Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Oct 26, 2020

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

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World Series and the Washington Football Team. Those will be the topics for today.

Both cheerful and more than enough to hold us. MLB deserved a good World Series --and this one may still end up being more than good-- for all the pleasure and distraction it has given us over the last three months. 

As for the WFT, even though Dallas helped by being awful, Washington looked like a real football team on Sunday --a sign that Ron Rivera may be bringing some of that "culture change" which is so often cheap talk. This time, maybe some of it is real. 

The Cowboys are in disarray. But the WFT, which has had similar issues & might have disintegrated, seems to have held together quite well, despite all the disruption that a QB switch might have caused. 

Sorry for the slightly late start but I had to finish a World Series column.

Sunday's game was fun to watch. WFT soundly defeated a rival and I high-fived my 10 year old son several times and it put us in a good football-mood on a dreary, rainy Sunday. I will leave the long term implications to the twitterati and the experts, but it was a nice sports day.

I agree entirely.

Watching WFT games has been painful the previous five weeks, but "re-watching the tape" of this one is going to be fun. Actually, I've already seen the first half again. Spoiler alert: The Dallas defense is unbelievably bad, starting with 1) tackling anybody, 2) covering anybody and 3) rushing the passer. Other than that, they're champs.

Even when you discount that, the WFT defense has an identity with its strength up front and Kyle Allen looks comfortable in the offense --something we might have waited a long time to say about Dwayne Haskins.

This is going to be a tough winter. I'm all ready to watch a less-than-average team try to figure out how to go 5-11 or 6-10 and win the NFC East. 

In the blind dog can still smell a juicy steak, imagine my surprise that Antonio Gibson looks like the real deal. How long before he blows out a knee? Looks like the Dodgers were trying to outplay the Braves in the contest to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I'm picking up Logan Thomas for my fantasy team for the second time.

Now, now, we all know that you have to enjoy NFL running backs for as long as you have them. If they have the guts to run with reckless abandon, which Gibson certainly does, then we should show them the respect of hoping they stay in one piece for 3-4-5 years and not constantly fret over them. If they can stand up to the real thing, we can at least watch it with brave hearts. (I love watching the guy. Everybody keeps saying how much better he is going to get. Oh, yeah? I think he is already quite good.)

Gibson is on pace for 989 yards rushing, a 4.4 yd/carry avg and 11 rushing TDs. Also, on pace for 392 yards receiving for a combined 1,381 yards-from-scrimmage.

That would be higher than Adrian Peterson's yards-=from-scrimmage in either of his two WFT seasons.

So, not only does it appear that Rivera knew Allen could run his offense much better right now than Haskins, he also got rid of Peterson because he (correctly) thought he had a better group of RBs --which neded to be developed-- without Adrian. Nothing agains AP in '18-'19, but the WFT has to establish a FUTURE at key positions. I did NOT think they would find a run-catch 220-pound RB with speed THIS season.    

Great pitching aside, what do the Nats, Dodgers, Rays, and Astros have in common? Versatile players who play good defense and put the ball in play on offense. Relying on thumpers (Yanks, Philadelphia) doesn't get it done anymore. It seems like these versatile position players are undervalued (case in point Tampa Bay). Smart GMs should stand back when the Yankees, Angels, Phillies, Padres sink buckets of money in to flashy stars and invest in Josh Harrisons and the like. Thoughts?

I like the general point. But the Rays have scored about 72% of their runs this post-season on home runs. They are built to Prevent Runs (including a very deep pen and fine fielding, plus shifts) and hit homers after drawing walks. 

 

Not many teams will find a home for a catcher with an average as low as Mike Zunino just because he "runs into one" periodically. Or keep a fast versatile utility man like Brett Phillips with a .202 career batting average.

You may notice that more and more top hitters are choking up on the bat --by a couple of inches-- like Juan Soto and Corey Seager, as well as Anthony Rizzo years ago. It's becoming a trend, especially among Dodgers. 

But the ability to "lift and pull" --the current HR trend-- while still being able to hit to all fields is still very elusive. Soto personifies it. Super-hot hitters, while they are hot, like the Rays' Randy Arozarena with his 9 homers this post-season --hit in all directions-- can keep it going for a while. But thre are still not enough shift-proof players. Or players with a two-strike approach as good as Soto. 

The game ALWAYS adjusts. The Rays are using 4-man outfields at times with two men on base. Come on, MLBer should be able to place hit well enough to hit a single past a 3-man infield that scores a run and puts men on 1st-and-3rd. That punishes any Shift Theory. But too many hitters, including many of the best, have worked so hard to groove an approach that can catch up to a 98 m.p.h. fastball and hit it 420 feet, that they don't want to mess with their stroke, their timing, their COMFORT that they can "do damage" against the 96-to-101 mph heat that they must cope with --constantly-- these days.

When you see a modern player deliberately slap a ball through a hole on six hops, you can be pretty sure of two things --he's happy, but he's also thinking, "I hope I didn't mess up my timing by 'doing what they dared me to do --which is change what I do best for the sake of one measly single.'"  

Tom, There has been much written about the impact of not have fans in attendance at major sporting contests, both on the players and on the television viewing experience. My original reaction was that watching fan-less golf tournaments left me with a totally empty feeling. Over time, however, my feelings changed. What was lost by the energy generated by “patrons” was made up for in spades by not hearing inane shouts of “mashed potatoes” and “in the hole.” I also enjoyed seeing uncluttered golf course beauty as I see it when I play. The suspense and tension of final rounds remained palpable. It made for a very rewarding viewing experience. Do you concur? Alan

I miss the thunder of the fans and the added pressure that they impose on players. But all the things you have enjoyed --on  one-year basis in 2020-- I have enjoyed, too.

Net-net, it's much better the old way --for me.

Just WAIT until you see Augusta National when the Masters is played in mid-November. You will not recognize the place. I suspect that the average fan-player will say, "OMG, look how OPEN it is! Except for the meetings with Rae's Creek, you can hit it ANYWHERE and still find it and have a chance at a recovery shot. And there's barely any rough. Why, I could play THAT course."

And you could. Though the four and five-putting might get on your nerves. And the pitches and chips that, if not hit exactly right, roll right back at you, or over the green into oblivion, laughing at you all the way.

The Masters without spring flowers will be weird. In fact, of all the famous sports events I expect that the appearance of the Masters --fall leaves or, by then, NO leaves?-- will be the most unexpected.

TV still won't capture the aspect of the course that EVERYBODY notices the first time they see it in person: the incredible elevation changes. From the 10th tee to the 12th green is the kind of "slope" (mountain) you'd expect to see at the Olympics on an Alpine downhill ski run.

Instead of the Amen Corner, they could have created a nickname starting at the 10th tee and called it the Black Diamond Run. OK, Amen Corner is a lot better.

Tom, I lived almost my entire life in the DMV and grew up as a huge DC sports fan. This includes being around for the glory days of the WFT during the original Gibbs era. 4 years ago I moved to Austin, TX (great town, about to be the 10th largest in the US but with 0 major professional league teams - go figure). The NHL, MLB and NBA all make it available for me to watch all of my DC teams online for a price. I gladly keep up with the Post online for a price as well. However, the NFL offers me nothing unless I also agree to use their chosen broadcast service, which I will not do. Given how I feel about Dan Snyder, I tried to quit the team, but I just can't. I have checked all of the NFL options and I don't qualify for any of their out of market packages. Why won't the NFL take my money? Why would they enter into such a restrictive broadcast agreement as they did? They must be leaving money on the table, which doesn't seem like their style. As a result, I rarely watch any NFL games anymore. Feel free to also address how Texas can only support 2 NFL franchises. Apparently it's not the football hotbed they think they are. That would be like the Northeast losing the Jets, Eagles, Ravens, Steelers and Bills. One positive here in Austin, I rarely run into annoying Dallas fans like I used to back in the DMV. Mark F.

I may never have gotten a chat question that made me say "I didn't know THAT" so other.

Any chatter who has any answer to these NFL-less in Austin points, please fill us in. 

In honor of Halloween week I want to ask about WFTs only scary weapon. Where does Terry McLaurin rank in terms of NFL WRs? Is he in the top 20? He seems great in Washington but would he be a top target in most cities or is he more like a very good #2 option?

Scary Terry is a Top 20 receiver. And the more weapons he had around him, the scarier he'd be.

He had elite speed. He's 210 pounds. He can run every route. He never makes an assignment mistake (according to teammates last year who were really impressed.) He'll catch key 3rd down passes over the middle. He'll explode a tunnel screen for a big gain --which takes guts, blowing straight up through all that traffic, almost like a punt return. H must have dropped two or three passes in his 9 starts so far, but I have a hard time remembering them. He draws PI calls that are important, even though they don't show up in his stats. He's both explosive and physical after the catch. And perhaps best, he's MUCH faster than he looks --it's fluid "easy speed" that finds seems between defenders or, like on Sunday, he just disappears past a DB (with whom he'd been arguing) and is seven yards open behind the guy before you know it. . He's a bomb catcher. He's durable. He's a leaper, though there are limited for him at 6-foot. Standing next to him, that might be 5-11. But the 210 is real. He's put together. Seems like he's durable, too --knock on wood.

There are so many AMAZING acrobatic super-fast and LARGE NFL receivers these days that, despite bragging on Terry like this, I think it's a push to put him in the Top 10 WRs in the NFL, even if WFT had other targets to pull coverage off him.

But, right NOW, the stats say he MIGHT be Top 10. He's currently 9th in the NFL in catches with 43 and SIXTH in yardage with 577 yards! His paces" 98 catches and 1,318 yards.

I made a mistake earlier figuring out Gibson's paces for the year --they've more like 900 yards rushing and 1,200 yards combined offense. Still very good.

 

Been following baseball about as long as you have (I'm 73, a lifelong fan), and I can't recall a more exciting World Series game than Saturday's contest. Back and forth scoring, brilliant plays, everything coming down to an unexpected player coming through--with a lot of help from two defensive lapses. Game 7 of the 1960 Series, capped by Bill Mazeroski's walkoff homer was my gold standard. Is this the new champ?

I've found that it helps to create different "best" categories or you just end up annoying yourself because you are downgrading something that you LOVED --like the Maz homer. There have just been TOO MANY "unbelievable" endings to game or over-all great games for me to get picky.

The whole Game 4 was excellent and exciting. The final play must have its own distinction --a play with one old=fashioned Mr. Nobody hero (Brett Philklips), but also THREE players who totally screwed up on the same play __Chris Taylor's botch in CF, Will Smith's whiff of Muncy's simple throw to the plate and ALSO Arozarena falling and doing a somersault half-way to home plate which SHOULD have been a world-class blunder, erasing the potential winning run. He was sent home by the 3rd base coach --that's not his decision. But he isn't supposed to do his QB Daniel Jones open-field imitation going to the plate.

So, slapstick, humor and maybe even a Buckner reference are part of what made it special.

I must confess: THAT play has me pulling for the Dodgers. I don't want Chris Taylor and Will Smith to look at that play 10,000 times the rest of their lives as part of the game that Lost a Title For The Dodgers and Beloved Clayton.

And, if the Dodgrs lose in seven games, which CAN happen, that play is almost certainly going to DEFINE the '20 World Series.

BTW, teams in the Rays position --trailing going into Game 6-- have done better tyhan you would expect (statistically) since '75. Teams down 3-2 in games have gone 15-11 in Game Six and 26-15 in Game Six and Seven combined! IOW, there sems to be some momentum if you survive Game Six.

Since '75, 11 teams in the Rays position have won the Series --including bthe '19 Nats, ;16 Cubs, '11 Crads, '02 Angels, ;01 D'backs and, further back, '86 Mets.

Also, since '75, 11 teams in the Rays position have lost Game Six. Finally, four teans, including the Fisk Red Sox, have won Game Six but then lost Game Seven.

My guess is that the Rays will end up in this last under-populated ground. I just don't think they can find a way to handle Buehler, even with the shaky L.A. pen behind him, in a G7. But, yes, I'm greedy and I WOULD like to SEE a Game Seven.

My apologies --that' about it for today. I'm still only 13 days out from that detached retina surgery. It's getting better on schedule, but I'll still be essentially one-eyed for another two or three weeks and, doctors orders, I'm not supposed to spend 25 hours a day looking at a computer monitor screens.

Have a great week. Vote early. (Just my two cents.) And stay safe. Remember, the virus never has the decency to wear a Halloween costume. It's invisible.

The Landon Collins injury is the latest example of Washington’s highest paid players under producing or producing nothing at all. The top cap hits this year are Alex Smith, Brandon Scherff, Collins, Ryan Kerrigan, and Morgan Moses who account for $52M, or 34% of the cap, according to Spotrac. Smith ($21.4M) is a backup and, unfortunate as it may be, has produced virtually zero for two seasons. Collins ($14M) was underperforming and now his production will be reduced to zero. Kerrigan ($11.7M) has had a great career, but right now he is a backup. Scherff ($15M), when he’s healthy, and Moses ($8.6M) are arguably the only two that perform to their cap number and, again, it’s arguable – I don’t believe anyone is making the case that they outperform their cap number. Someone among those top five cap hits should be a star, no? They should at least all be starters, one would think. The situation was even worse in last year when it was essentially the same bunch but also with Trent Williams at zero production, Josh Norman playing like a backup, and Paul Richardson making about $1M per catch. They don’t even seem to spend wrong at the right positions, either, with a safety, guard, and right tackle in the top five. The top of the New Orleans cap, to pick a well-run team, includes an all-time great QB, an All-Pro WR, an All-Pro edge rusher, and a Pro Bowl LT in its top five — great production at critical positions. Steelers: HoF QB, All-Pro G, All-Pro edge rusher and Pro Bowl CB in its top six. Meanwhile, Washington’s top of the cap has backups, injuries, and some long stretches of null production. The players who ostensibly should be leading or carrying the team are actually doing the opposite and mostly holding the team back. Does any other team get the top of its cap *this* wrong? And how do they get it this wrong? To me, it’s an interesting little microcosm of the organization’s multifaceted dysfunction. Smith gets on there with some bad luck, Scherff and Richardson with the team’s long running injury/training mismanagement, Williams from the cultural toxin, Kerrigan from the front office penchant to keep or acquire aging big names, Norman and Collins from giving out ill-advised contracts to other teams’ free agents. It’s a neat little snapshot of all the ways to get it wrong. Perhaps I should be more upbeat on a victory Monday, but this is what was on my mind as I look at this team’s future. Here's hoping that when some of these contracts clear they're replaced with some better choices.

That' an excellent analysis/question. Much appreciated.

On a slightly different point --also not in line with the general Happy Monday theme-- I'm still waiting to see a Chase Young who is worth a No. 2-overall draft pick. I isolate on him constantly. Tackles handle him one-on-one in pass rush ROUTINELY. He makes some play, and runs down some plays. But he's not an elite disruptive force by any means. He can do some damage when tackling 200 to 235 pounders. But those 320+ pound tackles treat him like "You're not big and strong enough to bull me and you haven't got the speed techniques and tricks to get around me in a hurry yet." They get entangled with him and, since they're far bigger, Chase isn't going much of any place after that. Big talent, looking willing with a big motor, but, considering all the other monsters on the same D-line with him, he's not making an impact that's equivalent to his draft slot. I plan to watch MORE film of him. But that's my take now --good player, going to be a good starter for as many years as he stays healthy, but a long way from any of the 20-or-so LT, Reggie White, Julius Peppers, etc., type with whom he was compared before the draft.  So, maybe he gets three sacks and a scoop-and-score next week! I'm always trying to be motivationally helpful.    

What's scarier: Bostic's ridiculous hit on Dalton, the fact that the NFL East is so bad that the WFT could actually win it, or the punishment they'll take if they do win it and get abused by an actual NFL team in the playoffs?

The Bostic hit was a vicious disgrace. If he'd gotten a suspension, I'd have been fine with it. Hope Dalton's OK, soon. 

Apparently, Cowboy coaches were not happy that nobody came to Dalton's defense --I suppose by trying to get a piece of Bostic before he could leave the scene.

Still no long-term or medium-term plan. Feels like at best Kyle Allen becomes Cousins-lite. Haskins looks like he'll have to blossom somewhere else: immature, and not enough college experience. And Smith is the most expensive backup QB in league history.

Hey, just enjoy the wins, if more come, during this soft part of the schedule. Allen is spunky and bright, but he flushes out of the pocket at the first hint of pressure --about as fast as anybody I can remember-- but he seldom "makes plays" after he leaves it. It would be absolute max-ceiling if he became a Cousins. 

No, they don't have a QB of the Future. But  in Allen they have a QB who may prevent them from being The Joke of the Present. I'll take it --and admire him for maximizing his ability. If he's better than I think --great.

Last night Manuel Margot tried to steal home against Kershaw. It took a cool head and a good throw by Kershaw to get him out without balking. It seemed like a very smart play by Margot given how close he was to being safe. I saw something on Fangraphs that said steals of home since 2000 are successful at a .264 clip. I also saw something that said that 26% of runners on 3rd with 2 out score. In this day of analytics, it seems like we'd see more of it if the percentages are the same. Have you ever seen any good discussion of the value of stealing home?

Thanks for those stats. Very interesting. One factor was that Kiermaier was due to face Kershaw --a bad match-up for the Rays. So why not take a chance? Kevin fanned to start tjhe next inning and didn't look good doing it. So, that takes some weight off Margot.

The rule of thumb on stealing home is: You better make it. Close doesn't count. 

Of course, the Rays have broken a lot of Rules of Thumb --it's part of what makes them tick. And unnerves other teams. What are they DOING? And do they understand things about this game that we DON'T understand?

Even TRYING to steal home on Kershaw in the World Series plants the idea that "They're not supposed to win, but they're really smart. So, they might try ANYTHING."

That would not settle my nerves against the Rays in a Game Seven, if we get one.

Have you ever seen such a crazy ending to a pro ballgame?

That's my No. 1 for Crazy and Funny walk-off win.

Lots of other categories. But that is a GREAT category which, until that play, barely existed in WS lore.

Even though he's not pitching for the Nats anymore, don't you still cringe when he comes in to the game ?

I held my breath --from habit. Wendle did a 360-degree spin in disgust after just missing a fastball right down the middle. Wendle's fly out to center didn't look like much, but HE knew that he JUST missed a two-un game-tying homer. 

Still, give Treinen props for getting 'em 1-2-3 after a leadoff hit for a World Series save.. He'll remember that long after he's forgotten every discouraging thing that ever happened to him as Not The Nats Closer of The Future.

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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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