Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 01, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Good morning everybody!

Let's have a nice, calm (totally insane) chat today about one of those great sports weekends when you say, "Did all that really happen in the last few days!??"

For DC fans, the biggest news may be that the Capitals played perhaps their best game of the season to beat the (mighty) Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3. After 3 games in 15 days, there's a theme. The Caps were more physically dominant game-to-game until they really controlled the Bolts in the third game. Why does this matter? If you can't beat TB, you can't defend the Stanley Cup. Now, it looks like the Caps may be one team that CAN (maybe) match up with them in a long series. The Caps post-season was always going to be exciting. Now even more so.

Nats bullpen is in flames. How do you fix it? OTOH, several Nats are off to torrid starts. Few teams ever have THREE five-tool players at the same time. The Nats may in Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and red-hot Victor Robles.

It's a stunner when both Kentucky and Duke loss back-to-back in the elite 8! I'm never a fan of 1-and-done schools. I never thought I'd put Coach K and Calipari in the same sentence. It was fitting that Michigan State beat Duke with a key play from a fifth-year walk-on while Duke's super freshmen didn't look like The Finished Product by a long shot in close games. Zion is fabulous. But...

BTW, if you watched both of Tiger's matches in Austin on Saturday --he lost on the 18th hole of his second match-- it looks clear that his whole game is shaping up VERY well for the Masters. I expect to see him right on the lead on Sunday in Augusta. Can he FINISH in a major? Lotta pressure. I think we'll get to find out.

So, let's get going!!

Based on your knowledge of the Lerners, if Rizzo went to them today and said he was no longer as confident in the bullpen as he thought and in a stacked NL East, Kimbrel is the difference between making the playoffs or not, would they okay the money?

The Lerners know all the issues without being told. They need Kimbrel. But Kimbrel may be asking for an unrealistic contract. The "right deal" in my opinion --and I hope, no matter where he goes, Kimbrel understands it, is some variation of the Mark Melanson deal two years ago --something like four years for $64M. The Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman deal from that winter --$80-to-$85M for five or six years-- are now part of MLB history. Kimbrel had a poor second half and a really scary-bad October. He needs to understand that the market has changed. 

The Nats should not go crazy to get him. But they should be aggressive, stop worrying about the luxury tax ceiling --which won't impact them much on such a deal-- and stop obsessing about losing picks and international money as compensation. Yes, it is a tough call. And Kimbrel may not be ready to pitch in a game until ~May 1. But the Nats have a very good team in a very winnable NL this season. Lots of very good teams, including Phils. But nobody they can't go toe-to-toe with --if they had Kimbrel. It's a gamble. But when you have Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Sanchez all healthy in your rotation it's no time to pass up an important, if risky move. JMHO.

PS: Everybody in the Nats organization, from players to front office, has been almost on one knee begging for the Lerners to do this for at least 3 weeks. Maybe much longer.

If Bryce just really excited to be a Phillie and not considering that a lot of his comments could be interpreted as shots at his former team, or does he know exactly what he’s doing?

When it comes to himself, Bryce always knows what he is doing.

And you can be sure that he and Boras will weave the most flattering interpretation of off-season events as they try to rewrite the history of how he signed for $25.4M-a-year, not $35-to-$40M-a-year, and how he only had one appealing long-term offer. I still think one of the BEST breaks any player has gotten is that Harper had the option to go to Philadelphia. What if it has been The Padres Or Nothing. Or the Giants Or Nothing. He landed on a really good team --better now with him-- and in a town that loves and understands baseball. Philly fans may be tough. But they can fall in love with you, too. As Bryce knows. He already has a new bow-plus-salute ritual he goes through to say "Hello" to his fans in RF in Philly. (I doubt that he can work out a different salutation for each individual Phils fan --but I wouldn't put it past him to try!)

I've never seen an athlete spend more time on drawing attention to himself. Maybe it's just more obvious when he's on a different team. His green shoes practically glowed in his first Phillies game. Completely stood out from any of his teammates. And after his second homer in two games on Sunday, he had a different home-run celebration "handshake" --or ritual-- with each teammate as he went through the dugout. That takes practice! But Bryce wants baseball to be as cool as the NBA and NFL, even if he has to carry that whole load himself. I never know quite what to make of that. Where would MLB be without the incredible showmanship of Babe Ruth? And plenty of others since then --Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose. It's part of the tradition of the game. But I wonder why Rhys Hoskins thinks --really thinks. Two pitches after Harper's HR celebration, he got thrown at for the 3rd time in that Braves series. The Atlanta pitcher (Carle) was ejected.

The Braves have always had a bone stuck in their throat about Bryce. Was it because he stepped on their logo behind home plate in Atlanta once --or some such foolishness? IMO, the Braves retaliate against Harper's team, or him, after they think he's broken some "unwritten rule." Then, as they did Sunday, they just say, "That pitch slipped." I think it's usually intentional. The Braves retaliation for colorful play bothers me a lot more than Harper having a dozen different homer handshakes.    

Hi Tom - I realize you hate all things yankees, but I love what they're doing with weekday games in April, May, June and September - starting at 6:35pm instead of 7:05 starts. This is so family and kid friendly, and frankly as someone with a job, it's nice that the game will likely end in the 9pm hour rather than the 10. I wish the Nats would do this as well, and frankly, I wish all games the entire season would begin at 6:35pm. What are your thoughts?

I like 7:05 starts just fine. You're going to be out of the park between 9:45 and 10:30 a huge majority of the time. How early do folks need to be home to go to work the next day? You are right that it is "kid friendly" since you could go from 6:35 to 9 and go home early. Of course, then you have to convince a kid to leave an MLB game EARLY! I hate to think of my parents trying to do that with me in a 2-2 game in the eighth!

But, generally speaking, I don't feel the need for more "twilight" in a night game. 

If the Yankees want to do something helpful, they should admit that the NEW Yankee Stadium is a design disaster with RF now playing FAR too close, making it the biggest joke HR park in MLB. Rip out seats from the RF foul pole to right-center field during an off-season and move all of the Ruth Porch seats back by 15 feet so you have a legit stadium.

Just to be clear, many of my favorite people in MLB have been Yankee players --maybe more than any other team during the time I've covered MLB.

But, as a generality, I stand solidly with the 90%+ of right-thinking fans (who were not born in NYC or did not inherit a family love of pinstripes) and believe that Hating The Yankees is our inalienable right.

We're having a great time so far. Love, Philly.

You just got this generation's Reggie Jackson, so enjoy him!

The Nats knew what they were losing --one of the 10 best hitters in baseball. And, factoring in his fielding, base-running and durability, still one of the 15-to-20 best players in baseball. If the Nats had developed just two really good young starting pitchers in recent years --so that they didn't HAVE to have Patrick Corbin-- then the Nats-Bryce Dance might have worked out differently. Maybe not. We'll never know. But with the farm system producing zilch in SP, but generating both Juan Soto and Victor Robles as likely future stars, it was pretty obvious the Nats could only make a team-friendly offer to Harper and hope he loved 'em enough to negotiate off it and get re-signed before free agency began. Because they HAD to "move on" FAST and spend big to fix their roster. They couldn't wait for ~120 days --and that's what it turned out to be -- for Bryce to make a final decision and even THEN maybe NOT pick the Nats.  

Did you notice the gratuitous shot at DC sports last night? What the hell was that about?

You mean A-Cheat?

I don't want to read too much into three games, but are you concerned about his 7 strikeouts this weekend? Yes, the Mets have a potent staff, but several came against the bullpen, including some pretty big spots. He looked pretty frustrated at the umpire yesterday. Meanwhile, Robles looks as good as advertised. I just hope he can stay healthy.

You can never evaluate a player until you see him at his hottest, at his coldest and in the middle, too. We never saw Soto in a slump last year. And in Florida, he was as hot as anybody, including a couple of tape-measure homers.

But he's in his first slump now. He's jumping at the ball, not picking it up quickly --late on the fastball and still too early on the junk. That's when you're REALLY messed up. He's had some real ugly kill-a-snake swings. He needs to back off a bit, take his walks, go to LF.

Here's what matters --how long does the slump last? And if his "slump" is 3-for-12 with a walk that's good. Last year there was a moment when I thought he looked tired, his timing off and I thought he'd fade some late in the season. Then he fixed himself and started ripping everybody up again. A remarkably quick "adjustment" both in his swing and in recognition of how he was being pitched. 

This is not a time to worry. It's a time to observe! How he handles dry spells, and how well he milks his hot streaks, are two of the big keys to how good he'll be his whole career.

OTOH, Robles seems to be seeing the ball so well, and waiting for long to pull the trigger, that he's both selective and crushing the ball, too. We're seeing him HOT. That's nice. We'll also see him "cold" and "medium." Then we can put it all together. But it is really nice FOR HIM that he got off to a good start.

He still needs quite a bit of polish in CF. He seems more advanced as a hitter than as a fielder right now. That's what you'd prefer because he WILL be a fine fielder. You CAN project the glove-arm-speed on defense. You can't always project hitting tools into hitting production.

He said Philly is a sports town and DC is not - too focused on politics. C'mon that's not a reach. Fans still don't know when to cheer at Nats games.

You're not going to find many better NFL or NHL crowds than those in DC. And the Wiz still have fans after 40 years in the wilderness.

So, generalities about DC as a "sports town" that ignore how long it took Snyder to drive away his fans, and listen to how smart and intense Caps fans are automatically invalid.

Nats fans get more baseball savvy every year. It's now a smart bunch. But I will say that, in regular season, Nats crowds are just a bit too polite for my tastes. In the playoffs, they go as nuts as anybody. Maybe Harper's visits will start to change that!

Hi Tom thank you for the chats! Can you explain why the market seems to treat relievers differently than everybody else? They seem to sign for short contracts, turn over quickly, and everybody (especially the Nats) seems to turn over almost their entire relief bullpen every year.

Part of this is due to the analytics movement which just doesn't find value --in the sense of Wins Above Replacement-- in relievers.

Look at a reliever who pitches (for example) 66 2/3 innings, allowing 60 hits, 20 walks and fanning 60.  He only gets 200 outs a season -- one-third of what a 200-inning starter provides. And he's facing fewer than 300 batters --while everyday players might get 600-to-700 plate appearances.

One of the few modern stats which give significant value to star relievers is Win Probability Added which focuses on high-leverage situations where a team's percentage chances of winning or losing may change dramatically in one or two key at bats. I wonder if the Nats give enough weight to this stat or develop their own. 

No reliever appears in any of the Top 10 lists for '18 at baseball-reference, except WPA. But who was No. 1 in WPA --with a value of 6.4 additional wins? Ex-Nat Blake Treinen! He got the A's out of a lot of tight spots in late-and-close games.

Also in the top 8 in WPA were monster closer Edwin Diaz, now with the Mets, and Jeffries of the Brewers.

The second issue with giving relievers a lot of value is the old-as-the-hills bromide that you can "turn anybody into a reliever" as long as they have two good pitches and guts. I heard this 40+ years ago and still hear versions of it. Hey, just convert 2 or 3 of your not-quite-good-enough starting pitching prospects into relievers --like Tyler Clippard or....Mariano Rivera.

Finally, top relievers get burned up because they are used so often and so UNPREDICTABLY. You might be needed three days in a row, or four out of five, but then not pitch for five days. That's tough on any arm. So the shelf life of a reliever is assumed to be shorter.

Yet in this decade it's hard to name a team that got to the World Series that did not have a very-good-to-great bullpen. 

The Nats have had some good pens, but they focus resources on starting pitchers and often, if they need to, they add a reliever at the trade deadline from a team that has dropped out of its race, like Papelbon and Melancon.

You can't pour resources into everything. But I do think that the Nats have a mediocre (at best) record of developing relievers or keeping them long enough. If the Nats had kept Treinen and Felipe Vazquez (then Rivero) they might have the best 1-2 punch at the back of any NL team. In his last 144 games with the Pirates Vazquez, 27, has a 2.16 ERA and saved 37 games last year. (No, you wouldn't have Doolittle, who was in the Treinen trade.)

 

Any chance that Davey Martinez is on the hot seat already or does Rizzo give him the whole season to figure this out given there are so many new faces in the clubhouse?

If any of my answers today sound like I am "bellyaching," that's because I am! Pro sports clubhouses are just about the perfect place to pick up germs and nasty bugs. Generally, I seem immune because I'm in so many of them so often that I must build up resistance. But something "got me" since yesterday. So, I'll try to be a little (too) charitable or compensate for a grumpy stomach.

Sunday's game and Davey's managing weren't as bad as it looked to me at the time. I went back and watched on replay. Martinez certainly managed like it was September-in-March. You never want a whiff of desperation in the air in the THIRD game of the season, like asking your closer to get a five-out save, something Doolittle has almost never done in his career.

But the Mets also had four of the luckiest jam-shot flare hits over the infield that you will ever see in one inning in their three-run 8th inning. Give them credit for "getting the label on the ball." They sure didn't get the barrel on it on the two singles off Sipp, the single off Rosenthal (on a perfect pitch, a 96 mph fastball on Rosario's hands, a pitcher's pitch) and the Ramos gork off Doolittle.

OTOH, Martinez showed little confidence in Barraclough who was, supposedly, acquired to pitch the 7th inning. He sat while Justin Miller had a 1-2-3 7th. Martinez was quick to get Sipp --though after talking to Tony after the game it's clear that he's still building up the strength in his shoulder to have his best fastball. But the result of by-passing Barraclough, who would have pitched the 10th, hooking Sipp as soon as he was due to face the tying run, and grabbing Rosenthal after ONE pitch --yikes!-- was a sense of panic, whether it was intended or not. Doolittle called it "pushing all our chips into the center of the table." In Game Three of the season?

Martinez has almost a dozen new faces to mold into a team and was given a very shaky bullpen with one guy needing to be babied because he's coming back from TJ (Rosenthal), another needing to be babied because he only signed and got to camp 18 days ago (Sipp) and a third who's really a starter (Hellickson). Add to that Barraclough's unimpressive spring training and Wander Suero throwing 31 pitches on Saturday.

I sympathize (some) with this one.

Martinez always stands the whole game. So, for all we know, his seat may already be too hot to sit in. 

Seriously, you have to have some patience. You can't run a franchise like it's an asylum for the terminally impatient.

One note on Martinez as Nats manager. You can thank the Lerner family for him. After '17, everybody in MLB knows that Rizzo wanted to bring back Dusty Baker. And everybody knows that his first choice for a new manager, once the Lerner's insisted of not bringing Dusty back, was Bud Black, who is now doing well in Colorado.

The Lerners completely screwed up any "negotiations" with Black by low-balling him so badly that it constituted an insult to a lifelong pro. His reaction was: The hell with this. Rizzo DID have Martinez as his NEXT choice. So he did endorse him as a qualified manager. But it was also his third choice.     

 

Do you think that, despite being the only top seed left Virginia is also the feel good story among the Final Four?

From first-round elimination last year to champion this year would be a great story. Be fine with me!

Can we get lucky two years in a row? It sure seems like the Caps are bringing it just in time for the playoffs

I think you've got it exactly right. I've watched every minute of the three meetings with the Lightning and the more they play each other the more confident the Caps become. The Caps set a franchise record 58 shots on goal in their OT loss in the 2nd game, but they got the better of the play. In the third game, Tom Wilson and Bruce Orpik (I can't believe I'm praising this --but it IS NHL hockey) both won their fights --Wilson by KO over "Drago." After the serious injury to Kempney in a pile-up-and-fight in the second meeting, there was definitely a mood of payback.

After the game, Ovechkin said, "They have a solid group of guys. They know how to play. We just want to show them who the Stanley Cup champion is. And I think we did it tonight....We have to set the tone and show them we can do it again."

The NEW CAPS indeed!

Davey Martinez has already exhibited weaknesses (not PH for Scherzer so he could get a win, and getting up relievers and then not using them or overusing them), but my biggest gripe is every time he speaks it's sunshine and rainbows. Don't you think the team could use some tough love every now and then?

Man, you folks are tough. It sure doesn't take long to go from Hump Day to Dump Day.

I know that things are never as bad as they seem, nor as good as they seem, so the outlook is probably not as dour as it seems in Nats-land right now. But is this going to be THAT kind of a season for the Phillies? And does what happened this weekend change the Nats' prospects? That lineup up in Philly looked daunting the past few games, and the Nats didn't exactly remind anyone of the 1927 Yankees. Have your expectations changed since they started playing games that matter?

 

The Nats have one issue --bullpen. Also, you don't fix all of a team's flaws in fundamentals just because you focus on them for six weeks in Florida. That is a full-season project. This rocky starts just underlines to the Nats that they REALLY DO have to shape up in this area.

Otherwise, there was a lot to like. Mac, Stras and Corbin all looked solid. Eaton brings a special energy --like going 1st to 3rd on a walk on Sunday. I've been waiting to see if Trea Turner, who is a BIG talent, would put together a stellar season at the plate. He can be a .300 hitter with 20 homers and 40 steals. Will he? Maybe we find out "Yes" this year. Also, Robles certainly looks like a major talent and, eventually, a leader, too.  

It's only April 1. Let's come back to this on May 1st. My guess is that the Nats, if the bullpen allows it, will be looking like a fine team and a contender. But bullpens in spring are like nitro --handle with care.

Do you know of any statistics that correlate the success of opening week with the success of the overall season? I'm looking for calming stats here to keep the first series in context to the whole season. I know this felt like the same issues as years past, but I'm really hoping it's just opening season jitters.

In my early years on the O's beat with Earl Weaver, I always over-interpreted the results of the first 2 or 3 weeks. Once, when they were 3-8, I "concluded" that they were in a lot of trouble. Earl smacked me around and shaped me up. WAIT! That was the '79 team that went 102-57 and went to Game Seven of the World Series.

One series is hardly enough to draw any solid conclusions, but the contrasts between the Nats and Phils in their opening series couldn't be starker. The Phils took it to the reigning NL East Champs with a spring in their step, confidence, fun, and camaraderie. OTOH, the Nats looked like they were wound tight and on edge. While the Nats moves on paper look great, are they at risk of succumbing to pressure to deliver? As you stated in an earlier column, the first few weeks are an NL East pressure cooker for the Nats. This next series may establish the pecking order for the season. I'm excited to see whether the Nats can take a deep breath, settle down, and get back to the business of playing like they expect they can.

The Phils look loose and happy. The Nats look tight and worried. There's no denying it.

But that is in the first series of the year.

Like you, I'm as fascinated as possible to be by a two-game series on April 2 and 3.

Let's see if we can draw a 13-year conclusion from it!

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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