Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Aug 26, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Let's Get It Rolling...

The last week has been one of Summer Sports Shockers --large and small, good and bad. Let's take a look at them this morning...and afternoon...and... 

The most shocking event was QB Andrew Luck, who was half-way to the Hall of Fame, retiring from the NFL at 29. That he retired at all --for any reason-- when, according to his owner, he might have been turning his back on >$450M in future earning, was an incredible stunner. 

But what struck me hardest --and saddest, because it tells you how brutal, grinding and demoralizing NFL pain-and-injury must be-- is that Luck retired with a sprained ankle! This must set a new record for The Last Straw. 

His list of injuries in his years with the Colts is long, brutal and typical of NFL QBs (and everybody else), including missing the whole '17 season. In his post-game (post-booing by Indy fans) interview late Saturday night, Luck explained that he had "made a vow" to himself that the next time he faced a long tough injury rehab --after basically enduring 4 years of 24/7/365 pain-and0-rehab-- he was going to "chose me, so to speak." 

They don't make athletes much tougher, more competitive or in love with their sport than Luck. 

Imagine the YEARS of grinding injury and rehab that must have led him to the point where he'd say: That is the last straw. I'm not going to live like this. As you'd expect, he's received enormous support, as well as a couple of rockhead comments. 

Next, how good are the Nats!!? After their sweep in Wrigley Field over the weekend, the Nats don't look like a team the Cubs would relish playing if they meet in the WC/WC game. 

In fact, NOBODY would want to play them right now --for any time since May 23rd! 

This is just about the best, and longest run of excellent baseball that the Nationals have ever played. BTW, the reason nobody has mentioned "bad fundamentals" for months is because, knock on wood, that maybe the Nats biggest area of improvement. You see a lot of lazy MLB play in August --but almost none from the Nats. They are crisp day after day. They barely even waste an AB. 

They could, with only a slight exaggeration, have won their last 19 straight games! They have gone 15-4. They blew two 3-run leads in the 9th inning when (imo) Davey Martinez overused Sean Doolittle when "anybody" --Hudson, Strickland, Rodney-- would have been better choices. 

In the other two loses, the Nats led by one-run after 7 innings. Of course, when your bullpen ERA is still one of the worst in 50 years, then blowing a couple of games when you led by 1 after 7 innings is just part of your normal M.O. 

Nonetheless, the Nats overall play for their last 80 games --almost HALF a season-- is truly exceptional. They've played like a 109-win team (54-26) for half a season. And with a stunning run differential (+147) that completely validates their W-L record. 

There's a tendency for some fans/analysts to look for a hole in any hot run. For example, the Nats "must" play a weak schedule. Except that the opposite is true. This year the Nats have played 66.9% of their games (40-37) against teams that are .500-or-better (plus the 65-66 D'backs). The Nats have only played 19 games (14-5) against the five awful teams in MLB with winning percentages below .400. Contrast that with the excellent Astros who have "only" played 41% of their games against "winners." Or even the Yanks (53%). Who HAS played lots of winners (plus the D'backs who are +44 in run diff)? Dodgers (62%)and Braves (62%). 

Also, since last week, we've had the bad news that Evgeny Kuznetsov has been suspended from international hockey for 4 years for testing positive for drugs and Kuznetsov (who can still play in the NHL) has issued an apology. 

Your thoughts, if any? 

Let's go! 

The Nats pennant race is finally about to approach its hottest and the NFL season is just 10+ days away! 

Let me know what you think, what you'd like to know.

...could be the core of an amazing Nats team for years to come. Can we afford to extend all four of them?

The Nats general view on huge salaries is that they are in a market where, when they are playing well and drawing well, they can probably pay FIVE players more than $100M on a guaranteed deal. With time, that range becomes more like $125M or $140M (the Corbin deal) or $175-to-$210M (for Strasburg and Max).

After Zim's big deal falls off the books this year, they'll still be playing $23.3M to $30M year for Max, Strasburg and Corbin. They can certainly afford to pay Rendon $200M. As I've pointed out, the comparable contract --best case from Anthony's perspective-- is the $199M that Nolan Arenado will earn in his age 30-through-35 seasons (6 yrs). Rendon will be 30 next season, so those are the years/ages that he has for sale.

I'd say it would be a good idea to focus on the team RIGHT NOW. The Nats are playing now the way the Dodgers have played all season. 

If the Nats win the NL East --<10% chance, imo, because the Braves keep winning and the Nats keep squandering the occasional "bullpen loss"-- they'd play the NL Central winner while (maybe) the WC/WC winner knocks off the Dodgers, who've found one way or another to disappoint themselves almost every year since '88. 

Far more likely, IF the Nats win the WC/WC game, they face the Dodgers in exactly the situation that Washington has faced in past Octobers --they will be the dangerous underdog facing the everything-to-lose over-dog Dodgers.

In just one week, the Nats (6-1) have GREATLY increased their chance of being a WC team, and also a WC team with home field in the WC/WC game.

Just as Nats fans have probably looked at the schedule and realize how hard it is to make up 6 games (on Atlanta) with 32 to play, they should also realize what a bad spot the teams chasing the Nats are suddenly in --Cubs trail them for the top WC spot by 4 games, Philly by 5 1/2 games and the Mets and Milwaukee are both 6 games behind the Nats.

When you have a team playing THIS well for THIS long, don't look too hard at the migraine headaches ahead. Look at the opportunity now. Remember, the better the Nats do in October, the more likely ANYBODY on the team --including Rendon-- will be to say, "That was an amazing amount of fun. I want to stay here." 

Or in the case of free agents --come to DC over the next winter.

 

Tom, I've been following area sports for over 40 years. In that time, I don't think I've ever seen a local team baseball lineup (including the Orioles) as scary as the Nats 1-5 hitters this year. Turner, Eaton, Rendon, Soto, and Kendrick must be averaging about .300 as a group. Can you recall a team with so much firepower in the top 5? Secondly, who do you have starting at 1b if the playoffs were next week and Zimm was healthy enough to play? Kendrick, Zimm, or Adams?

There have been a LOT of loaded lineups --1-through-5-- over the years. 

It's actually the depth of the Nats lineup that is making them so tough --compared to other teams that are also loaded at the top. The Nats have gotten 26 homers & 82 RBI from the 6th hitters --a pace for >30 and >100. Even No. 7 hitters have 21 homers and 71 RBI. Whatever player gets dropped to 8th has not done well (often Gomes) --.225/.664 OPS 11 HR, 52 RBI.

First base is fascinating because that is one of the two positions where the Nats rank No. 1 in RBI with 110 RBI. That is a pace for 137 RBI! (Also 31 HRs by 1st basemen.) 

The other spot where the Nats are No. 1 in RBI is third base with Rendon (30 homers, 113 RBI).

Kendrick is the key to 1st base production --now and in Oct. 

Over the last THREE years, Kendrick has learned "launch angle" and is a much different, and better hitter than he has ever been. This is not just a '19 phenomenon. 

The reason they try not to wear him out by playing him too much is because he's such a big part of October hopes. Pre-'17, Howie slashed .289/.332/.749. 

The last 3 years. he's slashed .318/.366/.508 in 727 ABs with 27 homers and 109 RBI. He hasn't been Anthony Rendon --but not too far behind.

Matt Adams has made wonderful contributions. But he is a high-strikeout free-swinging slugger --not generally the type who flourishes in Oct. 

Of the 114 players in MLB who have 18-or-more homers (Adams has 20), only EIGHT have more WALKS than HOMERS. Think about that!

Why does anybody throw these 8 guys a strike? They never walk. (List: J Abreu, JBaez, ERosario, Jay Bruce, SMarte, DSantana, Adams, KPillar.)

Adams has 20 homers and only 17 walks but 96 strikeouts. He can be "pitched to." Kendricks, much less so. 

In Oct, you're going to want Kendrick, or Zimmerman if he somehow gets healthy AND hot, at first base UNLESS it is a specifically bad match-up for them and a good one for Adams.

It's not that Adams is a problem. He's good. It's just that the current version of Kendricks is SO good and has been for three years --whenever healthy.

Why are the Nats so careful with Kendrick? Because almost NOBODY is a dangerous hitter at his age --36. Or anywhere NEAR his age.

Right now, how many players who have reached their 33rd birthday, and who stay healthy enough to qualify for the leaders lists, have an OPS of even .815? Yes, .815 is good, but not that far above MLB average with the juiced ball.

Only 8. Carlos Santana (.953), Charlie Blackmon, Josh Donaldson, Yuri Guriel, Justin Turner, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Braun and Shin-Soo Choo.

Santana, Blackmon and Donaldson are 33. So if you push the cutoff up to age 34, you only have 6 guys left who are productive (and play a lot). So you see how remarkable Kendrick's current OPS of .945 really is.

Also, the paucity of players who continue to be big hitters at 32-or-older shows you why Bryce Harper had so few bidders (3) for a very long contract --the Phils signed him through age 38, so good luck with THAT.

And, unfortunately, it may also show you why the Nats may be tempted to talk themselves into thinking that Rendon is having a career year --and may have 2 or 3 more in him. But will they shy from a 5-or-6-year deal. I HOPE not. Because the Nats could be EXTREMELY good next year WITH Rendon, and with what appear to be maturing versions of Ross and Fedde, plus the ability over the winter to build a REAL bullpen. AND Carter Kieboom arrives in '20. AND, AND, AND....with Max, Strasburg, Corbin and Sanchez all signed for '20 and the first 3 of them for '21, too, why would you want Rendon to "fly away" when your window is THIS open?

Last point: Before we (I) drool too much about Kendrick's three-year slash line, remember that Zim's slash in that time is .284/.345/.523 for a .868 OPS! When (if) he's ever healthy, he can still hit WELL above MLB-average.

Nice problem, but a REAL problem.

Also, what do you do with another Grand Theft Rizzo addition in Asdrubal Cabrera?

IMO, good MLB fans should want to see the current red-hot teams, like the Nats and maybe Indians (47-25) and/or A's (55-30), to get into a SERIES in October --not just a one-game Russian Roulette WC game. 

Actually, that WC game is like playing Russian Roulette with two chambers and one bullet.

With Ryu and Scherzer both losing time this year, is Strasburg now the leader for the Cy Young Award? And do you think that the voting writers will focus more on deGrom's advanced stats or his counting stats? It seems like he might also be a frontrunner for the award.

IMO, Max has missed too much time. Strasburg has too high an ERA.

It'll come down to Ryu (favorite w 2.00 ERA, plays for a winner) and deGrom (K's, but Mets probably won't make Oct.)

FanGraphs WAR probably gets more play in Cy Young Award voting than it should. But it's certainly useful --even though it rewards what "should have happened" too much for an annual award, as opposed to what actually DID happen.

Max 5.6.

deGrom 5.6

Strasburg 4.5

Walker Buehler 4.3

Noah (Thor) 4.0

Patrick Corbin (4.0)

Yes, 3 of the top 6 in NL are Nats. That's why you take them so seriously in a short series.

Greinke 3.8

Ryu 3.8

Mike Soroka (Atl) 3.7

Having been a fan since the Nationals came to Washington, I have to say that this season has been a lot more interesting--even riveting at times--that the seasons when the Nationals breezed easily to the division championship. Some many great individual stories from the starters and the bench, plus the never-ending heartburn cause by the relief staff. And with so many teams vying for those two playoff spots, they have little room for error, even as the front runner. No question other than: As a journalist, how to you rank the enjoyment of this season--with it's many ups and downs and story lines---compared to others you have covered?

In my book, it's probably the second-best Nats season for regular-season energy and stories, SLIGHTLY behind '12 because the Nats went from "they might be pretty good pretty soon" to MOST WINS IN THE MLB (98) in one year. It was a waltz to the wire --but WHAT a waltz!

Remember, in '12, Washington hadn't won ANYTHING in the MLB for 79 years!

Also, I'd rank this season behind the fabulous Oriole near-misses of '82 (last weekend vs Brewers) and '89 (worst team in MLB that started 0-22 to the edge of playoffs on last weekend in '89). Also, the O's in '83 were culminating a long quest with a WS win. And they were a VERY appealing team that had about 1/3 the resources of the Steinbrenner Yankees.

The current Nats aren't exactly hurting for payroll or superstars, including ones bought at auction (Max, Corbin). This is a fun season to "romance" about. But when your 3 top starters make $525M guaranteed, you really ought to be good. A week or so ago I was talking with Rizzo and he said that he and plenty of others (including me) thought the '19 Nats would "win about 89-90 games." And, after all the twists and turns, here we are. The Nats are now on PACE for 91 wins.

Maybe it was more fun and more educational --about Davey Martinez and others-- to do it this way! And more exasperating, too. 

BTW, bullpen handling aside, I'd have a hard time --now that "fundamentals" seem to have been addressed-- in naming an area of managing where Martinez has an obvious problem. 

Granted, bullpen is big. 

But he's built and tinkered with lineups well, and he obviously syncs up very well with a veteran team that knows how to blend seriousness and studiousness on the field with fun and goofiness everywhere else. 

 

 

Quietly, his usual way, Rendon is sneaking up towards an MVP season. Is anyone noticing? Sadly, I don’t think the Lerners will pay, so we best appreciate this year.

Cody Bellinger.

Leads N.L. in FanGraphs WAR at 6.8 over defending MVP Yelich. Dodgers have league's best record. Good D, top arm and this year, after being BENCHED in the World Series last year for not being able to hit LHers (.681 OPS), he now KILLING LHers (1.054)!

Rendon and also Acuna deserve serious discussion, but win MVP --actually win it?-- not when Bellinger (or Yelich) may hit 50 homers. One or both would probably have to miss the rest of the year to IL --we don't want that for anybody.

Boz, with the move toward younger players in baseball, have the Nationals outsmarted the quant jocks? It seems that it's fairly straightforward to measure the increased production, cost savings, you can get by loading up on young but but how do you take into account the impact that veteran players have on maintaining a stable clubhouse? The Nats, this year, seem tohave found the sweet spot -- can't see them turning it around this year with out the "old guys".

The irony is that just 10 years ago --or maybe just six years ago-- the current Nats would be thought of as a "veteran team" --in a good sense-- but not "an old team" in a bad sense.

There are plenty of teams that devote far more resources to analytics than the Nats, and a bunch that probably USE them better, too.

But the Nats have an edge in scouting, maybe a big edge on a lot of teams. And their pro scouting at the MLB level --to get, get-back and appreciate players like Adams, Kendrick, Suzuki, ACabrera and Parra is remarkable.

They spot players that are just sitting there --if you'd only LOOK AT THEM-- that others miss. Like Rodney (three good pitches, touches 97-98), Strickland, Hudson and (maybe) if he ever gets back LHer Roenis Elias, who's also 30-years-old and still throws hard. But then you have to have quality scouts --and a GM with an eye-- to make those moves.

There's a reason the Nats appear headed toward their 5th 90-win year and 5th playoff spot in 8 years. The willingness to follow their own ideas, even when others mock them --and some in the game do-- is still one of their strengths.

How stubborn is Rizzo? He STILL thinks he picked a winner in Davey Martinez. Looking at his track record, it's probably wise to give Mike's evaluation a lot of weight. He was dead wrong on Matt Williams. And Trevor Rosenthal. And...

But you still say the words "Rizzo is a dope" at your peril. 

Why would anyone second-guess Andrew Luck's difficult decision to walk away from the game he loves and played so hard? He's a 2nd generation NFL quarterback who experienced the Archie Manning lows and (nearly) the Peyton/Eli Manning highs. He gave his body for the game to the point of self-ruin. He walked away literally while he can still walk. Celebrate the decision and career, and be glad that he's not as maimed as Johnny U who couldn't close his gifted right hand to shake yours or squeeze a pen to sign an autograph in his later years-- and was *still* an ambassador for the game. I've loved the Colts all my life, and can't understand any Luck reaction other than sadness and gratitude for a career well-played.

You'll find MANY who agree with you! (Including me.)

Maybe all you need to know is that:

1) his father was a pro QB 

2) he LOVES playing (as opposed to "loves being a star") 

and

3) he certainly walked away from HUNDREDS of millions of dollars after a career in which he didn't quite make $100M ($97M).

(FWIW, Luck may owe some of that money back to the Colts --I tried to figure it out. Might be as much as $24M, but I doubt the Colts will/can go after all of that.) 

Has he started to manage better while Doolittle is on IR? If he has, does this suggest any learning for the rest of this season and future ones?

When the "boys" score 7-to-17 runs almost every game, there isn't a whole lot of bullpen managing to be done.

But it is amazing how much ONE game can change short-term fan perception. Hudson gave up a long flyball that was caught at the CF fence in the 10th on Sunday. The wind knocked it down and kept it in the park. (Yes, the same wind killed a Soto HR in the 1st inning.)

If the Cubs win on a walk-off on that ball by Castellanos, then the story becomes, "Strickland, Rodney and Hudson turn 5-2 Nats lead in the 7th, into a 6-5 loss in the 10th." 

That's one reason Martinez seemed so genuinely grateful after the game. He didn't do anything wrong. 

But he appreciates the way this pen keeps battling after so many cream pies in the face. (OK, maybe those pies feel like they are full of rocks, not cream.)

How may wins (based on what you have seen so far)? How many games until they throw Haskins in the ring? Alex Smith - will he play again (for any team)? Trent Williams - will he be play for Wash this season? Traded? Me, I see them at 5 -11, Haskins starts (assuming no injuries in week 7 or 8) Smith is retired. Williams - hope he is traded for a high pick and a backup OL.

I thought their play against Atlanta, especially the defense in the first half against Matt Ryan and plenty of Falcon starters, looked like a 7-9 team or maybe 8-8.

But how much were the Falcons showing?

It's only one solid half but this could be a better than average defense. 

Then you look at special teams (Tress Way is a plus), turnover differential and end-of-game fate for whether any humble but semi-decent team wins 5-6-7-8. 

Whatever else he is, or isn't, Gruden is a good NFL offensive coordinator. And he hasn't let The Park drive him (even a little bit) batty. 

Getting Keenum was a season saver now that Smith isn't coming back in '19 (or perhaps ever), McCoy is still hurt and (imo) Haskins is not ready (and probably not close).  

Exhibition season is a gigantic illusion. You learn more in the first half of the first game --especially against the Eagles on the road!-- than you learn in all of OTAs, camp and exhibition games.

If you had to bet, it sure looks like a trade of Trent Williams is about their only option. 

They are getting decent play at LT from Donald Penn --A.K.A Chris Cooley's college roommate at Utah State.

On Gruden's TV show, Jay said to Cooley --"So, he was your roommate?" Cooley answered, "What does that tell you?"

"That you're REALLY OLD," said Gruden.

(Penn is 36.)

For now, I'll go with the eternal 20-year-average Skins record, of 7-9. This year, with as many negative reviews as the Skins have gotten from experts, that's probably taking the "over" --maybe by a lot.

Of course, as always, the Skins will tell everybody --and, unfortunately, tell themselves, too-- that they should be 10-6 --at worst.

NOTHING kills you worse in sports than overestimating how good you are. You can't --year after year-- fall into believing the soft soap you're trying to sell to the suckers.  

Hi Tom, Thanks for doing these chats. They are always great. You asked last week about what the Braves will do with their young pitchers. I would argue that they have already answered this in the past. Similar cases were Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen. Young guys getting up there in innings. One guy they ignored his innings and the other they tried stashing in the bullpen. Both guys blew out and it was a big factor in the Braves selling off a few years ago. I don't see them slowing down innings on either one of these guys.

We'll see.

Medlen was as close to a poor man's Greg Maddox as I expect to see. REALLY sorry to see his career end so fast. I don't understand teams that fail to realize that young pitchers are gold.

For example, Erick Fedde was a No. 1 draft pick and Joe Ross was, in the Nats eyes, a major steal in the Trea Turner trade.

"Everybody," including me, probably, has been saying or implying for years, "Where ARE these guys? Are they ever going to pan out? They are 26 now." The Nats jerked both of them around in the sense that --out of need-- they tried to get use out of one or both of them from the bullpen over the last couple of years. 

But I have to give them credit for one major thing --the Nats ALWAYS insisted that BOTH were still starting pitchers in their eyes and future parts of the rotation. 

As recently as two months ago, that evaluation had me shaking my head. Maybe I ought to shake it at myself. They are both really good likable hard-working guys. Fedde still looks, to me, like his margin of error as a starter is going to be pretty small --no big swing-and-miss pitch and needs a lot of GIDP and moxie. 

But, this season, he's certainly competed, shown heart and doesn't look like he's intimidated. 

Ross, for the last month-plus, has looked like a solid mid-rotation starter. FB at 96 with movement. Pitching coach Paul Menhart has him using a low-80's curveball as an off-speed pitch after YEARS of the Nats trying to teach him a change-up --any kind of change-up. Ross has had a couple of game with "plus command" that made me wonder "is THIS who he's about to become?" 

Talked with Joe recently. Coming back from TJ is a big, long tough deal. He's not at the end of that process. You'll notice that at the back of his windup he still has his elbow "crooked" --sort of like a catcher. Not long, straight and fluid-like most pitchers. He says he's still working on getting that into a more normal position. But I'd say he's REALLY making impressive progress. Ross is under team control through '21 and Fedde is under control "forever."

If ONE of them becomes a solid starter, it changes the team's future needs --and salary needs-- significantly. If BOTH of them pan out, then all of our evaluations of the Nats "farm system development" in recent years goes way up. Instead of, well, they developed Soto, Robles and Kieboom, but where are the pitchers? If the answer is Ross, Fedde, Suero, Rainey (after trade), then the story gets a lot nicer.  

Rizzo has put a very strong team on the field thru trades, draft development, free agents. Did the Lerners understand just how good the Nats could be with a decent bullpen? Maybe not. We are getting to see now how good they can be with a not quite decent one. Were they too distracted by saving a small amount of money?

I once knew a kid who responded to many questions by saying, "Maybe-so-probably."

The Nats pen is certainly looking better --IF Doolittle comes back healthy and effective. 

But what if he doesn't? 

Then you're going to say, "If they had just signed Kimbrel in spring training, THE WAY DOOLITTLE PUBLICLY TOLD THEM TO DO, then the pen never would have been a disaster and Doolittle probably doesn't get worn down until he wore out."

Watching Kimbrel on Sunday, he still has great raw stuff --just scary good-- but his command still doesn't look like it's back to pre-'18 levels. He had three rocky games when he first came back with the Cubs, and he's been on the IL recently (not arm). His ERA in his last 15 games is 2.63. 

No, not the 1.91 from his earlier career. 

But, as I've said before, my guess is that (like Papelbon at similar ages and with similar career arc), Kimbrel will still be a 2.50-to-3.00 closer for 3 or 4 years. 

That is still a LOT.

We'll see how Kimbrel does. But I still say the Cubs stole him for $43-million with a team option for '22, too. The Nats should have been in that game. They should have been in it IN FEBRUARY and March. They kicked the tires for about five seconds, then never again. Maybe they'll be right on this and I'll be wrong. (That happens quite a bit.) 

But it sure hasn't happened yet.

 

 

We've had other players leave the game early. Some were stars (Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Gronk), some only played a few years (Chris Borland) and recently we've seen lower level draft picks hang them up before the season even starts! Now the can't miss #1 pick who replaced Peyton Manning and just threw for 39 TD's and 4,600 yards retires weeks before he's about to turn 30! Not to mention he was due to sign another MASSIVE extension. Even more shocking in an era of significant QB protection and stars playing into their late 30s.

Plenty of people around the NFL that this was just a unique case of one player. After all, Jim Brown, still the greatest NFL player ever, also retired at 29 --yes, that's right. I remember it vividly. NOBODY could believe it. I remember thinking that I would never again get to see him drag the entire Skins defensive backfield the last 10 yards into the end zone, stumping on their helmets, and kneeling them selectively along the way.

Koufax retired at 30. Brown was younger. In his last year, 1965, Brown --AS ALWAYS-- led the NFL in every category and led by an insane margin. It was like the Wayne Gretsky Margin of Superiority that we saw later. 

In '65, in a 14-game season, he gained 1,544 yards for 17 TDs and a 5.3-yd average per carry. He also caughtv34 passes for 328 more yards and four TDs. His 21 TDs were a career-high. His 1,872 yards from scrimmage was his third-base season out of his 9.

Brown wanted to become a Hollywood movie star. And he did. Immediately. Action --like "The Dirty Dozen." I always thought he might have done a good job if he'd ever gotten a serious role because he was one SERIOUS guy. 

Then he was a political activist in the 60s.

My point, Brown had brains and knew when to get out. Luck has brains and made a smart call --for him. The difference now, and I don't think it can be ignored, is that CTE is the elephant in the room. Luck has been described as "having one concussion for sure." And how many other concussions does ANY NFL QB have that are "maybes." As we now know, it's ALL the contact that does the destructive work, not just, or even primarily concussions. 

So, yes, I think Luck is more of a Colt-in-the-coal-mine than many are acknowledging right now.

Luck is a kind of double "Wow!" because he not only quit at 29 but did not even imply that CTE had anything to do with it. Said he loved football. 

So, if just years of grinding pain and rehab do it for that guy, then how many others will say, "I've had the same experiences as Luck, plus more head issues. Why am I continuing to play?"

Of course, the other huge problem for football is the PARENTS of kids who see that Luck retired at 29. When they have to sign that permission slip, like all our parents did, there will be a lot more, "NO!" 

I'm positive that MY parents, if I were growing up today, would have said "NO" to that permission slip for 7 straight years.  

The National's progress the last week has been fun with all the high scoring games, but don't you think it is delusional for the Nats to have post-season aspirations? They have won some amazing games but due to incredible high-scoring from the offense, which is, statically speaking an aberration (a fun one and long may it last, but it won't). People seemed to conveniently ignore the bullpen giving up a couple runs in the 9th, in one case two 2 -run homers: harmless in the end but fatal in close game, as we saw on Sunday, with Rodney giving up the almost predictable 8th inning homer (2R) tying the game. Playoff games tend to have soccer-like scores, and I just don't see this scotch-tape and used - string bullpen standing up to, say, the Yankees or Astros in a WS match-up--if it got that far. Oddly, the bullpen performance is also purportedly a statistical aberration but it seem to be extending a lot longer than any good stats...still the worst ERA, approaching a year long feat.

No doubt you mean well, but you've gotta be kidding!

In their last 80 games, the Nats have played 39 winners and 41 losers --just what you'd expect in a normal schedule.

They are 24-15 against the winners --just what you'd expect from a 95-plus win team. And they are 30-11 against the losers -also the domination you'd expect.

During this span, which is now HALF a season, the Nats are the highest-scoring team in the NL and the third-highest in ML behind the Yanks and Astros (who have the DH).

Max Scherzer has not won a game --and only pitched 9 mediocre innings-- since July 6th. That is as big an injury as this team could have. The Nats have gone 27-15 without a 3-time CYA winner and have outscored foes by 81 runs --almost 2-runs-a-game. That's nuts. Nobody thought they could do that. (I bet they didn't think they could.)

This run of pretty-good health --Doolittle on the DL, too-- and best-case performance may come to an end. After this week --2 with O's and 3 with the Marlins-- the schedule goes from 14 weeks of "normal" to a final month+ of "pretty tough." (But with 0 games against the 3 best teams --Dodgers, Yanks, Astros).

Any fan who can ignore a half-season of performance --whether it's good or bad-- is the one who's not seeing it clearly. 

When the Nats stunk after 50 games, everybody saw it. Everybody said they stunk. Now it's the flip: they've been every bit as good for 80 games as they were bad for 50 games.

You don't see many total "flips" where a team is so bad for so long and then so good for so long. But when you DO see it, at least have the fun of recognizing it for what it is.

Luck was certainly well within his rights to retire, even if the timing was bad. Given the serious nature of the injuries he's suffered (major shoulder surgery, a lacerated kidney!), it's understandable that he might not want to go through more rehab and recovery for another injury. But it also seems like he just didn't love the sport any more. My questions are: Do you think he ever did, that he REALLY loved it? Or did he play because he was good at it? From your experience, is there a sizable percentage of players who fall into that category: they do it but they don't love it?

By ALL accounts, there have been few players in many years who LOVED to play as much as Andrew Luck.

There's a great 30-second video of several clips with Luck saying, "Nice hit, big man," or the like to defensive linemen who have just smashed him to the ground. 

In one, after two guys make a head-first-to-the-turf body-slam pretzel of him, one of the tacklers says something like a little apology. Luck says, "Nah, you're fine, man. That's football, you know what I mean."

Boz, why do I get the feeling that we're going to hear a lot of "old school" front office and scouting types say something like, "This is what happens when you pin your franchise hopes on a smart rich kid. He's already got the money and he doesn't need the game, so he'll split as soon as he can." Josh Rosen already has dealt with that in his short career. I think it's another sign of the bunker mentality of pro sports and the NFL in particular. In the business world, it's not unusual to have to deal with talented young people with options. If you want them, you often accommodate them: perks, pay, etc. The NFL doesn't like it when the talent has other options, does it?

Good points.

Especially "The NFL doesn't like it when the talent has other options, does it?"

You can say that again.

Hi Boz, I think this weekend's sweep of the Cubs is one of those series that moves the needle on what this Nationals team can accomplish. It would now be a pretty big shock if this team misses the playoffs. I think 90 wins is now close to the floor of where this team will end up. Unfortunately, the Braves are also raising their own floor. Do the Nats have a realistic hope of catching them? I think this may now be the best of any of the Nationals team in this playoff era. And, maybe more importantly, I think they're tougher than previous iterations.

I think this is the Nats team that is best-suited to playing in October. IF Doolittle gets back at 100% and the new bullpen sneaks above 50th percentile --which is possible.

The Nats are a top offensive team, but they also lead the NL in steals. In an era of one-dimensional sluggers, they can manufacture runs better than almost anybody else. 

Also, the best way to combat the best current lineups --mostly built on "swing-hard-in-case-you-hit-it" sluggers is with High-K swing-and-miss pitching. NOBODY has three starters with the K-rate of the Nats big three. The bullpen's getting pretty decent at that, too, with the addition of "more velo."

This is (easily) the best bench the Nats have ever had. It's like the whole league said, "The kind of guys we wanted to add for the stretch run for the last 100 years --we don't want 'em any more. You can have 'em --for free."

Parra, >1,000 hits, 2 Gold Gloves, came in May. But adding Cabrera, a really slick accomplished versatile switch-hitter with >1600 hits, to go on the same bench with Kendrick (>1,700 hits), Suzuki (>1,300), Zimmerman (nearing 2,000) is almost ridiculous. There may not be room for all of them.

The Dodgers are better. But not a LOT better than the version of the last 80 games. Astros probably are, too. Braves are very good, but probably, at this point, not as good --BUT six games ahead will still probably be more than enough.

To answer your question, the Braves excellent play --6-0 last week with a 0.00 bullpen ERA in 20 innings-- has pushed the Nats to the point where they probably have to go 5-2 to have a decent chance to take this battle to the wire. 

Even that will be hard, during the last week of the season, the Braves only play five games while the Nats have EIGHT in seven days.

Just hope it gets a chance to live up to expectations because things could get wild.

....

This morning, Bryce Harper announced that his wife Kayla has given birth to their first child --baby boy Krew Aron Harper, 7 lbs 9 oz, 19 inches long. All are doing well. Good luck to everybody! 

....

That's it for this week --and then some! Thanks for all your fine questions. Next week's chat will be on Tuesday at 11 a.m. AFTER Labor Day on Monday. See you all then! 

Boz, while watching the weekend series, I spent some time trying to decide if this is the most entertaining Nats team in history. The first team was fun because they were the first and they overachieved. 2012 was fun because they were the first playoff team. The teams in the other playoff years were fun, too, because they won with great, compelling players like Scherzer and Harper. But these guys are really fun. The offense, with stars like Rendon and Soto, plus a LOT of role players, is great. The kid outfielders are having fun every day. The dugout dancing, the "Baby Shark" stuff, the quality starting pitching, even the shaky bullpen, is making this a lot of fun. Where does this team rank in terms of enjoyment for you (assuming you think of teams in that way)?

I do think of teams in that way.

Good lord, if we don't follow sports to enjoy ourselves, what are we doin'???

This team is way up there on the fun meter because they get such a kick out of playing, are truly focused (more than any previous Nats team) on playing the game the right way and NEED all 25 players. They have stars. But they know they need everybody. And nobody is above, below or outside the team. That's partly because vets "vet" some of the incoming players because Rizzo asks them for character references, so to speak. And, of course, the Nats have seem Suzuki and Cabrera in their uniform before.

But, as you may have noticed, our memories of teams also depend on how the story ends. The Nats of '19 have some similar story lines to the Caps Cup team. The difference --well, one diff-- is that the teams blocking the Nats path toward a World Series (much less winning one) are so damn good __Braves, Dodgers, Yanks, Astros. But this is one of a half-dozen teams this season that COULD get on an October roll and make foes miserable for multiple rounds. There are good-story but over-rated teams (like, probably, the Twins). But there are some teams that --if they met-- like the Dodgers and Nats in the NLCS or any number of potential WS match-ups-- might feel like a 15-round title fight.

I accidentally typed "150-round fight." It might feel like that, too! Cheers.

Bos, thanks for doing this every week. The nationals have three important players that are in line to come back soon. Doolittle, Elias, and Zimm. However, because of the veteran roster on the bench and the bullpen they do not have many players they can option back to the minors. Will the nationals use the expanded rosters that starts next sunday to bring these guys up? Seems like they could just use this with Orioles and Marlins next week and wouldnt effect the games too much.

There will be a very nice high-quality flood into the Nats clubhouse after Sept. 1. That can help prevent bullpen burnout and also gives more tools in late-and-close games or extra innings. But, if the Braves even go 13-17 they'd be 93-69. The Nats would have to go 21-11 to beat them. I will throw in my one observation of September baseball, from experience. It is even STREAKIER than normal baseball. And when things start going bad --whether you're blowing a division title or a wildcard spot or even home field edge-- it can feel like your whole team is caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star. And, once you get into the last 10-to-15 games, if you get hot, the idea runs through teams that maybe "we should just win 'em ALL." 

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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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