Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Oct 21, 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 chat about the World Series....

Or maybe just grin for the next 90 minutes (until I have to head to the airport for a plane to Houston. As I mentioned in my column that's up this morning, I just hope that this World Series proves worthy of the two teams that are in it. 

The Astros have a great chance to jump out to a 2-0 lead with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander at home against a Nats lineup that has had 6 days off. Talk about a tough way to get your hitting timing back on track! But I doubt that the Nats will just roll over, as some teams do, if the Series starts off poorly. 

Their identity --"Stay in the Fight" and "Go 1-0 Today" is very well suited to the pressure they are about to face. Of course, if they start off quickly, as they certainly may with Max and Strasburg starting, then this will be a long wonderful Series because the Astros will NOT go away quietly. 

Let's get going. 

Also, any other topics, any sport, as well as your analysis of the Series, is welcome. 

You know I love to steal the good stuff from you fine folks. 

Hope the next week or so is worth the wait. Whether it is or not, this has been an amazing season. And I'll confess that I am very happy that Washington finally got a World Series back in D.C. 

I still remember all the columns Shirley Povich wrote after the Senators left town in '71 when he'd berate Bowie Kuhn and MLB for ignoring "The Nation's Capital." Shirley would write: "What are we, Chattanooga?" (Which had been home to a Senators farm club.) 

Cheers!!! (With three exclamation points.)

I am not a big fan of Kyle Shanahan, and I am neutral on the Redskins (fan of another team, but not a Redskin hater), but I laughed out loud when I found out he dedicated the game ball to his dad. Always fun to see Dan Snyder get a thumb in the eye.

OK, ONE question/answer on the miserable Skins.

I refer to yesterday's Skins-'49ers game as The Bile Bowl.

Snyder and Mike Shanahan were made for each other --in football hell. Two men who have everything, yet always seem filled with bile. Never give up a grudge or a chance for a petty disagreement that can fester into something worse.

I don't include Kyle in that description --he's just a loyal son. 

What's up next? On Thursday night, the Vikings, and Kirk Cousins, who's hot (for now) play the Skins at FedEx just AFTER the Nats play World Series Games 1 and 2 and the night before the World Series --and Game Three-- comes to D.C. the FOLLOWING night for the first time in 86 years.

Talk about being over-shadowed! Perfect symbolism.

 

It’s simply that they’re still playing, even though others aren’t. Two-thirds of the teams stop at the end of September. If their fans want to keep watching baseball, they have to watch (*shudder*) other teams. Then two more drop after the WC games. More folks without that nightly appointment and hope. The LDS’s toss aside four more teams, and their fans. The LCS’s two more of everything. But for the final two teams, it’s a full extra month of excitement, excitement that really means something. Another game tonight (or tomorrow), always hope that they can still win it all. After all, their fans have been watching them win, come back, or ignore yesterday’s loss and still show up strong, for months! Why not expect a win tonight, too? This is so much fun!

Exactly!

Thanks, I really enjoyed that.

Why not start Sanchez game 1? Cole has been absolutely invincible and the likelihood of the Nats beating him at home are slim. If the Nats lose then they still have Scherzer and Strasburg available. And, like the rest of the rotation, Sacnhez has been hot and could steal a win. What are your thoughts?

Sometimes, when everybody's rested, and both teams are roughly equal --at least they have been for the last 5 months-- then I think you just line up your best, your stars, and let 'em go at it. Great theater, great sport. And let the chips fall.

This is also how I felt about letting Zimmermann stay in Game To of the '14 NLDS. His previous start had been a no-hitter. He'd been brilliant that night. His pitch count was tolerable. Let him face the heart of the Giants order, including Buster Posey.

Let the players, and the game, SPEAK.

However, as I suggested in my column that's up now, there is another possibility for how to use Sanchez.

....

How could the Nats get another “star-starter” arm in their bullpen as in previous series? I doubt they will do it because they aren’t paying Patrick Corbin $140 million to be a middle-inning reliever. But if you ride Aníbal Sánchez’s hot hand in Game 3 and (if necessary) 7 and bump Corbin to Game 4, then interesting options appear.

You could use Corbin for one (or two) innings of relief in Game 1 or 2 (but not in both), and he would still be rested enough for Game 4. He would have three days of rest to follow Sánchez in Game 7. By then, Scherzer, on two days’ rest, might go an inning in a Game 7, too.

Oh, and Strasburg’s “throw day” is Game 4. What bullpen problems?

See, the World Series makes you crazy — but in wonderful ways.

 ....

 

... and 4-1 at home. Seems like they’re not playing under a lot of pressure. But Houston is! Oh, such a good regular season record! Oh, they’ve been here before, recently(!), and won. Everyone is picking them to win. Not sure who will win (nobody *really* knows), but will be so much fun watching the Nats try. Oh, i suppose i should ask a question. What’s your favorite color? :)

One of the World Series oddities I've noticed over the years is how FEW games the eventual champion loses in all of October. Since the current format began in '95 (after The Strike), the post-season record of the 24 World Series winners has been .722! That's 265 wins, only 102 loses --or slightly more than four defeats in teh whole post-season.

NO team has played the maximum number of games --winning 3-2, 4-3 and 4-3 in their three series. The '17 Astros (3-1, 4-3, 4-3) and '11 Cardinals (3-2, 4-2, 4-3) were 11-7.

My point: The team that's on a hot roll seems to have an edge and wins more quickly than normal odds might suggest --though facing an elimination game along the way may toughen up the nerves.

The Nats enter 8-2 in post-season and have faced three elimination games.  The Astros (3-2, 4-2) are 7-4 and have faced one elimination game. 

If the Nats were to win the World Series, it would fit this Hot Team pattern. Of course, if Houston won in four or five games, THAT would fit also.

You can't win when predicting. BUT teams that make it through a three-tiered, or four-tiered post-season do tend to steamroll at least one of their foes, as the Nats did to the Cards.

Under the current format (started in '12), only one WC team has won the Series --the '14 Giants. They went 1-0, 3-1, 4-1 and 4-3 in the Series. Agasin, this has a slight "Washington" feel to it.

But, remember, Gerrit Cole is having one of the greatest seasons of this generation. Counting post-season, in 36 starts, he is now 23-5 with 358 strikeouts, and only 56 walks, in 235 innings. 

These are the sorts of numbers we saw from Sandy Koufax back in the '60's when --with four-man rotations and only one round of post-season (the World Seriers)-- a star starter would end up with 40 or 41 starts in the regular season.

In '65, including the World Series, Foufax started 44 games, went 28-9 with a 1.93 ERA and 411 strikeouts!

The next year, he was 27-9 in the regular season with a 1.73 ERA. But he lost the last game of his career to the Orioles and Jim Palmer in the '66 WS. Koufax retired at 30. He was developing a nerve problem in his left hand and wanted to leave while.... Well, he was kind of inigmatic. He said something like, "I might want to be able to play golf when I'm 50."

For the next 13 years, Koufax wandered from the coast of Maine to the coast of Maine. He gave no interviews. In spring training of '79, he showed up in Dodgers spring training to work with pitchers --whatever. Reporters never spoke to him, except in passing --just pleasantries-- assuming, as with Joe DiMaggio, that it was an imposition and they bother him, or the Dodgers would get ticked that you had annoyed him. But one day that March, he was sitting on a steamer truck, if I recall correctly, in a side room. I just started talking to him and it became obvious that he was GLAD to talk. Not anxious to talk, but calmly, reflectively willing. One of my favorite interviews. I asked him why he retired at 30.

"I wasn't looking for anything...just looking for time. It was a mindless period to do what I wanted to do and go where I wanted to go. U decided to take a few years for myself...I wanted to see how long I could stretch it." 

I remember: "Sometimes the most terrified people do the best work."

Here's the whole story from '79 if you want to read it. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1979/03/21/koufax/3139f66f-996a-485f-8cce-8f7671152136/

 

Why he is not starting game one? He is their best pitcher. And I also think he is now the face of the franchise not Zimmerman. Shades of 1960 when Whitey Ford did not pitch 3 games. Your thoughts?

There's no good reason for anybody to pitch three games in this Series, imo. It's not 1957.

I saw a stat on MLB-TV last week with the records of all the starting pitchers who had gone on short rest in the post-season in the last 25 years. (Sorry to pull this upo from memory) They would mostly be your aces --you don't bring back some bum on short rest. They were 30-45 with an ERA over 4.60.

Joe Torre always thought that his Game Two starter might be the most important --and he often went with Andy Pettitte. Torre thought that if you were down 0-1, you REALLY needed to win Game Two. And if you were ahead 1-0, you could grab a hammerlock on the Series against a desperate team and get a 2-0 lead --which wins a huge percentage of the time.

Scherzer has pitched in the WS before. The atmosphere won't influence him much. Probably wouldn't impact Strasburg much either. But I like the idea of Max enjoying the challenge of hearing everybody talking about Cole being "the best pitcher in baseball" (right now). I doubt Max agrees.

Also, what the Nats REALLY need is a split in Houston. Verlander, 36, may be feeling the long season just a bit. In four playoff starts, he's 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA and 10 runs allowed in 24 1/3 innings. Not bad, but not great --and maybe a good matchup for Strasburg. Also, Verlander gave up five homers in those four starts. He's fan lots of Nats --he strikeouts out everybody. But the Nats are a low strikeout team so they'll work him hard and may get a gopher ball or two.

If you want a sense of just how great the Astros have been, they are the first team ever to have a pitching staff that was first in strikeouts (1671) and an offense that struck out the least in all of MLB (1166). The Nats biggest problem may be that their starters will hit 100 pitches by the 5th or 6th inning --bringing the Nats bullpen into play much more than they would like.

The Yanks would have been an "easier" foe to cope with --they struck out 1437 times (middle of the pack) and might have been vulnerable to the Nats three starters with >230K each.        

Speaking as a Canadian, and lonnnnng-suffering Expo fan who also loves the Nats, do you think there will be any mention of the Expos and their star-crossed history during the Series, either at the Park, or by writers and broadcasters? O Canada, or even just the flag, would be a nice touch! #justsaying

I respect the Expos heritage. (I even covered the "Blue Monday" playoff game in Montreal.) I expect it will be mentioned.

But when I covered the '87 and '91 World Series in Minnesota and the '10 and '11 World Series in Texas with the Rangers, nobody ---n-o-b-o-d-y-- mentioned that those franchises had ever been the Original Washington Senators or the Expansion Washington Senators. If there were statues or plaques to Walter Johnson (who won 12 strikeout titles in DC and once HIT .443 for a season with more than 100 PA) I sure missed it. (If I'm wrong, please let me know.) I didn't see any Frank Howard memorabilia --with Frank in Senators gear-- in Texas! 

In MLB, when you lose a team, you really LOSE it. And when you get some other town's team, it's really YOURS, and the other city is just out of luck. The Nats probably try harder than any team I've seen to keep giving nods to the Expos. Good. But with the years, and the increasing Nationals tradition in D.C. --like going to the World Series-- the time will come when, like plenty of fans in Minnesota and Texas, they don't even know that their team ever played anywhere else.

But then the level of the public's knowledge about historical facts can be startling. A few years ago, the BBC did a poll asking people in the U.K. whether certain figures were real or fictional. The more people thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real person and that Winston Churchill has a fiction character.

 

In the wonderful piece by Jeff Passan for ESPN, Daniel Hudson’s wife remarked in passing that Hudson is just a rental for the Nats. Do you agree? Or do you think the Nats will try to/have a realistic shot to re-sign him? It seems to me we could sure use both him and Doolittle at the back of the bullpen moving forward.

The bullpen will require a total rethink. Hudson thinks of himself as something other than a closer. Hudson is 32 and has made $17.5M in his career. If some team out there sees him doing so well in October and thibks of him as THEIR closer, and gives him $18M for three years --or some such deal which is more than the Nats would probably offer-- I'd guess that BOTH Mr. and Mrs. Hudson would take the better offer. And be wise to do so.

But, yes, I'd like to see him back. But not as a closer --for the reasons that HE states --not enough swing-and-miss stuff.

This year, in Toronto and DC, Hudson's ERA is 2.47, but his Fielder Independent Pitching is 3.97. With the Nats, his ERA is 1.44 but his FIP is 3.53. (Tick, tick, tick.)

FIP and ERA converge. Hudson's 10-year CAREER ERA is 3.83 and his career FIP is 3.75. The Nats might want to sign him as a 32-year-old 3.75 ERA pitcher. But if Hudson can find a team that thinks he's a 2.47 ERA pitcher (or 1.44) with ice water in his veins, then SIGN THERE!

But, as I said, hope he stays and Doolittle, back at full form, is the '20 closer.

 

Will Kendrick likely be the DH with Dozier at 2B or will we see Adams at DH given that basically all of the Astros' pitchers are right-handed?

Kendrick MUST play every game --DH, 1st or 2nd-- but he must play. He's as close to a real Secret Weapon as I've ever seen. "Everybody" thinks he's having some feel-good comeback season --another way of saying "fluke." It's far more likely that for the last THREE years he's shown that he has, at a late age, changed many things in his approach and become an elite hitter! How long will that last? We'll just so it last another 10 days!

As I tweeted last week: Over last 3 yrs, the highest batting average in MLB (w 800 PA) is Howie Kendrick --.325. In that time his slash is .325/.373/.516. Almost IDENTICAL in '17-'19 to Jose Altuve: .321/.385/.517. Howie isn't just good, he's a secret STAR. And w Oct off days, he can play every day.

Astrubal Cabrera MUST be in the lineup against both Verlander and Greinke because he hits them as well as anybody in baseball --21 hits, 11 RBI, OPS over .820 vs Verlander and OPS over 1.050 vr Greinke in 37 at bats. You NEVER find a RHed hitter with those numbers --or ANY hitter-- against those two.

Dozier, despite his good glove, and Matt Adams, with Zim semi-hot and symbolic, may be the odd men out. But, along with Parra, they make a heckuva bench. Also, the Nats analytics folks --who DO have a 35% say in decision-making,may see match-ups for one or both of them that I'm missing. And that could put them in the lineup.

The immediate problem: The Nats don't have anybody with a history of hitting Cole well. Small data sample. But still an issue. Juan Soto has not faced him.

Heading into the Wild Card game, I figured the Nats had a 50-50 chance of winning and Soto came through against the best reliever in the NL. In the NLDS, the task seemed impossible, but I figured no other team matched up better with the Dodgers. Again the Nats came up with big hits in games 4 and 5 to win the series. In the NLCS I thought the Cardinals did the Nationals a favor by knocking out the Braves and while I was nervous they were possibly the hotter team, I ultimately believed the Nationals were better and they proved me right. Now we're in the World Series(!) and I'm looking at the Houston Astros and I cannot for the life of me see how the Nationals are going to pull this off. I'm going to watch with a positive attitude, but can you provide any beacons of hope for us nervous fans? Any cracks in the armor of what appears to be a perfect team?

There is no such thing as a mismatched World Series --until it is actually played and turns out that way. Nobody thought that the '88 Dodgers --The Stunt Men, a bunch of scrubs, plus Orel-- could beat Oakland and the Bash Brother. LAD won in 5 games. Nobody thought the Reds, with few stars, could beat Oakland in '90. Eric Davis hit an opposite-field upper deck HR in the 1st inning of Game One (over 450'), Jose Rijo dominated the A's and Oakland went into a full-blown Tony-LaRussa-has-a-managerial-breakdown choke and got swept. 

Jayson Werth always told him Nats teammates that the FOURTH-BEST Phillies team on which he played was the one that won the World Series because it had the best chemistry, balance of strengths and some breaks.

Since '69 --see my column-- the "better" regular season team has LOST the World Seris more oftne than it has won. It's 22-23 for the team with better regular-season record and 7-8 for teams that have a better record BY TEN-OR-MORE-GAMES.

Do yourself a favor --just watch and enjoy everything.

 

When the ball landed in Victor's glove, the first person I thought of was my dad, a lifelong Senators/baseball fan who passed away four years ago and never got to see this moment. The second person I genuinely thought of was you who is thankfully still here and now gets to write about it. I've read your work in the paper since I was a sports-obsessed teenage boy a long, long, time ago. While you may in fact do your best to remain detached to our local area teams as a professional sportswriter, I bet there was a part of you that was absolutely giddy over this opportunity. Thanks for all the years - enjoy the first World Series in DC in most of our lifetimes.

Thanks very much. But like I've said a few times in the past, I've had a lifetime of enjoying baseball and covering it. I'm the one baseball fan in D.C. who DIDN'T get short-changed.

That's why I'm so happy FOR YOU FOLKS.

That's it. Time for the jet.

No "pick" from me. This is too much fun to mess it up for yourself by --involuntarily-- comparing your silly prediction to whatever reality gives us. I DO hope it is an exiting Series.

Hoping that the team in your town gets to go to the World eriers is like asking Santa for a bike for Xmas --everybody does it. It's normal.

Asking Santa for your team to WIN the World Series strikes me as a bit like asking for a bike made out of solid gold --it's a bit much.

Of course, if Santa wants to come across with that gold bike to cap a season that started 19-31, I doubt that any of us will write a letter than begins, "Dear, Mr. Claus, I believe that you have made a mistake so I would like to return the..."

I've been to 10 playoff games across DC's big 4 and they're 1-9 in games I've attended (including the '16 and '17 Game 5 NLDS losses). In this playoff run, I've been out of town for every home game, so my brother (who previously didn't really like baseball, but is now OBSESSED with this team) went with my dad to the 3 games I got with my season tickets. They've won every game he's been at (including the wildcard) - so now that I'm back in town, do I have to let him go in my place for the World Series?

Is this really a question? Clearly, the World Series is in YOUR HANDS!

Howard Kendrick's comments after winning the MVP were the most articulate and intelligent I recall hearing from any player in any sport after winning a championship. Although his physical stature is short, he was head and shoulders above the usual cliches that are the norm. I expect that many athletes are more intelligent than they sound in these situations, after all public speaking is not what they train for. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel that with that kind of leadership the Nats have a more exceptional MVP than I had realized.

You're right about Howie.

And it's a wise starting point to assume that 1) a professional athlete IS smart and 2) that there is a very good chance that the face he shows the public is mask to defend himself/herself in a profession where everyone feels very exposed/vulnerable. I've tried to tell myself a thousand times: This person is probably a lot smarter than you think and a lot DIFFERENT than you think.

How much do you think his disappointing post seasons are going to haunt Kershaw? As elated as I was about the Nats’ victory, I couldn’t help but to feel terrible for him. I’ve never seen anyone in a dugout looking so sad.

A lot.

I feel bad for him, too.

But, in general, he's not being beaten by bloops in post-season. He's often been beaten by blasts --like Rendon, Soto. 

Has it sunk in for you yet, that you'll get to cover the World Series while sleeping in your own bed? I presume you get your usual spot in the true press box and don't have to be relegated to the overflow press box beyond RF under the stands where you can't see fly balls. As a columnist for one of the teams playing, do you get any additional privileges / responsibilities with your visiting colleagues? And have you figured out how to explain "Baby Shark" yet to them?

No special privileges! But, unlike many years in the aux press boxes at the World Series which were >450-feet from home plate, I will have my normal seat which, ironically, in Nats Park is six stories up. Not complaining. Just amusing that everybody watching on TV will have a MUCH better view than me, as well as >30,000 fans in Nats Park. Actually, there's something about that which seems fair to me. 

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
Recent Chats
  • Next: