Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 14, 2019

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

GOOD Morning!!!!

Today's subjects: Lots about the Nats and Game Three at Nats Park tonight with the Nationals needing two more wins to reach the first World Series in DC since 1933. 

We'll have as much as you want about the Mystics run to their WNBA title --all your Qs and observations welcome. 

I've been bouncing from DC to LA to DC to LA to St.L to DC so you'll have to help me here a little. 

And a little bit about Washington's 6th-ranked pro sports team --in quality, interest and status-- the Skins, who managed to beat the worst team in the NFL by one point on Sunday. I'm curious, where do Skins now stand for you? 

Now, ON TO GAME THREE.

Congrats from a Cards fan. It's not over, but it sure looks like the Nationals are the better team. A few years ago I remember you writing about how most teams (and their fans) get kicked in the stomach multiple times before breaking through. Hope everyone there savors this well-earned run.

Thanks for the generous sentiment. 

Here in D.C., I started writing about The D.C. Troll four years ago and how he -- the ugly soul-- always bred negativism about local teams and planted, and watered, every seed of doubt. We even had a cartoon drawn of the foul fellow. 

I wrote then that I thought the cycle of sports fortunes was turning and that, after almost 25 years in the wilderness-- that D.C. was going to have some very good times with the Capitals, Nats and (at that time) Wizards with Paul Pierce, etc. Didn't know how far each would go, but I reminded folks that from '69 through '91, Washington won a LOT or came very close --reaching the Final in NBA, Super Bowl, NCAA basketball and more-- as well as winning titles.

I'm glad to see that the mood around town is more psychologically healthy now, thanks to the Caps, Mystics and Nats. Following sports (or participating in them) is supposed to make us feel very good, be fun and offer chances to bond with others when times are good and, when times are bad, you're supposed to shrug it off fairly quickly --hence "Wait 'til Next Year." 

In life, bad things often refuse to go away and we don't just get to say, "Wait 'til..." Just glad to see D.C. get to a normal place on the sports spectrum.

And I expect to see a semi-mad house at Nats Park tonight.

PS: Before the Nats and fans do any "savoring" there is some serious hard work to be done. 

The Cards are quite good and have been first-rate since falling to 41-42 at mid-year to end up at 91-71. That's a 50-29 finish. Their starter tonight --Jack Flaherty-- is comparable this season to Strasburg, who'll start Game 3, or Max Scherzer. And he'd also be lined up for Game 7 (or a Game 6 on short rest). So, lots of work to do. 

But my thought for this week is: Worry a LITTLE. But enjoy a LOT

Doesn't this Nationals team remind you a lot of the 2004 Red Sox Idiots?. Baby shark, dugout race car driving and home run dance parties, forced group hugs of Stephen Strasburg.

Yes! They do remind me of The Idiots, now that you mention it.

Those Red Sox broke an 86-year "Curse of the Bambino" to win the World Series.

These Nats--first things first--are trying to break an 86-year streak without a World Series in Washington.

Last night I looked up all the teams in MLB history that won the first two games of a 7-game series ON THE ROAD. It does not happen very often because it is HARD to do. But I was surprised --almost shocked-- by the results. 

Facts are facts and I thought they'd interest chatters.

Since the LCS went to a seven-game format in '84, a dozen teams have taken a 2-0 lead with road wins. They have ALL advanced to the World Series. And with ridiculously little resistance. 

I don't quite understand it. Yes, relatively small data sample, but not that small. Of those 12 times, the series ended in a 4-0 sweep SEVEN times and a 4-1 win three other times. None of those 7 LCS even went to a 7th game.

This felt like some kind of jinx to me --unnatural. So I looked at all the World Series since the current seven-game format began in 1924 with 2-3-2 in the site of games.

Once again, a dozen teams have taken 2-0 leads with wins on the road. Nine of them have gone on to win the Series.

So, overall, 24 teams have been in the Nats current position and 21 advanced. This seemed more sensible to me. OF COURSE, winning two games --and especially winning two on the road-- dramatically increases a team's chances to win the series.

But the '96 Braves (in 6 games) and the '86 Buckner Bosox and '85 Denkinger Cards lost in Seven Games after tackling 2-0 leads on the road.

This seems more in line with normal sports odds. 

Q: Do any math wizards out there know the probability of a team in this position winning the series? I'd say assume that such a team has a ~54% probability of winning any home game and a ~46% chance of winning on the road. 

IOW, I assume the team that wins the first two games is, logically, a SLIGHTLY better team. They didn't just win by accident.

Of course, odds mean nothing once the game starts --"That's why they play the games." And the next few nights should be beauties. 

Even good weather for Games Three and Four.

Boz, I'm worried about losing Rendon to free agency but even more concerned about Strasburg opting out of his contract. With the great playoff run by the Nats, do you think that increases the chances he will stay put? And how soon in the off-season will he make a decision? Scott Aliferis Vienna, VA

Will you nice folks stop being such Worry Warts?

Strasburg loves playing for the Nats. Of course, it is POSSIBLE that he'll opt-out. But it is a media disease to jump on the easy angle that this will happen --and every agent --especially Scott Boras-- will feed that narrative because it's his JOB to feed it. The problem is that reporters see an easy sexy story and buy into "bad news." They forget that if the team-player relationship is very good --like Kershaw-Dodgers or Strasburg-Nats-- there is almost always something worked out to sweeten the deal or extend it.

My two cents: Stop worrying about Strasburg. He's still grateful for the Nats wisdom in shutting him down in '12. He hated it at the time, of course. But, with age, he's grasped how unique it was for a team to put the health, future career and future earnings ($175M) of the player ahead of the short-term interests of the team. (Ask Matt Harvey, and many others, about that.) 

Boras will talk up Strasburg Leaving to anybody who will listen --because he should. But Strasburg and the Lerners aren't going to let that happen --in my opinion. 

Believe it or not, I've been wrong on things over the years! But on this one, FIND SOMETHING WORTH WORRYING ABOUT --cause this ain't it.

You are correct that the further the Nats go in this post-season, the tighter the bond usually grows between a player in his walk year --like Anthony Rendon-- and his team. Also, the more the team VALUES that player and appreciates his contribution to going to a WS or winning one. The better the Nats do, and the better Rendon plays --and he's been wonderful and is hot at the plate again-- the more likely he'll stay. 

BUT the chances of Rendon leaving are very real. They are just something that it would be ridiculous to spend much time thinking about RIGHT NOW!

Ant loves crowds and appreciation for the team. I expect the crowds at Nats Park so far this post-season, and this week, and probably further, will convince him that while there are more fanatical baseball towns than D.C., that D.C. is a GOOD baseball town and probably about to get better.

I've always said that in ANY town that gets a team --expansion or, in the Nats case, from another city-- that you don't find out the true ceiling for fan support until the year AFTER that team goes to a World Series. Not "wins the World Series," but GOES to one. 

It's the month-long experience of --in the Nats case, winning an elimination game in the WC/WC game, then winning another elimination game in G5 on the road against the 106-win Dodgers, then (perhaps) getting to a World Series and having to battle a monster --whether it is the Yanks or Astros-- that shows General Sports Fans not just Baseball Fans) how much fun the MLB really is. Until a town has that experience, it just doesn't know --it's not possible. Long NHL and NBA runs have lots of games, but they are spread out over far more days. The MLB playoffs are compacted into one month.

I hope Rendon understands that, if the Nats go to the WS, they will draw 5,000 more fans a game --=at least-- next year and maybe have a bigger jump than that. This has nothing to do with D.C. It's just how it works in MLB. 

So, Anthony should factor into his thinking that 1) he will be even MORE loved in DC after this Oct run and have even higher long-term standing here and 2) playing in DC will be a more energized experience with a more intense fan base over the next 5-to-10 years (at least) if the Nats go to the WS. 

You'll notice I don't say "Win the WS." That's six jumps too far --because the Nats have only 6 of the 12 wins they'd need to do that. And, obviously, either the Yanks or Astros would be better than the AVERAGE WS opponent. We'll get to that discussion if we get there.

But the better the Nats do, the more motivation --economic and psychological-- for the Nats and Anthony to stay together. 

Would he "test the waters" first? I have no idea. 

That's for the future. 

For now, both Rendon and the Nats are still locked into "Go 1-0 today." As they should be.

Davey has been getting killed for nearly two years for his managerial decisions or lack there of. But since the playoffs have started, he seems to be making all the right calls. Even when things don't work out such as bringing in Corbin in game 3 of the NLDS, it was the right call. When did he become Earl Weaver?

The only part of the game that has ever given Davey problems was the bullpen --both in '18 and '19. Part of the reason, especially this year, is that every bullpen decision has had an excellent chance to be wrong because his relievers performed so badly. In some cases, he misused them and in some cases (Doolittle) overused them when it was no longer necessary to keep the pedal to the metal --Doo after Aug. 1.

BUT NOW he has a much different bullpen --Hudson and Doolittle (generally well rest because of all the Oct off days), Patrick Corbin (already used THREE time), Strasburg (once, but for three innings that was an absolute key to winning the WC/WC game and Max, for one vital inning in an elimination game in NLDS G2. 

He's also gotten a few outs from Tanner Rainey against RHed hitters; Rainey's RH-LH splits are among the most dramatic I have ever seen. He is a beast --one of the best in MLB-- at dominating RHed hitter with a slash line of .139/.298/.228 for an invisible OPS of .526 which would be the OPS you'd expect from a pitcher. But, so far, probably because he does not have a "plus" pitch that breaks away from LHed hitters, his slash against LHers turns all of them into Juan Soto --.261/.420/.522 for a .942 OPS.

Why does this matter? The Cards are VERY lopsided --both pitching and hitting-- with very few lefties. I suspect you'll see Rainey used against Goldschmidt and Ozuna --the heart of the Cards order-- at some point. Nats fans will be tempted to say, "OMG, oh. no, a rookie against these sluggers!" 

I suspect that the Cards crack analytics people will be saying, "What rotten luck for us that the Nats have this Rainey rookie who is a really good match-up for them against our two best hitters." 

Granted, Rainey walks too many. But RHed hitters this year in 101 at-bats have hit .139 with 2 homers and 46 strikeouts. Yes, almost half of RHers strikeout against him (if he doesn't walk them).

One added point about why Martinez is probably going to look better at handling his bullpen going forward --he's probably going to unveil another lefty reliever --if a low leverage spot appears-- pretty soon. Come on, you can't keep using a $140-million free agent as a lefty reliever tasked with getting as many as four outs. You don't want to hurt his arm or degrade his performance in his next start.

Guess who's back? Roenis Elias, the lefty who saved 14 games for Seattle this year and had ERAs of 2.65 and 3.64 for them the last two years. 

Yes, he's the guy who --after almost never having been at-bat in MLB-- swung when he was told not to swing (by Martinez AND other Nats) and ran to first on his grounder when he shouldn't have been sprinting and hurt his hamstring and --since being acquired at the trade deadline-- hasn't been of any value. But he's on the post-season roster and healthy. I'm not going to make a sales pitch for this guy. His career splits are the same vs LH or RH hitters. And this year LHers hit him much better. But, except for Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough, GM Mike Rizzo has had about as "A+" a year as you'll ever see a GM have. 

Even WITH those two --one an F, the other a D-- I'd say that Rizzo still gets an overall very high grade this year --like an A- or something. 

So, if Rizzo thinks Elias has value, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Good Lord, in one off-season, plus trade deadline, Rizzo had to replace or upgrade RF (Harper), LH SP (Gio), 2d base (Murphy), 4th SP (Roark), catcher (Wieters/other) and almost the whole bullpen from mid-'18 (Kintzler, Madson, Kelley, Holland, Glover (hurt), Grace (lost it), J Miller (hurt).

The vets run the clubhouse with Martinez in sync with them. Martinez has never had trouble handling pinch-hitting, focusing on fundamentals (the '18 TEAM had trouble with fundamentals, which drove Martinez crazy) or the running game. I'm still not sure how well he handles pitching --but he handles it one helluva lot better than ANYBODY in MLB thought on May 23rd when his career record was 101-111 with a ~$200M CBT payroll.

It is easy to look like a dope managing in post-season. And it's hard to look sharp. Davey hit Zim --against the "analytics book" in G4 vs LA and got a 3-run homer. He trusted Corbin (twice) in crucial relief spots after Corbin had walked FOUR men in his debut post-season inning (G1 start vs LA) and then was charged with SIX runs in his first relief spot vs Dodgers. 

It takes guts to say, "I believe in you Patrick. I think your nerves are okay, despite those 4 walks. And I think you can dominate in relief --you were ONE strike away from getting out of Game 3 with a "0" inning. Here's the ball --prove us both right."  

I am not sure what is worse, when Bruce talks to the media or when he goes nearly a year avoiding it? When he does speak, he is so out of touch with reality that it is almost embarrassing. On the other hand, David Samson criticizing Daniel Hudson for taking paternity leave during the NLCS was just as embarrassing. Maybe Bruce should hire Samson to be the Redskins new PR guy!

For those curious about just what a loser son-in-law-to-total-jerk-billionaire Samson is.

As for Allen's "the culture is damn good," I'd say that the culture is only damn good in Ashburn if you are the person who sits in Bruce Allen's chair in Bruce Allen's empty suit.

Nats clubhouse is much looser with better spirit than seasons past. Is that attributable to the absence of Harper. Did his presence suck up all the oxygen in the clubhouse and create an intense dynamic that left when he left?

Yes.

Subtracting Harper absolutely improved the CHANCES for much better clubhouse chemistry to evolve after he left because, as you say (in one of my favorite phrases), some players do "suck the oxygen out of the room" just by being themselves --even when they are good likable people. And Harper was one of those people --a good guy (imo), an excellent player (but not top dozen) but an accidental oxygen sucker just by being himself. 

Nobody with the Nats will say it. And they probably shouldn't because Harper contributed on the field and was not BAD in the clubhouse. Also, he had teammates who REALLY liked him a LOT. 

You NEVER get a simple answer with Bryce.

But everybody knows that when the most famous player on the team goes a full season without leaving his feet to try to catch a ball in the outfield --how good is your team's effort, chemistry and commitment going to be? 

Harper, at full speed, could be inspiring. Harper, in his TOOBLAN moments, or when he got in a funk or sulked --different story. 

One respected veteran who played with Harper for several years --that could be any of at least a dozen players, btw-- said to me that he liked Bryce a lot personally, thought he was an amazing talent but that "Bryce gives 100 percent effort 80 percent of the time" and that limits how much authority veteran leaders in the clubhouse can have on maintaining an EXCELLENT team chemistry. 

You can have pretty-good chemistry. You can have a functioning professional clubhouse. But what you are seeing now with "A" chemistry was only possible --just imo-- when Harper was young from '12-through-'14, at ages 19-20-21, when vets could ride on him, tease him, view him as a likable project (as a teammate) and not let him be a central part of clubhouse tone. 

It was Werth's clubhouse and Harper thought of Werth as his ideal big brother --so no problem. Bryce WANTED to be like Werth --the hard-ass ultra-competitive pro's pro. (But he also wanted his hair perfect, his endorsements to be endless, his free-agent payday to set a record and his quips to be priceless. That's a tough balancing act.) If Bryce slacked off in those days, Jayson gave him holy hell. LaRoche, too, at times. After he won MVP in '15, he was central.

Let's be clear --Dusty Baker and the Nats won a TON of games in '16 and '17. They were a WHISKER from advancing in both '16 and '17 and might have gone to a WS in one of those years --WITH HARPER at the center of it. Bryce did not prevent that. (Bryce didn't screw up the call at HP in G5 against the Cubs. The umps did that.)

I always considered Harper a "neutral" factor in the clubhouse and a big 4.0-WAR impact player on the field. And VERY likable in person. But he just branded himself 24/7/365. You have really got to have a special gift in dealing with other people to do that and still have an exceptional feeling of "team" around you. Can it be done? NOBODY ever sold themselves harder than Pete Rose. He made Harper look like a wallflower for Look at Me. And everybody on every team Rose ever played on thought he was a Team Guy and a clubhouse "plus" and a key to winning games and post-season series and World Series, too.

It's always hard to find the balance on Harper. 

I'm sorry to see him booed in D.C. 

I think I'd be in the "golf clap" category if I were in the stands as a fan. Yes, even after he became a Phillie --because he only went to Philly because he didn't have the option to go to the more glamorous places he THOUGHT he'd be able to go. (Not exactly great "read the market" advice from your agent.) Harper was never BAD in the clubhouse. But the instant the Nats knew he was going to be gone --when he became "free" in early November of '18-- they immediately continued a project of adding every team-centric player who fit their roster needs. They have always done that --with Jayson Werth, Max Scherzer, Howie Kendricks, Adam Eaton and others. You don't win ten tons of regular-season games as the Nats have from '12-through'19 --the 2nd most in MLB behind the Dodgers-- if you don't have good-to-very-good clubhouses. And, except for '15 with Matt Williams and '18 when they went 82-80, they did.

But there is a pattern to adding team-leader-and-glue-guy Anibal Sanchez, Brian Dozier, two-class act catchers who work together perfectly in Gomes and Suzuki, and putting Victor Robles (born leader) in CF permanently from Day One. Then Rizzo added more of the same ---Gerardo Parra, Asdrubal Cabrera.

Still, baseball must really love irony because I would say that ADDING Baby Shark --a cast-off part-time OFer-- had more impact on Nats chemistry than anything having to do with Harper. IOW, Parra (and Sanchez) provided a big positive catalyst. Subtracting Harper did NOT eliminate a problem. He was NOT a problem, imo. 

But it CREATED SPACE, it put more oxygen back in the room, for others to build a better internal culture, internal accountability and got-your-back support than existed before.

As Doolittle said last week, "It sure wasn't like this last year." He didn't mean Harper specifically. He meant the whole clubhouse/team dynamic.

(BTW, none of this flowery stuff about chemistry precludes the Nats losing the next four games! There are PLENTY of MLB teams with first-rate internal dynamics --they just lack talent (or money).

But what the Nats have already done is remarkable. You don't have to have it officially "certified" with a pennant to say that it's real.)

I read an article about Adam Eaton using the Seinfeld episode "The Opposite" ("if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right") to help him in his at-bat in the NLCS. That led me to watching that 1994 episode of Seinfeld, which is where George gets a job with the Yankees after confronting Steinbrenner ("In the past 20 years you have caused myself and the city of New York a good deal of distress, as we have watched you take our beloved Yankees and reduce them to a laughingstock all for the glorification of your massive ego"). The Yankees, in real life, returned to glory during the Costanza years. My question is, can we get Jason Alexander and Dan Snyder in the same room?

Bravo!

Where were you born? A life-long native of DC? So many of us come from somewhere else -- in my case, Brooklyn after the Dodgers left.

D.C.

Born when my parents lived in an apartment a couple of blocks from Peabody Elementary School. We moved to Lexington Place, N.E. --between 6th and 7th and D & E Sts== when I was small, about six. They lived there the rest of their lives, about 40 years --until my dad died in '94. They both worked the Library of Congress, my dad for 40+ years, my mom for 20+, and it was an easy walk for them. My mom was the baseball fan --so we'd ride the streetcar (no laughter) to Griffith Stadium in the '56-'60 period. My dad was the football (Skins) fan. Believe it or not, going to a baseball game back then, even in the unreserved grandstand, was expensive enough that I suspect my dad didn't come, except a couple of times, because it was a waste of money. He took me to a Skins game on my 10th birthday in '57 and that was considered a big splurge. Not sure we ever went together again until after I was an adult. My point: I'l not sure that people understand the enormous improvements in normal "standard of living" for most people in this country over the last 60+ years. My parents both worked, had solid government jobs, yet, to pay a mortgage, etc., there were very few frills. I saved (paper route) for a couple of years to buy my first good baseball glove. Going "out to dinner" was so rare I barely remember it. But that was the middle-of-the-middle-class norm back then. 

Of course, there were huge compensations. I'd get on my bike on Saturdays, or in summer, and get together with other kids and we'd go ANYWHERE and do ANYTHING --play ball in alleys, get chased out by cops, think it was a hoot-- and our parents were considered responsible and normal to let us view the entire city as our extended backyard. The huge Capital lawn --now closed off-- was totally open then. You could ride your ride as fast as yolu darer down it --kill yolurself if yoyu wanted, I guess, in spring, summer, fall. Anmd in winter, when it snowed, that whole enormous Capital Hill was one huge mobbed (with kids) sledding hill. One of my friends, by age 10-11, would routinely bike from N.E. to the amusement park at Glenn Echo which well beyond Georgetown University. 

I'd tell my some about nthe stuff we did and I'd feel bad for him. When the kids on Lexington Place played "chase" --with bikes, on foot, whatever, the rules were that you couldn't go outside the rectangle defined by E St, D St., Sixth and Seven Stts. But what "chase" did include was the ROOFTOPS of Lexington Place. You'd run into some friend's house --I prefered Lamont Wash's house, yell "hi" to his mom or aunt, then run up the stairs, through the attic, open the trap door to the roofs, and run all the way down the block on the roofs and back dowen through your own house's attic trap door. There was a gap between two of the houses with a three-story drop. The gap was probably only three or four feet across. But you had to make sure to get a decent little jump to get across! 

The regimentation of childhood and teenage years now just makes me so sad. We'd tget three or four guys and go to playgrounds and challenge whoever was there to play --for hours. You had no schedule, nowhere to be, buy an RC cola and a lemon pie for lunch, play all day and come home when it was too dark to see. My parents reaction: "Have a good time, honey." "Yeah, I hit 13 home runs today. But I jumped off the top of a wall and bit my tongue. Don't worry. It's already stopped bleeding. WHAT'S FOR DINNER!?"

Go on, tell me about how great "youth" is now with the latest video game is where you go into a pointless violent virtual reality world to "play" mock-murder, often misogynistic --Maximum Slaughter, Version 17." Oh, and you meet such wholesome people in the virtual world. We met some semi-dangerous people, and gang guys, along the way. But you actually learn to cope, or not back down. 

I stopped telling my old stories around my son's friends when they were at that adventurous kid age. One of them once said to me, "Mr. Boswell, our generation doesn't have any 'war stories.'" So, I shut up and stopped telling mine --about summer's on my grandfather's farm, and snakes, and shotguns, and how dangerous a 500-pound hog was, so stay away, and how hard it is to get an egg out from under a hen who is alying on top of it. (Never take the last egg from under a "laying hen" or they'll know what you've done and fly in your face. But if there are three eggs, the hen can't tell the difference when you tak one out --very slowly. And sometimes, tyou can get get two out from under her. You learn the tell the difference between a hen's "concerrned" cluck at what's going on underneath her and the "CLUCK-CLUCK-CLUUUCK!!" that means you better get your hand out of there.

Sorry, what was your question again? Oh, where was I born.

Thanks for asking.

Well, I guess there's just no time for the Skins today! What a shame.

I'll look for any Mystics questions/observations and post them.

Have a GREAT WEEK --because, just a tip-- this is probably --not certainly, but probably-- going to be one to remember.

Cheers! (And, if you're at Nats Park, and if it's within your behavioral limits and personal comfort zone, it actually does help teams --a little-- if you GET LOUD).

I was just re-reading the chat from last Monday before Game 4 and you called it (almost) to a tee: Q: After Max, then who tonight? If Max goes 6 or 6 plus tonight, then who? Davey doesn't trust anyone not name Hudson or maybe Doolittle (has he recovered from the whiplash from seeing the homer by Muncy in game 2?) A: Thomas Boswell This one is simple. Max goes six innings, maybe 6 1/3 or 6 2/3. and give up 1-2-or-3 runs. Doolittle, perhaps, gets him out of a jam in mid-inning, facing one or two key Dodger LHed hitters. Then Doo, who's well rest, pitches the next inning, too. Then Hudson closes. What matters more than the pitching tonight is getting 4-5-6 runs off the Dodger staff.

Thanks.

I finally got one right.

Help me out here, Boz. Trying to be in the moment. Trying not to look at the statistics of teams up 2-0 in seven game series with three at home to come. Trying not to imagine the nerves of playing the lordly Yankees or, even worse, the buzz saw that is Houston. Still trying to convince myself that we beat the Dodgers on such magical home runs, that we beat the Brewers on luck and guile and timely play that always worked against us in the past, that we even made the wild card on a team that earlier this season had Trevor Rosenthal giving up four consecutive walks to the Braves. I feel like I'm floating!

Keep floating. Once every 86 years --I'm pretty sure it's  allowed.

Tom can there be any more blatant evidence that the Fish are tanking than Flores’ decision to win it or lose it on a two-pointer? Any coach serious about winning kicks the one and goes to OT. That’s a fireable offense anywhere else.

The Dolphins --as a franchise-- are tanking.

But every coach and every player is trying to win because it is IN THEIR SELF INTEREST.

Any Dolphin coach who goes 0-16 or 1-15 to get draft picks better enjoy his time as a head coach because HE WILL NEVER BE ONE AGAIN.

But if he can go 3-13, people in the league will say, "He coached 'em to three wins with ZERO WIN talent. Maybe we can find a place for him here."

Same for players. Winning, when you shouldn't, leads to continued employment. Going 0-16 leads to funny jokes to tell in future years --when you're looking for work in a new field.

Boz, I've loved reading your columns for years. One of the things about this run by the Nats that makes me the happiest is reading your columns and getting your sense of joy out of this run. I know that guys like you keep a certain amount of detachment so that you can cover the team and not just be a homer, but it that joy is just coming off the page in what you're writing right now. So, congrats Tom.

You'd be surprised how detached I am. Very detached. I'm surprised. 

"You are your habits." That is my habit of mind when working. And it's a little late for me to change myself very much! But your right that I have an intense sense of what YOU ARE FEELING and I am writing, in part, out of THAT well of emotions.

As always, looking for what T.S. Eliot called "the objective correlative." If you care, Eliot first wrote about it in his essay, "Hamlet and His Problems." R.P. Blackmur is also good on the subject.  

I did not expect that it would be the Dodgers', rather than the Nationals', fans who would be calling for the head of their manager after the NLDS. For my part, I thought we had lost game 5 when Stras was left in to bat for himself with two on and none out. But (mercifully) the game played out differently, and it was Roberts rather than Martinez who ended up the goat. My questions are: Was the decision to let Stras bat for himself in the 5th wise, or foolish (but a foolish decision that ended up working out)? How bad was the decision to let Kershaw pitch to Rendon? Or to Soto? How bad was the decision to bring Kelly back in the 10th? Has Davey's bullpen management improved? Does the NLDS represent him turning the corner as much as it represents the team turning the corner? Thanks!

I agreed with decision to let Stras hit. Some others don't. Stras is now as gritty and ornery as they come and I thought, with lack of pen depth, that he had a far better chance to "hold 'em right there" at 3-0 than any othe option. His K-K-K in the sixth to finish his night with Bellinger on 2d was True Gamer stuff. Watched it again last night. As Joe Gibbs might have said, "He swelled up."

For two days, I told friends/reporters that the Nats best chance was "Kershaw in relief in G5." He's under a black cloud like I've never seen. There's almost no difference in speed between his FB and slider --a late-inning disaster waiting to happen against top hitters. He wants to finish with his big breaking ball --but Rendon and Soto didn't let him get to it. My only premonition of the post-season was that Roberts would bring in Kershaw to face Eaton in exactly the situation he did. I'd imagined Eaton hitting a three-run homer in that spot the night before --as I mentioned to Barry as he came it. Aftyer Eaton fanned on three pitches, I said, "Wrong again."

When Kershaw came back out for the NEXT inning, to face red hot Rendon, I said, well, I don't honestly remember, but it was probably something like the moment in Grosse Pointe Blank when Martin Blank (John Cusack) opens the package to find out who he is supposed to assassinate and it is the father of the women he loves --which helps the plot a lot!

Blank, delighted, says, "Well, dumb ****ing LUCK!"

I know how great Kershaw is. I know he was still very good this year. BUT THEY DIDN'T NEED HIM. They already HAD the bullpen to finish the job.

One of the peiople that you would probably most associate with the Dodgers came up after wards and said to me that "Kershaw has been SO great and the Dodgers love Clayton SO much. But your heart can get you in trouble. It's like falling in love with a hooker --it doesn't usually end well."

I don't actually think that is an accurate analogy. (And what the fellow said was boiled down to seven words. I spun it out to get the point across.) But I loved it anyway. Just a cry of pain.

It's such a shame you can't hear press box conversations in the raw. They're usually a lot more vivid that what you ultimately read or hear.   

The Return of Kelly was a gift. Not bringing in Kolarek to face Soto --who'd been helpless against him 3 times, was unfathomable. That is you best chance to escape with no runs or one run. Then walk Kendrcik and try to get Zim with a DP ball with Jansen. Instead, the IW to Soto to get to Kendrick maxed the chance of a big inning from which the Dodgers couldn't recover.

One of the sharpest LA sportswriters, long with Barry and I, just stood talking after the game. He made a list of Roberts Six Biggest Mistakes. That's a lot in one game, even if they were not all awful. 

Boz, In little over one year, the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup, the Mystics won their first WNBA championship, we could see another 'first' with the Nationals winning their first World Series. All these 'firsts' have to make the DC sports fan going crazy. Are you?

No. But I am really enjoying how much everybody else is enjoying it.

I get to have an obscene amount of fun in my job. Work, too. But fun. I've been eating hot fudge sundaes all my life. I never worry about how I feel --I got to cover Gibbs Super Bowls and Hoya Final Fours and Bullets in the NBA Finals and O's in the WS and more. But, especially in recent years, it has really bothered me that good fans, and nice people, in the Washington area had just gotten beaten up constantly by the Negativity Nazis who descends on any town or team that can be construed to have failed or choked. And, eventually, a civil mood of negativity, morose defeatism, starts to grow up. In resent years, i've said, "What the hell" and really pushed back against that because, fter all these years, I know this stuff runs in cycles and it just annoys the hell out of me to see people having their pleasure stolen from them by this perverse bent toward seeing the worst. For example, DC goes without MLB for 33 years. By the 6th year back in town, they are up to 81-82. The next year they win 98. They win four Division titles. The choke in their first post-sedason )so what? what did you expect?) Their nerves, and a tough vet opponent sinks them the next time. But in their 3rd and 4th trips, they play two of the best, most exciting --high level-- post-season series you'll ever see. And much of the response --not from smart fans-- but from plenty is "THIS IS A BAD EXPERIENCE. This is FAILURE."

The age certainly doesn't lack for mental illness. Can we blame the internet --the natural home for the unhappy, angry, malicious. As well as all the rest of us, too.

So, I'm just so happy that I got to see this period END. And it is OVER NOW. Doesn't matter what happens next. I think everybody gets it. Pro leagues have 30 or 32 teams. You have a parade once every 30 or 32 years on average. Be realistic. And enjoy what's there to be enjoyed, hile still being hinest about what you are seeing.

One final thought on "winning titles." I'v never been comfortable with that. TEAMS should be focused on "winning it all." And, of coutrse, fans want that, too.

But, in the case of the Nats, I've always hoped that DC would have the experience of a LONG RUN --just so they'd know what baseball actually is. Maybe that doesn't mean they end up liking it. But many will. However, does that Oct Run have to end with WINNING the WS?

Here's my analogy:  When you're a kid, I think it's natural to ask Santa for a sled. (Or whatever it is your REALLY want.) However, if you ask Santa for a sled with DIAMOND-STUDDED runners, so that you can go faster than all the other kids and then brag about it, that doesn't really appeal to me totally.

To me, if the Nats get to the WS, I'm going to feel --and nobody else has to or should feel this way-- like DC got its baseball sled.

If the Nats get there --and they sure HAVEN'T yet-- and also beats the 105-win Yanks or 103-win Houston, after already beating the 106-win Dodges, thyen, damn, I'm going to look at that like  sled with diamond-studded runners.

I'm not sure I'd even know what to make of it! (But I'd definitely go for a ride!)

That's it for today. Gotta go to a ballgame! Have a great time wherever you are! And see you here next Monday. The World Series, btw, regardless of who is in it, starts next Tuesday!

In your mind, is there any real chance of Daniel Snyder letting Bruce Allen go?

No.

We're in for 3-13, followed by new coach, then 4-12 and 5-11. Maybe, somewhere along that path, Bruce goes bye-bye. But I expect the earliest ETA for the Skins to be worth middling attention to be the '22 season. As the saying goes, "Often wrong, but seldom in doubt."

Do we, collectively, owe him an apology?

Some may. I've broken my back doing it --including a whole column months ago. We're WAY past that point in the road.

I'll have to dig up the points when I started writing that this season had totally turned around --it was before they got back to .500. But, no, I did not say anything about two-wins-from-the-world-series. But I've been pointing out that they have been playing as if they were one fo the four best teams in MLB for about the last three months. Some others have, too. (BTW, Rizzo has always been WAY ahead in foreseeing what was coming together. Also seeing what pieces needed to be added.)

That was a heckuva series for the WNBA championship. The Mystics are so talented, but Connecticut was not far behind. Is this a breakout season for the league in terms of visibility and popularity, or am I just overly excited because my favorite team won?

It's certainly been a break out year for my interest. (I've watched women's college basketball in the past, but not WNBA. There aren't enough hours to watch everything. I barely watch college football. But if the day had 40 hours, I would.) I still have taped Mystics games from when I was on the road to catch up and watch. You never know --or I never know-- when a sport is about to hit an inflection point and jump up a level or two in general popularity. I wish the Mystics luck in making the jump. They have certainly done their part!

Using your 54/46 split, the Nats win the series 82.3% of the time.

Thanks!!!

And that past history of 21-3 would be 87.5%

Albert Pujols has been watching the playoffs for EIGHT YEARS. Just sayin'

Wow.

So glad to see Zim get to b part of the party.

Hi Boz: what do you make of the Soto business and the Cards taking it upon themselves to enforce “unwritten rules”?

It's pure Cards gamesmanship. They are just trying to get in Soto's head because he is so good. Especially Yadi, who is a semi-deity. I don't blame them. But see it for what it is --there's a 20-year-old who scares them to death and if they can lay a little authority-figure hex on him, they'll do it in spades.

Also, the Cards rotation i ALL RHed, and most of their bullpen. They need to get Soto overswinging --as he was in St. L. Because if he starts going to leftcenter and center, he'll get locked in and th Cards will pay the price. But so far, I'd say that they ARE in his head --trying to hard to "show 'em" with one swing. He always seems to adjust. I think the off day may help him refocus. However, sometimes he needs to face  LHer to stop "pulling out" and lock in by keeping his front shoulder closed.

But you have spotted  shgnificant subplot.

What Soto does is GREAT. With the years, he'll probably tone it down a bit. But relief pitchers have been putting on acts several times that big for years to intimidate hitters.


It's great stuff. Just so Soto stays within himself, he'll be fine. The Cards are just doing their job --bench-jockey and messing with a 20-year-old. The 20-year-old just needs to chill. And hit.  

Mike Rizzo and the Nats were all-in, despite national criticism, on sitting Strasburg late in the 2012 season and, last week, telling Daniel Hudson “go be with your wife for the birth of your daughter.” This with huge postseason games coming up. Does that kind of caring impact whether Anthony Rendon would want to stay in town?

The Nats, ever since Strasburg in '12, have had an edge in acquiring players, or getting players to return, because they are so decent. Not saintly, just decent. But merely being decent makes you a "players' team" in pro sports. 

Sounds about right.

Check, please. Outta here. Cheers.

 

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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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