Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Aug 10, 2020

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

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Here We Go.....

The Caps start their playoffs on Wednesday against the New York Islanders and coach Barry Trotz --yes, I'll be glued to it, even though NHL playoffs STARTING on August 12th is going to require some monumental mental adjustments. 

I want the Caps to have a long run, for the fun --we all need it. But ever since Trotz left, I've muttered to myself that the 1st time he met the Caps in the playoffs, if the matchup was anywhere close in talent, he'd get the Karma Upset. Well, they're close --2-2 this season. I'll go "Caps" in this one, but nervously. 

Every few years, there is a Next Great Player in Golf. 

Sometimes, they are. 

Going back to Jerry Pate, who won the U.S. Open at 22 in 1976, they are more often simply "successful" than great. However, the current group, especially Morikawa, who has already won 3 tournaments and beaten world No. 1 Justin Thomas in a playoff this year, looks like a special group. 

Cameron Champ, 25,already-established vet Bryson DeChambeau (only 26), as well as Scottie Scheffler, were on the leader board all day on Sunday in a madhouse finish. One note on Morikawa --he missed one of the shortest puts you'll ever see botched to knock himself out of a playoff in June w Dan Berger. That's one which makes you think, "Will he be scared by that?" 

THAT question was answered by his chip-in birdie at the 14th and his historic drive-the-green for a 7-foot eagle at the 294-yard 16th. Few have mentioned it, but when was the last time that ANYBODY shot 65-64 on the weekend to win a major? I remember Gary Player's Sunday 64 at the Masters long ago. Warson and Nicklaus had their great fuel at the Open long ago. 

Chatters, help me out --when was the last 64-to-win-a-major on Sunday or a score as low as 139 on the weekend to win a major. This is the kind of stuff that I deliberately try to keep OUT of my head. I'm the "Anti-Trivia Guy." I don't have anything against trivia --since I sure know lots of trivial stuff!-- but there is a certain sort of obsession-with-obscure-records that I shy from because I think it tends to pull you away from larger subjects.... Like, the revolutionary destruction that is about to hit college sports. 

Sally Jenkins column is wonderful --give yourself a treat: Read it AGAIN. 

I've mentioned several times in this chat over the years that, during my career, there are only two big subjects in sports that I have tried to avoid when possible because I realized immediately, by my mid-20's, that they were incredibly dirty, top-to-bottom, and I didn't want to spend my life in those cesspools: Big-time college sports (FB and BB) and The Olympics, in all its forms. There are plenty of other sports to focus on which are as corrupt as the rest of the world --representative of the world, and thus great writing subjects, but not systemically worse and unlikely to change because there would be no catalyst big enough to FORCE change. 

Say hello to the Pandemic --the one thing so big that it may blow the Olympics AND college sports 10,000 feet into the air. And we'll just see who and what the whole thing looks like when it all lands. Oh, and the Nats looked great vs the Orioles, all summer up in the Great Tarp Clinic. 

Let's roll.

Who usually makes up these crews on an MLB squad? Are they just local HS and college kids? Or are they more experienced? Do they cut a paycheck from the organization or is it a more casual scenario? And do they have leadership on the ground?

My understanding is that it is all adults and almost all teams take pride in having a crisply functional grounds crew. For one thing, if you totally screw up a game the way the Nats did with their Tarp Fiasco on Sunday, it goes on that Infinite Blooper Loop and haunts you --like "Natinals"-- for years.

This is the worst I have ever seen --at least that was done by accident. I once saw the Orioles grounds crew deliberately --I will always believe-- dump the entire tarp right behind SS, creating a lake which forced the erasing of a game, and a BIG Yankee lead in memorial Stadium. MLB rules were actually changed after that so it couldn't happen again. Lou Pinella, then a player for the Yankees, stood outside the ump's dressing room screaming curses for what seemed like forever --all of them about allowing Earl Weaver to order his crew (in Lou's opinion) to dump the water there to steal a win from the Yanks. Several of us reporters watched the scene. I thought Lou was going to have a heart attack --it was a magnificent (genuine) performance.

The Nats should be ashamed. No excuse is good enough. It rains a ton in summer in DC. Actually, for the last several years, it seems to rain at every Nats game, except the ones where it rains twice. And the storms arrive fast. This is STANDARD. You must be able to cope with it 100% of the time. I'm sure there is some "excuse." None is good enough.

If necessary, unroll the tarp many hours before every game and make sure it is rolled up right. This is PROFESSIONAL baseball. Just because there are no fans in the stands and everybody is losing money, or not making what they expected, is no excuse to put on a Clown Show like that. IMO, the game should have been awarded to the O's. The only reason it wasn't --maybe, just my intuition-- is that the Nats HURT THEMSELVES with their incompetence.

If the game had been deemed official, the O's would have won, 5-2, and the Nats would have DENIED THEMSELVES four times at bat in a win-able game. They'll play the rest of the game on Friday in OPACY withe Nats as the home team. Typical of 2020.

I feel bad for the people on the grounds crew. The blame must land higher than anybody you saw working themselves to exhaustion in the mud. They either didn't have the right number of people, or the properly trained people or proper pre-game procedures to make sure the tarp was rolled up properly. My two cents: Lay off the individuals on the grounds crew. They don't want to be in that film clip either. 

The Caps looked old, slow and flat against Tampa, Philly and Boston in the round robin warm up. With the exception of a late second period push against Tampa, they showed no heart. They took terrible, lazy penalties and Kuzy got benched (arguable their second best player) for being out of position and taking stupid penalties. Trotz and the Islanders know how to play the Caps and while Trotz's team lacks star power, they have something the Caps currently lack, discipline! This will be a short series and the Caps will be out in 5.

The other side is that the Caps played better, at times, on Sunday in a 2-1 win over Boston, the President's Trophy winner. And goalie Holtby made 30-of-31 saves. A goalie with confidence, especially with back-up goalie Ilya Samsonov inuured, is a big factor.

There are teams the Caps have had real trouble matching up against this year, especially the Flyers, including their round-robin game.

A big concern for me will be whether Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson will be back to anchor the defense, and boost tghe offense. As usual with NHL injuries, it's a mystery --out since July 29 with e Caps saying they are "hopeful" he'll play against the Islanders. In the NHL, "hopeful" sometimes means that a team will wait until it falls behind in a series before it gets desperate enough to bring back its still semi0-hurt star.

Trotz said, "I think it will be a helluva series."

Todd Reirden has had a so-so coaching year and he definitely got out-coached in the Caps exit in the playoffs last year. 

The PGA gave a taste of how much fun it is to watch a high-quality big-time sports event again. A nice run by the Caps would be a spirit lifter. Vegas has them as the seventh favorite --about the same as they were in their Stanley Cup year. If they were playing better, I'd say they were worth a "flyer" at (from memory) 14-to-1 the last time I looked. But after these three round-robin games, I think I'd just recommend watching and enjoying and not viewing them as even a small "investment."   

No home court advantage. Yet scoring is rocketing. Some surprising individuals like T.J.Warren averaging 34+ points. Bol Bol, Michael Porter, Jr., and even Carmelo Anthony look like different players! What's happening and why?

I've seen the eye-popping scores. I don't know why. The dumb joke would be that they are practicing defensive social distancing. I have to admit that the eternal irrelevance of the Wizards --okay, with a few years that were an exception-- has finally dampened my lifelong enthusiasm for the NBA in the last couple of years --until the second-round of the playoffs.

I'd love to hear the theories of chatters. I've thought that, in every sport, there would be some players who don't cope well with the pressure of crowds --but we just don't know it. Since there are ALWAYS crowds, we just say, "That is the player. That is who he is." If we take away the crowds --in any sport-- will there be some players who do worse --like Max Scherzer-- who feed off crowds-- and some, especially young players, who do better because it is one less factor to deal with?

The PGA was PACKED with young players at the top. I thought that Jason Day, normally a favorite of mine, was a hair over the line when he said, post-round, that he missed the crowds because he feels he deals with them well in majors, but sometimes others don't. There was no direct criticism of anybody. But if I'd been one of the Young Guns, I might remember it if I ever came down the stretch with Day. You know, I have NEVER heard anybody in sports say, "Hate never hurts." But I have heard hundreds say, "Never give them billboard material" or "don't wake 'em up" and many other ways of saying, "Don't give them a reason to cook up some honest hate for us."

But disliking you opponent --for a good reason, even if it is a small season-- can be an edge, especially on a huge stage where you tend to spend too much emotion on your own reaction to events and have a hard time "getting out of yourself" and focusing on the playing of the game. That's why, as I've mentioned before, I think Alex Bregman did the Nats such a favor in Game Six of the World Series. He gave any Nats who could make use of a little dislike and excuse to dislike him or just "show him." for showing them up. Maybe there were 20 Nats who didn't care one way or the other. But if there were five who either took offense, or manufactured some useful hostility, then it can change the tone of a dugout, even if that player's name is never mentioned. Very few things are more helpful in sports than focused controlled aggression. Sorry, folks, that just how it is. Not for EVERY athlete in every sport. Some are thrown off by disliking an opponent. But plenty are happy to be "slighted" or "shown up." 

Again, if chatters have theories on the big jump in Bubble Scoring I'd be glad to hear them. One obvious, and proper one: There's no travel so everyone's energy level is very high for every game. The offense has the initiative because it has the ball. My guess is that if the same two teams in 10 games were both were exhausted from heavy schedules or lots of travel, and also saw them in 10 games where everybody was fresh, that the explosive offense-oriented nature of high-level basketball would produce higher scores in the 10 games where both teams were rested.

How is that for a theory cooked up completely out of thin air!     

What happened in the A's-Astros game yesterday?

Somebody got driller in the back. He wasn't hurt much. But he stepped toward the mound and mouthed off at the Astros pitcher. Believe it or not, NOBODY LIKES THE ASTROS. It is NOT because "they got caught and everybody cheats." It is because everybody looks for an edge, and some players do cheat (like PEDs), but NOBODY cheats the way they cheated --team wide, everybody knows, many people involved and they win the World Series doing it. OK, the '51 Giants won the pennant doing it. But among players, what the Astros did is considered fundamentally DIFFERENT and damaged the game and everybody IN the game.

So, social-distancing went out the window and the A's-and'-Astros had a LONG extended dance party on the field. If anybody had Covid, it was a virus picnic. Cross fingers --because MLB is just one or two more big "outbreaks" like the Marlins and Cardinals from shutting down the season. Maybe they SHOULD have canceled the year already, but they are all invested in it emotionally and financially. That's an extra danger factor, as I've pointed out before: The "we aren't quitters" syndrome. When you wait for the virus to FORCE your hand in making a decision, so far it seems like it almost always does --and those who took that stance regret their decisions and, viewing the casualties, wish they could turn back the clock. I hope that pro sports isn't just the next example.

But everybody is not a quick learner. The Indians just sent one of their pitchers home IN A CAR, not traveling with the team, because he "went out with friends" --sometimes called a party. A teammate said of Zach Plesac, "We love Zach...but he sc rewed up."

BTW: The Detroit Free Press and Indianapolis Star are  reporting that The Big Ten is cancelling the football season. I don't know if we (Post) have confirmed the story yet. The Free Press story says the vote was 12-2.

If that's the case, then good. Let the dominoes fall. Amateur athletes, getting paid nothing --yes, scholarships-- are put at risk so Dabo Sweeney can make $9 million a year and new football play pens can have jewel-encrusted goal posts.

Generally, I don't root for revolutions because people bleed and die. And I certainly don't want anyone associated with college football to get the virus. But the structural revolution that's coming to college football is long overdue. I have no idea what form it will take, Entrenched interests will fight for their turf. But the athletes can't POSSIBLY come out of the other side of this with less than they have now. So, let the fireworks begin. Here is the one thing you can be SURE of: The athletes will not end up getting TOO MUCH. So, just root for them, and if you are in a position to do so, put pressure colleges --like your college-- to treat them more fairly.

Good morning sir, If the nats keep this pace and have a below average season, will this make the lerners more reluctant to extend Davey and rizzo? It seems like the type of foolish thing they’d do. Thank you for answering my question.

This is the long-term nightmare worry for this franchise. The Lerners are good people and above-average pro sports owners. But they are not as good as they think. They are stubborn and have a few rocks in their heads --especially their still-amateurish belief that top front office people can be replaced. Or, at least, can be treated as if they can be replaced.

Martinez DESERVES to have his contract picked up for '21 because of the job he did in '19. Look at the RINGS on your fingers. Show some gratitude. You can ALWAYS fire a manager. At least pay the man for '21 --which is a TINY fraction of the value to the franchise of what the '19 team did.

Everybody in baseball knows this is shabby.

But the Rizzo situation goes beyond this: Everybody in baseball knows that not having him signed by mid-August is INSANE.

What is the exact ratio between how much the Lerners built the '12-'20 teams with their money and their "ownership" and how much Rizzo built those teams with an organization in which he hired EVERY PERSON FROM TOP TO BOTTOM can be debated. IMO, it's more than 50-50 in the direction of Rizzo-and-everybody-he-hired, from assistant GMs to the lowest coach in the minors. Do you think anybody named Lerner knows 10% of the names of all the people in their organization? Rizzo not only knows them, he identified them and hired them, or he identified and hired the people who then made those hires. That doesn't even touch all the team-building work he's done of the roster with trades. Who looks like the Nats closer of the future? Maybe Tanner Rainey. Who traded Tanner Roark for Tanner Rainey salary to sign Anibal Sanchez last year. So, the Nats got a No. 4 starter who was a help in the playoffs --remember the no-hitter he took into the 8th inning of Game One in St. Louis-- while adding an inexpensive reliever who may produce as much in the next five years as fading Craig Kimbrel. (I mention Kimbrel because I was always waving my arms to sign him for tens of millions while Rizzo was, it seems, getting Rainey for <$600K-a-year. Not saying Rainey is the next Kinbrel because Craig was a monster for years. But RIGHT NOW, including cost, you'd rather have Rainey, imo.) 

Who STOLE Howie Kendrick. Who STOLE Astrubal Cabrera (67 RBI in 337 at bats as a Nat and six hits in the WS). Starlin Castro is starting well (.357, .934 OPS), so that may be another steal.    

I assume that Rizzo now has profound emotional ties to Washington and to the organization he will always be associated with. I KNOW that he is not asking for some "top dollar" because I know how he has always operated in the past: Rizzo NEVER asks for anything. He waits for the Lerners to make him an offer, then he asks for 10 cents more, or a soda machine in the weight room, and he signs. The Lerners take advantage of his loyalty. This is fact, widely known in MLB. But, remember, you can tick off anybody, no matter how loyal. I think this will get worked out because it would be so destructive all around for it NOT to be worked out.

But, right now, the Nats need a lift. Picking up Martinez deal and giving Rizzo a close-to-market-value extension --poor Mike, he's never going to get full market value because the Nats know he doesn't want to leave-- would help everybody.

In spring training, I was getting a bunch of nothing out of Mike about his contract one day. Then he said, sarcastically, "One of my friends said, 'It probably wasn't real smart negotiating for you to buy a house near the ballpark (this off-season.)'"

I am 64 years old. I fell head over heels in love with baseball when I was 5 years old. I am a big Nats fan and reveled in their World Series win. When the sport shut down last spring I was devastated. Why is it, then, that I can't get excited about the game since it restarted? I'm pretty sure I would feel the same way if the Nats were 8-3 instead of 4-7. I just don't get it.

I get it.

But, don't kid yourself, you would not feel the same way if they were 8-3.

You’ve said posterity won’t see this year’s World Series champion differently than any other champion, and history indicates you’re right. But what if a player ends the season with a .400 average or above? Is it going to be seen as legit as Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941?

No individual statistical RECORD will mean much of anything --certainly not hitting .400.

But if a pitcher goes 10-0 with a 0.96 ERA, then he went 10-0 with a 0.96 ERA and that will still be looked at as, well, 10-0, 0.96. We're all baseball fans here. We know what things means. They'll still have the same meaning BUT nobody is going to PROJECT 162-game stats from 60 games (if they even get played).

I think that I nay have said some things when it looked like an 81-game season was possible. Now, I'm curious to see how I WILL feel about a team that, after a brief season, gets through a four-tiered 16-team playoff. That will be an accomplishment. It will mean something, if they get it all played. I doubt that I will be one of those who runs it down and tries to spoil some town's fun. It's been a horrible enough year for the whole world without being the designated spoil-sport. But it won't be "the same." Like so many things, it will always will "be 2020" --an almost infinitely complex context that we hope we never see again, 

Instead of trying to cram in a zillion makeup games by the end of the month, why doesn't baseball just extend the season? Normally it doesn't want to extend the season because it means playing games in the cold, and the season is already too long. But, if MLB declared the playoffs would all take place in a bubble somewhere warm and inside, they could start the playoffs in mid or late October. Even with that, it would still a shorter regular season than usual. Why did the MLB go with such a compressed schedule.

Among other things, I think they assume that there will be a "second wave" of the virus in November --because MLB, like any pro sport, actually believes in science, not in drinking Lysol-- and they want to finish the post-season with its TV MONEY --repeat  TV MONEY, plus the expanded playoff format kicker-- before they get virused-out and never play those games.

This isn't a secret. M:LB wants to beat the virus to the finish line. So do the NHL and NBA.

It makes you wonder --or just shake your head-- that the NFL, or the college football knuckle-draggers, think they are going to have a season that runs through November (or December) and has bowl games in January.

"Lots of things are gonna cure your ills/

But only one thing' gonna pay my bills/

And that's money, yeah, that's what I want."

Except the new NFL and college FB version is:

"There's nothing yet to cure your ills/

But we're still gonna fill our tills/

With lots of money. Who cares what you want."

What hasn't bugged me: 7 inning doubleheaders; extra-inning man on 2nd; 3-batter minimum rule. What has bugged me: Fake audience noise. DH in NL ballparks. What about you?

The empty ballparks are getting to me. So symbolic of the emptiness of so many lives right now, the lack of hope or optimism. I keep telling myself, "It's just a matter of time."


An interesting (to me) side effect of the new rule on facing 3 batters: It made it easy for the Nats to see Doolittle's problems. Last year, they may very well have pulled Doolittle after the first grooved pitch and chalked it up to rust or bud luck. But, forcing him to face 3 batters made it clear: We've got a problem. Perhaps had this rule been in place last year, Trevor Rosenthal wouldn't have been given so much rope.

Good point.

Scherzer looks like he has a manageable hamstring strain. They say he may take his next start. At any rate, he doesn't seem to have a major problem. Strasburg looks like he hasn't built up arm-strength and is a couple of mph slow on his fastball. Will that naturally come back over his next couple of starts? Probably. What about the nerve issue in his thumb/hand? How will he "come out of" his first start. That concerns me more. He said that he "felt it" --in the 5th inning, I think.

If Scherzer, Strasburg and (sharp) Corbin get going together, along with Voth, who looks good, then you'll see an interesting, entertaining team.

Doolittle is more worrisome. He doesn't look as big as he did last year, as imposing when he stands on the mound. Optical illusion? F.P. mentioned it. I see it, too.

Obviously, his fastball right now isn't good enough. He needs his old velo --or most of it. Just adding sliders and change-ups while throwing 88-89 at the top of the zone isn't going to get it done. I hope building up strength --this is still spring training for many pitchers-- and improving mechanics will be enough.

But if Sean turns out to be a fastballer with guts who "left everything on the field,"  helped win a World Series --and came back from injuries to do it-- then turned up the next year looking like age (34 in September) is arriving, then I'll always buy him a beer. When the Doctor was needed most, the Doctor delivered. And he may again.

That's just about it for today. A couple of more weeks of healing and I hope this read-and-write-with-one-eye stuff is in the past. I'm getting better on schedule. I appreciate your patience. Thanks. And see you next Monday at 11 a.m.

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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