for an elite CFer, on a contending team?

There's only one answer: No.

The clock is ticking on Taylor. Luckily for him, every Nats OF gets hit by a truck. So, he keeps getting opportunities -- and may for several more weeks -- to show that the .806 OPS player of last year (OPS+ of 105) who could have a regular job for years as a 20-20 player going for Gold Gloves is still inside him.

Of course, when they look absolutely horrible, like MAT does now, and you wish you could let Max take all his at b ats for him, that's when they usually turn around.

I remember Raffy Palmeiro having an unbelievably bad game as an Orioles -- an 0-fer with men all over the bases and multiple errors. Afterward, he said, "That's the bottom." And it was. He broke out and made the league pay.

I don't know if there is a more modest Michael A. Taylor version of this. SOMEBODY hit those big home runs against the Cubs. All you can ask for is a chance, and he's gotten his share and more. So, I'll pull for him because he's such a fine guy, but no reason to feel bad about whatever happens.

I'm a lifelong DMVer and in my half century observing Washington sports teams and the Caps in particular I know exactly how this ends. They don't go out with a whimper tonight in Game 6. That would be too easy. That would put us out of our collective misery. What will happen is that they will win tonight with a gutsy, commanding performance that will have us all believing they have recaptured the momentum and are poised for another history defying series win and trip to the SCF! Tonight is simply the denouement, however, to the climactic tragedy that is sure to come in Game 7. In Game 7 they will seize the lead, probably early. At the midway point of the 3rd period they will be up at least two goals but probably three. And then. . .it will begin. You all know the rest. . .but the result is inevitable. Bolts v Knights in the SFC. Sorry. . .the earlier we accept this, the sooner we can start talking about how the Redskins will abuse our love and trust this Fall!

There's negativity which is troll-ish from nasty people, and they there's negativity with charm and wit from real fans who have been hard used and have thus earned the right to their feelings, their fantasies and their forebodings.

Well played. I guess I better start making that plane reservation to Tampa.  

Severino is fine, but he can't play every game. Should the Nats try to find a catcher, even if it costs them a player or lots of cash, or should they not panic?

Wilson Ramos, in Tampa in his walk year,has started 32 games at catcher for them this year, plus four as a DH, with a .283 average, .776 OPS, 6 homers and 22 RBI. That'sd a very nice catching option. At 30, in his last contract year, he'd cost something, but not a lot.

The last two years, since he came back from knee surgery, he's played in 100 games, 346 ABs, 17 homers, 57 RBI, .269 and .752 OPS.

I'd go after him. He left on good terms with the Nats. Even though the Nats knew he'd make much more money, and be a better long-range fit with an A.L./DH team, they still showed him the respect of a $30M/3-yr offer during his walk year ('16) which, I assume, could have been negotiated up a bit, if he just absolutely was dying to play in D.C. It was sort of an Insurance Contract, I suppose, in case he got hurt as the season wound down. On the Nats part, that's "acting right."

Ramos blew out his knee about five minutes later and ended up with a two-year dead for $12.5M with the Rays. But I assume Ramos appreciates that the $30M was at least offered as a show of thanks and respect, even though his "value" -- then thought to be >$40M, maybe even close $50M --was as an A.L. hitter who could transition into DH/C.

No deal is easy to get done. But this is certainly worth looking at. Even if Wieters comes back as well as he thinks/hopes, the Nats would look better in Sept/Oct with Ramus + Wieters and Severino still available if needed.

(Note: There's little or no interest in Jayson Werth who's in AAA with Seattle, hitting about .205, though with homers in three straight games recently.)

Bos - If you're a DC lifer like myself, you must also drive around the SE section with your jaw on the ground. What was once one of the worst parts of the city is now one of the hottest and they're only halfway there. When Audi Field opens up it will be even more amazing. I was a skeptic when they announced the location of Nationals Park but the area truly has been a "build it and they will come" phenomenon.

I'm consistently stunned/pleased. The soccer stadium is flying up. This is going to continue for a few more years as the new bridge goes in.

I had a visit from a long-time friend from Los Angeles, John Schulian, who won the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing not long ago. He hadn't been back in D.C. in 20 years. So, I drove him around town. "Amazed" would be an understatement. "Boz, this is incredible," he said as we drove around the new waterfronts, Shaw, etc. "What happened to Washington!"

He was nice enough to leave out "old boring Washington."

John and I have had seriously contrasting career experiences. I've had one full-time job in my whole life. John laughed and said, "I've worked for six newspapers, SI and written for 11 TV shows." One of the papers was the Post where John wrote wonderful stuff for us in the '70's after being the Rock n' Roll critic for the Baltimore Sun. He knew progressive country, and half the people in it, before they knew they were creating Progressive Country. Naturally, my wife and I and John had to go see the Cowboy Junkies while he was in town.

You probably know John's work, or his "voice" even if you don't realize it. About 30 years ago John wrote to the late Stephen Bochco, who created Miami Vice and countless other TV hits, about leaving daily sports journalism and becoming a Hollywood script writer. Bochco answered that the journalism-to-TV jump seldom works, but he thought John might be the exception. And it did. So, when you were watching JAG, Midnight Caller, L.A. Law, Wiseguy, Miami Vice, Hercules and others, you were listening to John who wrote a lot of the episodes.

When he was asked to do an episode of "Hercules," he said, "I don't know anything about that."

He was told, "Just write a Western with swords and sandals."

"Oh, sure I can do THAT," he said.

When "Hercules' wanted a female character for one episode, John created Xena. The character was so good that "Xena: Warrior Princess" was created the next year with John writing, I think, nine episodes. At any rate, he calls his home, with the juke box in the guest quarters, The House That Xena Built. (I hope I didn't screw any of that up, John.)

When you come to the chat, you get what's on the menu. The only thing in town that John cared about seeing wasn't any of the new Washington but the original Ben's Chili Bowl at 1213 U St., NW. which opened in 1958.

You'll want to go to Amazon to get John's new detective novel is "A Better Goodbye." Ity's about the dark side of L.A. with Jenny Lee, who's thrust back into the sex trade by bad luck, where she finds an unlikely protector in Nick Pafko -- yes, the name taken from Andy Pakfo, one of John's favorite ballplayers as a kid -- who is an ex-prize fighter who's haunted by killing a man in the ring. There's a former B-list TV star who's a pimp and a prison-hardened sociopath named Onus DuPree Jr. (When I read the book, I kept thinking, "Seems like Onus always puts the puts the "onus" on YOU."

John ran through these characters for somebody who asked about the book. "So, as you can tell," said John, "it's uplifting."

Next Monday is Memorial Day, so I'll see you next Tuesday for a chat at 11 a.m.

Just remember, when all your hopes and plans go wrong, "That's why they call them 'dreams.'"

In your long answer about "enjoying the journey" you said: "By the Fourth of July, or long before, the Nats lineup should be Eaton, Turner, Harper, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman, Soto, Wieters, pitcher, with a bench that includes very solid utility man Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin, Severino (who'll get plenty of starts) and maybe Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds as the LHed-RHed hairy-chested bench bats that Davey Johnson always wanted." Not only did you sub in Soto for Taylor in the starting lineup, but you left Taylor off the bench entirely. Is that a (not-so) subtle dig at a wonderful defender and horrific slumper or just a brain fart?

Actually, I'm not sure that lineup is possible because, while Eaton played CF last year, I'm not sure you'd want to put his reconstructed knee out there. As for Taylor, probably "both."

I just read your previous response regarding Adam Eaton and how some of his throws have been clocked at over 100mph. I've seen similar comments about Bryce Harper. Is throwing 100 from the outfield the same as a pitcher throwing 100?

With a running start, momentum going into the throw, maybe 6-to-8 OFers a year clock a throw over 100. No, not like pitching.

Huh? They had a better regular season record and more points that the Caps. They had a better differential. They had a better regular season record against the Caps. They have had a better playoff record recently. The Caps having scored 2 more goals and choking in a game in which they "played better" is your argument? Really?

As I've pointed out before __same reasons as yours__ Tampa Bay is correctly favored in the series. But they've played five times and I'm not sure the "better team" has been determined yet.

Bos - could you please explain the makeup of minor league rosters? How many players on a AAA roster are future major leaguers and how many are Crash Davis's in that the position needs to be filled by someone? I think sometimes we make the mistaken assumption that it's as simple as "next man up" by position through the system when in fact the next man up might not be that good. Sometimes it seems that AA is a more reliable gathering area for future pros.

You're correct that AA is the "big young talent league," and has been for more than 30 years, while AAA has a lot of older players with MLB time who may be called up as bench players.

[Column: Juan Soto has arrived early. It's time to find out whether Nationals' teen is a dream.]

I almost forgot a chart I prepared for you folks to give some sense of what Juan Soto's minor league numbers might mean about his future. What follows are the current Top 12 active players in career OPS, followed by their minor league OPS in all leagues combined, then the total number of plate appearances in the minors. Finally, in parenthesis, is the age at which the player had his first MLB season with >300 at bats to give as sense of how quickly or slowly they developed. And how REALLY hard it is to get to the big league at 19.

Of course, this cannot be "apples to apples." Players reach different leagues at different ages and stats in some leagues favor offense. There are many other factors that put a huge asterisk on this list. But it is still fascinating how many of the best hitters had a lot of hard times in the minors and actually have a better OPS in MLB. 

Mike Trout --- MLB OPS .980 --- Minor League OPS .942 ---1,326 plate appearances --- age 20.

Joey Votto --- .964 --- .862 ---- 3,037 (!) ---- 24.

Miguel Cabrera --- .947 ---.782 --- 1,597 --- 20.

Albert Pujols --- .943 --- .920 --- 544 --- 21.

Paul Goldschmidt --- .920 --- 1.026 --- 1,387 --- 24.

Giancarlo Stanton --- .912 --- .930 --- 1,430 --- 20.

Bryce Harper --- .901 --- .917 --- 569 --- 19.

Ryan Braun --- .900 --- .948 --- 875 --- 23.

Nolan Arenado --- .885 --- .818 --- 1,138 --- 22

Freddie Freeman --- .878 --- .839 --- 1,797 --- 21

Josh Donaldson --- .873 --- .835 --- 2,315 --- 27!

J.D. Martinez --- .870 --- .931 --- 1,511 --- 24.

....

Juan Soto --- xxxxx ----- 1.041 --- 512 ---- now 19.

----

There have been players with very high hitting stats in the minors who did not do well in MLB, of course. But, even though his data sample isn't large compared to many of the others, I'm still quite interested in what Soto may do, if not this year, then in the next couple. 

I respect your baseball knowledge. Direct question: Would you resign Harper at say $35M over seven years or spend the money on Rendon, Turner, and promote the young phenoms , Robles, etc.?

For $245M/7 yrs, I'd sign Harper.

But there are always "opt outs" and "deferred money," etc., to factor in. But, ballpark, yes. Then you can trade one of those great OF prospects for a very good player because "young controllable assets" are pretty much the most valuable commodity in the game.

At seven years you are not paying for ages 33, 34 and 35. It's a huge investment, but not insane, imo. It would let Harper/Boras set a new avg-annual-salary landmark, but not crack the "total dollars" ceiling set by Stanton at $325M/13-yrs.

But I doubt that $245M/7-yrs will do it. Might. But that $400M/10-yrs has been out there so long -- even as an abstraction -- that I suspect it's in many folks heads.

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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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