Barry Svrluga sits in for Tracee Hamilton to discuss golf, Nationals, Capitals, Redskins, Olympics -- whatever you want."

May 17, 2012

This week, Barry Svrluga discusses all the sports news.

Follow @PostLive and @barrysvrluga on Twitter

Hello folks. Tracee's out in the Midwest, as is her way. I've just come from a week on the road, first at the Players Championship, then at an Olympic summit in Dallas, where we chatted with many athletes about the London Games. Happy to tackle either of those subjects -- but would be really thrilled, too, to talk Nats/Caps/Skins. (Sorry, Wiz, just don't know ye.)

Oh, and remember: The AT&T National returns to Congressional the last weekend of June. Have that on the brain, too, because media day is Monday, which means Tiger Woods will be in town. He'll play in D.C. for the first time since he won his own tournament here in 2009.


Let's get started.

Big difference betwen the '05 NATS and current version is Rotation Rotation Rotation, no? Do you not think they will be contending in September? Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

You got that right. That '05 team had a pretty weak lineup, particularly in the second half, but the rotation of Livo, Loaiza, Patterson, Tony Armas Jr. (man I hated watching him pitch, Drese/Day/Carrasco/etc. couldn't hold up over the long haul. Will this version contend into September? (Keep in mind, that one kinda sorta did, even as it stumbled in the second half.) I'd say the lineup would have to win more games like it did last night -- scoring enough runs that, if the pitching staff gives up four, it's not a problem. To do that, they'll need Zim to heat up and Werth and Morse to come back.

Which current Nat would you like to interview and why? Isn't Gio a gem!

Gio's a smiling fool, isn't he? I think there are a ton of interesting questions for him: Is the NL that much easier than the AL? Would you have ever thought you would have a chance to start the All-Star Game -- over Strasburg? (5-1, 2.22 ERA, leads NL in Ks? Wow.)

I have a little bit of a fascination with Lombardozzi, though. I was a fan of the '87 Twins (don't ask) and that double play combination of his dad and Greg Gagne was pretty old-school.

So who has the better team at this moment?

Wow, what a way more intriguing question now than in any year since baseball returned to DC. I love the O's core of position players (Wieters, Jones, Markakis), but their pitching has been the surprising aspect. To me, with Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio, Det and Storen under club control contractually for so much longer, the Nats are in better position going forward. (And imagine, Nats fans, if Adam Jones came to stabilize center field. The O's need to decide whether to sign him longterm. Don't get me started on CF on this franchise. Long, long, long a problem.)

Now that Bryce Harper got his first major league home run, will his Hall of Fame induction be on the Nats' next off day or will they wait until the all star break?

I get where you're coming from, and I know Bob Carpenter on MASN said something like, "the first of several hundred" or some such after the first shot landed in the seats. But I also think the kid has absolutely magnetic star power. I remember watching Ovechkin his first couple years with the Caps, even when they weren't very good. You couldn't take your eyes off him. Every shift, he was the guy you had to watch.

I think Harper has a similar quality. If he's coming to the plate in the next inning, you're delaying getting dinner or cleaning up or whatever sort of thing you have to do. You're going to watch. There's not a lot of guys in the game who have that kind of pull. At 19, he already does.

So do you miss Panera in Viera? At least this year there is something to watch!

Ah, Panera. There's so much around there now, it gets overshadowed. Such a shame.

So would you have rather had Rizzo as the GM when you were covering the team or Bowden. Realizing Bowden was probably a better interview (althought Rizzo gets salty).

Jim Bowden was one of the most interesting, unpredictable, volatile, smart, sometimes strange people I've ever covered. He might pick up your call and give you a 20-mintue outlandish scenario of how the Nats would make the playoffs, or he might ignore your calls for weeks. But you never knew what would happen.

I enjoyed covering Rizzo, too, though he wasn't the GM when I covered the team. He's a great guy to talk baseball with. Kilgore's interview with Rizzo after Hamels plunked Harper was an all-timer, but I think Bowden had more moments in him like that.

Barry Welocme as a replacement for our goddess of the Plains. since your promo lists NASCAR as one of the topics, I have a question: When will NASCAR finally admit that they cannot regularly field 43 competitive cars in EITHER the Sprint cup or Nationwide series? A quick look each week at the race results show that 5-10 Nationwide cars and 3-5 Cup cars drop out of each race less than 10% of the way into the race. Also, the number of Cup cars without sponsors seems higher than ever. Also, the number of empty seats at virtually every race is astounding . Is NASCAR on the wane? Your thoughts ?

Well, that promo was originally intended for Liz Clarke, and I'm filling in for Liz, who was originally filling in for Tracee, but is at Pimlico for the horsies today.

That said, I once covered NASCAR (many moons ago, back in 1999-2000ish), and have some thoughts. The broad question: Yes, I think NASCAR is on the wane, and has been for some time. I often think of them like Krispy Kreme: a Carolina-based franchise that expanded too quickly and too heavily, and then got caught. Did they have to open all those 1.5-mile tracks in KC, Chicago, Vegas, LA, etc. The racing can be so BORING, which says nothing of the personalities. Combine that with the recession, which really hit the back-end of the field's ability to put quality racecars on the track, and it's kind of a disaster.


Hi Blogfather, Thanks for taking our questions. Miss you over on the NJ. So, given that you recently penned a piece about the Nats record and attendance, I figure you must be planning to do one about the O's next. Riiiight. In other news, any thoughts about old friend Stan's new role with the Dodgers? I suppose it's only a matter of time until he invites Padres fans to come out by the busload. :-)

O's attendance: Don't really care. Nats: I do. I'm really going to be interested in it as the summer goes on, particularly if the team stays in first place. I remember those nights at RFK in '05, when the place rocked. So do those players on that team. Will it be repeated?

Kasten: I actually talked to him briefly a week or two ago (he declined to chat about the Take Back the Park thing against Philly, for somewhat obvious reasons). With the Dodgers, I think his challenge is interesting. In Atlanta and D.C., he had to essentially try to build a fan base from scratch (and we can debate how well it worked here). In L.A., there's a huge fan base that is attached to the team; they're just irate at the former owners. How does Stan capitalize on that solid base, and expand it, making L.A. feel good about the team again? That's the challenge there. Oh, and winning. Now.

Great to have you return for a chat! Makes me feel a bit better about my question today. So, I strongly believe in the gods of baseball. My spouse does not. How can I more gently tell this person not to do things that anger the gods (like pulling out a smart phone during an inning, mentioning a quick game, jinxing our batters or pitchers with comments)?

I strongly believe in the gods of writing baseball, so I'm with you pummeling the guy who says, in the fourth inning, "Man, this game's moving along briskly," etc. But on some of the other stuff, I don't know that I agree. Is there a middle ground for you two? And have you kept score as to how many times these "jinxes" have actually come through?

All the angst about his one-minute press conference makes me laugh. The one thing no one wants to talk about, probably because it's only reporters doing the talking since no one else actually cares, is this: Did you hear the ridiculous questions he was being asked? I'd be snide too. Every time the media makes a story of how "rude" someone was at a press conference, go back and take a listen to the stupid questions they were asked. Asking Kobe, "Can you cover?" His answer was perfect for such a stupid question. Are reporters looking to report news or make it?

OK, I see where you're coming from, and I agree that media-driven stories about how the media is treated are dumb. That said, I have a dog in this fight, so I'll let him bark.

Tortorella is more than snide. He's arrogant, rude, self-centered and delusional. Go back to the Caps-Rangers series from a few years ago, and the time he threw the water bottle into the Verizon Center crowd. I went into said crowd, chatted with fans who had been hit by the spray and the bottle, etc., and then went to ask the ol' coach about it.

"Pffffff," he said. "Ask me something about the game."

I asked something about the bottle, again. He threatened to end the press conference (huge threat, I know). That didn't have anything to do with the game? He was SUSPENDED for the next one. Sorry for being so off-point.

Don't like that chap. Just don't.

Is the ascendance of the Nats in spite of themselves in a sense? They don't have a leadoff hitter and the middle infield can't hit too well. I can't help but wonder if Mike Rizzo is a good scout for pitching, but somewhat deficient in actually building a team and too bullheaded to be successful as a GM long-term.

Well, I believe they need improvements in the everyday lineup, no doubt, and part of my problem with the preseason assessments of this team -- the lofty ones, at least -- is that they seemed to be based on people like Espinosa, Desmond, Ramos, Werth, etc. taking steps forward, but no accounting for Morse or others going backward (which could reasonably be expected).

That said, pitching's where it's at. Can the Nats pitch this well over a whole season? Doubtful. But they haven't hit a lick the first part of the year, and they're still more than competitive every night. I don't think Rizzo's too bullheaded to be a successful GM. The test, I think, will be when the team's actually good, how successful is he at getting market-level deals for top-line free agents to come play here? He can't overpay like he did for Werth again.

Do you feel like the Redskins have addressed the offense line. I know we have drafted three offensive linemen but are the Redskins really comfortable with the RT and LG position seeing that both players are coming off of major injurie

No, I don't feel like they've addressed it enough, would be the short answer. Mike Shanahan said Jamaal Brown is healthier than he has been since he got to D.C. Well, fine, but he's also older, and are you prepared to go into the season with him at RT. You're right on Lichtensteiger, too; they really liked him as a mobile guy who was good for their system, but you just don't know how his knee will respond. And Trent Williams has an interesting season ahead, too.

I don't really know anything about the guys they drafted, and they may have a gem there. But I think the offense still needs lots of work.

Nats success or arrival of RGIII?

I'd take Nats 100 times out of 100, but understand I'd be in the minority almost as often.

Do you root for the Devils to teach those Rags a lesson? Cheer for the Kings because they're amazing? Or tune out and play golf? I'm genuinely curious.

I think a combo of rooting for the Devils and playing golf. I'm sorry, but I just can't get interested in that West Coast series. In hockey, I need the traditional powers -- or a really exciting team like the '11 Canucks -- to carry me through.

A hundred years from now historians will look back at Year One of the Nationals and note that the consonant challenged scribe for the Post was the very first beat writer covering the team, setting a standard of a century of excellence (even though by 2112 newspapers will be delivered directly to the reader's brain by gamma rays). That bit of fawning out of the way, the first half of '05 was certainly the product of smoke and mirrors. The 2012 version is built on a solid foundation - great pitching and defense. Does this team have enough hitting to get them through what will be a really tough stretch (alot of NL East and AL East teams) until the All Star break? Will they come out of it still contending? Will we see classic duels of great pitching against great hitting?

I'll ignore the initial fawning (clip, save, frame) and get to what's a central question. Kilgore and I were in the office yesterday chatting about that very same thing: the upcoming shedule. The conclusion: Hey Nats, better win tonight.

Here's the next stretch: 3 vs. Balt.; 3 @ Phi.; 3 @ Atl.; 3 @ Mia.; 3 vs. Atl.; 3 vs. NYM; 3 @ Bos.; 3 @ Tor.; 3 vs. NYY; 3 vs. TB; 3 @ Balt.

Um, wow. That's 33 games, and pick the weakest team there? The O's? They're in first place. The Mets? The Red Sox?

I'm not going to predict what'll happen. But I know it'll be fascinating to watch. (And let's see how Harper is doing after this stretch, too.)

It looked like DC United's left back was not wearing shin guards last night. Are they required to wear them in MLS like in youth leagues? I thought the team looked good last night and could use better coverage by the Post.

I cannot answer this question, other than to defend Steve Goff, who I guarantee -- GUARANTEE -- provides better coverage of any MLS team than any writer in the country. The guy is a franchise in American soccer coverage. Follow him @soccerinsider on Twitter.

Not a question, but you were there when it started. As a memorial to Chuck Brown's memory perhaps the Nats ought to reinstate Bustin' Loose as the home run song for the rest of the season. I'll always associate that song with a National trotting around the bases and fans going nuts in the stands. Chuck, as the front page of the Post this morning will attest, was a DC legend and a part of the return of baseball to this city.

This is a great, great idea. My wife was lamenting this morning that we never went and saw Chuck live. I said, "Well, I saw him a few times at RFK before Nats games." Pretty cool times. And yeah, those memories of Carlos Baerga chugging home don't easily leave the brain.

Barry, I am tiring of all of the potshots the "national" experts are heaping on the Skins O-Line. My contention is this line, while healthy, is solid and now getting deep. The play @ quarterback is what makes or breaks an O-line. With RG III and without stonemason Grossman or incompetent Beck, this line will suprise at how good they will be. What are your thoughts?

That's possible, sure, and I agree that there's a relationship between the quality of the O-line and the quality of quarterback play. I'm sure that Peyton Manning avoided loads of sacks over the years that would have been sacks for other teams just because he got rid of the ball so quickly.

Related: The most interesting part of the RGIII pick, to me, is how the Shanahans tailor their bootleg game to him. It seems to me, with his skill set, he could roll out and have the option of taking 10 yards on the ground or throwing across the field for 30-40 every time. That, I would guess, would be the center of their offense (though they know they have to run the ball better, too).

Nats vs. O's this weekend and both are in first place! So, will more than 25,000 come to the ball park in what promises to be beautiful weather? What will it take to finally make this a baseball town again?

One thing that's hidden in every attendance debate: You can't truly have big crowds every night until your season-ticket base is high. The '05 season-ticket base was something like 23,500. Back then, we had an administration here that would be forthright with that kind of information (Tony Tavares, where art thou?).  That figure meant that, even if NO ONE showed up to the game, the Nats couldn' t have a listed attendance of less than 23,500, because it's measured in tickets sold.

Now, we have to guess, but we suspect the season-ticket base is less than half that. And I think we won't even know this weekend, because I don't think the O's-Nats thing is a real rivalry. I think we'll have a better idea in June and July, particularly if this team sticks in first.

Hey, Berry. Ever miss your old Nats beat (especially now that they look competitive)?

(Love that spelling of my name. Really the only reason I answered this question.)

Yes! I absolutely miss the Nats beat. Was at the park and in the clubhouse a couple weeks ago, and it felt like old times (even though I only know like two players on the current roster). But as most (somewhat sane) baseball writers will tell you, doing that for a long time would take a toll on your family life, etc. I would love to drop in and do a few Nats stories over the course of this summer, though. We'll see how it works out.

Do you know if Fowler, Mahan, Bubba or Rory are playing at Congressional this year? Thanks for your golf coverage. We still miss you on the Nats beat.

Great question. I asked Rickie Fowler about it last week at the Players, and he said he hasn't mapped out his schedule beyond the U.S. Open. I suspect Hunter Mahan will play; he shot 63 on Sunday at Congressional in '09 to put a scare into Tiger. Bubba Watson's schedule is hard to predict right now as he finishes the adoption of his new son. He withdrew from the Players last week. And Rory McIlroy made a tough choice, in some ways, to skip the event that's played on the course where he won his first major to play the Irish Open, at Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland the same week.

McIlroy said earlier this spring he intends to play the AT&T National in the future. But the date the tournament has right now is a difficult one. The top Euros generaly head back overseas after the U.S. Open, and some of the family guys take Fourth of July weekend off. Even Keegan Bradley, the PGA Champion, is headed to the Irish Open this year.

We'll see how this all shakes out for the full field later this summer, and into the future. Really excited to have the tournament back here after its two-year hiatus in Philly, though.

So, does the dreaded "O!" make it back into the Anthem this weekend, what with the birds in town? Man I hate that tradition, and all the moronic caps fans think it's a cool/fun thing to do and don't realize it's a Bawlmer tradition. Save that for the yard, hon.

Yeah I've never really been into it either. The Cameron Crazies ripped it off long ago from the O's. Lame.

So where do you fall on this one? Howard Bryant says the Nats are not trying to win by shutting him down. Boz said it's irresponsible to pitch him more than that. The Post did a poll and the fans agree to shut down Stras no matter what

Yeah, this is such a great debate. I think Howard's argument to take back the $611M the District paid for the stadium is a bit over-the-top, so he loses me there.

My thought about this has always been that 2013 is really the year for the Nats. But the Caps' experience over the past few seasons shows that talk of long "windows" in which to win multiple championships is perilous. What if they're a game up on Sept. 1? How do you guarantee they'll ever get there again?

I'm glad I'm not making that decision. And I'll let Howard and Boz (and others) duke it out. (Sometimes I love not being a columnist.)

You go to a Nats game, of course.


I'm getting really tired of hearing how Dale Hunter taught the Caps "the right way to play" in the playoffs. If people mean solid, two way hockey, OK. But if they mean jettison high octane, pressure them in their end in favor of this collapse into your own end like a herd of musk oxen protecting their young, then thats a crock. I don't care what any of the "pundits" say. I don't remember th '70 and '72 Bruins playing dump and chase. The Scotty Bowman Canadiens won a bunch without being paragons of shot blocking. That guy in Edmonton in the '80s and his teammates. They put up a bunch of goals. Sure, you've got to come back harder in the playoffs. I turned to a friend while watching in '91 and remarked "I guess Mario really wants to with the Cup this year. He's backchecking." I don't think he blocked a shot, though. Its a shame that Bruce lost faith in his style after the Caps ran into Ken Dryden, I mean Halak, in 2010.

Man, we could chat this over many beers. Being that it's 11:48 a.m., and Kilgore's bachelor party doesn't officially start for several more hours, I'll delay the beers and say only:

Bruce didn't dump his style after Halak in 2010. They started '10-'11 playing much the same way. They changed it up only in December after a losing stretch, and they turned it around midway through that season. Then Bruce lost the team early this year.

How the Caps should play, and what the next coach can do with Ovechkin, is such an intriguing offseason plot line, way more interesting than anything from the past few Julys.

How cool is it to see so many Nats questions in this chat! As a Washington sports fan it's been fun to witness the team through its ups and downs to now become a real part of the DC sports scene and not some novelty. Your early coverage of the team really contributed to this process. Thanks for it and I hope you can get back to covering the team in some capacity in the future. I love the Redskins, but baseball is much more interesting to read about on day-to-day basis and in one fans opinion a better use of your talents.

I think one measure of when baseball has reached into the conscience of a town is when people are chatting about it on the Metro, when it's just assumed that any bar would have the Nats game on and you'd have to ask to switch to something else. For me, that really won't be completely true until a generation of D.C. kids -- my daughter included -- grows up with this team as its team. Right now, too many D.C. kids grow up rooting for whoever their parents did, or for the O's, or whatever.

I agree with you, though: Baseball provides such a better basis for day-to-day chatter, because there's always a tangible result about which to chat. Football, it's like, "Well, the quarterback spoke yesterday. Still three days to go. Ugh."

(BTW ... is this the kind of "tiny NY" you mention in your bio?) I'm a fan of Hightower -- fits well in this system. Hoping he has a solid rebound. After all, Terry Allen did quite well after ACL problems -- 1000+ yr after first injury in MN. Prognosis?

(Yeah, kinda on the fringes of the Finger Lakes. Corning, N.Y., the Crystal City.)

I really like Hightower and his story. Such a local kid who's so thrilled to be here. But I think -- and I know the coaches think -- that the Redskins need an upgrade at running back in the future. I'll be pulling for him, no doubt.

Do you think the team is aware of how much this game means? I am frustrated watching us win series, but never sweeping this season -- and with Zimm on the mound, I'm pessimistic that we'll manage to eek out enough runs to give him the win.

I don't believe in must-win May baseball games. I just don't.

And consider how absurd the sentence "I am frusrtated watching us win series, but never sweeping this season" would have sounded oh, eight months ago, two years ago, at any time in the past.

You were a fan of the '87 Twins?


Yes, Chris Korb was wearing shinguards. He just wears itty-bitty ones designed for 6 year olds for some reason. I think it's insane, but he does wear them

Answers are everywhere.

Evolve from just being Caps fans to being hockey fans. Decide who to root for based on watching other series during the first and second rounds. With the exception of last Thursday and Friday, there have been great games on the tube, sometimes as many as three, every night since April 11.

This is true. But I'm so much more familiar with the teams in the East (Bos, Phi, Pit, etc.) that I just find them more accessible. My fault, I know.

It's hilarious he misspelled your FIRST name.

Yeah, I'm used to going, "S as in Sam, V as in Victor, R as in Rober," etc., and not, "B as in boy, A as in alligator ..."

Is Tiger just another guy on tour now? The kids don't seem to be afraid of him like the older guys used to be. Plus, I think his head is a mess (and so is the swing)

There is no, no way in the world Tiger is just another guy on tour now. I can understand the argument that the new generation isn't "intimidated" by him. That may be true. But go to any tournament, pick the leader, and follow him for a few holes. Then go find Tiger's group -- you'll know by the mob there -- and try to see even one shot. He's still got the pull on the course; the results just don't match up right now.

Barr, no way am I defending the guy, I agree that he is a boor ... but how many times have you sat in those pressers and wondered how anyone could ask such dumb questions? It's like some of these media types don't know what to ask and there are all these awkward silences so they ask something stupid just to fill the void. You need Helen Thomas to feel out when things are dwindling (or someone asks a coach or player how they "feel" or how it "felt") and just say the final "Thank You." The PR guys aren't doing it! (Except for the Kobe guy, that was classic ...)

This is all legit. I'm not in the habit of defending the dumb questions asked by the sporting press. Half the time I'm the guilty party.

Barry, what's the toughest thing about being a baseball beat reporter? The best?

This will sound lame, and not everyone gets this, but the logistics of being a baseball beat writer are the toughest things. It's not just the 81 road games, or the seven weeks at spring training, or the month of October on the road. (And man, I wouldn't trade some of the memories of those times for anything.) But it's all the working till 1 a.m., and now it's even harder because the folks at NJ expect posts to be up in the morning, and then again later in the morning, etc. It's an all-consuming job -- which is great at times, but it also wears on you and gives a skewed sense of normality.

The best part: The relationships. In no other sport have I known the people I covered like baseball. You're just around each other so much, you have no choice. That leads to better, more in-depth, more accurate stories. Just loved that part.

Folks, I've got to shut it down. Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope to see you in this space at some point during the summer, or at Nats Park.

Have a great weekend.

In This Chat
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 ’05 Nats were in first place at the All-Star break. Really. They were.
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