Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jul 29, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Make or Break?

We've got lots of fine topics for a beautiful warm summer day in the DC area. 

The Nats face the Braves in a genuinely important three-game series on Mon-Tues-Weds, but probably without Max Scherzer whose back still bothers him. 

Can Nats find a way to take at least two with Braves now having injuries (Markakis, Swanson)?

What did we learn from weekend's Dodger series? Anibal Sanchez, who didn't have the pitching style generally thought to be effective against Dodgers (he nibbles, Bums are patient), gets 20 straight Dodgers out. 

Do the Nats have a fourth effective option vs Dodgers if they meet in Oct? 

The trade deadline --7/31, 4 pm-- FINALLY gets here and the Nats will trade for a reliever or... Well, there might be an open rebellion at Nats Park. Who will it, should it be? 

Skins open training camp and give Colt McCoy, who's made a small fortune being a backup and winning only seven games (7-20 in starts) a THIRD of the reps along with Keenum (established starter) and Haskins (No. 1 draft pick). What is THAT nonsense about? 

Does Trent Williams hate the Skins? On a scale of 1-to-10, whattaya think? Or does the Skins best player of this (dismal) period most want more money with his holdout? 

Tennis phenom Coco Gauff comes to the Rock Creek Tennis Center for this week's Citi Open. That should bring out some crowds. 

To my relief, Katie Ledecky, one of the best and most appealing athletes DC has ever produced, won her 800-meter freestyle race after fighting a somewhat mysterious (no diagnosis) illness at the FINA world championships. I hate the sound of "not diagnosed" and "did not race, did not talk" in the same graph. I feel better now. Does Katie? The question window is open! Lemme have it --including you analysis, quips and whatever else disguised as questions. I'll take all the "smart" and "funny" that I can steal from you. 

Oh, also, I've discovered that, this year, Bryce Harper has only three spots in the strike zone where he's weak. Unfortunately for the Phils, those "holes" within the K zone are Anything Up, Anything Away and Anything Down! If you don't throw it down the middle or thigh-high inside, he won't do much damage. (Gulp, can that really be true?) 

Nats think they "match up well" w Dodgers after 11-4 win on Sun. Do they? Does anyone? T

rade deadline is 7/31, 4 pm: Bullpen, bullpen!? Skins open training camp. Tennis phenom Coco Gauff in DC! Ledecky wins 800 free. Harper's problem.

Send Em!

So, I think everyone knows this is a learning year. Here's a scenario that I don't expect to be too far fetched - can you tell me if there is any validity to this? They start Keanan, he plays (ok given the tools he has available to him), the skins, maybe they win a game - of the first 4 or 5. A contending team's QB goes down - out for the season, do the skins try to trade Keanan for a high pick (or a weapon), then turn the team over to Old/Young/New #7? If he 7 wins maybe 4 or 5 of the remaining games the skins still finish poor but the keep the coach who won with a rookie QB?

Here's my "most likely." Snyder looks over Jay's shoulder every 10 seconds looking for any sign that Keenum-is-just-good-ol'-Keenum and Haskins should be handed the team. Keenum could maybe have won 5-6-7 games. Haskins is a rookie --so he wins 4-5. 

Snyder fires Gruden instead of himself.

You say this is too predictable, too easy, too pat and too Skins-of-the-last-20-years.

I say that, after a while in sports, once a powerful trend is in place, you are wise to predict that it will CONTINUE.

Long ago, the NL won a bunch of All-Star Games in a row. So, being a young scribe, I started predicting every year that the NL would win again. No question. No hedging --WILL WIN. That semi-phony "prediction" was right for about the next 10 All-Star Games in a row. I milked it shamelessly.

Finally, NL manager Whitey Herzog had to throw a game (IMO) by starting a kid, Atlee Hammaker, and leaving him in to get shelled, so the AL could finally win an ASG for the good of the game. 

Can't prove it, but whenever I'd tease Whitey about it over the years, he'd just laugh and grin.

Until Snyder STOPS screwing up his franchise with fanboy meddling, I assume it will continue.

How's that Trent Williams-Skins relationship working out?

What can you tell us that the regular media has not on Max's status? And, if he goes down what the Nat's chances going forward?

At his point, the sensible view is that Max has an injury that should heal just fine --with time. It's not something that becomes major. (Ask Shawn Kelley.) 

BUT will Max be willing to rest enough, even if it means missing 1-2-3 more starts, so he can be ready for last 50 games and Oct? 

Everybody loves hardware, and he does, too. But that 4th CYA --for which he should be in the lead-- should take a back seat. 

To illustrate: if Max misses three more starts in which he'd probably go 2-1, the Nats can still find "others" who can go 1-2. That's ONE win in a 162-game season. Could it be important? Yes. But probably not. 

Get Max right first, then worry about anything else.

The Mets - had to say that again. WTH? So that's another strong(?) or at least capable body for the pen that's gone. The METS? Less than 3 days left where do we go from here?

The Mets traded for another top STARTING pitcher --Toronto's Marcus Stroman-- on Sunday. Not a reliever. So, that market is unchanged with at least 8 viable possibilities to get traded and at least 3 or 4 that fit the Nats needs and their, won't-go-over-the-lux-tax-phobia, pocketbooks.

The Mets trade made no sense --to anybody. The Mets problem is that they never grasp, or admit, when they WILL NOT WIN ANYTHING SIGNIFICANT THIS YEAR OR NEXT YEAR. They are 51-54 and lucky to be that decent. They should be opportunistic sellers. Not big sellers of big talents and not tankers. But strategic sellers.

Stroman is a free agent after '20. WHAT?? You only make that trade if you think you're going deep into the playoffs this year or next year. 

The Mets are a mess, even though they've played better recently, and they aren't going deep in the Stroman time frame. 

The Mets should not be trading their promising prospects. Not when they are depending on oldsters like Cano and Vargas, 36, and Todd Frazier 33. Also, who says Cespedes will be healthy and good by next year? He broke BOTH ankles when he fell off that horse! Jed Lowrie is 35 and hurt. 

The Mets are always cursed by the need to fight for the Back Page of the tabloids versus the Yankees. 

When the Yanks are on pace to win 100, maybe win a title, it scares the Mets to death not to seem relevant. As a result, they make desperate decisions that make them less-bad now but prevent them from being better later.

Will they still trade Wheeler or (stinky) closer Edwin Daiz, who's still throwing high-90s but having a bad year? Yes, you can be both a strategy buyer AND seller. Maybe the Mets will find that balance. But that would NOT be Mets-like.

Tom, your Sunday column on tanking was on target, but failed to mention a team that apparently succeeded after tanking: our own Washington Nationals. They lost 298 games in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons. Was the Nats' tanking more by accident than by design?

The Nats didn't tank --because they were never any good. From '05 through '10 they were essentially an expansion team --or worse. In my column, I excluded the 100-loss years of teams in their expansion phase. 

But, to your point, the one year that the Nats did try to lose ('07), and capitalize on their quasi-expansion status, the players resented being looked at as jokes --Buster said they might break the Mets 120-loss record (by plenty) and that was a reasonable prediction--instead they went 73-89 and received the No. 9 pick, but couldn't sign him (Aaron Crown, career WAR 2.8). So (because they couldn't sign him) they got the No. 10 pick the following year and took Drew Storen (career WAR 4.9).  While Drew had some good years, it was hardly transformative.

The Nats actually tried to get better in '09 by signing Adam Dunn and trading prospects for Josh Willingham. They teamed with Zim to average 33 homers and 91 RBI apiece. 

Not what you do when you want to lose. But they DID lose >100 and got Harper anyway!

 

It seems to me the growth of Nats fans has seriously plateaued. I was hoping it would continue growing as more and more kids became adults having known nothing but the Nationals locally. But it seems they're stuck in that ~30k a year territory. It would be nice to break through into the mid-30s and have all Friday/Saturday games be almost guaranteed near-sellouts.

I've always said that until the Nats get at least as far as an LCS series --and give the city a large buzz for weeks with an chance off going to the World Series-- you're not going to have a true gauge of the team's fan base. In many cities, you get the big attendance jump the year AFTER you go to the World Series. A World Series REALLY excites a town, even if the team loses. It certainly hasn't helped grab the casual fan, or the bandwagon fans --hey, everybody is welcome!-- when you get knocked out in the Division Series four times.

Go to a World Series, then we'll evaluate. Also, the support of a fan base is measured by how the town responds to .500 seasons or .450 seasons. The Nats were 82-80 and lost Harper, their best everyday drawing card. So, look at '19 attendance in that light.

BUT if I were the Lerners I would certainly be trying to get to an NLCS, at least, or a World Series, in '19-'20-'21 when they have Max, Stras and Corbin. They now rank No. 1, 2 and 6 in WAR for NL pitchers. That ALONE gives you a chance in October. The Nats spent half-a-BILLION dollars on the three of them. You MUST take your shot at maximizing that.

Some are fans because they love baseball. Some are fans because they, specifically, fall for the Nats. But PLENTY are hooked by a great October --just like the Caps fan base will be linked to the team even more strongly because of ONE Stanley Cup. That CHANGES the relationship, sometimes for a generation.

Friday night was an exciting game between two good teams. (Or one great visiting team and one good home team). Atmosphere at Nats Park felt (to me) for the first time since Opening Day to be electric again, and made me excited for the Braves coming to town next week. And I was really impressed with Anibel settling in after what could have been a disastrous first inning. Almost made me get over the frustration of 12 LOB. Four questions for you: 1) Assuming that the bunt for Parra was put on by the dugout, why pull Anibel if you're just going to sacrifice anyway? He was cruising (20 retired in a row, and his pitches after the first were 11, 4, 11, 12, 12, 8). Dodgers COULD NOT solve him. And the bullpen was gassed from 4 in 3 days vs. COL and looking at (probably) high load with Ross and Fedde going to take turns again. Seemed unnecessary given the willingness to give up the out anyway? 2) In the postgame DM admitted that Rainey, Suero, and Rodney (no surprise) were all unavailable. Given that fact, how do you take out Guerra after 2 outs on 10 pitches (4 pitch K, easy 6-3)? Felt like shades of MattW "he's my left handed guy" without a realization that he was using Sipp for the third day in a row, in a place that was actually lower leverage index than the two batters Guerra had already set down. 3) If DM can trust Guerra in the 8th inning tied 1-1 with the best team in baseball, why can't he trust him to close a 1 run lead against the purple mountain majesties instead of rolling Rodney out for the 3rd time in 2 days??? 4) Barraclough has allowed 11 of 13 inherited runners to score. Bringing him in for their best batters with men on base after a month in the minors feels downright negligent. Can we trade him for a bag of baseballs back to Miami? Thanks for the chats.

Wow, that's a lot of good question!

It was right to take Sanchez out because he'd hit his normal pitch limit and you need him to be strong on Wednesday in the Double Game against the Braves.

You can say that "Turner is Barraclough's man 'cause this is the situation we brought him up for."

You can also say, "Going, going, gone --kinda what we expected. There goes another game. And down goes Barraclough back to the minors." As the ball disappears, you think, "maybe any other way of losing this game would have made more sense."

As you may have heard me say, one of the great managing rules of thumb is: Lose the RIGHT way.

Losing to the Dodgers with a just-up-from-purgatory Barrclough doesn't FEEL like the right way to lose.

Just as losing with Rodney pitching a second inning, and the bottom of the ninth, didn't feel like the right way to lose to the Phils and using Rodney for the third time in 28 hours didn't feel like the right way to miss a chance for a four-game sweep of the Rockies last week.

But there is an asterisk: With THIS bullpen, what were the BETTER options.

On the list of bullpen culprits for '19, it's a battle at the top between Rizzo and the Lerners. (I give the nod to Riz for putting this mess together and continuing to think they had enough.) Then Martinez finishes third --but he's in the photo!

The more brilliant your manager is at piecing together, developing and using a bullpen --like Davey Johnson his whole career and Buck Showalter in Baltimore, the lower the priority you need to put on amassing dominant relievers because one of your main bullpen strengths is the manager.

When you have a novice manager, like Martinez, who has had very little experience/exposure to in-game bullpen moves, then you have to compensate for that by giving your new manager MORE help in the pen --'cause he's going to need it to cover for his inexperience or blunders. 

Should Stephen Strasburg be in the conversation for NL CYA?

Yes. Right now those two, plus Ryu (with his invisible ERA) should BE the conversation. 

Right now, I'd say it's Max, with a lead, over Ryu. Then there are a bunch together, including Stras, who could win if the other two fall. FanGraphs WAR depends heavily on FIP which measures what SHOULD have happened to a pitcher based on the outcomes that he can control --K, W, HR, HBP. By that, the top 4 are Max, Stras, deGrom, Ryu.

However, I think the Cy Young Award should be based on what DID happen --including who was lucky and who wasn't. So, I'd give some weight to pitching for a team that makes the playoffs.

I'd even give a little weight to win --like Stras leading the majors with 14. Analytics hates that. Well, what happens if there is a year when somebody is 24-3 with a 2.20 ERA but another pitcher is 14-13 with a 1.90 ERA, a ton of K's and a better FIP/WAR? 

Are you going to ignore 24-3, ignore who competed within all those games and won them (sure, probably with plenty of run support). 

So, at what point do you let Strasburg's 14-4 record into the edges of the conversation?

A lot of this will solve itself before Sept 30th. Right now the Braves' Mike Soroka (10-2), age 21, only has 18 starts, which will hurt his total value --not enough innings. But, if he keeps pitching this well (2.44 ERA) by the end of the year he could be right in the top candidates in the CYA debate.

The Nats make a LOT of boneheaded plays (especially on the basepaths). Many of them seem to involve guys getting sent home when they have no business being sent. Two more of those just this weekend. Isn't it time for Bobby Henley to be fired?

He's a great guy and smart, too. He's under instructions to "press the issue" with sending runners --it's partly analytics. As a result, 100% of the runners who get thrown out by 10 feet are obvious and ugly. But I'd say that 80% of the runners he sends home who score --because a throw home, an outfield wall carom or relay throw go the Nats way-- are not noticed.

Nonetheless, I thought the Parra and Adams "sends" were bad in real-time --AS it was happening and I'm in the press box watching the whole field. 

The Adams "send" was awful because Matt could barely jog, was clearly hurt (from the HBP) and NEVER should have been asked to score from 1st. NEVER. Martinez never throws anybody under the bus, but he didn't protect Henley. He said he thought that Adams' ankle came out worse because he was sent home and also had to slide. His words were, "It's a lot worse than when it first originated" --meaning when he got hit by the pitch. But then, maybe Dave is knocking himself (as well as Henley) for not pinch-running for him immediately.

They really need Adams to be "a few days" and not two weeks. It'd be a tight call on whether to go with a 10-day IL trip with Kendrick and Parra at first, or keep Adams active and hope he can play in half that time.

 

Does Jeremy Hellickson figure in Mike Rizzo's personnel plans for the remainder of this season? Should Hellickson figure in Rizzo's plans?

Talked to Jeremy on Sunday. He was about to throw his third bullpen while coming back. He's optimistic. He says, with all the other stuff he has to do, including a rehab stint in minors, that he wants to help the team on Sept. 1 when rosters expand. "I just want to get back and help these guys."

In the latest case, e.g., Ezekiel Elliott, it looks like NFL running backs now know the NFL considers them rather plentiful, expendable commodities with a short shelf life. NFL teams seem to able to find 1,000 yard RBs for ~$1 million/yr every day of the week, at least on rookie contracts. The key is a never ending supply of rookies. So I can't really fault Le'Veon Bell, Elliott et al. for holding out. What do you think?

You're right --incredibly short career span, so if they want to use any leverage they have to get more $$, I've got their backs.

BUT Bell did not help himself with that odd video of himself that he posted last week --talking a manic blue streak as he "selfied" himself riding down an escalator. Just made you think: This guy has to be a handful in the room. ESPN showed it, too, on Sports Center --with raised eyebrows by the anchors. So that didn't help.

Given the focus on staying under $207M, which current Nats players are most likely to be included in potential quality for quality trades?

That introduces almost infinite possibilities --which is why you seldom see speculation on such trades. Once you say something extreme like "what could we get if we packaged  Adam Eaton, Trea Turner and Carter Kieboom in a quality-for-quality trade. Could we get back an All-Star-level player (like Turner), an everyday player (like Eaton) and a major prospect (like Kieboom), but end up with a better Nats team with a fixed bullpen?"

You can go insane thinking up stuff like that. But it is part of what GMs try to imagine during trade talks.

For example, four years ago to get Trea Turner and Joe Ross. Imagine trying to dream this baby up, then get it executed.

--"The San Diego Padres sent Trea Turner to the Washington Nationals to complete an earlier deal made on December 19, 2014. December 19, 2014: The San Diego Padres sent a player to be named later and Joe Ross to the Washington Nationals. The San Diego Padres sent Jake Bauers, Rene Rivera and Burch Smith to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Tampa Bay Rays sent Jose Castillo, Ryan Hanigan, Wil Myers and Gerardo Reyes to the San Diego Padres. The Washington Nationals sent Travis Ott (minors) and Steven Souza Jr. to the Tampa Bay Rays."

 

Now that Max has missed significant time, do you think Davey will finally have the fortitude to hold him to an actual pitch count?

Martinez did "stand up" a bit on Max on Sunday, saying that he really didn't like to let a pitcher start a game without a bullpen session --which would probably be necessary for Max to pitch vs Atlanta on Tuesday. "We want to have 'eyes on' before (any start after injury)," he said.

Since Max had no BP session on Sunday, that means there's little or no chance he pitches vs Atlanta if Martinez stays with those remarks.

BUT I think it's clear that Max basically manages himself and always has in DC. Given his record, and his incredible durability, I think you have to trust him --even as you try, with little result, to try to reign him in just a bit.

As he gets older, at some point, he's going to have to make some compromises with his body. He has so many wicked pitches and is so smart in using them that, if he just stays healthy enough to take his starts, I think he can be effective for another four or five years. Or more. Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan were Max Stuff pitchers who stayed healthy and pitched until they were 45 and 46, respectively. 

I mentioned in the intro that I had something to point out about Bryce Harper and his low-power year.

In a year when everybody's hitting homers, Harper isn’t. His 18 place him in a 10-way tie for 63rd place in HR. Why? There are 3 places in the strike zone that you can pitch where he almost never hits a HR. Unfortunately for Phils, those spots are anywhere up, anywhere away & anywhere down.

It's hard to believe.

Can you remember another player who has been aquired in a below the radar midseason signing who has had the kind of positive, energized impact on both teammates and fans as Parts has had this season?

No, I honestly can't.

Martinez joked last week, that after his 1 1/2-year-old granddaughter attended a game, he sat in front of his big-screen TV at home and sang "Baby Shark" with her "for an hour." Sounded like he enjoyed it, but also like he was hearing it in his sleep.

I have vowed (to myself, my wife, my producer and even joked with editors that, sometimes, I COULD hold this chat to two hours. Last week, going past 4 p.m. really made me revisit the term "self-control!"

So, that's it for this week. Thanks for all your questions. I'll be on vacation next Monday but the chat will return at 11 a.m. on Monday, August 12th. See you then!

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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