Guest host Barry Svrluga discusses the Nats, the upcoming AT&T National and whatever else you want to talk about.

Jun 20, 2013

This week, guest host Barry Svrluga discusses all the sports news.

Hi folks. Filling in for Tracee here. All seems to be about where she left it.

Happy to chat about whatever. I was at the U.S. Open all last week, so if there's anything left over from there, chime in. The AT&T National is next week, and Tiger Woods jsut withdrew, so there's that. And Nats, Nats, Nats would be a pertinent topic as well.

Let's go.

I look at the Nats disappointing season to date, and how things are changing, and I am feeling optimistic. They are clawing there way back into games....but still making mistakes (too many runners at third with less than two outs that do not get home). But, I am looking at the talents, and looking at what they are doing on the field. In the beginning of the season, they could not hit, and they were making errors. Now, they are hitting a little better, and committing almost no errors. Ian started out booting a lot of he is Ian. I still cringe when Zimm throws across the infield, but it has been working out okay lately. H-rod is gone, throwing his wild pitches in chicago (hitting carlos beltran....would have preferred peter kozma). Rendon is showing that he can play. Add a healthy Harper to the mix, and they could do well. Given how poor we have been playing, to be at .500 is a blessing. But, I am the one that always things this is the Skins year!

That's certainly the glass-half-full view, and I've had it for a long time. But I gotta say, it's June 20, summer is beginning, and with each passing day it's hard to think they can just magically turn it on. Even Davey saying things like, "If we just play to our capability we'll win the division" kinda rankles and shows a bit of arrogance I'm not sure they've earned.

Two things: I agree with you on Harper. They absolutely need him back. He stirs more offensively than any other four players combined. And while I thought when Chad Tracy hit that homer the other night off Papelbon, that might have been the turning point, I think it's easy to point to the Werth and Desmond moments last night as having that potential.

We'll see.

After six months of reflection, are you finally able to place last season's Belk Bowl in its proper historical perspective? As Belk Bowls go, where does this one stand?

Thank you for this important and pertinent question. I mean, what other Belk Bowl, I ask, has completed the best season of Duke football in the last two decades (one that ended with five straight losses and a losing season)?

It's hard to sort through all the great, great moments from that classic, and I honestly have blocked out some time in the summer to devote to the process.

Again, thanks.

I growing weary of the Nats organization and MASN commentators continuing excuse making on their failure to perform up to their talent level. I can't stand to hear any more "still a long season" and 'we need to get our starters back' and 'this could be the series/game/at bat that jump starts the season" rationalizing. When is it time for them to frankly and openly admit the team is failing and is unlikely to recover without drastic changes? Their denial of reality is almost more frustrating that than the actual poor play.

I definitely think there is merit to this, and it's the other side of that first question. I really was on the "still a long season" side of things through mid-May. But I'm shocked at how uneven the season has been -- no super-awful losing streaks, but when does this team ever win four of five.

And I agree with you on the attitude. At some level, you yearn for real frustration and angst. There have been some moments of that -- good LaRoche and Davey quotes at times -- but not quite enough. Again, do they think last year's NL East title grants them a free pass to more of the same?

Barry, So what do you think the Caps should be doing this offseason? Is a four-year contract to Ribiero a wise move? (I don't think so.) If not, should they be looking for another center? And don't they need to upgrade their defense? Finally, do you believe McPhee should be on a "Conference Finals or Bust" ultimatum this year?

You know, it's easy to forget, but they're in an interesting spot. It seems to me they've been searching for a true second-line center since the Original Six days, but is signing a 33-year-old to a four-year deal the way to do that? Or do they do what the Nats did with LaRoche -- take a hard line on the years, see if he can find a four-year deal elsewhere, and sign him to three when he comes crawling back? (Not sure that he couldn't get a four-year deal; just sayin'.)

One person with the Caps asked me, at the end of last season, "Do you want to sign for four years with Columbus and have no chance or three here and have a shot?"

But that gets to your McPhee question, and I think it's an important one. When does it come time that this franchise can no longer lose in the first round and say, "We had a good year"? I think that time is clearly now.

I don't have time to watch all 4 quarters of every game of a 7 game series. So I only watched the last few minutes of the 4th quarter and overtime of Game 6. I know that LJ might have played great for 46 minutes, but after that he was a turnover machine. He should thank Ray Allen the rest of his life.

He will need to win tonight to have a reason to thank Ray Allen.

I'm heading out of the country this evening and won't be back until 7/2. If the Nationals run off 10 wins in a row, I am willing to stay in the far off land until the win streak is snapped. In my 36 years of life, I've realized I am bad luck to many people and many things.

I am pretty sure it's been 12 years since I've been the beat writer for a team that won anything. A few winning records (UMd basketball once, etc.) but I'm pretty sure that's it. So I hear ya.

Barry, So what's the deal with Espinosa and his torn rotator cuff? Why does he continue to play with it, and why is the team continuing to let him play with it, when it seems like that's a huge cause of his hitting difficulties? Even Adam Laroche a couple weeks ago was interviewed saying that when he hurt his shoulder there was no pain but he wasn't able to hit properly and get to the balls he usually could at the plate. He should have had the surgery in the offseason--and now that he's been sent to the minors, it makes no sense that he continues to play with an obvious injury.

This is an interesting one, and Kilgore would know more than I do, but there are two potential problems here. I don't know Espinosa well at all, but in being around the Nats clubhouse, he seems to be the one guy who really sulks when things aren't going well for him personally. That's not good. For the most part, that seems to be a room full of pros. When a LaRoche or Zimmerman is slumping, he seems to be most concerned with whether the team is playing well. I'm not sure that's true of Espinosa.

And I wonder how much of his decision to keep playing is HIS decision and how much is the Nats'. One things for sure: It'll be a test for him to not be bitter about playing in Syracuse. In 21 at-bats there this year, he has two hits and 14 strikeouts. Yikes.

I was on the grounds on Thursday. Spent most of my time on the back 9/half of property by clubhouse. Of the recent US Opens you have reported on, have you encountered a more difficult stretch beginning on 14th hole through 18? 14 and 15 were sneaky hard too. 16 is unreachable if not in fairway. 17 = beast. 18th hole with everything on the line is daunting, to say the least. Thoughts?

Interesting that you were there Thursday, when it rained. My perception was that was a miserable experience for fans with tight walkways that became muddy, etc.

I've only covered the last five U.S. Opens, so my window is kind of small. But I agree with you. Congressional's 18th is really spectacular, and more visually stunning than Merion's. But it's not backed up by the holes before it like Merion. Pebble Beach has that fabulous 18th with the ocean down the left side, and the 17th is a terribly tough par 3, but again, I don't think 14-16 matches that at Merion.

A great venue, I thought. Other than Augusta, may be the most visually stunning U.S. course that's not on an ocean.

Have the Nationals had Espinosa's eyes checked??

Good question. Don't know. Remember Cristian Guzman?

Weren't the Nats doing some sort of vision training this spring? I can't say I'm terribly impressed. Also, Espinosa's not going to be a starter in DC unless somebody gets hurt, right?

Second part here: I can't imagine. Rendon, at times, has looked like their best hitter (.315/.383/.452) and his defense has been mostly fine. Espinosa would be a fine replacement for Lombardozzi, though, if he gets his act together. Could spell both Rendon and Desmond. But man, isn't there a chance he's lost forever?

So, yesterday's report in the Post said Bryce has been cleared to WALK! How serious was this injury if he has been told by the doctors/trainers that he shouldn't even be walking (and yet apparently was doing it anyway). As someone who has had multiple knee operations, that doesn't sound to me like it was just a bruised knee.

Worthwhile question. I believe it means he's cleared to walk without a brace, etc. But it's also important to note how often the Nats say one thing about an injury and the guy ends up being out much longer. I think it's clear in this case that Harper contributed to the problem by trying to force his way back onto the field too soon and too frequently. But who let him do that?

The Giants have won the series twice in the last 3 years, and seemingly every year no one picks them. I don't think anyone would be mad if the Giants pulled the Tony Kornheiser card and asked "Do you know who I am??"

That's reasonable. But I would point out that in both cases, the Giants were easily dismissed -- this year when they lost two games to the Reds in the first round, then when they fell behind 3-1 in the NLCS against the Cardinals. In 2010, they needed guys like Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff to perform outside themselves.

But here we are again, in late June and they're only a game and a half out. Plus, that rotation can be difficult on opposing teams in the postseason.

Hey, Tracee -- Svrluga's late again. Is he angling for a spot on ESPN?

Hey, sorry, technical problem. Should be going fine now.

Do you think Anthony Boone in the spread offense can be effective or does Duke really need a running game to repeat as bowl eligible? Thanks for your thoughts.

Again, such a thoughtful question. I like to focus on what Coach Cut keeps saying: "We can beat anyone on our schedule. When was the last time a Duke team could say that?"

I mean, had to be during the Wallace Wade years, right? We should probably set up a separate chat for that.

What do you think about the guy? Tell us a story. I'm a podcaster from Sacramento, and I really enjoy your discussions with him on the show.

What do I think about Tony? He's an incredibly talented court jester with a great radio show that's even better the days I'm on. Right?

Barry, maybe since Tracee is out, you could borrow the extra E in her first name and find a place for it in your last name.

Those buy-a-vowel jokes are hilarious every time. Every. Time.

This comparison is probably going to be rendered obsolete tonight, but I wanted to share it while I had the chance. If somehow the Heat manage to fail tonight, there's a sports team in recent memory with which I think they have some remarkable parallels -- The Oakland A's Bash Brothers of the late 80s - a high-priced, superstar-laden, arrogant dynasty-to-be that only managed to win the middle of their three straight trips to the championship series.

Yeah, but the best team doesn't always win in baseball. Ask the Atlanta Braves, 1991-2005.

Eight years ago this week, thieves stole Marlon Byrd's car from the RFK players' lot. Luis Ayala and Ryan Church also had their cars broken into - and yet there was precious little information about this incident in your book. Did you have to leave out anything due to space considerations? What more can you share about this matter?

Getting misty-eyed here. Just the mention of Marlon Byrd does that to a guy.

Nah, I don't think I left that out for space reasons. Can't really remember that decision. It was quite a scene that night, though. I mean Marlon Byrd was hot. HOT. RFK was such a dump (apologies to everyone I'm offending now and stop the 'but I grew up there with the Redskins' emails), and this was one way that it showed. In some ways it's amazing they got through that season as a franchise. Remember how they couldn't even put the tarp on correctly?

Since you covered NASCAR in NC, what do you think is going to happen to NASCAR in the next 10 years? Lately, whenever the blimp shows an overhead shot of the stands each week, many of the speedways look half empty. Is NASCAR in trouble or is this just a temporary blip? Do they realize that 36 races a year is too much? Thanks for any insight you might have.

I think it's in trouble, and I think it goes back to decisions that NASCAR made back when I was covering it -- like 1999-2000. (Wait, they had cars then?)

Back at that time, as NASCAR was getting its first lucrative TV deal with Fox and NBC, it made the decision to abandon its base in the Southeast for far-flung places like Chicago and Kansas City and Dallas and L.A. In doing so, it reached new markets, but they're not markets that respond the same way as North Wilkesboro or Darlington. Plus, they made so many of these 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks. BOR-ING! Throw in a lack of compelling characters, and voila -- you've got declining ratings, attendance and buzz.

Is there a major sport you haven't covered? You know D.C. Or are you content to inject your opinions via subtle word choice, story angles, etc.

Haven't covered the NBA hardly at all. Really like my job now: keep a hand in baseball, golf, the Olympics, the NHL during the playoffs, the Skins if they're good at the end of the season, etc. Hard to complain.

Barry - great to have you join us. This may be outside your realm but can you explain why the Post sends a beat reporter and a columnist to the NBA Finals but relies on the AP for the Stanley Cup finals? Eat face.

This really is strictly an interest issue, I believe. We have to make hard choices about how to spend our travel dollars, and our polls/surveys/etc. show that many more people in our readership care about the NBA finals than the Stanley Cup finals. (That said, I've watched much of one and none of the other, so ...)

Barry, You find it odd or puzzling (or something worse) that while the Nats shut down Strasburg last year in a pennant race because of worry of a potential injury, they have continually let players this year play with actual injuries that have either gotten worse because of playing (Harper) or are obviously impacting their play (Espinosa)? For a team that patted itself on the back continuously about the Strasburg shutdown last year (Davey even compared it favorably to the Redskins letting RGII play in the Seattle playoff game), this year's treatment of injuries seems to fly in the face of their professed concern for the health of their players.

This is really an interesting question that we kind of touched on earlier. Having not stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night, it's difficult for me to really get into specific injuries. I think we are forced to trust, at some level (and question at another) the information we're being provided about, say, Harper's knee or Espinosa's shoulder or whatever.

But what you've identified here is a pattern, and it's potentially an important one. What I always had a hard time figuring out when I covered the team daily was how does the Nats' situation regarding injuries compare to those league-wide? Do other teams end up with as many injuries that were supposed to be a week and ended up being three? Anecdotally, I always decided there wasn't a big enough disparity to really crush the Nats about it. But now, I'm not certain.

"that rotation can be difficult on opposing teams in the postseason." *could* be difficult - past tense. Outside of Madison Bumgarner (and, okay, three games of Chad Gaudin - bets on that holding up?), not a single one of their starters has an ERA below 4.55. And last year's Giants were 38-32 on June 20 - 3.5 games better than the Nats, now. Also not much with the hitting, also playing in what was (last year) a weak division. As Boz pointed out earlier this week, if the Nats' hitters even produce something *resembling* their career numbers from here on out, that probably puts them at 88-90 wins. It has to happen, but even with the gut-wrenching losses of the last week, there's already been some reversion to the mean - actually getting hits to fall from bench players, and comeback wins. But we shall see!

Agree on this. It's also apparent how much they benefitted from the subs -- Lombo and Moore -- performing above realistic expectations through the first couple of months of last year.

Tracee comes across as so nice and friendly on this chat. Do you have any good stories that show how mean and manipulative Tracee really is? This is the time to bash her as I'm sure she won't read the today's transcript.

Oh my goodness. Tracee was my editor for all my time covering baseball, and I also worked three Olympics with her as the editor and another with her as a columnist. When she wants to hammer you and your copy, she does so without hesitation, and crushes your soul.

Right Trace?

I miss Tracee, but I'm pleased to see the occasional return of the Svrluga chat! Imagine that you are Davey Johnson for a day: what one or two things would you do to fix the Nats? It's . . . just . . . . so . . . . frustrating!

It's hard to evaluate Davey in this situation with the injuries, but you kinda had to wonder the other night whether he's pressing, too. I know Storen has struggled, particularly against right-handed hitters, but he saved 43 games a year ago, and Fernando Abad was LET GO BY HOUSTON. I mean, there's very little lower than that on the baseball food chain right now.

And Monday night, Davey let Abad have the whole bottom of the ninth on a night when a victory could've pointed the ship in the right direction. And his rationale was that Abad couldn't get the first guy out, so therefore he got the whole inning?

Barry Svrluga : "I am pretty sure it's been 12 years since I've been the beat writer for a team that won anything. A few winning records (UMd basketball once, etc.) but I'm pretty sure that's it. So I hear ya." Just kidding. We still love you. (natsfan1a)

Lotta things are my fault that no one knows about.

What do you think the Bruins and the Blackhawks have that the Caps do not? Depth? Defense? Hatred of losing? How would you characterize the difference(s) between the two teams left standing and the Caps?

I think depth is part of it. I think physical defensemen might be another. One fun exercise is to take guys from one lineup and see where they'd fit in another. Where, for instance, would Troy Brouwer play on either of the Cup finalists?

Does Benny have to go? Or is it Kasper? Or is there too little young talent combined with too little aged talent, and nothing in between?

Goff? Goff? Where are you?

I'd be more interested in seeing the comparison of the strength of schedule up through this time for the Nats last year compared to this year. I know we have a ton of issues with this team, but still.

Yeah, that could be a factor, I suppose, and maybe it's a worthwhile exercise. They certainly have more games with the Marlins coming up. But if you're going to be good, you've got to beat good teams, too. 3-7 against the Braves is so troubling.

Will Tebow be seeing time at TE now that Hernandez will be seeing more time behind bars?

This Aaron Hernandez story seems to be getting more troubling by the minute. But my recollection is Belichick said Tebow is a QB. Think that changes now?

Did you watch enough of Alex Len at Maryland to determine whether he should be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft?

I did. He should not.

Appreciate you all stopping by. Hope I did a reasonable impersonation of Tracee. Fewer Jayhawk answers, I suppose. Do me a favor and ask her about Duke football when she returns.

Have a great afternoon.

In This Chat
Tracee Hamilton
Tracee Hamilton has worked at the Post since 1993, toiling in office obscurity as an editor before someone said, "Hey, you've got a lot of opinions and can write a little. Why don't you become a columnist?"

Her interests range from genealogy to Nordic combined to Kansas basketball. If ever there were a Jayhawk who once flew off a ski jump, she'd know where he was buried.

Her list of pet peeves is considerably longer, but includes Missouri basketball and poor Metro etiquette. She welcomes dissenting opinions -- in the way Great Whites welcome open-water swimmers.

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Barry Svrluga
Barry Svrluga came to The Washington Post in 2003 after working at newspapers in upstate New York (tiny); Portland, Maine (less tiny); and Raleigh, N.C. (not at all tiny), covering everything from Nascar to high school lacrosse to the Final Four. At the Post, he has covered college basketball and football (mostly Maryland), the Washington Nationals (2004-08) and the Olympics (Athens, Turin, Beijing, Vancouver with London to come). He currently covers the Washington Redskins and golf and spends time reminding people the Nats were in first place at the All-Star break. Really. They were.
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