Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jun 03, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

It's Crazy How Fortunes Have Changed

Both the Nats, 7-2 recently, and the Warriors, 1-1 in the NBA finals after a win in Toronto on Sunday, are feeling pretty good! But both have worries, too. 

Can Klay Thompson (tight hamstring) make it back for Game 3? Will Steph Curry, Draymond Green, the trainer, a random fan and coach Steve Kerr (back in uniform) have to take on the Raptors on Wednesday? How many injuries can you have while continuing to cruise through the NBA playoffs? 

The Nats fan got a nice jolt --and a reminder of how good the Nats could be if they ever got into the playoffs, even as a WC-- from Max Scherzer's 15K game in Cincy on Sunday. It may have moved him into a decent early lead for his 4th Cy Young Award with only Stephen Strasburg and Ryu of the Dodgers anywhere close to his 3.4 WAR and pace for 306 strikeouts. 

But shouldn't he have been pinch-hit for in the top of the 8th with the bases loaded, two outs, a 4-1 lead and 103 pitches? How publicly can a manager vote "no confidence in my bullpen to get 3 outs in the eighth? 

My question for chatters: Will you be watching the MLB draft tonight at 7 p.m. or "Jeopardy" at 7:30? I think it's about time I tuned into "Jeopardy" to see James Holtzhauer! So, which sport will be the first to be warped beyond all recognition by (there's no stopping progress) analytics? The NBA (72 three-point shots on Sunday), MLB (all K, BB and HR) or "Jeopardy?"

Let's get rolling.

I'm sure your inbox is populated by variations on this question, yet I'm piling on because it was just so against the baseball norm. Yesterday against the Reds in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded, a three-run lead and Scherzer on 100-plus pitches, why not use a pinch hitter and then go to the bullpen? Is this indicative of a complete lack of faith in all denizens not named Doolittle? if the answer is yes, as GM I'd be dialling the digits of Craig Kimbrel's agent PDQ, (Alas, it's not my money to burn.)

You're right, as far as I'm concerned. Max is a workhorse. But when you have a 4-1 lead and the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the 8th, you pinch-hit for Max.

That's why pinch-hitter's exist. And bullpens. It's also a rare chance to take Max out after 103 --below his average-- and think about the long run you have to make (by not THAT long) when you are 7 games behind the Phils and 6 games out of the Wild Card.

To your point, yes, it is another example of Martinez having little or no faith in his bullpen, except Doolittle. And being terrified of the 8th inning in which the Nats have given up 57 runs this season in 59 game --which is insane and more than TWICE as many as you should allow in one inning.

But it's not the worst decision ever made; that was the game when (promising) rookie Tanner Rainey blew a save in the 8th, then went back in for the 9th to walk two men and end up with the loss, too. Back-to-back games. High pitch count. Career ERA in 10 MLB games of 13.00.

However, once the decision was made on Sunday it certainly provided excellent theater!

Watching Scherzer get through the 8th and fan Joey Votto on his 120th pitch for his 15th strikeout was a fun viewing moment --Max was so pumped up that he even foamed at the mouth (a little) after that final pitch. He's really getting close to HOF plaque in my book. This season may do it if he gets 33-34 starts and finishes 1-2-3 for CYA. And right now, he may be No. 1 for Cy Young with his WAR far ahead of anybody else and the precident of DeGrom winning last year despite a low win total because of his team.

As I mentioned last week in a chat and a column, Patrick Corbin is the bigger work-load issue for the Nats. Last year in Arizona, he only averaged 95 pitches game, never went over 100 until summer (6/22) and only went over 110 ONCE all season. This May, in his first 5 starts, he averaged 109.4 pitches a start --WAY too many. And was left in to finish a glory-game shutout which took him to 116 pitches, despite a 6-0 lead.

Big surprise: in his next start, he got only 8 outs, allowed 8 runs and 11 hits. He said fatigue had nothing to do with it. I say: Of course it probably did. But, either way, take a LESSON from it. You signed this guy for 6 years, not two months. He's fully back from TJ surgery. But, like Strasburg, he does much better if his average pitch count is in the high 90s. Not well over 100-a-game.

 

I know extending Rendon is on everybody’s mind, but what about Howie Kendrick? Would you try to extend him this year? He’s certainly been great for the team. Thanks for the chats. Tom in 316

Love Kendrick and hope/assume he'll come back in '20. But that's not something you need to do far ahead as a contract extension. He's 35 and had a season-ruining Achilles injury last year. You don't have to lock down players --even good ones who are playing wonderfully-- ahead of time at his age and with his recent injury history. I'm sure he understands that.

The Nats have almost been lucky that Ryan Zimmerman has been injured. It's allowed Kendrick to keep playing a lot, has opened up time for Gerardo Parra, as well as Matt Adams, and has even taken some pressure off Brian Dozier by allowing him to keep getting lots of at-bats despite his poor spring. 

Kendrick has been part of another amazing --partly accident/improvisational-- platoon at 1st base.

This has been a big front office success in '18-'19. Last year, despite Z'man's injuries, the Nats had signed Matt Adams and later Mark Reynolds. Nats ended up with 38 homers (3rd in MLB by 1st basemen) and 122 RBI (2nd).

So, this year, what's your guess? Are the Nats getting better or worse production from 1st base than last year's 38-122-.263?

BETTER!

The 1st base position has 14 homers, 49 RBI (2nd in MLB) and is hitting .262. That's a pace for 39 homers and 135 (!!!) RBI.

An aside: Dozier had an awful 1st 7 games (.080). In his 49 games since then, his slash line is:

.245/.339/.434 for a .773 OPS with 8 homers or one HR every 23.0 at-bats.

His career slash is:

.245/.324/.441 for a .765 OPS with 180 homers or one HR every 22.6 at-bats.

This is who he is and the player the Nats thought, and hoped, they got. Not a star, but (maybe) a solid year, with some home runs thrown into the 6-7 spots in the batting order, after Murphy had to go. He's botched too many plays on defense, but been excellent turning DPs. The turns will continue. I'd expect the errors to diminish. With both Kendrick and Dozier, and now Parra, the Nats have a lot more flexibility and depth on the right side of the infield and in the outfield. If Zim gets back --assume he will-- the Nats may have their best bench of this period.

Talked to one of Zim's neighbors recently --a fine competitive golfer among other things. He mentioned that he suffered from almost exactly the same two ailments --shoulder and plantar fasciitis-- as Zim.

"Ryan calls me his 'voodoo (doll) neighbor,'" he said.

Today is the third anniversary of Ali's passing. There is also a new HBO documentary on his life and career currently airing. Having recently watched it, I was reminded by how captivating he was as both a person and a skillful, tachtical boxer. His ability to disarm both journalists and opponents with charm and guile was remarkable. The prose he inspired during his heydey from the big-name writers of the time are always worth revisiting. I realize your feelings on the sport have changed over the years. But do you have any recollections of covering Ali, or any thoughts on his legacy to share?

Thanks for the reminder.

I wrote a column when Ali died that's along the lines you suggest. If you want to revisit it

There were a lot of writers sharing a lot of memories in the days after his death. Dave Kindred's was one of my favorites.

 

Tom, I don't remember you writing anything about sports and political violence when a deranged former Sanders campaign worker shot up the Republican charity baseball practice in 2017. This wasn't just hateful pictures, it was actual politically motivated violence, at a sporting venue right here in your home town. And when you're content to stay silent as long as that violence is directed toward people you don't like, it's hard to credit you for acting from any sort of consistent principle when you denounce inciting imagery toward people on your side of the political divide.

That's what is called "a false comparison."

As I said in the column, it would have been equally intolerable if a team had run the same video but with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) pictured in a sequence of dictators with all of them designated as "enemies of freedom."

The Grizzlies are a PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL TEAM. That is what makes this a unique situation. This is not one politician criticizing another. Or a political activist or pundit making an edge-of-reason comment. This is a pro sports team calling a duly-elected Congresswoman an "enemy of freedom" at a ballpark on a national holiday to a crowd that's trying to honor military sacrifice.

My column.

For those who are interested, if you Google the video --I'm not going to promulgate it-- and watch the last 35 seconds from 3:00 onward, I think you'll see more images of "enemies of freedom,' not just AOC, that will lead you to ask what the odds are that this is just an innocent mistake by a careless Grizzlies employee.

I think my column was right when I wrote it. And that's what I think now. The Lerners hate to draw attention to themselves. In some ways, that's good --and their business. But they also don't like to take stands.

With anything concerning the Nats, it's usually a Kasten or Rizzo who is out front, taking the heat. MLB teams have major influences over minor league affiliates. If the big club calls with the boss on the line, the farm team usually says, "How high would you like us to jump?" Fresno just said "Sorry, won't happen again," and not much more.

The Nats accepted that and were glad to do exactly nothing.

It's been a bad year for Nats decision making. In my book, this is another example.  

Over the winter I thought the Nats should have paid Harper if not just to keep him away from the Phillies. Now they're in a similar situation where multiple division rivals likely have their eyes on Craig Kimbrel who could swing the wide-open NL East. You've made your argument that the Nats need to spend the money to fix the bullpen. How does the front office measure the double impact of landing a star reliever AND preventing the Nats bats from facing him 10-15 games this year? And what about Keuchel? Do you see a chance he'll land in the NL East as well? I think he would be a great 4th starter for the Nats, but I understand the team has enough dollars locked up in the big three starters.

The Kimbrel situation bothers me. I have no sense, as recently as yesterday, that the Nats have been involved with Kimbrel since their contacts in spring training. Then they thought his price was too high --plus the issue of lost compensation picks and slot money.

I understand that. But the situation has changed --a LOT. And so has his price --a LOT. It's not just that the Nats would not lose any picks or international money now --the issue they used in March.

Right now, it is Monday afternoon. Why didn't anybody sign him at 12:01 last night? Teams have had 7 months to say, "As soon as the compensation goes away, we WANT you" --and do their negotiating. 

For the last 2 years, I keep writing that free agent salaries are in a market crash and that decisions should be made in the light of that. You BUY during crashes --if you need what's on sale. The Nats desperately need a great reliever to pair with Doolittle. It could very well get them in the playoffs this year. The Nats only have two big problems right now with their 2-3-4-5 hitters back healthy --a below-average manager and a do-little bullpen, except for Doolittle. Maybe you can't win the competition for Kimbrel. Maybe he'd prefer to sign somewhere else. But I think the Nats should be IN this game right now --and I don't think they are.

Also, my read is that Kimbrel is probably going to get a contract for about $15M-a-year through '22. But with half of his '19 salary already lost. So, maybe less than $55M total.

Of course, there is a risk. And there is a price at which you say, "He's 31. He was wild in his last 45 innings last year. He looked rattled in some October games. Is it just mechanics, a glitch? Or is he getting old fast? Is something wrong?"

I doubt that very much is wrong at all. I think, like Papelbon at a similar age, he's got at least 3 or 4 very good seasons left in him. With a 1.91 ERA? No, probably not. But a 2.91 with Kimbrel's savvy would be a ton of saves. And Doolittle is one of the few closers who would be willing to switch to the set-up role to help the team. In March he told me: "A World Series check goes a long way. I love to close but I love to win more."

To me, the other BIG factor is that you have $525M invested in Max, Stras and Corbin through '20-'21. You are built to win now --whether it works out this year or not. You let your plan play out --in '20 and '21. A new manager is probably part of that. But Kimbrel could be a BIG part of it. Also, Anthony Rendon is more likely to sign an extension with a team that he thinks is still serious about winning with the team that is around him now.

There's a limit on how high you should go for Kimbrel. But what if he signs for $50-to-$60M, not the $100M he and his agent were day-dreaming about in Spring Training? Don't you want to be IN THE CONVERSATION with Kimbrel and his agent at that point? I think the problem is that ownership doesn't want to spend the money on Kimbrel. If he does age fast, they'll look smart. But if he stays Craig Kimbrel, even through '21, the Nats will look a whole lot dumber. Are they still clinging to "Give Trevor Rosenthal more chances." Well, that's no hindrance --a team with an effective Rosenthal, Doolittle AND Kimbrel would be wonderful.

To me, it's simple. They cannot win with the pen they have now. They could get closer. They could make it a race, and I think they will. But, in a pennant race, this bullpen will crack. With Kimbrel and Doolittle, it would puff out its chest and perform. Success is infectious, just like failure. If you don't believe it, look at the 8th-inning plague.

To your other point, any team could use Keuchel, but the Nats can't just go buy every player in sight! Their rotation is their strength already. I'll be very interested to see if Anibal Sanchez has "fixed" something in his mechanics during his time on the IL or picked up a problem while studying video, which he does a lot. His six very strong innings vs his former Braves teammates last week was, by far, his best outing of the year. Right now the Braves are the second wild card team --only six games ahead of the Nats. If Sanchez is effective against them all season, that alone can impact the standings. Come on, with 103 games to play, six games is not much to overcome at all. And the Phils lead of 7 games isn't either. 

Right now, I'm not sure any team in the N.L. East will win more than 87 games. The Phils have just hit their first mini-slump (0-4). Study the wild card picture and its likely to go to an 86-87-win team.

 

Who you got at Pebble? Any dark horse suggestions beyond the Brooks/Tiger/Dustin types?

Nice to see Tiger finish T-9 at Jack's event. He has a strong record at Pebble.

But the commonplace view --and mine-- is that the conditions are best (by far) for Woods at the Masters or the British Open where he doesn't need to be TOO long and the tough either doesn't exist or isn't very tough. The typical U.S. Open or even PGA should be much tougher for him at 43.

Tiger's strong finish Sunday gives promise that he'll show up on the leader boards at the Open. I had that prickly feeling of maybe-just-maybe at the Masters, even before the 1st round. I don't have it now. Play decently --yes. Have the nerves and knowledge to cope with the Open when lots of other can't --yes. Win it --and he is the THIRD favorite with oddsmakers-- I'd love to cover that just as much as everybody else would. But I really doubt it.

Royal Portrush does not set up as a good Open venue for Tiger either. Tight and tough rough, I believe --I've never been there-- relative to other Open courses. But Tiger, as long as his back is good, could show up in contention at a British Open for quite a few more years.

As I've said before, among the less-than-huge names, I'd enjoy seeing Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood or Xander Schauffele (whose name I just spelled correctly on the first try!) win a major. Jack's Memorial is a tough test. So looking at the top dozen from Sunday may help your handicapping/rooting. Nice to see Jordan Spieth at -10 (T7). Martin Kaymer (T3) hasn't done much since '14, won Players and U.S. Open-- but he's "a U.S. Open player."

We'll have more US Open preview next week before I head out there.

Come on, let's have some NBA Finals here! You must be watching --I sure am.

Experts say the Skins may be lucky to get to 6 wins? Your perceptions? Is Keenum good enough to hold the fort while Haskins gets his feet wet? Will Snyder, Allen, Gruden et al have the patience and tools to allow Haskins to develop ? Will they give him a decent O line and WR to help him succeed? Or should the Skins stay in rebuilding mode, get 5-6 wins and bolster roster further in 2020?

I had switched from Ugly Year to 6-or-7 wins when they got Keenum. Haskins is a total X Factor. I start from the assumption, since he didn't knock my eyes out in his brief college career, that he'll end up average --meaning a bottom-half0of-the-league starter someday. Great arm. No mobility. Lot of confidence. Too much? Very little experience and a lot to learn in the NFL. But good size and great arm is an excellent starting point. He'll make exhibition season  interesting.

Of course, "always take the under" is the wise position if you live near D.C. because the Skins-Machine drums up excess enthusiasm. Those "experts numbers" tend to be far more accurate than the team's own hype. I'm still at 6-10, 7-9, but with more room to go 3-13 than 11-6.

 

Big guys who can throw big punches always have a shot. Viva Ruiz!

That fight set respect for "conditioning" back decades.

You can even ignore the political bent and just look at it from the business perspective. An organization closely coupled to the Lerner family just insulted a bunch of the Nationals fans by calling them either directly or indirectly (if they admire AOC or support her positions) enemies of America. It certainly plausible that some of her staffers attend games, especially when the Mets are in town.

Yes, a good point.

You want to talk NBA Finals but not Stanley Cup?

I'm still bitter.

The Capitals could play for 1,000 years and never come up with the hottest goalie in the universe just in time for a Stanley Cup run.

 

The Warriors have been actually playing some defense in this series. I think they had to offset the excellent defense that Toronto plays, making Curry/Thompson take tough shots. Lucky for Golden State that they hit just enough of those shots to win last night. Game was getting a little physical also.

Warriors understand that when you get behind by double digits, as they often do, what they keep to coming back to (s0 often) is that EVERYBODY has to focus on "getting stops."

Everybody knows it. But the Warriors do it!

I liked Bryce when he was here, and wished him well when he left. Seemed like the right move for both sides. But one thing isn't sitting well. By the numbers, he's suddenly a good fielder again. After being terrible last year. The evidence looks pretty clear that he just took last year off on defense to protect himself for free agency. Despite being paid $20 million. I have to think his teammates noticed that. And if that's the kind of guy he is, I'm very glad not to be stuck with him for 10 years or more.

Well, the advance metrics/statcast folks say that Harper never left his feet to make a single attempt at a diving play ALL of last year. Kind of stunning.

Hi Boz, How far back do we need to go to find out where pitchers controlled their own destiny and whether it took 150 pitches or what ever, they finished what they started. So we have to go back to the 70s? 60s? 50s?

Maybe 70's. Certainly 60's.

When was the last time you saw an NBA team employ a box-and-1 defense like the Raptors did on Curry last night? If they use it again (assuming a short-handed 'dubs squad), what should Golden State do to counter it?

I was stunned that it was so effective. Curry did not TAKE any shots in the fourth quarter! High school teams can beat it after they practice for it. I assume the Warriors can, too. But they really looked outwitted in the fourth quarter. The Raptors blew it with their terrible shooting in the last 6 minutes -- and the entire second half -- at least as much as the Warriors won it. With Curry disappearing, the Raptors had chance after chance to cut the lead from 8 to 6 or 5 and they just looked totally stage-struck. In the fourth quarter, Curry, Green and Thompson had only ONE basket! As great as the Warriors are, they were WAITING for the Raptors and the Raptors just couldn't come and get 'em. In the fourth quarter, Leonard was 1-for-6, Lowry 1-for-3 and VanVleet 1-for-6. Team 6-for-23. And Raptors shot just as badly with the Warriors swarming them in the third quarter.

However, Golden State -- ignoring the last few minutes -- got solid games from ALL FIVE starters. That's hard to do in a Finals game. And Quinn Cook helped off the bench after Thompson left (tight hamstring).

By the old =/- methods -- add up all good things, like points, rebounds, assists-- and subtract all bad things --like turnovers and missed shots, the Warriors had all five starters between +17 (Iguodala) and +27 Klay and Green. 

FOUR Raptors starters never showed up -- as Paul Pierce pointed out in the post-game. Siakam (10), Gasol (8), Lowry (7) and Green (7). Of course, Leonard led everybody with +36. The Raptors wasted a home court game and a big game by Kawhi.

Kerr tried to imply that Thompson only has a "tight" hammy and had said he thought he'd play in Game 3. When you see somebody limping that badly after a game -- and I've had pulls in both hamstrings before -- it's hard for me to believe that he plays Wednesday. He's tough. We'll see. If they win minus Kevin Durant AND Klay Thomspon, and with DeMarcus Cousins coming back after MONTHS away -- mythological status, here the Warriors come. And Steve Kerr's fourth title in five years as coach would start moving up the list of coaching accomplishments.

I really don't think the Warriors can close it out without BOTH KD and Klay. One of them has to come back at some point, IMO.

At least we can watch without KNOWING the outcome. That's not the case with "Jeopardy." Apparently, Certain People have been leaking the results of James Holzhauer's quest to be the top "Jeopardy" winner ever. You won't hear any spoilers from me.

No, I haven't watched his run until now -- but I'll be on the "Jeopardy" bandwagon this week. Odd history, but history.

Analytics smacks ANOTHER sport in the head! First is was the NBA shooting treys as soon as you get within six feet of the arc. Then it was baseball on a launch-angle HR orgy to counteract pitching velocity. I LIKE it that games keep changing. And the appeal of discovering that A Better Way has been missed for decades, or generations, is enormously appealing to me. 

But it sure throws those sports up in the air until they figure out the next evolutionary stage of the sport or the rules have to be tweaked.

That's it for this week. Thanks a million for your questions. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. 

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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