Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jun 17, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

So, let's get rolling. 

Lots to chat about today and only 90 minutes to do it before I have to catch my plane. 

First, Sunday was one of the really entertaining U.S. Opens. Winner Gary Woodland showed that you can decide to become far better at your job at an age (35) when others in his profession usually figure I-am-what-I-am so let's make as much money as I can before I hit my 40s. 

In the last 2 years, he's gone from a poor short-game player to a good one and, in the last month, has made improvements in his putting that, basically, made the difference in him winning a major. There's plenty to talk about in his final 18. Also, Brooks Koepka is getting close to being an all-time great --and he's done it in one day less than two years. On June 17, 2017 most fans had barely heard of him and he hadn't yet closed it out at Erin Hills. 

Next, what's up with the Nats? They've also gone 14-7 since their 19-31 beginning. They are showing signs of life, but better show even more this week with 7 home games against the Phils (4)and red-hot Braves who recently won 8 in a row and will have Dallas Keuchel in their rotation soon. If you are wondering, as a fan, when you can do a team a bit of good, then going to the games this week, rather than some other games, might be useful. 

There's also nonsense talk about the Nats being sellers at the trade deadline. That's 38 games away! And after this week's tough tests, their next DOZEN games are against the dregs of the dregs (Miami 6, Det 3, KC 3) in this year when bad teams are trying to lose 100. The next six weeks ARE the Nats season. But even if they have poor playoff prospects, it's nuts to consider trading stars like Strasburg who are central to the team in future years. 

Since we last met, we have new champions in the NBA and NHL --Raptors and Blues. And all the Warrior injuries. The U.S. women are off and running in the World Cup, always one of the most exciting in sports for the last ~25 years. All this and more --you name it!

Tom the headline in today’s The Athletic reads “What Would Need To Happen for the Nationals to trade Max Scherzer.” What??? Is this even a possibility? Would the Lerners so alienate their fan base? Is the Athletic becoming a rag to get readers? Or —gasp— are the Nats so far out of it that it’s a good move?

It's a ridiculous click-grab non-story. The Nats would be insane to trade him --and they won't even consider it.

If you trade Max, then you cross out the '20 and '21 seasons as well as the remainder of this season.

Are people crazy? The Nats are underachieving, but they have the core of not only a playoff team, but a team with the starting pitching to make a post-season run.

Get back to me on this on July 31 when the Nats are 59-56 and look like a perfectly reasonable wildcard team --probably fighting the Phils and Cubs for one of the two spots, and, by then, not even out of the N.L. East race.

Everybody loves to kick anybody that's down these days. Even if they make themselves look dumb in the process.

So let's say we get to the All Star break with the Nats 2-3 games under .500, which is a likely scenario. Would your impulse be to "go for it" or to start trading whatever players for the future?

The trade deadline --July 31-- is the date that matters. The All-Star game means nothing as far as decision making. For example, the Nats have 19 games before the All-Star Game but 19 MORE games between then and the trade deadline.

If the Nats nose dive --I think they are much more likely to move up if they can go 4-3 or even 3-4 this week, then beat up the next dozen pigeons-- then you trade players that do not fit in your future plans (Dozier) or that you think can be resigned as free agents over the winter (Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick) if you still want them.

The idea that you trade Rendon when he may be an MVP candidate is just dumb. Yet "everybody" will talk about it. (BTW, Bellinger and Yelich look far ahead for MVP, but crazy things happen when you have 90+ games left.)

Last year a $300-million player was traded mid-season --Manny Machado, who could play either 3rd or SS. So he could fix or strengthen your team in multiple ways. Rendon is a $200-million player, at best (in part because he's 29 and Machado was 25).

What did the Orioles get in their trade for Machado? Where are those guys now? That's pertinent because the Nats would get LESS if they traded Rendon.

I'll give you the short answer first. And it's the same answer I gave last year when the trade was first made: the Orioles got NOTHING of any significance.

This year, infielder Rylan Bannon has regressed with a .731 OPS at AA Bowie. At lower levels, he was .895 in '18. At 23, he doesn't look like a prospect unless he improves a lot.

Yusniel Diaz is hitting .248 with a .735 OPS at A+ and AA ball. That's a "zero."

Pitch Dean Kremer is 1-4 with a 5.05 ERA in five starts at Bowie.

Zach Pop, 22, has shown some promise at AA Bowie, allowing one run in 10 2/3, but he's only fanned 11. Small sample --hold the Cooperstown induction speech.

And Breyvic Valeria had a .668 OPS in 35 at bats with the O's. Oh, and four RBI. He's 26.

Come on, that's very close to "case closed."

Would you trade Rendon for a package that would probably have LESS value than this? Of course not. NOBODY gives up REAL prospects for rental players. Analytics virtually forbids it because you are, potentially, giving up 6+ years of team control for each player you trade away while all you get in return is two months of a walk-year star.

The O's were hopeless. So why not get what you can? I don't blame them.

But if the Nats, with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Sanchez, Doolittle, Soto, Turner and on-and-on give up on '19 to get a barrel of busted bats for Rendon, then it's shameful.

When folks mention this to you, just say, "No thanks. I'm all stocked up on crazy."

Any idea why MASN would play such hardball with RCN that the latter would drop them effective July 1? That means RCN subscribers will have no access to games because MLB games are blacked out on-line (home or away) if you are trying to watch locally. Not a good move when the team is already dealing with declining attendance and the impression of scuffling mansgement

Everything about the MASN situation has been deplorable.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has not, as far as I can tell, made even ONE tough decision since he's been in office. Small decent decisions, sure. Or keep discussions and ideas percolating on rules changes. But it's like he's walking on egg shells on any significant issue. Somebody tell him about the powers of his office which, thanks to MLB's anti-trust exemption, allow him to do almost anything in "the best interests of the game."

Tom, what's your take on the "controversy" surrounding the U.S. women celebrating their goals? Seems to me like they would have been accused of disrespect towards Thailand if they hadn't celebrated, kind of a can't win situation. But it would appear they were very respectful and kind to the Thai players after the win, which one would hope they would, for good sportsmanship?

 

It didn't bother me. The women's team is fighting for better and equal pay in pro soccer. They're battling with FIFA and need to underline the point that they are exceptionally talented and entertaining every time they get the opportunity.

Nothing sells soccer like goals. (And replays of goals --like showing all 13 of them!) "Look at what we can do!"

The context of these celebrations was the fight of female soccer players, epitomized by the long-dominant U.S. women's team, to be seen in a better light vs the men's game. It's about popularity, economics and public exposure. So, the US team went overboard celebrating a 13-0 score. As far as I'm concerned, no big deal. Nobody said the "Dream Team" was showing bad sportsmanship at the Barcelona Olympics when they crushed other teams. They didn't have any bad players to put on the court --Charles Barkley was a downgrade! The U.S. women's soccer team is that good within their sport --there's nobody on the team that WON'T score goals.

Sometimes, to draw attention to your good cause you have to draw attention to yourself. The 13-0 score and the celebrating brought the world spotlight with it. That is, all in all, good for women's soccer, imo.   

This week's series against the Phillies and Braves sure seems really big. It's hard to see the Nats being seen as serious contenders if they don't win both of these series (and, of course, follow up by winning series against the losing teams they play between now and the All-Star Break). Overreaction?

The problem with falling 8 1/2 games behind in your division and being six games behind the Phls and Cubs (both 37-32) for the wildcard is that you margin of error shrinks. If you go 1-6 this week, you do enormous damage.

If the Nats go 4-3, that's pretty decent. These are good teams, especially the Braves. It's not white flag time if they go 3-4. It's more an OPPORTUNITY than something to fear. They are hitting very well now that they have their real lineup back. The team they need to beat 3-out-of-4 is the Phils who have an injured bullpen, a starting rotation that is nowhere near as strong as the Nats and a lineup that's been dinged by losing McCutchen for the season.

As poorly as the Phils are playing --6-10 and giving up 6.06 runs a game in that time-- I don't know if you want to do anything to wake them up. Just quietly beat them. That 15-1 thumping by the Braves on Sunday can't help their self-image as The Next N.L. East Power. The Braves sent a message. Just as the Nats sent a message when they had a multi-game 22-0 run streak against the Phils early in the season.

You don't want to wake up Harper who's hit .231 in the 66 games since his early April visit to Booootown. Maybe just a few boos, a few golf claps but mostly ignore him as if he's just another all-or-nothing .250-hitting slugger, mediocre outfielder and average base runner. Who happens to make $330M.

The Nats biggest problem right now is not playing two teams that have the eighth and sixth best records in MLB (they aren't THAT good). Getting Patrick Corbin back on track is more important, both short and long term. His fastball velocity seems OK. So is arm is probably fine, though you always wonder after a few bad starts. (Is he tipping his pitches?) His problem has been command --getting hitters to chase his low slider. If Corbin clicks, with Sanchez throwing well, that's an exceptional rotation. But he doesn't look very good right now. Kind of sorry he went 116 pitches to get that shutout in a lopsided game a few weeks back. But you'd like to think that five high-pitch games early in May --when he averaged 109.6-a-game versus 95.4 last year in Ariz-- isn't enough to throw a very good pitcher off track. Or at least not for long.

I just think this is going to be a REALLY fun week of baseball. The Nats send out Corbin, Fedde, Scherzer, Strasburg, Sanchez, Corbin and Fedde. You wish that it was Max and Stras, even after his bad game Saturday, who got two starts each. So, if you want something to fret about --there you go!

So no one should ever make a deadline trade because the Orioles messed up the Machado situation? You can cherry pick data on the other side, too. How about Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman.

It's trades like that one that convince front offices NOT to make any more Gleyber Torres (and others) for Chapman trades!

However, Chapman was a big key to the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years. There was special motivation, and special desperation in the Cubs situation. That helped the Yanks win the trade. 

You're usually better off to keep your walk-year star, maintain friendly relations with him if you want to get him back as a free agent and also get compensation for him rather than minor leaguers.

The Yankees are the unusual case where they win the trade, then resign the player.

Hi Boz--Like so many, I look forward to your insights every week. Thank you. Wondered if you've watched any of the U.S. Women's soccer team so far? I find them to be the best thing going on in sports right now. They are thrilling to watch--style and skill combined with discipline and focus, and most of all, genuine joy which I find absent from most pro sports (p.s. I thought the complaints over their celebrations against Thailand were ridiculous. There's a difference between show-boating/self-aggrandizing behavior and joy/exuberance. This was the latter). Thx! --Robbie

You've got plenty of company in being crazy about this team --for many years. Watching has been a 'big kick' --something to look forward to. There aren't many who don'r remember Brandi Chastain and the '99 team, winning in front of 90,000 in the Rose Bowl!

Now that I'm coming back from the Open it's time to catch up on watching the women's World Cup. (I enjoy it more than the men's game. Perhaps soccer fans can explain that to me)   

I was wondering how Gary Woodland would do down the stretch but he answered that on 14 with that 3 wood and again on 17. That final round was a great example of patience and knowing when to take risks. A worthy champion. I don't think he will be Steve Jones or Geoff Ogilvy. He'll contend in, and likely win another major.

What has impressed me most about Woodland is that, past age 30, he wasn't satisfied to stay where he was in the sport --averaging about $2M-a-year in earnings, having some fame as a long bomber, but not being a complete all-around player. He could have said, "I'm 33. If I mess with my game too much I may hurt myself rather than get better."

But he's gotten a much better short game. However, he may NEVER have another scrambling week as great as he did at the Open where he was No. 1 in the field! For the year on the PGA Tour, he's ranked 169th in scrambling!

All those par saves allowed him to make only four bogeys in 72 holes. That equals the lowest totals by any player in the last 50 years. 

Also, it's tricky to assume that a recent improvement in putting method will have long-lasting results. Sometimes it does, like Justin Rose switching to the "claw" grip.

Long after his win, Woodland gave an excellent analysis  of why he's a late bloomer and how he switched his dreams from being a pro basketball or baseball player to being a golfer --his "fall-back sport."

I doubt too many people are going to sum up Woodland's career journey better than he did himself.

WOODLAND: "I went to school, to Washburn (University on scholarship) to play basketball, and I always believed if basketball didn't work out I could fall back on golf.

"Our first game we played Kansas at the University of Kansas. They were ranked No. 1 in Division I, and we were ranked No. 2 in Division II. And that decision (to switch to golf) got forced on me really quickly. I was guarding Kirk Hinrich (>10,000 NBA pts), and, like, 'Okay, I need to find something else to do, because this ain't gonna work.' And that was my first game in college. I was a two-time State champion, All-State, blah, blah, blah, but that was a different level.

"And so when I transitioned to golf the next year, that was the first time in my life I'd ever focused solely on golf. It took me a little bit, but I got out here a year after school on the PGA TOUR in 2009. It's 11 years later now being out here. I don't think my game is where it needs to be, but it's getting there. I'm becoming a more complete player, I have more shots. I can rely more on my putting, rely on my short game. Things I couldn't do even last year.

"We put a lot of work in this year in becoming a more complete player. I can play different golf courses. People probably growing up said U.S. Open wouldn't suit me, because I'm a long hitter, I'm a bomber. Coming to Pebble Beach, on top of that, it's a shorter golf course. And went out and proved, I think to everybody else, what I always believed, that I'm pretty good."

My personal two cents: I think he's going to be a better player in the next 5 years than he has ever been and win some more tournaments. But, while a fine athlete, he's a bit robotic as a golfer. He's not natural, fluid. He could get out of whack. I doubt he'll ever have another week when EVERY part of his game is in sync in a major. And that's what it would take for him to win another major.

I went back and looked at all the "no-name" U.S. Open winners to see which ones were similar --in age, style of play, possible future career progression-- to Woodland. NONE of them fit with him. He's his own unique "type." 

Maybe he'll be like Jansen, North or Goosen --and win two U.S. Opens but have those two weeks be 90%+ of his career legacy.

If Koepka had won --OMG-- he would have ROCKETED up the list in historical stature. It would have been his FIFTH major in two days less than two years. The only player ever to do that was Tiger who won SIX majors in a two years period from the '00 U.S. Open to the '02 U.S. Open.

 

The Nats are 9-5 in June but still 8.5 games out of first because the Braves are 12-3. To win two of out of every three games and LOSE ground in the Division race has got to be disheartening for the clubhouse. Now we get the Phillies while the Braves get the reeling Mets (6-8 in June). Good chance we could split or even win a tough series against a good division rival and fall still further behind in the standings when it's over. Baseball is cruel.

Washington fans have never had a season when focusing on the wild card was an important consideration. I think it will be this year. An, if I had to bet, I'd bet the Nats will end up as a wildcard team. That may mean they have a one-game post-season! But don't forget all the wildcard teams that have gotten to the World Series. It's a rare gift to be able to start a Scherzer in a wildcard game, then still be able to start a Division Series with Strasburg, Corbin and then maybe back to Max for a Game 3.

NEXT week's chat should REALLY be fun! Will Harper hit six homers in DC or fan 10 times in four games!? Will the Nats look like they just can't handle the Braves? Or are we under-rating the Nats now that their bullpen has improved (some)?

See you all next Monday at 11 a.m. Sorry I have to cut it off now and catch a plane home.

BTW, the thing I may remember most vividly from this week is driving up to Big Sur on Saturday morning. It's only a couple-of-hour round trip. If that is not one of the Wonder of the World it is close. If you are ever anywhere near it, don't miss it. Cheers!

Tom, I feel the "win it for the old man" battle cry has hampered the Nats to the point that we have waaay to early given up on young players (Vazquez-Melancon, Treinan-Doolittle, and the worst trade Eaton for Giolito/Dunning/Lopez) in the hopes of bringing in the "one player" who can get us over the hump. We have nothing to show for this except Doolittle and one season of Eaton and no WS wins. To me OF's are a dime a dozen and Eaton isn't even playing what was intended for him (leadoff and CF). Nats/Rizzo need to get out of sacrificing the future for the hope of winning one for the old man, when we already had/have the players in place!

I think the Nats were trying to "win one for Ted," but also "win one for Washington."

I don't blame them. But as Washington fans grow up with the Nationals, this will be part of the city's baseball education. Vazquez, Treinen, Giolito, Dunning and Lopez --a high price.

BTW, the White Sox completely changed Giolito's delivery. He's unrecognizable. Without that radical make-over, I don't think he'd ever have done much. Now, with different release point, arm slot, deceptive delivery that hides ball, etc., he's really outstanding. But that is NOT the pitcher the Nats traded. The White Sox MADE him. Kudos to them.

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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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