Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Apr 16, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

WHAT A WEEKEND!?

I've covered the last 42 Masters and Tiger Woods victory is the greatest I've seen, topping Jack Nicklaus amazing win in '86 when he went 7-under-par on the last 10 holes at age 46. 

Ask your questions, but also, if you want, give your thoughts. This has always been "our" chat. 

Of course, I talk more, but your input really is fuel for the chat and valuable to me, too. 

What about Alex (K-O) Vechkin last night! No, I don't like fights. Yes, I'm always in favor of tougher rules to stop it. But that was a fair fight. The kid was game for it, certainly appeared (on slow motion) to ask for it. Man, did he get it. 

Pens and Bolts BOTH down 0-3 in their first-round series!! Wow, have the Caps PASSED ON their Playoff Curse to the teams that seem most likely to block their path to a repeat! 

The Nats bullpen's ERA is 7.75. There have been TINY signs of improvement, but not nearly enough. The Nats season is DOOMED unless they do one of two things. 1) Stop being gutless. You got Trevor Rosenthal to be your setup man and pitch the 8th. Give him the ball the next DOZEN times that his role is needed. If that costs you some games, that's life. 

You can't abandon Plan A when, aside from signing Kimbrel, there's really no Plan B. 2) Trade for a setup man. Not Carter Kieboom. But every farm system has prospects. Got to get this fixed. I'm sure you folks will think of lots of other fine questions! 

Lets go!

All these younger guys who grew up saying they watched Tiger and wouldn't be intimidated by him sure failed to back that up when they had to go head to head with him. Molinari, who hadn't had a Bogey in years, suddenly looked like Charles Barkley dunking balls into the water. Do you think there is a sense of "uh oh he's back" from some of these younger players?

I understand your question. And perhaps Tiger did get in their heads a little. But not much.

This is not an answer to your question, but a general observation: There is a peculiar idea afoot that the "field" choked on Sunday. A few facts, please. It was just the opposite. Except for Molinari, everybody charged.

The three who tied for 2nd, a shot behind: Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings (68), Brooks Koepka, No. 3 (70), Xander Schauffele, No. 9 (68).

In the next group two shots back: Jason Day, No. 13 (67), Webb Simpson No. 20 (70).

Three shots behind --these guys all had chances at one point or another: John Rahm No. 11 (68), Ricky Fowler No. 10 (69), Patrick Cantley No. 18 (68).

And four behind: Justin Thomas No. 5 ((70).

Come on, if Tiger had needed to par the 18th, he would have --for 69!

Who else do we want him to beat, the ghost of Bobby Jones? 

The reason people think the field choked is because three players went into the water at No. 12 just before Woods hit there. And a couple, including Molinari, got wet at No. 15.

News flash: People on the leaderboard drown in Rae's Creek EVERY YEAR. That is one big reason why Augusta National is perhaps the best tournament course in the world. Everybody knows what mistakes to avoid, but the margin of error is so small, and the temptations to "go for it" are so great that some of them crash-and-burn every year.

(OK, I admit that you can't "crash and burn" in water.)

What percentage of the bullpen problems belong to the following: Rizzo for continuing a pattern of inability to find the correct players; Martinez for poor bullpen in-game management, Martinez for lack of "leadership" (for lack of a better word, but items other than in game usage); Lilliquist, pitchers for not performing, bad luck.

1) Rizzo. He built it. In Florida, I told him, in a friendly way, that I didn't think he had a finished bullpen and that, as I wrote (about three times), they needed another BIG arm at the back end. IOW, he didn't have a small problem, but rather a potentially very big one. He was one or two injuries, or bad performances away from a real problem.

Maybe he, and others in the front office were hoping that the Lerners would grasp that they really needed to go after Kimbrel --perfect fit. I don't know. But ownership should be clear-eyed about this --even if Rosenthal finds his old form, they are STILL an arm short in this age of power bullpens.

2) Martinez. Show me some good judgment and guts here. Earl Weaver was once asked by a bunch of us beat reporters, "Why do you keep using (a failing player) in key spots? Earl said, "That's his role on this club. I'm gonna send him out there until he does his job or they (front office) get sick of looking at him & get me somebody better."

That is EXACTLY the case with Trevor Rosenthal. He is throwing 98-to-101. His slider is sharp. His control is terrible, but it is not in Steve Blass Disease territory by 100 miles. He's just missing, badly, but he's not launching crazy pitches all over the place and "beaning the mascot." In his last outing, he walked three and gave up a run when he had a 15-0 lead. What I saw, but maybe the Nats missed, is that I think he solved his mental problem --mental block, whatever you want to call it-- in his last few pitches. I thought, "He's found it again." Remember, with Rosenthal "control" is a relative term. He's ALWAYS walked a lot of people. It's part of his game. But he's one of the toughest to hit in MLB. Martinez and the Nats should have slapped him on the back, put him right back into the set-up job. Instead, they jerked the rug out from under him (again) and started having set-up man auditions. Poor managing, in my book, unless Dave is being pressured from above not to trust Rosenthal.

In short, the Nats have the PERFECT solution to their biggest problem right there on their team --the guy that they got exactly for that job. His arm feels great. He's a fine competitor. Jez, just give him the ball and FIND OUT. If the answer is, "This guy is broken," then you have to move on. But I think the odds are 90% or more that Rosenthal will be just fine if the manager (and Rizzo) have the backbone to keep giving him the ball for the next month and tell everybody who doesn't like it to shut the hell up.   

We heard Rendon rejected a late February contract offer. Rizzo hints talks will continue, meanwhile Rendon is off to an All Star or better start. Given the Lerners' history of just one pre-free agency offer (Desmond, Zimmermann, and Harper) how does this play out? Any sense of what the first offer was, and what's fair for Rendon between say the Altuve and Arenado contracts?

The Nats and Rendon look like an ideal fit for the next 5-6 years to me. They just need to get it done. The Lerners need to stick all that "deferred money" in cold storage for a while and just deal with Anthony in normal MLB terms. Don't get fancy, just pay the man.

And, I hope, Scott Boras isn't in a snit because he looked bad on the Harper negotiations and didn't like Mark Lerner telling the truth on local DC radio in December about Harper being gone.

Here's a nice starting point: Aim for an AAV well ABOVE Harper's $25.4M and slightly below Max Scherzer's $30M (which he got when he was 30.) Rendon is wonderful, but Max is a HOFer. Anthony is an MVP candidate every year. But Max has either won or finished 2nd in the Cy Young award year after year. Tony isn't Max --quite-- and should realize it. But he's surely worth more than the blah AAV that Harper got in Philly.

Come on, everybody. Make nice. This has been a long, healthy relationship. Pretend that the huge pile of money that's being discussed is just a big mound of sand in a kindergarten sandbox --and share the toys.

Here's the dumbest thing the Nats could do: Wait for Rendon to cool off at the plate so they don't "buy high." I don't think that's what they are doing. But it could be a long MVP-season wait. Strasburg got done in May. No need to fret. But keep working.

BTW: Harper, who always blows hot and cold, is in his first slump as a Phil: hitting .156 with one homer and 13 strikeouts in his last 32 at-bats. It's all the K's that signal that he's scuffling. You can always go 5-for-32 on bad luck.

He'll be hot many times. And he'll also be cold many. I hope Philadelphia is prepared to show patience. They got an outstanding hitter --just understand who he is, what his weaknesses and patterns are, and ride with him. Nats fans did a great job of that.

Enough already with this bullpen. Why won't the Nats just sign Kimbrel already?

1) The compensation picks they'd give up in the June draft.

2) The international bonus money they'd lose.

3) The fact that Kimbrel might not be MLB ready for a month after he signed.

4) After June 4th the "compensation issue" will disappear. But then EVERYBODY who needs help will be after him.

 

I am of the belief that you are your record, but for smart baseball people like yourself who believe that advanced stats matter more than wins and losses, do you see the Nationals as currently playing better or worse than their .500 record?

The Nats look a little better than their record, but the pen implosions, especially in the 8th, mask any good stuff. Their fundamentals are better than they were last year, but not yet where they SHOULD be.

Nats are scoring 5.93 runs a game, a pace for 961. Yes, yes, it's only 14 games. They won't keep that up. Many franchises have NEVER scored 950 runs in a season in their existence. The last time the Braves scored more than 907 in a season was in 1897 when they were still the Boston Beaneaters! The Yanks hit a million homers last year --they "only" scored 851 runs. So, enjoy the hitting while it last.

The rotation ERA is 3.69 --which is OK. I'd expect it to improve. But there are teams that REALLY worry about their rotation right now: Red Sox (7.18 ERA), Brewers (6.11), Phils (5.08), Cubs (4.86), Cards (4.93). And this is April when off days allow you to skip your 5th starter sometimes.

You can fix a bullpen, especially if you already have Doolittle at the back of it, a whole lot easier than you can fix a flawed rotation.

Maybe the most important thing that happened in the NL East since our last chat is that the Nats went on a 24-0 run against the Phils from the time Aaron Nola (7.45 in 4 starts) had a 6-1 lead on Tuesday (before the Nats came back to win 10-6) until the Nats led 15-0 the next night. 

Harper had fine Return to D.C. night --but the Nats still lead the season series 3-2.

Wow! What a game: LAC comes back to win after being down 30 points. Tiger Woods makes an historic comeback at the Masters. Virginia wins its first NCAA basketball championship after suffering the worst defeat by a No. 1 seed to a 16 last year. Is this the golden age of monumental comebacks or what!? It must be a combination of sports-medicine, -therapy, -psychology, -coaching, and what else (besides the "law of three")?

Nice points! Thanks.

Congrats to the Cavs. My Lord, was that just 8 days ago? Feels like years. April is the greatest sports month.

Well, Steve Ballmer sure enjoyed that comeback from 31 points down. I love watching the Warriors but it just doesn't feel like their year to me. Now, at 1-1, they even get some pressure from a 48-win Clipper team in the first round.

A point I forgot to mention in my Monday column on the Masters: Tiger's win was his first come-from-behind comeback on Sunday in a major in his career, capping the biggest sports comeback by anyone in the last 60 years (at least). So a comeback caps a COMEBACK.

Also, while I was listing the people to whom Tiger gave marathon hugs, I could have included caddie Joe LaCava and girlfriend Erica Herman. No slight intended to either, just writing fast.

They have 2 days before the next game - will they snap out of whatever funk that was last night - it was really a stinker! And in the playoffs stinkers like that - are rare?

I watched up until 3-0. Ugly, mighty ugly. Isabelle had an "A" column on the Caps problems vs the Canes without injured Michal Kempny. The Canes have clearly played better than the Caps so far in this series and could be ahead 2-1, not behind 2-1. I assume the Caps know it and understand that, even though they are ahead, Game Four is mighty important. When your top four defensemen are having problems and you can't find a pair that work smoothly together, can't get the puck out of the zone and rolling the other way, that's big basic issue to solve

We had a bunch of really fine pieces this a.m. My other favorite was Adam Kilgore's excellent piece on the surgery on Woods back that has saved his career. Seemed like he interviewed every back surgeon in North America! "It's almost miraculous." "I gave him 0% chance to come back." And other smart observations.

 

Tom, why is it that the Nats’ bullpen seems to be a problem every year? Do you see it more as bad luck or bad management? It makes one wonder whether Mike Rizzo and the pitching coaches lack a “feel” for how to construct and develop a bullpen, or whether they simply consider other areas of the roster more important and take a calculated risk that they can begin the season with question marks in the pen and fix problems on the fly during the season? How similar to or different from other successful franchises is the Nats’ approach to the bullpen and pitching talent development overall? You have to wonder about the lack of internally drafted and developed pitching assets throughout the system. Stephen Strasburg is the only member of the rotation who is a homegrown prospect. Relievers Matt Grace, Wander Suero and Austen Williams were also signed or drafted by the Nats, but none look like long term solutions. When you consider the Nats’ impressive success drafting/signing/developing position players (e.g., Zimmerman, Harper, Rendon, Soto, Robles, Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia) and the paucity of quality pitching prospects in the pipeline, it makes you wonder if the perennial bullpen challenges aren’t just one symptom of a larger problem. Your thoughts?

Thanks for this question. I get some variation of it almost every week. Essentially, why can't Nats/Rizzo build a good bullpen. So, I studied up.

And found out that it's not true. The Nats are quite good at building bullpens. And, also, the No. 1-2-3 best bullpens in MLB each year almost never go deep in the playoffs. And in the last 8 years, NONE of those No. 1-2-3 best bullpens (by ERA) have gone to the World Series.

I would not have guessed either of those things correctly.

Here are the Nats' ranks in bullpen ERA going backward from '18 back to '10 --the period where Rizzo gets primary praise or blame.

'18: 15th (4.05)

'17: 23rd (4.41) Yet they won 96 games and the division.

'16: 2nd (3.37). Save leader Papelbon (22)! Then Melancon.

'15: 10th (3.46).

'14: 4th (3.00)

'13: 17th (3.56)

'12: 7th (3.23)

'11: 5th (3.20)

'10: 5th (3.35.

For the whole period, '10-through-'18, the Nats' bullpen ERA is 3.58, which is good.

From '10-through-'18, the Yankees only had ONE bullpen with a Top 3 ERA. The Indians none. The Cubs and Astros one. The Dodgers two.

There are other ways to analyze pen --save percentage, etc.

But I think this ought to knock us back on our heels some on this fact-free notion that the Nats have a consistent bullpen problem. They could be better. But their average finish, out of 30 teams, has been 11th in bullpen ERA over the last nine years.

That doesn't change the fact that this is the third straight year that the pen HAS been a problem. Part of that is probably the deadline "go for it" trades --which almost all of us approved-- that sent Blake Treinen and Felipe (Rivero) Vasquez out of town for Doolittle, Madson and Melancon.

Now Treinen and Vasquez are beasts. (But so is Doolittle.)

So an infamous arrogant,DWI convicted, self acknowledging cheat and sex addict and deservedly regarded jerk makes a comeback instead of fading into well deserved obscurity. How is this even seen as good news, much less deserving of the over the top hype given by the media and especially CBS?

Haters are going to hate. Look in the mirror.

When I studied literature in college, I learned that the central feature of many the best American novels of the last 150+ years (and many other cultures too) is the theme of  "Change your life," while you are in the middle of your life. It is among the most important ideas that face all of us. It's one reason all those reality shows have such a hold on people --it is, in part, because so many of us believe/hope that we can truly change ourselves --outside or inside or both. 

It is possible to change yourself in such fundamental ways --for the better-- that you almost can't believe it yourself. You aren't a "new person," and many of your traits remain the same, but you are almost unrecognizably different.

I'll give a fairly trivial example --just an example of a relatively superficial "makeover" change on the outside. Nonetheless, it put me in touch with how often other people made far more fundamental changes that were "interior" and ran right to the core of their personality.

More than 35 years ago, I was sitting at the press table at the old Cap Centre and a reporter sat down next to me. After a while, he said, "You shouldn't be sitting in Tom Boswell's seat." I said, "What?" He said, "I know Boswell. Known him for years. You aren't him." 

I laughed. It was the standard thing: fall in love, lose 35 pounds, get a new haircut, burn the polyester, buy a little Armani.

There are countless examples of more important "makeovers" that are done on the inside --makeovers in character, in attitude toward others. Often, the cause of those changes are not happy things but incredibly painful things --like everything that's happened to Woods in the last 11 years or so, that he's inflicted on himself.

I think millions of people looked at Woods in the five minutes after he made his last putt, when he screamed, ran around, hugged everybody and completely opened up his feelings for others to see, and realized "This guy has been changing on the inside for years. God, what a long battle that must have been --a press conference to discuss his 'sex addiction,' the broken marriage, that DUI mug shot when he got addicted to prescription painkillers after Surgery No. 97 and being humiliated time after time on the golf course when he couldn't even bend over, had the yips and looked ridiculous/pathetic. But it sure looks like the counseling, the surgeries, the willpower, the refusal to give up his great golf gift and the enforced humility has paid off. Good for him. showing some humility most of the time. He's no Mr. Perfect. But we all fall. And he REALLY fell. Look where he is now --Masters champ again at 43, hugging his kids and his new girlfriend, opening himself up to other people. Good for him. Makes you feel good about all of us --how much we can rise, how much we can help each other rise and accept the new person without denying that the bad old days existed."

Redemption is a big word. But the promise of it, or what we believe is an actual glimpse of it in Woods, is one of the most powerful emotions we possess.     

If Brooks Koepka makes his birdie putt on 18, does Tiger easily par the 18th instead of a safe bogey? In other words, did Tiger play the last few shots of 18 knowing he could bogey the 18th and played accordingly very conservative? Or did he do his best and still bogeyed the 18th hole with the championship on the line?

The way Tiger was driving on the last few holes, I suspect he'd have parred the 18th if needed. But after Koepka missed, Tiger said that he remembered how Arnold Palmer had talked about "making double at the 18th" to lose a Masters. (I forget the details, but I think if Arnie had played for bogey he'd have won outright.)

So, Tiger played it safe and made his bogey.

Hey Boz! Thanks for these chats. Some friends and I were having a debate on Saturday as to whether Doolittle has been overused by Davey so far this season, and we were curious as to whether you could shine some light on this issue. It can't be good for Doo or for the bullpen's morale as they see Davey not trust any of them except for him to close out a game. Do you have any stats about whether Sean's ever been used this heavily early in a season in his career, or how this compares to other closers? Also, we're interested in if there are comparisons for his start to the season, did those guys go on to get hurt or were they able to keep it up for the whole season?

Doolittle has a very defined history. He's a one-inning closer and if you push him for more you are playing with dynamite. Could he get four or five outs in September or October in 1-2-3 games? Sure. In April, May, it's a ridiculous risk. He's had injuries during his career --not a lot, but enough that you know he's "Mr. Doolittle," not "Mr. Do-It-All."

Never mind Tigers, the Nats, and Caps—how about Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh looking down the barrel of a 3-0 deficit. The Presidents’ Trophy has to be the biggest curse in sports.

I thought you'd never ask!

In NHL history, there have been 189 series where one team took a 3-games-to-none lead. The leading team, like the Isles or Columbus, has won 185 times. 

185-to-4.

Of course, this includes plenty of mismatch series where the team that was ahead 3-0 was the much BETTER team in regular series. Still, this is a deep hole!

All that said, I think one of those two teams will come all the way back. Just a hunch. Not the way to bet.

There is a site for this, updated through the fall of '18, for all major pro sports and all possible W-L permutations. Here it is. (Don't say I never gave you anything.)

 

Although it didn't happen over the weekend, Reuben Foster was all but cleared by the NFL of wrong doing, and it seems like the Redskins weathered the storm and got a nearly free first round pick for 750K. I say weathered the storm because the post and other media outlets sure were hard on them for the pick up. While it looks like Foster could make better life choices about the company he keeps, it also looks like he didn't do anything that rose to the level assault.

I never wrote a column about Reuben Foster. I have not studied him or his case very much. However, my main takeaway was that the Skins were the ONLY team in the NFL that would touch him. That not only tells you a little about Foster's overall reputation; but it tells you a LOT about how the Skins make decisions.

This example coincides with my long-held opinion that the most-likely explanation of any SnyderSkins decision which seems unusual is: Desperation.

That's a terrible way to run an organization. There may be times when it works. But, over the long haul, it'll kill you.

The older I get the harder it is to separate the 'person' from the 'athlete'. I know in the dinosaur days before the internet, when athletes misbehaved it was rarely reported and fans often knew little about their players 'lives' outside of the sport. There is not disputing the amazing feat that Tiger achieved, but I can't help but flashback to the 'personal' issues he faced, along with the laundry list of 'friends' he 'allegedly' entertained. Countless stories of football and basketball players, along with video evidence, flood the headlines. At what point, or is there one, that you stop rooting for a player on your 'own' team and further, stop rooting for your team? I guess everyone has their own 'line', but Bos...is it worse than it was in the 'old days', or do we just hear more about it???

You just hear about it more. A LOT more.

My general view of athletes is that their sins are banal while their athletic abilities are genuinely noteworthy.

I'm not talking about acts that constitute felonies. I just mean the standard cheats-on-the-spouse stuff or drinks-too-much. I actually discourage the people I cover from telling me the stupid little sins of their teammates, etc. I don't care. And the Post doesn't run trash gossip about people's private lives.

My old college friend, Jim Steinman, wrote several classic rock songs, including the songs in Meat Loafs "Bat Out of Hell" as well as "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That."

But the lyrics to one of his songs made me laugh out loud.

"I've been looking for an original sin/One with a twist and a bit of a spin.

"And since I've done all the old ones/Till they've all been done in/Now I'm just looking and I'm gone with the wind/

Endlessly searching for an original sin."

My immediate thought: I have never heard of a pro athlete who came up with an ORIGINAL sin. They just wear out the old ones and think they're doing something new.

I think Taylor Dayne sang it as a main song in "The Shadow."

On my (short) list of good deeds: I helped Jim get through freshman Physics --which was required for graduation back them. And --not such a good deed-- I named his first band in college: "Things That Go Bump In The Night." (From the Episcopal prayer book.) Luckily, that name died the quick death it deserved.

Every Caps playoffs brings us something special. This one brought us The Knockout. I’m getting real annoyed with Coach Brindamour too who is acting like his boy didn’t want it. The kid has been asking for it for three games. He was hungry so Ovechkin fed him a whole meal.

Of course, I'm officially against fighting. And I'm privately against it, too.

Also, after watching several replays, I'm still worried about longer-term issues for Andrei Svechnikov. He caught at least one huge punch and also hit his head on the ice. I've seen one prize-fighter (Cleveland Denny) killed just a few yards in front of me on the undercard of a Ray Leonard fight. You only have to see that once --he flopped around like a fish on a dock (and died 16 days later)-- to cure you of glamorizing brawls.

But the replays clearly showed, IMO, that both players agree to fight and were perfectly aware of what was about to happen and prepared. Ovechkin was even skating slowly backward, not toward Svechnikov.

Since Ovi hasn't had a fight since '10, and only four in his career,  and because he gets hit constantly by opponents and takes chippy junk all the time, I don't have a problem with him decking the guy. Of course, Ovi hits as hard as anybody --within the rules.

But from now on, I'm going to use my wife's new nickname for him: "K-Ovi."

That's it for this week. Thanks for all your fine questions. And see you next Monday.   

I'm a long time reader of the chats but I don't understand them. When do they end? How often should we check? As of right now there hasn't been a response posted in 42 minutes. Is it over?

In the words of Don Draper, "It's over when I say it's over."

OK, just kidding.

Sometimes I write a lengthy post, but reconsider posting it because I realize it's stupid. Or wrong. Or it goes over some line of good taste. I think chats should be free-form and relaxed and maybe even a little risky. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't sit back and edit or rewrite yourself. Just because you typed it doesn't mean it isn't idiotic.

Also, I sometimes do "mini-research" on an answer --like the rankings of the Nats' bullpen ERAs over the last eight years. Or the high world rankings of all the players that Woods held at bay on Sunday. Or the lyrics to that Steinman song which I think are way above the general standards of rock songs. And sometimes I'm just reading all your questions, looking for the smart or novel or funny ones. You folks are good. But it all takes awhile.

Also, there's no way I could answer this many questions in this much depth --or an attempt at depth anyway-- if I didn't take my time. I'd come to hate the Chat and stop doing it. It's kind of an optional thing that started in '05 and I enjoyed it, but I don't want to turn it into an ordeal.

OTOH, I apologize because I realize this creates a problem for some readers. I wish I could type as fast as my father or be as young as I used to be!

FWIW, this is The End. Thanks again for putting up with typos, off-topic and all the rest.

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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