Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Sep 09, 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 The Fun Begin

Welcome to the annual onslaught of big sports stories in September. This is the most dense time of year with lots of excellent stories. On Sunday, the Skins raised hopes, taking a 17-0 lead in Philly, then crush 'em --again. The next 30 minutes was Eagles 32-3. This was the kind of game that gets coaches fired. Not this week. But it lays the groundwork. And the owner is always tempted to think his team is better than it is --especially if the owner is Dan Snyder. All he needs is evidence that he is right and, suddenly, the blame shifts immediately to the coach if anything goes wrong. 

IOW, MY team is GOOD, but you COACHED bad! Go long! Well, that game is Exhibit Z of Jay Gruden getting massively out-coached at halftime --again. 

Looks like (again) he can game plan very well. But can he "adjust?" Also, undisciplined play, penalties, blown assignments in the defensive backfield-- were killers. "Undisciplined team" is another coach killer. 

Finally, whatever the dynamic that led to Adrian Peterson being a healthy scratch definitely bit the Skins. With a 17-0 lead, that is exactly the time that you want to have the option to "pound the rock" to control the clock --or at least have that threat. Peterson is exactly that back. The rookie Guice has potential, but he wasn't the RB for that job (18 yards, 10 carries).

 Bad day for hot-seat Jay. And that locker room afterward felt like there were plenty of rumblings --AP has a big reputation and plenty of friends. Let's have all your questions and thoughts on the rest of Week One in the NFL. 

Also, what about that Maryland win --by six touchdowns!-- over No. 21-ranked Syracuse! My son the Terp grad was on the phone ASAP --he's a big Mike Locksley booster. Right now, he should have a lot of company in College Park. 

Plenty of other subjects, too. 

Nats play dead for 3 days in Atl; now they need to focus on 1st-wildcard spot. 

Aaron Barrett returns after 4 years!

Browns & Steelers crash. 

Antonio Brown to WHO? Pats!? 

Also, Rafael Nadal wins 19th major at U.S. Open, but Serena Williams misses 24th. 

So, let's go!

A wild card scenario: Nats lead by 1 in the 7th. Scherzer has 120 pitches and showing signs of fatigue. Would it be unreasonable to bring in Stras in a relief role? If so, why?

Mike Rizzo already answered that question on his weekly radio show last week. Asked if Corbin might pitch in that situation, he hemmed and hawed a bit, then made it clear that "all hands on deck" would be the motto and "the hell with roles."

Riz did NOT say that would be Plan A or B. But he made it clear that was an option. This is another reason that, at least in theory, the Nats bullpen might not be as big a liability in a WC/WC or, if they got past that, in a 5-game series with LA --they might be able to use the Big Three out of the pen in key spots --the way the Dodgers closed out the NLDS against the Nats with Kershaw in the 9th in '17.

Thank you for these always excellent chats. Last week, you mentioned that the Nats were surprised that they didn't receive more heat from fans after Harper left. I think that's because fans were resigned to his departure. Rendon, I think, is different. Max may be the team's most popular player, but I would argue (based on what I hear from fellow fans and see on social media) that Rendon is the most beloved. I would also argue he's the most popular player among female fans. I've heard multiple people say, "I'm done with this team if they don't sign him." Ok, fans say that kind of stuff all the time, and a long playoff run could change attitudes, but a franchise that's already suffering a Harper hangover at the gate better be careful if they use their exasperating deferred-payment approach and don't re-sign him. I think the backlash could be intense. Your thoughts?

I agree that the risk is high.

The problem is losing BOTH Harper and Rendon. One way or the other, you're going to look bad.

Right now the Nats are being cushioned a bit by Harper's good but (for him) only average year. He's 30th in MLB in WAR at 3.4 --hardly a generational-player season. Also, Adam Eaton has a 2.4 WAR! With a slightly higher on-base percentage than Harper (.377 to .372) and more runs scored --93-to-86. Eaton is a similar fielder and a better base runner. Of course Harper is a slugger and significantly more valuable --but the Eaton-Harper comparison, for ONE year, certainly makes it seem like the Nats had their reasons to think they didn't need to chase him to the moon --or $330M.

Don't let that make you think they can just say so long to Rendon.

 I think they will go after him SERIOUSLY. There's been more contact between the two camps during this season than there was last year with Harper-Nats. It's not time to get discouraged yet. I've chatted with Anthony. He has a sensible view of things generally and, my impression, he has a good idea of what a fair contract would be for him. Such things change from day to day. But if the Nats are clear-sighted, I think this can get done. 

My GUESS --that's all it is-- is that $225M is the neighborhood with ALL the other factors to be determined. As for deferred money, the Nats --in this case-- should forget about it or minimize it. 

Don't get too cute for your own good. 

So if I need to make flight and hotel reservations early, should we assume that the Terrapins will only make the Rose Bowl or will they most likely qualify for the final 4 College Football Playoff?

The Locksley Impact: Who knew that the Turtles would turn into the Crimson Tide so fast!

I knocked 'em last week for slaughtering Howard U SO badly. (Probably some sympathy since I covered Howard football --to the degree we covered it back then-- long ago.)  Maybe the Terps just have so much offensive firepower --at QB and RB especially-- that you can't hold 'em down.

It would be SO great to have a serious college football team in this area again! There IS a tradition (way back) from Maryland in the early '50's under Jim Tatum to the Navy days of Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino (both Heisman winners) through all the fine Maryland teams.

Now that the season has officially begun, I can bring myself to ask about them. The Eagles are presumably a good team, but Sunday felt like a microcosm of last year - started out surprisingly well, defense was looking good, then the second half came and everything fell apart. Should we be more encouraged by the first half or discouraged by the second? Also - Morgan Moses said on the radio that making Peterson inactive was "a slap in the face." Doesn't bode well for Gruden's future, right? Dan can't be happy, and now the locker room isn't happy either. He probably needs a miracle 12+ win season or something to keep his job, I would think.

You nailed a good point. Thanks. Last year the Skins followed a similar pattern to Sunday with 2nd half implosions. Jay was asked about this --especially about his desire to CHANGE that pattern this year. Jay is SO honest --he actually said how he really felt! But it was kind of a stunning admission.

"It's eerie," said Gruden. "The second half was eerie of our performance late in the game defensively and offensively. I have to count on the coaches doing a better job and the players doing a better job, period."

What about Jay doing a better job?

Jay is almost always accountable. But he jumped all over everybody (including himself, to a degree) after that loss. He pointed out that the defense couldn't even get one turnover or get home on the pass rush (1 sack for 0 yards). 

He pointed fingers --correctly-- at the 2d half offensive penalties. Morgan Moses had a bad (penalty) game --one of his holding calls was declined because LT Penn had a 5-yard illegal chop block on the same play --nice duplication of dysfunction. Then Moses had plenty to say afterward --like the Peterson comments.

Poses and Penn both went through long discussions of why they didn't think the penalties on them were correct calls, or about interpretations of the rules. Moses said, "We've probably been targeted more than most teams (for off-line penalties). We have to fix it and adapt to how they are calling it."

Wouldn't that, in part, be the job of coaches to be up-to-speed on how the NFL is calling EVERY kind of penalty in 2019?

It's tough to be a coach in one town for 6 years, especially in Dan-and-Bruce world. The Cowboys looked excellent vs the Giants. I think the Skins should tend toward giving Jay a longer, rather than a shorter leash. And they should face the reality that they are probably a 6-10 or 7-9 team with normal injuries and normal luck --not a 9-7 or better team. But you can't market that view of your team. So these first 5 games with the Eagles, 'Boys, Bears, semi-lousy Giants and Pats --that's 1-4 if you ever saw it-- are going to be tension-filled days at The Park. 

(What else is new?)

But look at all the "ifs" from Sunday.

If Keenum hadn't missed the wide-open 73-yard TD pass to rookie Terry McLaurin --which would have put the Skins back up 27-21-- and if Peterson had not been scratched on exactly the wrong day or if both Josh Norman and Montae Nicholson had not been beaten on bombs by DeSean Jackson --then what a wonderful Xmas-on Opening-Day it would have been! 

What a totally different mood!

But that didn't happen. 

"The Deadskins" happened. 

So the narrative --to whatever degree accurate or not-- just gets reinforced again. 

New year, same old, same old.

I watched the replay of the game again late last night. On the 53-yard bomb to Jackson, I think the Skins may be making a phony excuse about "missed communication" in the defense. 

Nicholson was isolated in single-high with a choice of covering Jackson or another Eagles WR (think it was Agholor) --he froze and chose NEITHER with the result that BOTH were open by more than 5 yards for an easy TD thrown. If he'd chosen either of them, then the OTHER would have been open by more than TEN yards for a TD.

IOW, awful defensive structure on that play and the Eagles spotted it. Jackson said, "They showed us the defense we wanted." 

All the talk of the NL Wild Card game has been the Nat's v Cubs. However the DBacks are quietly gaining in the standings and are only 1.5 games behind the Cubs. Arizona has a much easier schedule the rest of the month and if they play the Nat's in the Wild Card, seem to have no fear of the Nat's pitching. They have hit very well against the Nat's this year and Adam Jones always seemed locked in against us. For whatever reason, this does not seem like a good match-up for the Nat's.

I agree. I have said in past chats that the team that was hiding in the weeds was the D'backs. Look at their big run-differential. They've been unlucky all year. 

The Cubs keep taking hits --now Javier Baez, their electric SS-- is out with a thumb fracture (hairline). Craig Kimbrel is on the IL, too. The Cubs look very vulnerable to an Arizona charge. If I were in the Nats' spot, I'd be rooting FOR the Cubs to win. 

Who needs to face LHer Robbie Ray after seeing how southpaw Max Fried tied the Nats in knots on Thursday, allowing one hit in 7 innings. Nats usually like to face LHers. But maybe not the TOP LHers.

Best case scenario for Nats: With a VERY tough final 20 games, the Nats go 11-9 for 90 wins and keep WC home-field edge. 

They face the Cubs in WC/WC game, then get the Dodgers in a 5-game series. They'd have to play with a LOT more poise against the Dodgers than they did in Atlanta to have much chance in that series. 

But if Scherzer gets back to 100% --and it looked like he was getting close on Sunday-- and Doolittle gets to 100%, too (he looks more like 90% now-- then it would be a big-fun, big-talent series. 

And the pressure would be on the Dodgers. The pressure was on the Nats last weekend to make a statement that they were as good or better than the Braves --and they made just the opposite statement.     

What are your thoughts on Antonio Brown publicly sabotaging his way off the Oakland Raiders, forcing them to cut him, and then very quickly signing with the Patriots? I don't buy the story that "social media" consultants gave him advise on how to get cut by Oakland. I'm highly suspicious that his agent Drew Rosenhaus who has a cozy relationship with the New England Patriots, orchestrated the move from beginning to end. What player who is genuinely thought to have character issues gets a $9 million dollar signing bonus (from the Patriots)? This makes me wonder what other "problem" players who get cut from teams and then instantly appear with the Patriots where they are suddenly perfect citizens. This seems to be something the NFL should be investigating, no? It sabotages the competitive balance of the entire NFL.

You can have fun with these ideas, but Antonio Brown's "personality" has been constant for years. He didn't suddenly invent this new persona to get out of Oakland and go to the Pats. Did Randy Moss "orchestrate" his way to the Pats, or other players who were "hard to handle" on another team? I don't think so.

I think they shape up in New England because they know that Bill Belichick will kick them out of the place in 5 seconds if they cause any problem --and that decision will stick with 100% of Pats players AND with every player in the league. Belichick is today's Lombardi in terms of unassailable authority. 

If you cross him, then that means you are wrong. Great players like Moss have said, "If you can't play for Bill, you can't play for anybody" --meaning that if you can't adapt yourself to a great TEAM philosophy and be a great TEAM player in NE as part of that historic dynasty, then YOU are the problem and YOU are the selfish "loser player" who deserves all the criticism you have gotten earlier in your "controversial career."

Brown may be thinking: Man, I've done some dumb stuff in my time, but if I can just buckle down and play great for Bill, THAT is what people will remember. I'll show 'em that I CAN be coached --well, at least I can be coached by Belichick with Brady throwing to me.

I've seen the Packer mystique, the old Canadiens mystique, the old Celtic mystique, the Yankee mystique, the Pop mystique in San Antonio and a few others, too. But I've never seen a team with a more powerful aura than the Pats. They've got the whole sport and everybody in it under their spell. They're different. They're smarter. They're better. They never make mistakes. They can read your mind. They cheat the best, too. 

And they have no conscience about beating you for decades at a time. It's not the Lombardi Trophy --it's OUR trophy. Sometimes we just let somebody else hold it for a year.

For years I lived two blocks from the house in West Annapolis where Bill grew up when his dad was an assistant coach at Navy and, at that time, where his mom still lived. It was a small nice modest home on the corner. 

I'd drive by and think, "What an unlikely shrine."

By the way, in 30 years living in or near Annapolis, I've never heard anybody who knew Bill, or the family, say a bad word about him. Oh, well, anybody except me --I've said a couple of mean things about him, I guess. 

But otherwise, in the town where he grew up, he's certified "99 44/100th percent pure."

-If you’re a Skins fan, hope you got to see the first half Sunday. That’s as good as it’s going to get for this team this year. This season will be as good a chance as any of the past 20 or so to enjoy some nice fall Sundays. -Guess we know who the class of the NL East is. Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed the run to playoff contention, but when the Nats bullpen inevitably leads to an early exit, in WC or NLDS, will suck to know that good arms were available to shore up the bullpen, and Nats passed. And then there is a good chance they let Rendon slip through their fingers. Are the Lerners actually perplexed by the drop in attendance? -Great US Open Final. Kudos to Medvedev for fighting back when he could have packed it in, and kudos to Nadal for holding on. Also, entertaining to see Medvedev go from heel to hero over the course of the tournament. -Oy, the Browns. They sure show all the signs of having bought into their own hype before having actually accomplished anything (they had a losing record last year!). We wouldn’t know anything about that in this town would we. -Syracuse was probably overhyped at 21, but impressive win nonetheless. Remember, though, that Randy Edsall started his tenure with a big national TV win over Miami, and that win would constitute 50% of the total wins for that dismal season.

I hate you. 

You got to watch some of the things that I missed going up to Philly on Sunday, then getting back last night. There is SO much to watch at this time of year.

I was shocked at how badly Serena played in this Finals match. Just rattled. 

But the level of women's tennis is just staggeringly impressive every time I watch. 

The average rally would have been unimaginable --in athleticism, power, strategy, variety and excitement-- back in the days when Evert played Navratilova. 

And I LOVED those Chris vs Martina matches. 

But the game is so much better now. 

In part, maybe Serena demanded that her opponents raise their games, their conditioning, their mental toughness --everything-- just so they could have any chance against her, just as Tiger Woods, for 12 years, forced the whole world of golf to re-imagine the physical and strategic limits of the game. 

The greatest athletes raise and improve their whole sport, whether it is Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan. They say: This is what CAN be done. 

So what is wrong with YOU?

With players like Soto and Rendon re-writing Nats' record books, it's pretty easy to credit those two for return to playoff form. But the late-August injury (and limping return) shows how much Eaton means to the Nats lineup. After beating up the woeful Marlins, the Nats were 2-5 in games that mattered last week, with his return helping to avoid a sweep @ ATL yesterday. His bat and and presence seems to be the tipping point between an average offense and one that scores 6+ per game. And it keeps a valuable sub like Parra fresh rather than asking him to be productive 5 days a week-- which he can't, with 2 hits in his last 10 games. I know a 10 day sample is small, but my eyes are telling tell me that Eaton makes the top half of the lineup go. Likewise: more Stevenson, Taylor, Difo, and Sanchez: One of those guys need to be in the starting lineup every day to help keep the grey-haired bats fresh for the stretch.

I was talking with Barry S in the press box yesterday about how valuable Eaton has been and what a key he's been to the Nats offensive being so effective. Eaton is always driven by a little man's fear of failure --as he'll be the first to say. He always talks about how he doesn't even think of himself as a real athlete, but just as an overachieving grinder who out works and out studies other players. 

Last month I was talking about the '20 season with him and he clearly worried about whether the Nats would pick up his option. I teased him that he ought to learn more about advanced metrics --which he ignores-- because they flatter him so much and everybody, including the Nats believe in them (and consequently in him). 

He just muttered/smirked and went off to the weight room. He's a beauty and really fun to talk to. He and Eaton, who locker next to each other, see me coming and say, "Talk to Eaton" or "Talk to Turner." 

They're both grinders, students and, in their ways, leaders. And they make one helluva top of the lineup when they are healthy and have Rendon and Soto behind them. 

In an era that values HRs everywhere in the order, including No. 1 and especially No. 2, they prove that lineup synergies do exist. And they also show that when a key player --Turner for 39 games early in the season-- or Eaton recently, is removed it REALLY hurts a lineup with a lot of chemistry. 

It makes the Nats dynamic to watch when they are clicking, but dispiriting and even a bit sad when those top four are not all in the lineup together. 

Over the last 6 years, Eaton has the 25th best on-base percentage in MLB --which is especially impressive because the large majority of players ahead of him get walks because they are feared sluggers while Eaton must work walks and get hit by pitches (and hit ~.290).

Also, in those 6 years, despite all the time he lost to injuries after he came to DC, Eaton ranks 39th in MLB in WAR. 

Even if WAR has its mysteries and imperfections, it is general in the ballpark. And, over a 6-yr period, 39th is a classy ballpark to be in. Yeah, they're gonna pick up his option --in '20 and, I'd bet in '21, too. 

They're lucky to have him. 

He says his knee is still, slowly getting better from season to season and that DC hasn't seen the best of him yet. 

Yes, kind of a driven guy in his Mighty Mouse T-shirt.

Compare the Nats record this year when he is active and playing to when he is injured. Totally different teams and is he the problem or is this just chance? Look at the Nats records over the last few weeks when he he was activated. Nats went from 5 games back of the Braves and on a roll to 9 games back and 5-5 over the last ten games. So is Ryan the problem?

You know you can look this stuff up! It's easy.

They are 19-19 when he plays this year. He's driven in 7 runs in 17 at bats since he got back --but he grounded into two KILLER double plays at crucial times in Atlanta. His 3-run homer late, when they were down 4-0, didn't come close to erasing those other two ABs that were GIDP.

Zim is about 1% of what happened to the Nats since our last chat --was it REALLY just a week ago! THEN the Nats were 5 1/2 game behind Atlanta, thought/hoped they could win 2-of-3 from the Mets while the Braves split with Toronto. Then, go to Atlanta down by 5 games, but win 3-of-4 to get to three games behind and make it an exciting September.

Oooops! That all came apart fast. After 3 months with so many things going right, I think it shocked the Nats to LOSE 2-of-3 to the Mets --and they were lucky not to lose ALL three-- then go to Atlanta 7 games behind and, mathematically, almost dead for the NL East. For three days they played like "What just happened?" And the Braves played like the defending division champs who wanted to send a message --especially now that they got Dallas Keuchel at the trade deadline and its made them better.

Now we'll find out if the Nats can get stabilized, play good baseball against the VERY tough schedule they have left, and face up to the Braves at Nats Park this weekend.

Baseball exists to surprise us. This season probably doesn't have its last big Nats twist yet --good or bad.

Just remember, a week ago, the Nats had not come from 6 runs down in the 9th inning to win 12-11 --one of the most improbably comebacks since records on such things began being kept in '25.

And Aaron Barrett hadn't PITCHED A SHUTOUT INNING in the big leagues, with a K of Acuna on a "plus" slider, then cried in the dugout with joy/pride/relief and just about every other sports emotion.

I hope that Barrett turns out to be one of those valuable middle-inning "guts" relievers that Davey Johnson always loved and thought were so valuable even though they were not good enough for his A Bullpen.

They attack, get ahead of hitters and didn't lose confidence/heart when somebody hit a 430-foot homer off them.

Yes, hope that is Bear's future.

His (dream) ceiling: Remember Craig Stammen? Lot of years, lot of value.

I may have my rose colored glasses on. But why not?

Greetings from New Zealand. The old joint is coming down. Lots of memories, but tops for me was seeing the Beatles, not hearing them but seeing them, and having the earth move under my feet (apologies Carol King) when Darryl Green returned the tipped pass. Whatcha got? Cheers.

RFK is always going to be my personal spaceship that came down out of the sky just 15 blocks from my house when I was 12 years old and suddenly the center of DC sports, and cheap upper deck MLB tickets, were just a few minutes bike ride from my house!

Of course, I've seen some of everything that's ever been there --including establishing a personal relationship with some really large vermin in the bowels of the place.

Its' design has always been classic and beautiful --its exterior look has stood the test of time fabulously.

But, my God, is it time --and past time-- to tear that thing down. I drove past it a couple of weeks ago --paint peeling, rust everywhere, just horrible and dismal looking, and I thought, "WRECKING BALL --schedule it for TOMORROW, please."

Just so long as DC officials and DC voters are NEVER foolish enough to allow Snyder back into the city with a new stadium so that he can rip everybody off, in every way he can imagine, for the next 20+ year.

Hello Boz, Thanks for doing these chats. Required reading for me every week. I have 2 questions re the Nats: 1) Rumors seem to be intensifying about Strasburg opting out of his contract after this season--how probable do you think that is? Obviously that would be a huge blow to the organization. 2) You have written before that the 1B platoon of Adams/Zimmerman/others has been very effective in the recent past, but in Adams I see a .230 hitter with less than .300 OBP granted with some power, but who is probably not the ideal person to start 100+ games a year where those numbers (0.3 WAR) aren't great. If you were GM, what would you do with the 1B position next year?

It is an agent's job to use any leverage he has to "make a market" for his client, even if it is only the remote chance of using an opt-out clause when there is still $00M/4yrs on the deal. It is the (late-season, dead-pennant-races) job of ball scribes to cover their eyes and general silly longshot stories beating the drum for something, if you were sitting beside them in the press box, you'd both just roll your eyes and have a laugh. 

It's Strasburg's job to keep having an excellent durable season. And it's the Lerner's job to see how the Dodgers accommodated Clayton Kershaw by tweaking and (somewhat) improving his deal a couple of years ago when he had an opt-out arriving.

There's a 95% chance this works out and SS stays, happily ever after. But there is a market for sky-is-falling speculation. Just enjoy it --and see it for what it is. (BUT make sure Stras is satisfied. He deserves it.) 

Remember, years ago, when Stras was supposedly a fragile "hot house flower" and Harper was going to break every record?

Career WAR: Strasburg 36.3. Harper 34.1.

Strasburg is older. Harper has many years to add value. But Strasburg got past 30 --a symbolic age-- which often means that early-career predictions of doom about your arm/longevity were wrong. Also, that no-windup delivery has made him more consistent and, perhaps, put less strain on his arm. Pitchers are always vulnerable. But I have said often in this chat if Strasburg could just get past the danger years intact, he might be a workhorse in his 30s, and a very good one, for a long time. "Nobody" believes it even now. I'm smiling. I think it's very possible. Also, it's nice to see him enjoying himself and even dancing.

Today's Quiz: Where does Strasburg's career won-lost percentage rank since 1900?

Hints: Kershaw (.692), Whitey Ford and Pedro Martinez are 1-2-3. Max Scherzer is 11th at .660. And Sandy Koufax is 17th (since 1900) at .655.

Answer: Strasburg is tied with Koufax at .655 (110-58).

In career Adjusted ERA+ --a glam stat these days-- Strasburg is tied for 26th best since 1900 (excluding relievers), tied with Justin Verlander at 129. Koufax and Roy Halladay at 131 and Max are at 133. As I keep saying, the guy just hasn't gotten his due yet for what he's done, especially the last SEVERAL years. 

I understand that baseball is a sport in which you have to keep it loose, and that trying harder can actually backfire. But at the same time, the conventional competitive fan-side of me gets irritated by (some of) the Nats seemingly casual attitude that this past series with the Braves was "just another series". When Trea Turner says to The Athletic "Don't make it bigger than what it is" I think he misses the mark. This WAS a big series against the Braves -- we're in a pennant race, and the Nats could have made up significant ground on Atlanta for the lead in the NL East. Instead, they slept-walked through the first three games, looked terrible, and now they're basically out of it. What say you on properly balancing the loosy-goosy nature of a clubhouse that has served the Nats well the last few months with also having a sense of urgency that this was a series they had to win? My Dad and I flipped back and forth between the Skins and Nats games yesterday. As lifelong Skins fans, that says a lot...

You make a good point which has been crossing my mind, too. Martinez, and the Nats, need to show that they can balance loosy-goosy with serious business in pressure situations. 

That is obviously hard. 

But it is also central to baseball --The Gamer is the player who can balance complete concentration (focus) with complete relaxation in the moment of performance. There are a dozen variations of "relax and concentrate." 

Few combinations are harder to achieve and maintain.

The Nats, still, have a ways to go. I've been saying that we need to see how a Martinez team performs for him under September and October pressure, not just the summer-long run. Both matter. But you have to HAVE BOTH. 

Boz -- I'm a long-time Pats fan (since 1970; even though I grew up in RI I became a Skins fan too due to the exciting Sonny Jurgensen and have stuck with both teams since then but obviously they are very different organizations now -- the former is now the class of the NFL and the latter is the clownshow). Anyway, it's hard for Pats Nation to not be sort of giddy right now. They clearly don't need AB, and Demariyus Thomas was inactive last night too. Ben Watson will be returning in game 5 to give them an actual pass-catching option at TE. And that Defense! How could the Dolphins be feeling today after what the Ravens did to them and the Pats up next week. So my question (finally): What should I, as a Pats fan, be worried about now? And the answer is NOT AB being a locker room cancer. BB will not let that happen. So give me something else!

The Dolphins may be the first NFL franchise that is totally and opening tanking to get the No. 1 pick --presumably Tua to be their franchise QB. Tanking, like Miami's roster shed, is disgusting in all sport but it really shows up in the NFL where it's just mortifying to see a team that's being undercut by its ownership.

So, your problem is --if the Pats are favored by 50 and the over-under is 53, which is the better bet?

Brady looked sharper than he did LAST year. Nobody exploits the middle of the field with mismatches --using TEs and RB's on LBs-- better than the Pats; and that's where the game is right now. That also opens up The Top. (The Eagle should do it well, too.) 

So, do we really have to play out the NFL season? 

As if the NFL needed another problem. It's really an interesting league this year --but, until something big goes wrong for them, the Pats make it feel kinda pointless as far as the big national picture goes.

Remember that incredible takedown of the RGIII myth that Gruden delivered? I like that guy. The AP explanation sounded similar. Clearly, Gruden wanted Perrine or a more diverse RB, but Snyder chose Peterson. I don't know that Gruden will regret being straightforward about the personnel the GM hands him.

Nice point!

I like Snarky Jay --who doesn't show up often.

I don't know if I have EVER heard a coach throw a future HOFer under the bus more off-the-cuff and glibly that Jay saying that he could see activating Peterson IF...IF...they faced a game where they decided they needed to run the ball 55 times out of the I-formation! IOW, NEVER. We all fell on the floor.  

Maybe, if Jay's going to go down, he's going to go down doing it his way. We'll see. The Skins are a lousy football operation but they have bad soap opera down to a science. So, lets see how this works out, who's wearing the black hat, who'll stab whom in the back and whether Gruden's basic smart-alec dignity --still in place in Year 6-- remains in tact!

Right now, that may be more fun than figuring how many wins they'll have.  

I know this wasn't the showing we wanted. Was it damaging? It doesn't seem like it, but it stinks.

1) It's a wake-up call. Don't fall in love with that 85-game hot streak. You're still looking UP at the Braves. It's not just the Dodgers you have to measure yourself against.

2) Scherzer looked better --semi-like-himself. And his remarks --along the lines of What Took So Long-- are pure Max. They need him to GET to October, then to pitch better in a WC/WC game than he ever has in post-season for the Nats in the past. Then, MAYBE, they can worry about the Dodgers.

The bullpen stunk against the Braves --and gave up bombs at all the wrong times to turn pitchers duel (with the Braves ahead) into relatively safe Atlanta leads. It's like the guys who were supposed to be solutions took turns being the problem.

BTW, I'm sure glad reliever Roenis Elias, in his first inning as a Nat, introduced himself by going to the plate --where he's almost never been in his life-- swinging away when he was ordered NOT TO SWING, thus pulling his hamstring running to first base and, now it seems, giving the lefty-lite Nats pen almost no help from August 1 year, maybe?

That's it for today. Thanks for the sharp questions/analysis and we'll meet again next Monday at 11! Have a great week.

suddenly looked 37 years old in the finals. She wasn't moving well at all, and tried to hit big winners, and instead sprayed unforced errors across the court. I didn't hear any discussion of injuries (Chris Evert kept up her offensive "pressure" talk track), but it looked like something was pretty wrong with Serena.

As far as I've seen, Serena gave full credit to Bianca Andreescu, who was a power-hitting terror. And didn't mention any injuries. This has been a bad year for Sereena trying to get No. 24. It's amazing she's come so close to often.

Do you think her problems are mental at this point? Her age isn't the problem - not yet at least. She cruised through the entire tournament and crushed everyone in her way. For her not to even win a set in the finals tells me there must be some kind of mental block going on with her. That they were concerned that Meghan Markle would jinx them is rather telling too. That's the kind of nonsense you say when there's a mental block going on. What's your take?

I know that pressure is a popular analysis. Looking at the whole season, that seems to have validity. But on Saturday I thought we were watching a different kind of pressure --great tennis pressure coming at her from the other side of the court.

Serena got outplayed by a fierce young women who bested her in some fabulous long rallies that took my breath away. Serena's "errors" may have, in part, been the natural byproduct of watching good shot after good shot by her come rocketing back over the net. She may have felt internal pressure all year. But I think Williams felt a lot of external pressure, too --from Andreescu's game!

What's your take? From the eye test of a fan, it seems like Asdrubal's defense is far worse. And it seems like his moderate warm streak will likely end before October. So why let Dozier go cold on the bench?

OMG, Cabrera has 27 RBI in 22 games with the Nats. He's slashing .355/.432/.628. In those 22 games he's already moved into the Nats WAR leaders FOR THE SEASON (12th at 1.1). This is all wonderfully ridiculous. When a two-time All-Star vet with 1,600+ hits gets THIS hot, don't question it. GO WITH IT while it lasts!

I like Dozier. And his D is much better than Astrubal. But there is a time for everything. And this is the time for the hot hand. Save the "thinking" for some other time.

Now that it's crystal clear that the Nats will *not* overtake the Braves for the NL East title, it's time to think about their postseason rotation: The obvious choice is Mad Max in the WC game, with Strasburg and Corbin in games 1 and 2 of the NLDS. The obvious answer is wrong. Assuming the Nats hold onto the WC lead and host the WC play-in game, this is how they should arrange their rotation: Tuesday, 10/1, WC game: Strasburg Thursday, 10/3, NLDS game 1 @ LAD: Corbin Friday, 10/4, NLDS game 2 @ LAD: Scherzer Sunday, 10/6, NLDS game 3 @WAS: Strasburg Monday, 10/7, NLDS game 4 @WAS: Sanchez or Corbin (short rest) (if necessary) Wednesday, 10/9: NLDS game 5 @ LAD: Scherzer Rationale: Given the way Strasburg has been pitching combined with Scherzer's injury, the WC start would be a "pick-'em" between Strasburg and Scherzer at this point. Strasburg historically (and this year) has been better at home than the road. This arrangement gives him two home games. If the NLDS goes more than the minimum 3 games, Corbin (LHP) could get two starts against the Dodgers, who historically have done less well against LHPs than RHPs. The second would be on short rest, but that might be preferable to having Sanchez start a potential elimination game. If the series goes the distance, Scherzer would get two starts, including the elimination game 5. What do you think?

I like it and have been thinking similar things. But if Max gets back to Best Max, I still think it's him and you just swap the roles you have lined up for Max and Stras in your example.

It's worth noting that Strasburg's ERA vs the Cubs in two NLDS starts in '17 was 0.00. That's pretty decent.

I actually have 2 things... First, here we go again. A great start for the 'Skins. Sigh. Second, why do players signal out of bounds, no catch, etc? Do they really think the officials didn't see the play and are going to take their word for the call?

Here we go again INDEED. This just in: It's pure undiluted 21st Century Skins --"Moses rips Skins coaches."

The only thing Morgan Moses doesn't hold is his tongue.

In other news, Derrius Guice has hurt his "good" knee and is expected to miss games.

Welcome back, A.P.

Can a team be both worthless and "priceless."

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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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