Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 01, 2019

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

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And We're OFF!

Since last week we've seen Megan Rapinoe score both goals in a crucial 2-0 win over France in what may be the de facto Final of the Women's World Cup in France. But the USA faces another test on Tuesday (3 p.m.) vs England. 

NBA Free Agency exploded last night with 48 players reaching agreements, 30 of them changing teams. The Nets were the big winner, ending up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This is important in Brooklyn now. And, when Durant returns from his Achilles injury, it may be a big deal for the whole NBA in '20-'21. 

But isn't this actually something of a let down for the NBA right NOW. A team with no chance at the title now, and probably not with Durant, gets the plums. Read Ben Golliver's excellent story on why KD chose to team up with his friends, rather than go for the most money, best titles chances or even the best weather. 

The Caps are making modest, but probably useful and necessary waves to make sure they are a contender again next year. 

And, of course, we'll talk about the sport with lots of DC interest that is actually IN season --the "resurgent" Nats (23-10 streak) who are now only 1 1/2 games out of a wildcard spot and completely back in the NL playoff picture. 

Let's talk Max's amazing June which puts him ahead for a 4th Cy Young Award and what on earth might still be done to improve the Nats bullpen. So, let's go!

So sad. I never feel sorry for a spousal abuser, but you have to wonder what role concussion syndrome/CTEs played in this. Does the NFL provide any support to the families of formal players, who are often the ones who pay the price for a CTE-victim's erratic behavior?

This is about as sad as it gets. In '18, Rypien did a half-hour special on TV in Spokane, where he was raised and now lives, talking his problems with "depression, anxiety, addiction, bad choices" and other things that he believes came from 26 years of football with "dozens of concussions" and "hundreds of sub-concussive" injuries from FB contact. He talks about his wife saving his life when he tried to commit suicide. Thanks, CTE.

If you can take it...

This latest incident comes in that context.

Rypien was led away in handcuffs after this incident.

"According to KHQ-TV, which has video of Rypien being handcuffed and placed in a police car, police responded to a Spokane intersection on Sunday evening to find Rypien standing in a grassy area in front of a bank and his wife laying in the grass. Medical personnel evaluated Danielle Rypien for about five minutes, determining that she did not need treatment, and police then spent 45 minutes speaking separately with the couple before handcuffing Mark Rypien and taking him away. KHQ says Danielle Rypien was in tears as her husband was arrested."

Rypien has been part of the NFL PLayers lawsuit against the NFL over long-term health issues from CTE. Because Rypien is remembered so vividly in DC, and because it seems unlikely that he is exaggerating his life-threatening and family-damaging problems, this really brings the problem home. (Again...and again.)

 

For the Capitals, it's probably just a return to norm (after going to great lengths last year to keep the '18 Stanley Cup champs together), but the Caps are underoing some pretty significant changes -- Niskanen, Orpik, Burachovsky, Connolly. Is this a rebuild or tweak? Are you surprised they aren't using the money they are taking off the books to extend Backstrom or Holtby?

I thought it was remarkable that they could keep the Cup champion team almost totally intact for One More Run last year. And if they'd gotten past Carolina, who knows. Even though they've owned the Bruins, maybe they wouldn't have gotten past them in the Eastern Conference Finals. Still, the Caps play late in the season and even in the first round showed that keepin-'em-together was a good idea --both out of respect for the Cup that had been won and also to make sure they didn't break up that team immediately.

However, this off-season feels like a return to roster realism and an acknowledgment that (with the 2nd and 3rdd round draft picks they got for Burakovsky) that they need both salary flexibility and some new blood fairly soon.

Radko Gudas (for Niskanen) won the Flyers "best defenseman" award last season, his 4th year in the NHL. In free agent Richard Panik, they replaced Connolly with another third-line forward to go with Eller and Carl Hagelin --but they lost some offense. Connolly had 22 goals last year and, financially, left the Caps "priced out." So, they went for the less expensive Panik (14 goals, 33 pts).

The speedy talented Burakovsky was disappointing for most of last season. So, trading him may not have damaged the team much, but it's a high-risk, high-reward deal for Colorado if Andre lives up to the potential that he has shown at times. 

Never under-estimate Brian McClellan. He proves that, if you're a GM, you can be dead-honest and very candid in your public comments, then go out and, essentially, do exactly what you said you needed to do. He may be the most transparent GM I've ever seen in DC. In high-level competence, he's like Mike Rizzo, but without the occasional prickly defensiveness. Of course, Rizzo has had a decade to build up issues on which to be touchy. McClellan has a Cup.

To answer your question, yes, it seems like the Caps have taken half-a-step backward and you have to wonder how many more years they envision Holtby as their goalie. But I still assume that next seasons will be entertaining and, by the playoffs, the Caps will be very competitive once again. The most important player --Ovi-- sure didn't look like he was aging very fast last season!   

Boz, While we ALL know splitting the Rays between Montreal and Tampa is about as dumb as it gets, why doesn't MLB move the Marlins to Mexico City / Portland / Charlotte / Nashville / Montreal and then split the Rays between Miami and Tampa (the Florida Rays)? That seems to make more sense....

Nothing makes sense in Florida, as far as playing big-league baseball there is concerned. That's what I wrote when both the Marlins and Rays went into Fla.

You have an insoluble problem. In a state that defines itself by wonderful outdoor recreational opportunities --beach, golf, boating, you name it-- you need a domed stadium for baseball. The weather is just too hot and humid in summer --with far too many game-time thunderstorms-- to have an outdoor stadium that's financially feasible. 

So, Florida stands for OUTDOORS.

But baseball in Florida must be INDOORS.

Disconnect!

Of course, both times --'93 and '98 expansions-- MLB put teams in Fla, not in Washington --directly bypassing a rich and growing market. By the '90s, DC was a boom town. MLB missed it. Now they have two franchises that draw flies. It's amazing how well the Rays continue to compete.

Right now, the only teams drawing fewer than 18,376 in MLB are the O's at 17,235, then --far behind-- the Rays at 14,502 and the miserably-run Marlins at a sickly 9,402.

To show how awful that attendance is, let me take you back in time to an era --the late '50s and '60's-- when the entire population of the DC area was about ONE million, not SIX million as it is now. Yet DC supported baseball better than Florida does now.

The last year the original Senators were in DC ('60), they drew 9,655 a game. For reference, back then, MLB drew less than half as many people per team as it does now. The Yankees from '54-through-'64 when they were a dynasty barely averaged 18,000-a-game in those years.

When the new expansion Senators finally had their ONLY winning year --and were far from contention-- in '69, they averaged 11,923 a game. The Yanks averaged 13,870.

But MLB moved both teams out of DC, then put two teams in Florida while bypassing DC when it was (by then) FOUR TIMES as large as it was when the old teams left.

My point, I don't give a damn what happens to the Florida teams --aside from wishing the Rays good luck on the field. MLB is getting what it deserves for sins, of commission and omission, long ago.  

A while ago you mentioned your surprise that Ted Leonsis hadn't acted to make changes in the Wizards organization until 16 years after he bought the team. Now, he hasn't been able to act to hire a permanent GM but has let major decisions on the draft and trades be made by an interim GM. The search for new leadership has dragged on so long that one assumes, by default, that Tommy will finally be named the GM. Don't you find Ted an oddly passive owner? I know Snyder represents the epitome of the opposite, at least for years after he bought the Skins, but still... Ted seems to have no idea what to do with the Wizards.

This is a tough job for Ted because he has never really found a "new" GM. He inherited Ernie. And Brian MacLellan --yes, I misspell his name 15% of the time, but I think I was up to 25% on "Scot McCloughan"-- was already in place, picked by George McPhee. George and Brian are long-time good friends back to college hockey. So George, who's shown his high-quality work again in Vegas, already had the man who replaced him right beside him. 

In all sports, it's relatively easy to fire coaches and managers. The HARD part is finding your next GM because that is the person who sits next to you and tells you what to think.

Sometimes a GM wants to fire a coach or manager. But when it's the owner who wants a new coach, all he has to do is tell the GM, "Fire this guy and get me somebody new." The owner doesn't have to be an expert at anything except realizing, "My customers are demanding somebody's head."

Owners who know quite a bit about business, but not a great deal about the sport in which they own a team, are often in a tough spot. They aren't truly competent to make personnel decisions on their roster. So, they need a GM --always the locus of competence in almost any sports org-- to do it for them, including changing coaches.

But what happens when you have to replace the man who has been telling you what to think!? You may be lost and at sea. You KNOW that you don't know how to pick a GM any more than you were competent to make the last 50 decisions about whom to draft, trade or who should play more minutes.

IOW, it's easy to freeze when you know that you have to make a huge decision which nothing in your life --except being a business success who's also a fan-- has prepared you to make. Just OWNING doesn't make you an expert, no matter how many seasons you sit in your suite and say, "Great dunk, big guy!"

Would you say he is currently the leading candidate in the NL for the Cy Young award?

Absolutely.

Right now, according to FanGraphs WAR, Max has a big 5.0 to 2.9 lead on Ryu of the Dodgers, then deGrom and Woodruff (2.8).

By baseball-reference WAR, Scherzer is ahead of Castillo (Reds) by 5.1 to 3.4, the Greinke at 3.3 and Ryu in a tie for 4th at 3.2.

Even if WAR gives wacky results at times --and it DOES-- it's still the stat that "everybody" seems to look at first these days.  When somebody has a huge lead in WAR, then the BBWAA voters for awards try to reason backwards to justify electing that person. They don't say it, but that's what happens, imo. That's not bad. It's just how it works.

Those who thought Max had a chance at CYA LAST year over deGrom were, as I said here, fighting a losing battle because de Grom had a big lead in WAR --9.0 to 7.4. Even a huge gap in the out-dated stat --wins-- couldn't begin to overcome it.

This year, that may work in Max's favor. He's a workhorse who leads in innings pitched. WAR likes that. His strikeouts mean that he, not his defense, is the prime reason for his success. WAR like that. And his ERA is not that far behind Ryu --1.83 to 2.43.

The "old-fashioned" numbers might make you think its a close CYA race right now with Ryu at 9-2 and 1.83. But Max, at 8-5 (with wins blown by Nats bullpen) and 2.43 is actually clearly ahead. Max leads Ryu (who gave up 7 earned runs and 3 homers in his last start in Colorado) in innings (122 1/3 to 103) and strikeouts (170 to 94!).

How did he jump so far in front? In June, Max was 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 6 starts. Also a silly 0.67 WHIP. 

At the All-Star Game, you'll hear that Scherzer is merely "in contention" for his 4th CYA. In part, that's because nobody wants to aggravate themselves with a stat-immersion discussion when the year's barely half over.

But Max has a BIG lead. Ryu has been wonderful for the last two years. But he'll have to stay <2.00 ERA wonderful to get in the fight. And he'll have to pitch a LOT more innings than he has ever done --career-high 192. Since '14, when he started having arm problems (TJ) his top is 126 2/3. It's doubtful that, with their huge division lead, the Dodgers would want to stress.

The Braves Mike Soroka, 22, is also having an excellent year --9-1 and 2.13. But he's only had 14 stars and 84 2/3 innings. To win Cy Young, you have to be superb when you pitch, but you also need to pitch a LOT.

How can a declining Clayton Kershaw and terminally inconsistent Walker Buehler possibly be deemed more worthy of an All-Star team than Strasburg? And does Kendrick's exclusion prove that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts hates the Nationals?

Strasburg, Kendrick or Juan Soto would all have been deserving All-Stars. But, imo, none of them got the shaft.

Strasburg has had the best season of anybody who did not make the NL All-Star team. His WAR (2.7) is 7th in the NL behind Max, Ryu, deGrom, Buehler, Woodruff and Greinke, who all made it. Stras is 5th in Ks and T2 in wins (9). But his 3.88 ERA knocks him out, as it probably should. He's been an All-Star before, doesn't mind missing the limelight (I don't think) and can use the ASG break for rest. The Nats need him for their long push to get in the playoffs --which I think they will make-- or even catch the Braves, which is now possible (seven games behind with 14 head-to-heads left) but still doubtful.

Soto's case is hurt by the 10 games he lost to the injured list. Otherwise, all his counting numbers would look better. Also, this is the year of the home run, and his 14, while a nice number, is surpassed by many other OFers.

BTW, Soto's WAR is really getting crushed by his defensive stats. FanGraphs rates him the fifth-worst defensive player --at any position-- in MLB.  I think that is flat wrong. He's below average (despite a nice catch on Sunday to save a run for the Nats and Max) but he shouldn't be on a worst-defender list. Sometimes the eye test matters, too. His range --both left, right and in-- have improved since '18.

Soto shows his inexperience when going back on balls over his head. So he plays very deep --and balls sometimes fall in front of him. I assume that's the source of the bad grade in "D." Over the years, as he gets polish, he can play shallower, cover more ground in ALL directions. That will improve the Nats some, but his WAR grades, even more, I suspect. 

Howie has been wonderful. But in this season on monster stats, there's no way a player with <200 PA is going to make an All-Star team. If Kendrick had not started the season on the IL, maybe he'd have had even better numbers. His 12 homers and .330 avg --with near 1.000 OPS-- have been a key element in the Nats saving what looked like an almost-lost season.

....

This week, the Nats have an almost unbelievably fortunate chance to get to the AS break at 46-43 or even 47-42 if they can dominate the Marlins and Royals in their six-game homestand this week. Just when the Nats got healthy, and their starting pitching got four-deep, they also get to play their softest stretch of the schedule --12 in a row against awful teams with six of the sub-.380 teams on tap this week.

They went 5-1 on this road trip --just as they should have and needed to. The last two weeks could have been really remarkable --if the Nats had a "B" bullpen instead of (still) a "D+." If they hadn't blown that 8-4 lead to the Braves in the Rosenthal Farewell game --they had a 95% chance to win-- then blown their 5-3 lead through 6 1/2 innings on Saturday, they'd be on a 12-1 streak right now instead of a merely very good 10-3 run.

As I keep saying, since March, if the Nats had one more quality arm at the back of their pen I could take them very seriously. Until they do, I can't. WC, sure, that's within their 85-to-89-win ability. Serious Oct team, no, not yet. Both Rizzo and the Lerners have failed on this. Are they communicating with, or complimenting each other well enough? Rizzo should have beaten down the door on Kimbrel, imo. I don't think he even knocked on it --he's used up a lot of bullets over the years in pushing for his preferences, like Dusty over Available Alternatives. Home team announcers often put the most positive spin on everything that happens to a club but ownership SHOULD NOT fall into that delusional happy-talk syndrome. I think the Lerners sometimes do. Where does it lead? To wonderful STORIES --like 42-year-old Fernando Rodney (three years older than any other player in MLB) and Johnny Venters (the only pitcher in MLB who has had THREE TJ surgeries and missed ALL of '13-'14-'15-'16-'17)-- coming out of the bullpen in the late innings of close games.

So far, so good for Rodney and Venters. They've gotten 11 outs, no hits, one walk, no runs --yet-- and fanned six.

Bravo! Rodney hit 97 mph on one pitch and still has his changeup. Venters threw 92-93 with a good slider. But older players, or miracle comeback players, often wear out quickly. Root for 'em. But the Nats REALLY need to be in the picture for the relievers who may be available by 7/31 deadline: Will Smith (RH SF), Brad Hand (LH), Felipe Vazquez (LH, ex-Nat!) or even names like Ken Giles, Jake Diekman or Greg Holland (did well for Nats last year).

Some are LH. Nats can't be picky. They need OUTS from the bullpen, not ideal LH-RH balance.

Nats need to understand that their lineup, when healthy, is very good. And their FOUR top SP are ALL rolling now that Anibal Sanchez has been on track for several weeks.

When you have a four-deep rotation this good, with a playoff structure that favors strong rotations so much, you can't pass up assembling a complete team (with a REAL bullpen) just because you may only make it to October as a wildcard. The current format was MADE for a team with the strength, AND the weaknesses, of these Nats. At least they woke up in time, it seems, to make the year as interesting as it always SHOULD have been.  

If I'm not mistaken, several weeks ago when the Nats were deep in a hole, you predicted that they would likely end up a few games above .500 before the All-Star break. It seemed so unlikely at the time that it made me smile, but alas, it looks like you nailed it! I don't want you to ruin all the fun of the season for me, but could you glance into that same crystal ball and tell me 1. Will we be selling at the deadline and 2. Will we ever be back in the fight for the division?

Yes, I wrote that. Thanks for remembering --probably so you could make fun of me!?

The Nats will win 87-88 games, be a wildcard. Their BIG crisis has passed, although it would sure be a good idea to go at leasat 4-2 this week. So far, they've played the Braves well head-to-head (few have). They WILL be in a race for the N.L. East title against Atlanta in the sense that their head-to-head meetings in September will matter. I doubt they'll catch 'em. But if they met in Oct, I think it would be a knock-down, drag-'em-out battle. Obviously, that implies that both stay fairly healthy and nobody knows ANYTHING about that.

In all the years that you've covered baseball, have you ever heard of a roughly analogous scenario where Matt Adams has consecutive games hitting 3-run homers (one against a left-hander) and then doesn't start the next game? And let's add one more key component to the equation. Instead of staying with the hot hand, Davey starts the incredibly rusty Ryan Zimmerman, rushed back after being out since late April, and after 3 miserable games at Harrisburg? Is this Davey's decision or Rizzo? Why break up the Adams/Kendrick platoon? I get that you can't waive the Face of the Franchise, but perhaps his best position fr this year's team is DH in Inter-League, right-handed pinch hitter and with fewer 1B starts than a platoon.

Nats had three games in AL city WITH the DH rule. So they used Zim in two of them. Didn't help. But a sound decision.

I'd keep using Adams, Kendrick with not much Zimmerman for now. He's going to have to get his timing back all over again after the AS break.This week, at least, go with what's been working.

During a season, almost everybody goes cold or maybe has to go on the IL. It is better to have Zimmerman Decisions than it is to have No Zimmerman. He has ALWAYS hit when he is healthy. He doesn't look good now. But long way to go --almost half-a-season left. He'll do what's asked of him. Teammates have always appreciated him. It won't be a problem. Come back in August when, more likely than not, he has one of his hot streaks.

Tom, With all the discussion about whether or not the Nationals should be buyers or sellers, I’m seeing signs of player fatigue. Doolittle seems to have a tired arm, while both Rendon and Turner need a break. Do you think overplaying these players will impact the Nats in the 2nd half?

They all look like they need the 4-day break, that's for sure. Glad Rendon is an All-Star --long overdue. But it's not what he NEEDS. Maybe he can just hide in a corner all day Monday and Tuesday. He's good at it.

So a lot has been made about how easy the schedule is for the next week or so for the Nats. We should be able to take the Marlins and the Royals, the Phillies have been struggling so maybe we can sweep them again, and I'm not too worried about the O's but what happens after that? The rest of July looks ROUGH. We have 18 games against teams over .500 (21 if you include the Phillies), half of those games are against division leaders. What would you consider to be a successful July? Should we just hope to make up ground over the next week or so and then break even for the rest of the month?

I see what you see. Weak teams and floundering Phils for next 11 games. Make hay. A season is a few hot (or cold) streaks and a lot of .500 spells. Push so that this 23-10 period ends up being 30-14 or 31-13. Yes, then it gets harder. So, FOCUS when it's easier.

That's it for this week. Fun week coming up. Women's World Cup ends with the final on Sunday. Go, US! Wimbledon begins. Nats push to break. NBA signings finish --maybe Kawhi Leonard decides! See you all next Monday, day before All-Star Game. Thanks for your sharp questions. 

Dahl has a higher batting average, but Juan is ninth in the league in on- base percentage. Otherwise Juan's numbers are better. Plus he doesn't play at Coors Field. And Dahl has no more long-term success to draw from in swaying selectors. What gives?

Since Colorado already has a All-Star in Arenado, it's a good question. But there may be reticence to have three players from a team with a 42-41 record on the AS team. Which, imo, is fair. 

I just read that a surgeon who specializes in achilles surgerys states that there is an 82% of basketball players who have this type of surgery, are out of the league within 2 years. Everyone is chastising the Knicks for demanding Durant's medical info before they offered him the "Max Contract". Do you think the Knicks should have made this request?

My guess, obviously it's a guess, is that KD will be a very good player, but not the real "KD." No, I wouldn't build, or rebuild a team around a star with that prognosis. By the time he returns in '20-'21 it will be the season which would have been his 14th NBA year if he hadn't had the injury. That's a LOT of mileage. I'll try to take a look, by next week, to see how many players have been a good investment --his deal is 4 yrs/$164M-- in what would be their 14th, 15th and 16th NBA years. Good luck to him. But a 95% comeback would be pretty amazing --at least to me.  

To me, it seems like the Nat's turnaround coincided with the arrival of Parra. Not because of his play on the field, but because he brought back the one thing this team was missing ever since they let go of Michael Morse - fun.

Sometimes things fall together. It's too early to say with this Nats team. But a HUGE issue was whether the radically changed roster would develop chemistry over the course of the season and whether that chemistry would match Martinez style --cheerful, optimistic. Parra has, so far, been a key. And I assume many of you saw Jese Dougherty's fine story about how Parra's entire career has been a statistical duplicate of Davey Martinez career! They are as close to career clones as you'll find --including positions played, strong OF defense, LHed hitters, same size, some speed and even played a little bit of time playing 1st base.

Plenty has gone wrong the last two years. About time some little odd thing goes right. Maybe it's Parra, the Dugout DJ!

Curious about your take on the Nats’ Expos throwback. Why should DC care about the franchise’s Canadian past - particularly since the team never win anything. Do the Twins have Senators days? Why not have DC throwback days instead?

I'm with you --I don't care. (Don't tell F.P. IMO, you're entitled to LOVE any uniform you ever played in!) But I don't have to. I always disliked those Expos uniforms. ("De gustibus non est disputandum"). I know that's an honest reaction --doesn't mean it's the RIGHT reaction-- because, when they wore those things, I covered my eyes --and I had no had idea they'd ever come to DC.

 

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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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