Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Feb 24, 2020

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

Hello Everyone,

Never thought I'd start the intro to a chat with a 42-year-old Zamboni driver, but I suspect I'll remember David Ayres --the EBUG (Emergency Backup Goalie)-- who got the win for the Canes over Toronto on Saturday night. 

He's the first emergency goaltender EVER to get a win in the NHL.

He was with his wife in the stands watching the game. Got semi-dressed after one Canes goalie was hurt, then rushed to get ready after the second goalie got hurt. 

Entered with almost half the game to play. Never anywhere close to an NHL-level goalie, not even a college star. 

Had a kidney transplant 15 years ago. Drives the Zamboni for Maple Leafs games and Toronto's minor league team, too. Gave up goals on the first 2 shots he faced, then made eight straight saves! I'll provide a link. Just one of the coolest most fun stories ever. 

Also, along more traditional lines: What's up with the Caps? They've looked like an inconsistent .500 team since Xmas which makes far too many mistakes, exposes Holtby in goal and looks, frankly, like a team ready for a quick exit in the playoffs. Then they come back to beat the Pens 5-3 after trailing 2-1 after two periods. Do they NEED another trade before today's 3 pm deadline to tighten things up and add consistent energy? Is the Caps lack of CONSISTENT effort/motivation connected to coaching? 

The Wizards continue to drive me nuts. Bradley Beal can score 53 (Sunday), but how can I (we) get it out of our minds that they lost to the awful Cavs in their previous game? Scott Brooks called them "soft." Is it more likely that they are just BAD and can't do any better? Your thoughts, please. 

Nats start their spring training games. Looks to me after time in Fla that they will be just as good a regular-season team this year --88-to-95 wins-- because their bullpen will be so much stronger. But, without Rendon, they are not as well "built for October" now? How can they make up that gap? 

Also, Patrick Reed won in Mexico on Sunday after Koepka brought up issues earlier in the week about whether Red played by the rules in an event in the Bahamas in December. Is the two-time US Open champ calling Reed an honorary Astro? 

All this and whatever else you'd like to chat about, especially the Terps who lost on Sunday but look like an Elite Eight quality team to me. 

Let's go!

Boz, Everyone says that the only way the Dodgers can get "payback" against the Astros is if they meet in the World Series this year. But the All-Star Game will be at Dodger Stadium this year, and at least one Astro, Dusty Baker, is guaranteed to be there. Do you see the cheating scandal affecting the chances of Bregman, Altuve, Springer... making the team? Would any NL pitcher take aim at an Astro in an ASG? (Randy Johnson vs Kruk was in good jest)? I would think at least it would be a chance for the LAD fans to unleash their anger at any Astro.

Wow, I forgot the ASG was in LA! Maybe some Astros won't WANT to make that team! I assume Dusty will sub for the departed Hinch in picking the A.L. team. That'll be interesting!

I'm guilty of looking forward to all the signs, trash-can beating and other forms of heckling that will greet the Astros this year. They've done so much damage. At least they can provide a little (perverse) entertainment.

So, when do we find out what happens to the Red Sox?

I doubt that a LOT of Astros hitters will get drilled on purpose this year. It's not going to be open season. But --wild guess-- I bet there will be 10-to-12 times that we wonder "was THAT payback?" Having that thought in the back of your mind isn't going to make it any easier to hit.

It's evident TK adores you. He always talks about your columns on his podcast. Why after all these years have you never been a guest on his shows?

I've been on his show several times over the years. We've been friends for 40 years.

He knows I love writing but don't really enjoy talking on TV or radio --because it's my policy never to say anything off the cuff that I haven't already thought out and written. So, why would I want to talk and bore myself by responding to questions by rehashing my old writing? Some people are wonderful SPONTANEOUS talkers --and entertainers--like TK. I don't have that skill. So I generally avoid TV and radio. But I've probably been on with TK more than anybody else over the years --even though that's a small number.

(Glad to hear he's saying nice things. I've never listened to a pod cast. I don't dislike them, It's just that when I have that kind of time while driving I listen to Little Stephen's Underground Garage --the best rock of the last 60 years. Tough to pass up DJ's like Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats drummer) and Drew Carey (yes, that one from The Price Is Right) whose Friday Night Freak Out may be the best curated rock show you can find. The guy is a rock lunatic and knows everything about everybody.) 

How did I get off on that? Sorry.

...do you think the 'Skins should trade down? I think the 'Skins have too many needs (OT, ILB, DB, WR) to put all their eggs in one basket, especially along the defensive line where we're the strongest. And I've read a summary of a study that indicates there's no statistical difference between 1st-round and 2nd-round picks in terms of starts and pro bowls. Also, what terms would you accept (e.g., three 1st round, one 2nd round)?

or many years I've thought it was a good general policy in the draft to trade down --UNLESS you thought you had a chance to get your next franchise QB. Otherwise, LEAN toward trading down for more picks, as the Pats often have. 

As for value, I've always thought that this value chart was close enough to what NFL teams actually do.

As you can see, the No. 2 overall pick is worth 2,600 points. IN THEORY (this isn't going to happen), the Skins could trade that one pick for EVERY PICK in the '20 draft of the team with the No. 5 overall pick or the No. 6 overall pick. 

For example, the No. 6 overall pick is "worth" 1600 points, then that team's 2d, 3rd, 4th and 5th rd picks are worth 520, 240, 92 and 39 points. All of that combined doesn't add up to 2,600.

My point: You ought to be able to turn a No. 2 overall pick into at least three or four important picks in the first 3 rounds. Maybe one of two of those picks is in the '21 draft. But you can get a TON from somebody who really craves that second-overall. My two cents: Chase Young will be a very good player. But he's not worth the No. 2 overall --or even close to it. The Skins are committed to Haskins as their QB. So I don't think they have any realistic choice EXCVEPT to trade down. The question is how much they get. This really gives Ron Rivera a leg up in his rebuild effort. 

The Redskins (as a whole) can't really be serious about wanting to retain Williams and wanting to cut Kerrigan as a cap casualty and or because he missed the last couple of games last year. Really? In Williams 10 seasons, he has missed 40 of the scheduled 160 games if you include last year's tiff with Bruce Allen. Kerrigan had not missed a single game until last year's late season injury. Williams is an injury waiting to happen. It keeps getting pointed out that professional sports is a business. Do you think Bill Belichick would be keeping Williams and jettisoning Kerrigan>

I wouldn't even consider giving up on Kerrigan. As for Williams, I can understand a new coach's desire to keep such a fine LT, especially since O-linemen tend to age well. Trent actually got a season to rest his body!

In his first nine seasons, Trent averaged 13.2 starts a year. I'd think that would be what you'd expect from him over the next couple of years. The only problem is bringing back a star player who hates the organization. Maybe he hated Bruce Allen the most. But he is a big voice in that room and it seems doubtful that the ONLY person he was mad at last year was the GM. And he sure wasn't mad at Gruden or Callahan. As usual, the Skins have a problem  mostly of their own making --a player they NEED (Williams) at a position of big value, but with a sour history with the franchise that might become a problem in the future.

How is it possible that the national chattering class has so little respect for the Nationals? ESPN apparently doesn’t want them on Sunday night baseball. Stat heads are saying the Mets are the best team in the N.L. East. MLB.com recently had the Nats as tenth most likely to win the Series. Etc. Mike Rizzo seems to get zero recognition for the brilliant I’ll-do-it-my-way method of assembling high-character, consistently good teams. What gives here? Do the players resent it?

Normally, when I hear "no respect" comments from fans or players in any sport I think "they are too touchy." However, I'd have to say that I've noticed the same thing. I'm stumped as to any plausible reason. One possibility is that the Nats are contrarians in the sense that they think scouting is TWICE as important as analytics in a sport where the orthodoxy for more than a decade has been that analytics is about 10 times as important as scouting, "eyes on" or anything that resembles the way players were evaluated, paid or traded over the previous century.

Ironically, I think it's the Nats who are winning on this --they are probably SOMEWHAT behind in analytics (and still need to improve some) but they are WAY ahead on scouting and other old-fashioned parts of thre game. Net-net, I think they are the ones who now have an edge --especially in evaluating players past age 30 who still have good years in them or who can be part of productive platoons.

I doubt many fans sense how different Mike Rizzo is from the "normal" GM who is usually a "suit" --whether he actually wears a suit or not. It's the "suit/corporate" mentality. Many GMs seldom go in the clubhouse, seldom go to the minors to eyeball the team's talent or base their trades (in part) on what his eyes tell him. I'm pretty sure Mike is one of very few GMs who, within the last couple of years, went to the clubhouse to confront a player and, if necessary, well, continue-the-discussion-in-whatever-verbal-or-physical-manner-proves-to-be-necessary. Max Scherzrr and Adam Eaton were already screaming at the player's face, chewing him out,, but Mike quickly took over that job description from them. 

Long ago --and I'm sure I've told this story multiple times, but it's central to what has happened with the Nats since '12-- I got a call from Stan Kasten. He said that the Nats had just made the biggest acquisitions that the franchise would EVER have. It was, he and Rizzo believed, the most important 24 hours in club history. "We just stole 17 of the best scouts in MLB in one day," said Kasten. It was The Raid. The Nats created, I think, 11 new full-time slots for scouts filled by those 17 people. If memory serves, there's a date --maybe a day after the World Series ends or a week later, or whatever-- when all one-year contracts for scouts run out. And they are technically free agents --which applied to tons of scouts and talent evaluators in the game to years ago because nobody wanted ANY scout since "Moneyball" was triumphant. Stan said The Raid (of course led by Rizzo) would be the biggest single event in the franchise's team-building future --maybe ever. I thought the whole thing sounded cool --because no other team at that time would even have considered it-- but I was also skeptical.

Many in the media take much of their view of the game from front office people with whom they talk. Which is natural. And the analytics community loves to talk --about itself. There's lots of self-promotion about how smart their methods are --but then they never show you their methods in any depth because they are "proprietary." Basically, it's "we're really smart and advanced because we SAY we are really smart and advanced. Just take our word for it." And analytics WAS WAY AHEAD for quite a while. You know I love the numbers. But markets are VERY good at grinding down "inefficiencies" until they barely exist. What was once a big edge becomes a tiny edge.

So, if there is any unconscious bias, or tilt against the Natrs, I suspect it is because they are SO confident in their methods at the same time that they are contradicting the prevailing orthodoxy. Also, for media purposes, numbers and graphs are much easier to discuss --or sound like an expert-- than "scout talk" about changing a pitcher's delivery or making a tiny adjustment in a hitter's approach or watching a 17-year-old Juan Soto and saying, "He's not just going to be good. He may turn out to be great."  

In short, I think the Nats may get on folks nerves --and they don't care. There's nothing systematic or malicious about the 'no respect' stuff. But I'm pretty sure trhat Rizzo is the only GM who believes --or at least who will say-- that most of the Prospect Rankings that get so much attention are, in his view, pretty much worthless. And the opinions of some of the people who do them don't merit his respect. 

A little "we get no respect" never hurt any team. Strasburg LOVES to be in that position.

All that said, SI just ran the odds from the Westgate SuperBook in Vegas. The MLB odds are Yanks (300), Dodgers (350), Astros (800), Braves (1400), Nats (1600), Twins (1800), Mets (1800), Cards (2000), Cub (2500), Phils (2500), TB (2500).

I'd say that the gamblers are pretty smart --those are the right teams in roughly the right order. But th odds are much too short on the Yanks and Dodgers. Ever hear of "injuries." And the odds are too long on the Nats --if Max, Stras and Corbin are healthy on Oct 1 and the Nats are in the playoffs. I'd say the Nats are more like 1200. But that's no "wrong enough" to start throwing money around, imo. Right now, I'd say that the Nats are neck-and-neck with the Braves as the 4th-best team in MLB with the Astros, minus Cole and plus their scandal, a shaky third-best. BUT the Yanks and Dodgers ARE clear favorites in their leagues.

Just smile and enjoy the season. I went back overt the last eight years to see if pre-season guesses about the performance of individual Nats would have been easy or hard to predict in February. I was semi-shocked --each year there were 3-4-5-6 players who were worlds away --either better or worse-- from the consensus view of their ability. Remember when getting Daniel Murphy for three years for $37.5M was a consolation-prize fall-back signing by the Nats? He has their third choice to fill 2d base. Then, in '16, he was SECOND for MVP! His OPS in the four previous seasons had been .742 and he was a poor fielder. His OPS in his first year as a Nat was .985 with a .347 (!!) average and 104 RBI. Turns out that the "tell" --which the Nats didn't put a lot of stock into, was his hot finish, and great October, the previous season. This year, will Starlin Castro's 2d half in '19 with an OPS way over .900, be the "tell," or will he just go back to his decent MLB-average level OPS for a middle infielder (career .733, '19 .736)? 

The Nats desire to target Castro is mostly a "scouting" or "eye-on" call --though with analytics input. The buzz in WPB is that they hope he can have an OPS over .820 and handle hitting No. 3 quite a bit. I don't think that is going to happen. An upgrade at 2d? Yes. Wonderful clubhouse and work-ethic player? Yes. Going to hit No. 3 for defending champs? No. But if I'm wrong it'll just be another example of how smart the Nats often are.     

Recently I heard that Gretzky said it was easier to score in his day as compared to today. What say you? The goaltenders and all their equipment are certainly larger. They are also certainly more athletic. How do you compare the eras? Thanks.

It's simple. In Gretsky's day the average NHL team scored about 4 goals a game. Now, it's 3.1.

That is about 22.5% LOWER now. So, in 2020 terms, Gretsky would have scored 693 goals, not 894.

Yes, you know what that means: ADJUSTED FOR ERA, Alex Ovechkin has ALREADY passed Gretsky!

(Yes, I know Gretsky was an even better passer than scorer and that nobody thinks Ovi is as wonderful an all-around player as Gretsky, etc. BUT it is worth noting that when Gretsky was scoring 92 goals, it was significantly easier to score in the NHL.

Maybe some hockey nut --like I'm a baseball nut-- would like to "normalize" each of Gretsky and Ovi's seasons to put their goal scoring on the same (or scale). That 4.0 vs 3.1 is broad brush. But ya get the point!

What do you think of the comments by Dave Ortiz and Pedro Martinez attacking Mike Fiers for blowing the whistle on the Astro's cheating?

Both Ortiz and Pedro have self-identified as part of the problem in MLB.

Fiers should be thanked for his honsty and contribution to the game. Not ripped by the omerta crowd.

Certainly the biggest sports moment of my lifetime; crazy that it was a hockey game. First it was a massive upset. A true underdog comes from nowhere to upset the mighty Red Army team. Politically they were our only real enemy, draped in so much mystery and intrigue. And timing, easy to forget today the depths of the cold war. Is this tops for you as well?

I HATE the Miracle on Ice. I will always HATE TRhe Miracle on Ice.

Why?

I covered the '80 Olympics. I was our speed skating specialist --Eric Heiden and his sister Beth as well as the rest of a great U.S. skating squad. I also overed other things. But I wasn't part of covering the U.S. hockey team. 

So, I as probably a few hundred feet away from the Miracle on Ice --but on the wrong side of the WALL, so to speak. (You can't trust your memory on stuff like this --maybe I was 3/4 of a mile away or whatever. But I was in the press room and watching all the Russian "sports writers" --probably half KGB-- with expressions on theirs faces like the destination of their airplane tickets back home had just been changed from "Moscow" to "Siberia." Talk about shock and shame! All you had to do to know what the reaction was in the USSR was to watch the faces of those Russian "writers." 

Len Shapiro did our gamer, I think. I think my next assignment was pairs figure skating. As Kevin Kline says repeatedly in A Fish Called Wanda --"DISAPPOINTED!!!!!"

So, I've got this nice list of the stuff I've covered but for the Miracle on Ice, I was on the wrong side of the wall.

Some Astro players and officials have questioned whether stealing the catcher's sign really gave them advantage. Given their attitude, why not require their catchers to simply call out the signs to their pitchers during the 2020 season? Not only would this be a just punishment, but perhaps we will find out they are right, and thus we don't have to begrudge them their 2017 World Series win.

Nice. A season of "Parent Pitch" in T-ball.

Let me answer another couple of questions in this space since we have many on the Astros. First, will future players be able to cheat with impunity because a precedent of "immunity to testify" has been set. And, second, can and should MLB STILL vacate the '17 WS title for Houston?

On the first point, MLB and the MLBPA will work out an agreement on future punishments and they will be tough. The players are furious. And they are furious that the Astros were not punished specific. As many others have said, I've never seen aso many players mad at other players as they were when I was in WPB when the Astros bungled their press conference and for the next few days.

MLB can still vacate the title. It's called "We changed our minds." When they come out with their findings on the Red Sox, and whatever else they say in wrapping up their investigation, there is nothing that prevents MLB from saying, "There will be no 2017 World Serie winner listed in any form that's affiliated with MLB." 

And that's what I think they should do.

This is NOT "going away" any more than Barry Bonds' tainted Home Run King title, replacing Hank Aaron --not in MY mind, but in some people's minds-- is ever "going away."

But there's a big difference. There was no way to take away Bonds hom run total. There IS a way to take away the '17 WS title --because the Astros were caught, convicted and punished for cheating. If you can take away four HIGH draft picks, you can sure as heck take away "a piece of metal."

Man, I bet Manfred wishes he had never heard that phrase. I just Googled "piece of metal." A picture of Rob Manfred came up on my phone. HONEST.

When he apologized for saying that about the Commissioner's Trophy, he had the saddest expression on his face of anybody I have ever seen --past the age of 10.

Good morning. Saw your twitter where one of the discussion topics was going to be "are the Wizards watchable." Short answer would be "no." How much of the Wizards do I watch? Maybe I'm deranged, I streamed the Wizards games while I was at a friends house during the World Series, so that should give you some clue into my madness and my Wizards viewing habits. Over the last couple of weeks, I just don't really care to watch. Last night, I turned it off at halftime to watch 90 Day Fiance, I said to myself, "I just don't care." I hate everything about the telecast now, it's so frustrating to watch, their stupid "Predict The Game" broadcasts, their insistence on interviewing car dealers for 10 minutes while the game is going on, the announcers saying dumb things like "the Wizards just refuse to lose" while being down by fifteen points, and just the commentators in general, who I have pretty much at this point just learned to ignore and tune out. Previous years, if the telecast would be on both the local channel and ESPN, I would always watch the local coverage, but now, I'd watch it on ESPN ten times out of ten. I also know that this is a transition year, develop the younger players, whatever bland corporate speak organizations give to you so you ignore performance and results (trust the process), but it's just so hard for me to watch and be engaged by this stuff anymore.

Perfect response. Thanks.

I watched the second half of the loss to the Cavs and was so turned off that I didn't even tape the game against the Bulls --so Beal scores 53 and now I can't watch that!

You're right about the low-quality broadcast. Maybe Phil and Buck got what they deserved --a break from the suffering. And Ted got what he deserved, too.

At least I did watch the Terps on Sunday at OSU. That was a poor call on Cowan --a tech for his 5th foul. He was knocked down on a drive, was disgusted at "no call" and made a little kicking gesture of annoyance as he lay on the deck. But the kick was close to an OSU player's head --hence the tech. Not an awful call --but bad at that point with 4 minutes left and Maryland making a push. Sometimes the refs need to use some common sense. Is Cowan, 6-foot, going to kick at a 6-9 Ohio State player at OSU? Or is he more likely just to be ticked at the ref?

Of more concern, the Buckeyes held down both pt guard Cowan and 6-11 Jalen Smith, the Terps two stars. I was not able to spot anything special that OSU was doing on defense, so I'll assume it was just a bad day for the pair. Maryland and March look well matched for eachother. But when you play in the best conference in the country and have a shot at a No. 1 seed, you don't want ANY loss --and especially one on such a weird ticky-tacky call. 

Boxing is surely dead after this travesty. A 273 lb man, who was so flabby around the midsection he had his trunks pulled up near his nipples, tko’ed a one punch head hunter who never threw one body punch. I think the 50’s through the 80’s were a second golden age of boxing . The fall from that time was swift and decisive.

Was that a BOXING match?

Every time ESPN did a promo shot of Fury-Wilder for many days before the fight it always seemed like a low-rent mixed-martial-arts trash-talk glare-down carnival. I can't stand to watch that stuff. I covered boxing for the Post for quite a few years, but I lost interest --totally-- long ago. As has most of the world. I have a lot of company.  

But I never thought I'd see the day when a heavyweight title fight --which was a highlight of the sports year from the time I was 10 until almost 50 45-- would happen and I wouldn't even know OR CARE that it was boxing.

Watson once said to Sherlock Holmes, "Surely you are not ignorant of the Copernican Theory that the Earth rovolves around the sun!?"

Holmes replies that this knowledge has no relevance to his work so "now that I know it I shall proceed to forget it."

I'm no Holmes, but I have a sad feeling that this means the heavyweight championship of the world no longer has any relevance to my work --so I can proceed to forget it.

But thanks for mentioning it. If there is a Fury-Wilder 3 I gues, thanks to you, I will actually watch it.

However, not with as much interest as the 42-year-old Zamboni-driver playing goalie for the Canes David Ayres.

Here's the link.

This will probably lead you to other post-game, lockerroom  and next-day stories on Ayres if you want them.

I dunno, maybe they were pressing to get Alex to #700. Maybe now they can relax and get in playoff shape. (By the way: How about Alex, amazing again.)

I was fixated with Alex in the 1r4 goal in 7 game run, too. Maybe the Caps got distracted --almost in a good way-- by it. They have time to turn it around and play their best heading into the playoffs. This is almost exactly when they found their focus, and started playing really well, in their Stanley Cup run. But they need to starting doin' it!

I didn't care much for the guy before but being a golfer and seeing what happened in the trap and hearing the Kostis story, I'm completely done with him. I was a little put off by the TV coverage over the weekend - it seemed like they were unprepared to talk about the issues directly and chose to be more on the side of "tough, gritty competitor" than "good player but a cheating pile of poopy". Did you watch? What did you think?

I felt the same way you did.

For those who want to catch up on this, here's the clip of Brooks Koepka blowing the doors off Reed in an interview --and shooting out the tires, too.

Reed is a gritty, tough competitor. But his 8th Tour win was not a popular one. Sorry to watch Bryson DeChambeau squander his lead down the stretch. 

That's it for today. See you next Monday at 11 a.m. Thanks for all the fine Qs.

Based on draft history, I believe that the Redskins should be able to find some ignorant team willing to give three first-round picks and a second rounder for the number 2 overall pick. Just find that dumb team. What team was that anyway?

We have a winner!

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