Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 08, 2018

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

I support legalized sports betting in theory, but some of the ideas put forward by Leonsis recently make me queasy. Betting windows at stadiums and wagering during the game, seem especially troubling. Also, betting on something like whether a player gets a hit in his next at-bat, seems extremely vulnerable to corruption. The leagues will hate it, but doesn’t there have to be a barrier between the betting side and the team side?

Thanks for the question. There's been a very good reaction to my column on legalized sports gambling on Sunday. I think the pro-legalization side has monopolized the conversation and there are no "vested interests" on the other side to oppose what, to me, is a very bad idea. Everybody with a voice owns a team, runs a league, can provide data (teams) or in-venue services, or (in the media), can get clicks and subscriptions for expert picks or in some way can make a buck off it. So they are all "Yes!" Gamblers (think they) love it. The general public thinks, "Sure, if I want to bet why shouldn't I be able to. It'd be fun. Everybody bets in pools, fantasy leagues and all these other ways. What's the harm." And then there are the "philosophers" who go right to "freedom" and victimless crime. 

My take:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/if-legalized-gambling-is-the-future-our-sports-are-really-in-trouble/2018/10/05/61c4755e-c727-11e8-b2b5-79270f9cce17_story.html?utm_term=.4542a2b3c5d1

There are MORE points on top of the ones made in this column. One of the most important is that advertising WORKS. In this country, if you "sell" hard enough, smart enough and subtly enough you can "move product." See "Mad Men."

If you legalize sports gambling, that product will be SOLD and gambling WILL go up. We already see our families, kids and friends "sold" on junk all the time. And we tend to buy. My wife mentioned studies on increased obesity in America in recent generations. Apparently, studies show that, at one time, Americans thought that you ate three times a day. The idea of "snacking" or being a couch potato eating chips, dip and beer while watching a day of TV games was simply not part of normal life. But with time we've been sold on everything from sodas to tail-gating. It's now culturally endorsed to eat whenever you feel like a jolt of sugar, pizza or whatever. The "impulse buy" matters. But there's a price to pay in overall health.

Legalized sports gambling __in-venue, always available, including tons of "junk bets" (who makes the next free throw), is just another kind of impulse buy.

I'm not against gambling. I'm specifically against legalized sports gambling. Here's another way of thinking about it. Our major sports, NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, have all evolved for the past 80-to-140 years to reach their current state as a huge part of our culture. Gambling has always hung around the edges of our games, sometimes to their detriment (1919 Black Sox, college point-shaving, NFL suspicions), but it has never been a force that improved, built or financed those games. It was a barnacle, not a beam in the sports ship. Generations of people built these sports, financed them, built ballparks, arena and stadiums all over the country for 20,000, 40,000 or 80,000 people, OFTEN aided by municipalities providing free land or tax breaks or sometimes even publicly-funded stadiums. NOW, the gambling interests, or those with an interest in more gambling ("I can make a buck off this"), look at those THOUSANDS of arenas on college campuses, in every major city, and they think, "What a WASTE! All these parks, arena and stadiums could become QUASI-CASINOS! What a windfall for us!    

But those folks, including local owners like Ted Leonsis who owns SEVEN pro teams (including some small ones), didn't create the entire history of the NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA. They didn't nurture those sports or grow them. They just "bought in" once it was all created. There are MANY constituencies with a genuine interest in sports in this country, including families that have supported their favorite sports or team for generations. If gambling comes in and CRAPS UP the entire culture of a sport, or makes a sports venue for 40,000 feel like a casino or racetrack then everybody, which INCLUDES you and me, who liked it the way it was, who was financially or emotionally invested in the way it has always been, is sure as hell a VICTIM of the gambling-ization of sport if it turns out as I expect it would. 

THEY (the percentage who gamble or can find a way to make a buck off it) do not get to waltz in and turn pro and college sports into some altered thing, perhaps seriously damaged, which happens to suit their ends and not consult or care about our investment, in many forms, in American sports. Ultimately, state and local governments will make these decisions. So, if you want to stop it, vote for those who oppose it. This becomes a political issue with a political solution. If you don't want it, fight it just the way you fight something coming to your community or state that you think will be damaging to YOU. And YOU get to decide and vote according to what you consider to be your best interests. If an owner's interests tend to create a sports environment that you won't enjoy, then oppose it. Because if you don't you can be sure that those who can make money off legalized sports gambling will continue to push for it.  

 

Have you weighed in yet on Scherzer vs deGrom for Cy Young? To me, the answer is pretty clearly deGrom, whose ERA is off the charts. Max has 300Ks but gave up lots more HRs and thus runs? In an era with more and more metrics, isn’t ERA still more important than most others? The job of a pitcher is not to give up runs. Whether he does that by strikeouts or weak contact doesn’t matter to me.

Everybody looks at ERA, correctly, BUT it is also interesting to ask, "How did deGrom and Scherzer ARRIVE AT those ERA'?"

The central reason they are different, SO different, is (as you say) because Jacob only gave up 10 homers all season, a very low total, while Max gave up 23. That's a huge difference. One is among the best at stopping the long ball in what is a Long Ball Era. Max, on the other hand, only has one small recurring flaw during his career, but it IS a flaw, and a serious one: Scherzer gives up a league-average number of home runs. In his career, Max has given up 1.1 homers per 9 innings. That's a hair ABOVE the league average. This year, a mega-HR year, the MLB average as 1.2/9 inning. Max was pretty good: 0.9/9 inn. But deGrom was stellar: N.L. leading 0.4/9 innings.

Max gave up 66 runs this year, deGrom only 48. What created that 18-run gap, more than half--run per game? Obviously, those 13 extra HRs that Max allowed.

Those in favor of Max, and he had a great year, all count is slight superiority in K's, in innings and (yes, even now) to some limited degree in wins. Well, then you certainly have to count all those home runs!

DeGrom's win total was very low because, MOSTLY, the Mets gave him awful run support. That's the only way a 1.70 ERA, one of the best in our lifetimes, only produces a 10-9 record. Scherzer's high gopher ball total is entirely attributable to him GIVING 'EM UP. The low wins for deGrom are only slightly "his fault." Max's HRs are all on him.

Everybody who ever voted for the Cy Young Award, and I did for many years, knows that deGrom is going to win easily. Max knows it, though I'm sure he's hoping to be shocked when the ballots are counted.

Scherzer had a Cy Young quality year. He should be 2d. That, like the 300 Ks and 18-7 record and amazingly low WHIP, etc., will all help his Hall of Fame case. (I'd say it's very close to "case closed" now. But Max will probably (not "certainly") be productive, eventually at gradually lower levels, for years. And he'll waltz into the Hall. This year he just got beaten out for CYA by a great deGrom year. Max has had years when he got a break, in '16 and '17 Kershaw had injuries that limited his CYA case. If Kershaw had come along a couple of years later, been "born later", then the overlap of their careers, with the Claw's amazing years when nobody was going to beat his numbers, then Max still might only have one or two CYAs, not three.

Scherzer had a fabulous year. DeGrom just had a better one. 

Dana White as the new Vince McMahon? Is this how the world ends?

Yes, that's the way to "bet."

They decided they didn't want to bring Dusty back. (Mistake) They decided who Rizzo can hold on to in the front office (not Miller). (Probably a mistake). It's clear that Boras is going to try to leverage the Nats to get Harper the best deal (that's obviously an agent's role) but clearly can hamstring the Nats offseason plans if otehr players sign fast after the dreadful past offseason. At what point do they get that they're not good at making baseball operation decisions and let the baseball men they hire handle the decisions?

I've been waiting for a dozen years. It certainly hasn't happened yet. In the end, nobody is going to make a decision that Ted doesn't agree with. This is the Lerner one big failing, as it is the failing of an AMAZING number of owners in every sport. But it is a very big failing. Look back to the beginning: Kasten has been one of the top operators in multiple sports, MLB, NBA, NHL, for the last 35+ years and he had a migraine every day he was here because he had to "manage up" every day while still being the bulldog biting anyone (especially in the media) who questioned the Lerners/Nats too harshly. Stan would get very worked up in some of his defenses of the family to the point where I once, on the phone in a press box, said, "Just tell me when you are finished (cussing) me, so I can start (cussing) you."

Kasten liked the Lerners, had a high opinion of them personally, but was driven absolutely nuts that they thought they Understood Baseball. Kasten didn't even believe his OWN baseball opinion. HE usually went with the views of his baseball people, just as he did with HOFer John Scheurholtz when he ran the Braves. If Stan Kasten, in the end, usually defers, or gives up the argument when his baseball people have a firm view, then why don't the Lerners (and many other ownerhips) GET IT?

You have to EARN the right to make important baseball (or NFL or NBA) decisions by having a career-long pattern of PROVING that you are good at it, probably for 15 or 30 years as you work your way up. Even this generation of young GMs have to show results, baseball results, not make-a-billion by building shopping malls results.

Rizzo functions much better with the Lerners than Kasten did, smaller ego, probably even higher personal opinion of the Lerner family. Also, he's a self-man man, underdog, son of a scout, all that stuff, and that helps him connect with Ted who sees himself as a school-of-hard-knock callouses-on-his-hands self-made billionaire. Something about that dynamic has allowed Rizzo, at long intervals, to draw a line with Ted, and the family, and take something close to a so-fire-me stand. I guess Ted knows, "OK! Mike is really serious this time! But don't try that get-hot and tell-me-what's-what gimmick too often." 

Sometimes, Rizzo just gets exhausted (imo) and says, in effect, I've made it clear that I think Bud Black should be our next manager, but Dusty's good, too. I'm not going to war over the difference between the two. Or, two years later, he made it clear he thought it was nuts to fire Baker. He saw the arguments against Dusty, but he also saw all the reasons you don't get rid of somebody who's won 192 games in two years, despite injuries, and come within a breath of two LCS, UNLESS you have a proven manager as an alternative. But, again, Rizzo wasn't going to go crazy over Baker. The expression "is this the hill you want to die on?" applies constantly to working for the Lerners.

One of the worst things that can happen to an owner is early success based on Joe-Jane Fan gut instinct decisions that WORK OUT GREAT. That happened to Angelos. His "baseball people" were wrong, he was right on a couple of early calls. It probably took him a decade to get over it.

Kasten kept telling the Lerners that after you accept a publicly financed ballpak that you owe it to the public to put a decent reprr4serntative team on the field by the first year ('08) that you play in that stadium. Which usually means Buy Two Quality Star Free Agents and make run at .500. Show good faith. The Lerners said nuts-to-that and lost 205 games in '08-'09. How'd that work out? They stumbled into Strasburg and Harper as the 1/1 picks in back-to-back years! The Lerners, those amazing Intuitive Baseball Geniuses! If the Mariners had lost ONE MORE game, they'd have gotten the Strasburg pick. So, it wasn't brilliance. It's not like the Nats PLANNED to lose 115 games both years and lock those picks. Thy could easily have been as bad as they were and ended up with No. 2  overall pick, which, if you look up those drafts, were Dustin Ackley ('09) and Jameson Taillon ('10), not bad players but not team-changers.       

So, the Lerners won a lot of games in '12-'17. That doesn't make you want to CHANGE the way you make decisions. You are involved. It's exciting to be involved, the adult grandchildren sometimes have views, too. You think, "WE'RE CLOSE!" So you keep putting your fingers in the pie.

Maybe THIS year will convince them. But I doubt it. Contracts for astronomical amounts go through the very rich people who own teams and ultimately sign off on the deal. So this will be decision heavily influenced, or actually decided by the Lerners with lots of opinions and data from the bseball people.

I hope the Nats don't have to go through a disaster like the Orioles did, starting in '98, before the owning family gets a more balanced view of how decisions should be made.

By "balanced," I mean that a good owner BALANCES the reality that he/she probably doesn't know what the hell is going on at a deep enough level to make major decisions against the reality that his/her baseball people MIGHT. 

If the nats were to resign Harper, would Adam Eaton be the best outfielder to trade away?

Yes.

The only one.

If you resign Harper, you MUST have a quality CFer for the future so that you can have a long-term OF of Soto in LF, Harper in RF and that CFer.

Harper is not a centerfielder. Not fast enough, average MLB speed. And not good enough, either. The defensive spots up the middle require a separate and special set of talents. You can teach a LOT of players how to be good LF, RF, 1st base and sometimes 3rd. But if you don't get great jumps, take great routes to the ball by the time you are 25 (in Harper's case) you never will. His (advanced) defensive metrics were awful this year, among the worst in MLB. I actually give Harper GREAT CREDIT for this. He knows how he grades out in CF vs RF, it's lousy vs OK. Boras knows. And every time he plays CF, he tends to hurt his WAR, his perceived value in the off-season marketplace and his PAYDAY. But it was good for the TEAM for Harper, not Eaton, coming off a major injury, to play CF on lots of days. And Bryce manned-up for it. He enjoys CF, too, not that he belongs out there.

If you sign Harper, it'd be Eaton you'd trade, sooner or later. Michael A. Taylor, love him, has had more chances than Earl Weaver's first wife. Nine pro seasons is enough to document that he can't hit, or he can't hit as a Nat. Maybe new scenery. (Just to avoid trouble, one of Earl's most famous lines, when asked why he was taking an aging, failing, former-star Mike Cuellar out of his Orioles rotation was, "I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than my first wife." 

So, you can go forward assuming/hoping that your OF is Soto/Robles/Harper with Taylor as 4th OF. Or, if Harper leaves, you can go Soto/Robles/Eaton w Taylor as 4th.

You CANNOT go Soto/Harper/Eaton. Soto is under control for six more years. Eaton through '21. You can't commit to Harper in CF for 400+ games.

Everybody says, "Put one of 'em at 1st base." Soto at 1st, maybe. With an OF of Eaton, Robles, Harper. That works. Except that you owe Zimmerman $18M in '19. Do you eat that? And go with a Plan A that Soto, Eaton, Robles, and Harper all play >140 games and Zim just keeps the bench from blowing away in a high wind? Conceivable. But that's not how teams usually think.

Boz, I know you're not a betting man, and neither am I, but based on what you've seen so far in the Division Series, what two teams do you think are best positioned to survive the LCS, and which team do you think will get the rings?

Houston's a fabulous team. Bullpens are great. Read Dave Sheinen's excellent analysis this a.m. But it' also great to have starters like Verlander and Cole.

I like the Brewers vibe. And I want to see Bob Uecker take sole possession of the entire World Series, which he might, if it's in Milwaukee.

So, I'd pick Astros-Brewers, a TV nightmare, and an Astros repeat. BTW, trying to pick the WS, even this deep into the playoffs, is still probably like a 10-to-1 shot. It's not EASY when you don't even KNOW the four final teams yet.

Boston's bullpen is not gonna make it. Yanks can hit HRs and have a great deep bullpen. But that lineup has far too many K's. There will be days when they crush your bones, but days when they get shut down. October may be in Stanton's head already. He's streaky. When he goes cold, it can be ugly.

I like the Braves, but the Dodgers are SO talented and deep. And Kershaw, often undependable in October, was wonderful in his no-run junk-balling 1st start. He's ticked off that there is no "ace" in front of his name anymore. Maybe that will get him out of his own head and free him up. Even at 90-91, as long as he commands his FB and lives on his great curve and good change, his funky delivery and charisma, he can still have a big Oct.

What I love most is that I thought about this before the chat and have already changed my mind twice while writing this answer. As I mentioned in my column on thrill-vs-fairness in the MLB playoffs, baseball has the most exciting format of any of the major sports. But the hardest to predict.

I do think that winning THREE series in Oct, 11 wins, tests a team's depth. Anybody can advance. But winning the World Series still prove a lot.

Tom: I think it's very interesting that MLB allows the televising networks to have the strike zone outline on the screen with the batter. They must know that with every pitch we see where the ball went and what was called and that there are going to be, probably with almost every batter, balls in and out of that box that were called incorrectly. If the technology exists, and it appears that it does, how far away are we from the home plate umpire simply being a mouthpiece for a call that has been determined by radar, whatever and he is simply responding to what is being communicated to his earpiece?

Can't come soon enough to suit me.

The TBS "box" is a great view/angle. You can see that a LOT of pitcher on playoff teams really do PAINT the corners, time after time. And these days, a 93-94 mph fastball, like Happ's, has to have great command to work.

Also, in these playoffs, it's been especially clear to me that the radar gun is almost a secondary tool in evaluating how well a pitcher's fastball "plays." So many can throw 95-98 (and more) that you have to look for other good qualities, movement, and command, but ALSO a funky delivery (Sale, Kershaw), a high-spin-rate FB that appears to rise, the "angle" that a pitcher achieves by working off the side of the rubber, plus, perhaps, throwing across his body. 

Everything goes into how a fastball "plays," not just speed. Sometimes I think its almost better to look at a pitcher as if you were facing him. You look at Josh Hader (LH reliever Brewers) and he looks unhittable, and the hitters react that way too, over-matched. His 95-97 is "playing" like 99-101.

I would love to know the physics on whether a fastball can really have "finish." If two pitchers both register 95 mph on the gun at the point where it's measured, is it possible for one of them to have a fastball that retains its speed better, "finishes" better, and is past the hitter? Spin-rate might be a factor. But some pitchers seem to be throwing "past" the catcher, or through him, and the hitter is just in the way, a negligible factor.  

Against all odds, it looks like the Skins are going to be the only team in the division without a losing record regardless of tonight's outcome. If they can hold the top spot for 3-4 more weeks, do you think there will be any difference in attendance at FedEx?

After the Texas OT win over the weaponless Dallas Cowboys last night Deion Sanders picked the Skins to win the NFC East! "I like their offense. I LOVE their defense. And you know Alex Smith will 'protect the game.' (Low turnovers.)"

"Who are the Skins receivers?" Sanders was asked sarcastically.

"I don't know (anybody's) name," said Deion, conceding he couldn't remember any Skin receiver's name off the top of his head, an obvious problem in a pass-crazy league.

Tonight is the first big test (for me, anyway) of the Skins defense that is 1st (!!!) in the NFL in points allowed per game (14.7). Aaron Rodgers was limping and 70% of himself when the Skins beat the Packers. Good win but, until validated, with an asterisk. (On Sunday Rodgers looked MUCH better and much more mobile.) They lost to Luck on a mediocre day. Brees, on the road, on national TV, in a game where Brees can set a BIG record (most career passing yards with 201 yds) is a huge test.

The Skins defense has been so bad for so long that I am still skeptical, based on only 3 games. What was the last year when the Skins ranked in the top HALF of the NFL in points allowed, just 16th or better? Hint, Jim Zorn was coach and Greg Blache was defensive coordinator! In '08 they were 6th.

Since then, 18, 21, 21, 22, 30, 29, 17, 19 and 27th last season. That is a tradition of stink-o. 

Do Jonathan Allen (having a big year with 7 QB hits, more than the next two highest Skins, and 2 sacks) snd Da'Ron Payne, together, help the D-line THAT much? The personnel hasn't changed that much, but it's healthier.

Questions: Will Brees pick on Swearinger, the make-a-big-play gambler? Will Brees pick on Josh Norman who has NOT been the playmaker the Skins thought they'd PAID for. Right now, it seems to me that Norman is more often the "find him and pick on him" pigeon who can't stop top receivers one-on-one anymore. It's hard. But that's his job. Can he do it any more? Receivers like Michael Thomas (42-445y-3 TD) and Alvin Kamara will be a test. 

This season shapes up as a big chance for the Skins. They saved themselves getting Smith. Cousins has been excellent, 1688 yds, a pace for 5,401 yards and another big game in upsetting the Eagles in Philly on Sunday, despite 3 missed FG attempts by the Vikes. (Cousins has lost 4 fumbles. His weakness.) But Smith has been comparable, though not asked to throw nearly as much. So they still have the offensive pieces, when healthy, to function well.

And the division is definitely vulnerable. Carson Wentz isn't back to pre-knee-injury '17 form, no matter what the stats say (99.6 QB rating). He's not as mobile, takes more sacks, can be pressured, isn't quite as accurate and the whole offense just isn't smooth. And the Eagles defense has caved at big moments. Are they a 9-7 team? Probably. But so are the Skins. Which has a better chance to get it together and go 10-6? Well, it helps to be the Skins (2-1), not the Eagles (2-3).

Dallas has Zeke Elliott on offense and little else. I've watched three Cowboys games and Dak Prescott has regressed. Fewer tools around him or the league has him figured out better. Dallas coach Garrett didn't trust him to go for 4th and one ("it was a long yard") in OT on Sunday night at the Houston 42 and punted. Texans came right down for the winning FG. Justr a mediocre team. Are the Skins better thsan that? If they stay semi-healthy, I think so. Will they? Worries me. Once injured in that league you tend to get injured again, Trent Williams has already been hobbling and it's very early in the season.

The Giants had the Panthers BEATEN, 31-30, behind a fine day for Eli until Graham Gano made that 63-yard FG in the last seconds for a 33-31 win. Ev4rybody SHOULD be saying that the lousy Giants almost won on the road against Cam, so how bad can they be?

Instead, everybody is saying that "Odell is acting like a fool." Talk about a one-man Fifth Column. His mouth, and that $65M guaranteed contract, should be worth 2 or 3 loses just on that alone. He's not going to shut up because, whether it's the sun rising or the moon setting, Odell knows that it's actually All About Him. What happened to "the Giants culture?" Class, teamwork? Looks like that's gone.      

This seldom happens to the Skins, an Open Door opportunity. Even if they can't upset the 3-1 Saints in New Orleans they are still going to have a lot of chances to make this an interesting, winning, season.

Whether the Saints score ~20 or ~40 tonight is a big deal in anticipating the Skins season. Of course, this year, week to week, there seems to be no such thing as "form." Also, the running games in the NFL are so pathetic this year that even a pretty good season from Adrian Peterson could give the Skins a weapon that few others have.

Big game tonight, not for determining the W-L outcome of the season, but for getting a grasp on how much the Skins have improved or haven't, especially on defense.

 

 

What odds do you give DC Utd to clinch that final playoff spot in the East?

Only two points behind with two games in hand. On a 6-0 streak! And an amazing (unexpected) showing from Wayne Rooney who has six goals and four assists in those six games. This was supposedly a payday for Rooney after his days as a premiere star were over and a boost for United crowds. Instead, he's going crazy!

SIX goals and FOUR assist in 6 games, in soccer? "He is chipping in," said playful United coach Ben Olsen, who has been in Washington longer than the Smithsonian.

Seriously, Olsen started at UVA in '95 and has barely left this area since. He may have more local tenure, as player, coach, whatever, than any three or four other local sports figures combined in that period. Well, except Ernie Grunfeld who's now in his 300th season as GM. 

Audi Field, the place to be in D.C. in October, not Nats Park, 300 yards away. You never know.

Does 8-8 win the NFC (L)East this year?

Am I bid 7-8-1?

Going once, going...

What's the verdict here? Everyone talked him up as the best corner in the league when he arrived and he clearly has not lived up to those expectations. Where is he now in terms of ability? Was Casserly correct in what he said?

Casserly, who's very sharp on things like analyzing defensive technique, he's a scouting background guy, say last week that Norman was "the third best corner on the Skin" after Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau.

I wouldn't be surprised if Dunbar is now as good or better. That would be a great development for the Skins. But if Moreau is better TOO, that's not good because more teams will do what Casserly suggested, target Norman.

Norman is a big ego, big play guy, or was in Charlotte. So, you'd think if he's still got it, he'd show up tonight and have a good game facing a great QB like Brees. How will be used? How much help will he get, need? One of the good sub-plots.

Your thoughts on the firings of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette? Does Baltimore have a plausible path back to respectability? It looks like they're Brady Anderson's team now.

Brady has always been one of my favorite people in baseball. Very smart. High baseball IQ. Incredible energy. Outside the box thinker. And he tells great stories. But life will be rough in the Orioles world for quite a while. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But Brady probably loves the SIZE of the challenge and the glory of the potential payoff, way down the road.

What Buck and Dan pulled off in OPACY after 14 years in the underworld was remarkable. I'm glad they have escaped with (most of) their dignity as well as, probably, futures in the baseball world. Baseball sometimes "forgets" or misidentifies sharp people. Both Buck and Dan got their full stature restored in Baltimore.

Within two or three years we'll have a sense of whether all the players that Duquette acquired in this summer's sell-off will have the same semi-miraculous impact as of the players Duquette assembled in Boston before being fired in '01. Those players had a lot to do with the Red Sox world title in '04. Right now, I don't think the O's got much of a summer haul. And it could be a long time before the ship gets righted, if it ever does, under the Angelos regime. But few (except Baltimore columnist Peter Schmuck) spotted what Duquette had done for the Bosox when he was fired in '01. 

Will Buck appear next on TV, where he's excellent and can probably cruise brilliantly, and amusingly for years? I'd probably prefer that because I enjoy hearing his thoughts so much. He could tie a nice dignified bow around 20 years as a manager (.506). But I doubt that's what he'll do. His O's record is very deceptive (.494 in 9 yrs). There was a five-year period when the O's won more games than any team in the A.L. What!!!? That was Buck.

Yet he's never won a World Series, never won a pennant and has never even won a game, one game, beyond the one division series that he won in Baltimore. In a different way than Dusty Baker, I think that's he'll want one more shot, with a contending team. To show how far he can go. Dusty wanted a WS win as a manager, to go with his ring as a player, to be the first African-American manager in the HOF. I think Buck, 62, might take a year off, get sane again after dealing with a 115-loss season and take one last run at trying to prove he can Win Something. And next time, he won't leave his Zach Britton in the bullpen. (It's cheap shots like that that will bring him back.) 

He's not quite as good as I thought he was gonna be....were my expectations too high? Or is he underachieving?

There's another alternative. (You could be wrong.)

The average HOF 3rd baseman has a career WAR of 68.4. Manny's career WAR is already about HALF of that, 33.8. Manny is 25.

I think Manny's a pretty good SS, but a fabulous 3rd baseman. Other than his preference for SS, I can't find much wrong with him. Oh, and he missed ELEVEN games in the last four years combined! He missed perfect attendance.

I usually agree with your columns (and I do on sports betting), but not your recent column on the MLB playoff format. In a game where pitching is key, a one-game playoff is simply unfair. In other sports (football, hockey, basketball), you have basically the same team every game (unless you choose not to). In baseball, you have a pitching rotation. If baseball spends 162 games deciding the playoff standings (with each team playing one another a minimum of 3 times), how is a one-game playoff fair? Plus, we have the problem of the season starting too early and ending too late (games in March?--note the number of rainouts, etc.). To me the solution is not difficult: either reduce the number of games played within the division from 18 to 12 (thus creating a 138-game season) or reduce the number of interleague games from the current 30 to 12 (producing a total of 144 games). Then make the wildcard a series of a best 3 out of 5 (instead of just one game) and the first division series a best 4 out of 7 (instead of a current 3 out of 5). Yes, there would be a revenue dropoff during the regular season, but there would be more revenue-rich playoff games. And one can begin the season at least a week later, with its end a week earlier than at present. I think the post-season drama quotient will be nearly the same, and the fairness quotient far better than the current system. What do you think?

I get your point totally about "one-game" playoffs. The whole concept was to PUNISH the wildcards, knock out 50% of them in one day and tire out their pitching, so winning the division became a great prize and worthy of a season-long pennant race that every player TRULY wanted to win. 

The benefit of the Totally Unfair WC/WC game is that there were excellent season-long races in the NL West and Central with a LOT at stake, escaping the horrid WC/WC format!

So, it's the silliness of One Game to stay alive that, potentially, invigorates entire seasons for multiple teams who all want to make the playoffs but not be wildcards, even though WCs have gone to or won the WS. 

In a sense, the worse, the more unfair, the more infuriating the WC/WC game, the BETTER it is at achieving its goals. So, I mostly like it. To teams that don't like it: win more games.

On your other point, you are looking for good improvements. But there is a stumbling block: There will NEVER be fewer than 154 games in a season because it would destroy most of the historical norms for statistical achievement. Which would drive half of the most devoted fans totally nuts. So, when reworking a better schedule (and one is needed, imo) start there, gotta have 154 or more games.  

With apologies to Walter Johnson, Ovi will most likely end up as the greatest dc athlete of all time when he finally hangs up his skates. While, I don't think he ever catches Gretzky, the man single handedly (okay not really, but almost) made D.C. a hockey town. Obviously emotions are still high after the cup win, but the Caps are the best ticket in town, wayyyyy above the 'skins (if the "town" includes an hour commute and another 45 minute walk to your seat). Alexander Ovechkin = Greatest D.C. Athlete Ever 2 questions; 1. Am I wrong? 2. Can Harper ever get there?

Very good case. Johnson was greater within baseball than Ovi is within hockey, great as #8 is. On the day in '33 when he was put into the HOF as one of the Original Five, Johnson DEFINED "great pitcher" for the first ~65 years of MLB. And Johnson pitched for the Senators for 21 years, went to two WS and won the '24 WS, and was the winning pitcher in Game Seven.

But you are right that Ovechkin, more than anyone else, has made D.C. a Hockey Town. The best sports experience in D.C. is certainly at a Caps game. Fans are passionate, knowledgeable, loud, have an identity (Rock The Red), have a 45-year history in D.C., have suffered as much, or more within one lifetime's worth of years, as any fan base in any sport anywhere. Now, with a Cup, it's a big-time package. Without the Cup, the whole thing was spooky and semi-cursed. Now that's gone. Skins have tradition, but, at the moment, still nothing that matters in 20+ years and one of the worst owners in sports. Nats have wins, but inherit the Caps burden of frustrations. They are, as yet, just a fraction of the Caps. But, after the last 7 years, the Nats are certainly one of the Frustration Franchises. Wiz: Well, if you don't win something every 40 years or so, especially if you don't even remotely threaten to get to a Finals for 40 years, you sort of fade back into the woodwork.

Ovechkin's stature, as you rightly say, is part hockey greatness already, part possibilities for the future if he has a long career and, finally, that HE changed hockey in Washington. There's a very good chance that his gap-toothed grin, and photos with the Cup, will STILL be the image of Caps hockey in 50 years.

That's kind of amazing when you say it.    

That went over my head. Can you please explain what that means. I remember Earl, but not his wife. It kind of sounds like you're saying she was lucky to have him? Or do you mean "more chances than Earl Weaver's first wife gave Earl?" I imagine he wasn't easy to live with.

I explained that IN THE ANSWER.

Excuse me, time to stop now and go beat my head on the wall.

Just kidding. See everybody next Monday. By then, we will not only know more about the Skins season, we may even have our arms around it. Cheers!

Given the success many teams are currently having by using (very) young quarterbacks and spending money on weapons at other positions, did Washington miss the trend by trading for (and re-signing) Alex Smith, no matter how good he is this year?

That was the gamble. I think they felt "hurt" or embarrassed by Kirk Cousins leaving and wanted to "show him" or show everybody that We Don't Need Kirk.

It was stunning, to me, that they could land Smith. But it's a Credibility Now move. Not an attempt at a franchise transformation draft of a young QB.

Tom - I travel in my car for work nonstop and the only thing that gets me through it are the various podcasts that are out there, mostly sports related. Seeing how much you appear to enjoy doing this chat, can a Bozcast be far behind?

Thanks very much. But for the last year or so I usually listen to "Little Stephen's Underground Garage" on Sirius when I am in my car. There is no podcast or sports talk radio show that can compete, at least not currently. I may tire of it. But not yet. Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats drummer) does a nice DJ job with his Rockabilly Rave Up on Sunday night. My wife and I were listening to Drew Carey's Friday Night Freak Out when Carey broke in after a set that included "God Save The Queen" and started by yelling, "I LOVE the Sex Pistols." My wife said, "But it's not THAT Drew Carey." I said, "Sure it is, 'Price Is Right' and stand up comic." I'm afraid my wife is not a fan of Sid Vicious. I'm not either except that his death from an overdose might have inspired Debbie Harry to write "Rip Her To Shreds." Today quiz: What Academy Award winning actor, who has also played Winston Churchill, played Sid Vicious in the bio-pic "Sid and Nancy." Too easy: Gary Oldham, a.k.a. Sirius Black.)

Hi Boz, When I look at the braves top 100 prospects and the fact the Braves have alot of pitchers on that list vs the nats have only 3 positions players, why should I be optimistic about the nats over the next five years vs the braves. Good young pitching talent is the best currency in the game imho. In your opinion, how would you grade the nats pitching young pipeline, especially starters. 2) How much time would be saved if MLB just went to pitch track to call balls and strikes, and eventually a 30 second pitch clock. (Perfect for DVR watching) Thanks for your insights in advance.

 

The Braves are going to be a big problem for the Nats for a long time for exactly that reason: young pitching.

In the last 5 years, when they had a chance to "go for it" if they traded young pitchers, the Nats did it __correctly, I think. But the price was high and they never "won it." They're found, drafted and developed, but traded: Robbie Ray (2 216-K seasons and an All-Star), Blake Treinen (38 SV) and Felipe (Rivero) Vasquez (37 SV), both '18 All-Stars, Reynaldo Lopez (3.1 WAR w White Sox in '18), as well as prospects that may turn out well, like Dane Dunning (the 3rd peice in the Eaton trade), Jesus Luzardo (the big sweetener in the Doolittle Deal), Taylor Hearn (6-5, LHer, throws 100), Nick Pivetta (half-decent with Phils). And Lucas Giolito (wild, bad '18). 

Among others, they got back more experience and go-for-it-ready pitchers like Doug Fister, Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Mark Melancon, Papelbon. If they'd even gone to a WS, we'd all say "how smart." But they didn't. All the old guys are gone, except Doolittle, but the young guys may still keep coming to haunt the Nats/Rizzo for years. That's how it goes. Nats KNEW, evn if their fans didn't, that they had to give up quality prospects to get proven vets.

That's why the Nats now face a big risk this winter in free agency. There is an ENORMOUS cast of maybe-good, pretty good and very good starting pitchers lined up around the block. There are so many you're going to have your choice. It's going to be like "Pick one from Column A and One from Column B. BUT none of them are young (obviously) and plenty have red flags or worries. BUT you could sign a couple of these guys to two or three-year contract and in '19-'20-'21, when Max and Strasburg are both under contract, look very smart for prying your window back "wide open" again.\

The quality lefties to replace Gio: Patrick Corbin (CYA contention), Dallas Keuchel (past CYA winner) and Hyan-Jin Ryu, 32, who was fabulous in 15 starts (1.97 ERA) for the Dodgers this year and looked like a master in the Game One shutout of the Braves.

Other good ones, maybe: J.A. Happ (17 wins, 3.65) and Nathan Eovaldi (one of hardest throwers in MLB) who have gotten playoff starts.  Charlie Morton, great stuff, hero of '17 WS, but 35. Cases can be made, especially as a 5th starter, for Anibal Sanchez, Tyson Ross (4.15 149 IP), old workhorse James Shields. Clay Buchholtz was wonderful (17 starts, 2.01 ERA in Ariz) but his elbow is problematic. Gio will end up somewhere. And Jeremy Hellickson, while limited, may be useful again.

That is a LOT for one free agent class, especially when the bigger names that Harper, Manny, Kimbrel, Donaldson and others ill suck off so much of the cash.

Do the Nats rebuild with older pieces? Feels like a Ynakee move. But that may be their best alternative. You don't get to make everybody happy by "going for it," as the Nats did year after year, and get to keep your young arms, too.

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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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