Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 20, 2005; 11:00 AM

With the debut of the Washington Nationals, a professional baseball team is representing Washington, D.C., for the first time since Sept. 30, 1971.

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, May 20, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments on the team, Major League Baseball and his recent columns .

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The transcript follows.

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Rockville, Md.: Tom,

Love the coverage you and Barry are providing. I look forward to the articles every day, and feel doubly lucky when there is a chat.

I wonder if you guys are hearing from folks like me, who, having figured they would go to 3 or 4 games this year, went once and got hooked. Even before I went to the first Sunday home game I had already bought tickets to 2 other games. After that Sunday, I bought a 20 game plan. Now I absolutely hate when the Nats are playing at RFK and I am not going! I didn't think I would be so obsessed, but my team is back an I am loving it!

Tom Boswell: I went to RFK yesterday on my day off. Sheinin almost went. The sports editor and assistant sports editor both snuck out. I think I saw a famous neo-con commentator (no not G Will) JOGGING across the street in front of RFK to make sure he was in his seat by the first pitch. (No, nobody tried to run him down. A very bi-partisan crowd, fortunately.)

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We want Boswell Bobbleheads: It is interesting to me that Castilla and Johnson have made several stolen base attempts. I assume that Frank told them to and it seems like he'll send them when the situation calls for it regardless of the speed of the baserunner. Wilkerson is not running as much as I would have thought. And, Guzman would have to be on base to steal. Are there any runners with the green light? Why not more from Wilky? And, am I incorrect in my belief that Castilla and Johnson are below average in speed?

Tom Boswell: The Phils manager set me straight on the Nats speed. I'd underestimated it. Even though they aren't base stealers, they are ALL good baserunners __1st to 3rd, 1st to home. He said Castilla was the slowest on the team "and he's not slow." Castilla WON yesterday's game by scoring on a short passed ball not more than 20-25 feet from the plate. He gambled. Brewers weren't expecting it and flubbed the play.

In RFK, with scoring so low, it's turning out to be very important that the Nats can run and, just as important, that nobody clogs the bases. Carroll scored from first yesterday on a two-out double to right that died 20 feet short of the warning track.

Wilkerson is not fast, just an exceptional all-around athlete. He gets a good jump in center and catches a lot of balls on cruise control. But he is not a burner and doesn't cover as much ground as some CFs. Johnson runs well for a first baseman.

Guzman is a career .266 hitter who's now hitting .206. That means he'll probably hit .90 the rest of the season (just as Brian Roberts isn't going to continue hitting 100 pts and slugging 300 points (!) above his previous norm.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Tom, your column in The Post yesterday hinted that the baseball union might "punish" baseball in the next labor negotiations if Congress passes a tough anti-steroid law. What might the union want from baseball as part of any negotiation? Has their strategy been to bring up steroids the next time they have to negotiate an agreement, conceding something on steroids and getting something in return? Now, a new law would ruin that strategy?

Tom Boswell: Nobody ever thought Congress would take the steroid issue seriously enough to act __or at least make a serious threat, rather than a mere PR threat. In essence, Bud is saying to Don: You're on your own now, fella. We can't take this much heat on an issue that is really YOUR issue.

We're finally going to see real progress on steroid in baseball. As usual, enormous public/media/political pressure was needed. For those who say, "Why do you folks make such a fuss about steriods," it's to keep the issue in the public eye so that SOMEDAY something will be done. Now, "someday" is very close at hand. (Only took 17 years.)

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Salt Lake City, Utah: I wrote in a couple of weeks ago asking for advise as to how to end my two-local-teams-induced baseball apathy and you suggested I see the baseball doctor. In the end I didn't need to, I took inspiration from the example of your son -- continuing to support the Orioles (the team I grew up with) and semi-adopting the Nats. So thanks to the Boswell clan.

Now a question if it's not too greedy . . . How confident would you be about the Orioles right now if they'd managed to sign or trade (only) prospects for a front-of-the-rotation-type pitcher in the offseason?

Tom Boswell: If the Orioles had gotten Pavano, I'd think they were 50-50 to make the wild card right now. Which is saying a lot, because the Yanks and Red Sox aren't going to die, even though they're not as strong as the last two years.

Everybody had to raise total hell before the O's finally got Sosa. Rem ember, they had been shutout when Delgado signed while Bowden had added many parts to the Nats puzzle. I'm convinced that getting Sosa was a last-gasp semi-accident. He was there. Nobody else wanted him much. His PRESENCE helps Tejada and all of the rest of the lineup. But, even when he comes back, I doubt he'll equal last year. His bat speed's just not what it was.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What do advance scouts for other teams think of the Nats?

Tom Boswell: Barry's quote from Ned Yost this a.m. summed it up: "That's a nice club...They play the game right. They don't make mistakes. And they're tough."

Larry Haney (ex-catcher, scout, etc) likes their fundamentals and the Frank Factor (intensity, accountability).

Yesterday was the PERFECT Nats win. I wonder if the town can quite appreciate it yet. Castilla got Livan out of one inning with a bare-hand Brooks play on a swinging bunt. Livan worked around the whole bottom of the order TWICE just to get to No. 8-9 hitters and escaped both times. Winning run on a short passed ball, etc.

This is really an "inside baseball" type of team with a VERY serious locker room.

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Arlington, Va.: Although the stadium has been slowly improving its information provided on various scoreboards, I was at Wednesday's game and they were only giving National League scores and standings. I thought that it was Major League baseball and not National League baseball. Other than that, it was a great game.

Tom Boswell: No, the AL scores were up, too. They were on the NEXT scoreboard over __more to the left. One board for AL, the other for NL. Still, it's all a bit hard to see. And, in the lower deck, the PA system is still TOO LOUD.

However, in the park as a whole, there is MUCH less junk noise __you know, the constant audio-clutter that the Redskins abuse__ between pitches. It sounds like a ballgame should feel: announce the hitter, then let the fans and the crack of the bat provide the "commentary."

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Chocolate City: What was up with some of the Nats having mustaches earlier in the month? Were they celebrating Cinco de Mustache or something?

Tom Boswell: Clubs that see themselves as underdogs, as the Nats certainly do, tend to have a lot of team spirit stuff. Lotta goatees, etc, showing up now. Loaiza has a post-victory handshake ritual for several players __all different.

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Washington, D.C.: Could you give a plausible explanation why Christian Guzman bunted with 2 strikes yesterday? Did he miss a sign, or was this a bad managerial ploy?

Tom Boswell: This is a hitter's way of saying, "I am profoundly sorry for not getting my bunt down on the first two strikes. To prove my sincerity, I will 'sacrifice myself' on the third strike and try to bunt again."

This is a players way of PROVING that he didn't just screw up the bunts so he could swing away with men on base on his third strike.

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RFK - Section 436: What is Frank going to do about Jamie Carroll when Vidro comes back? He's played great filling in, but you don't start him over Vidro. Any chance he moves over to SS and replaces Guzman's .206 BA?

Tom Boswell: Frank loves Carroll. Everybody wants to start, but Carroll is an invaluable utility man. He came over to me on the bench one day to show me all FOUR of the gloves that he might have to wear that day __depending on the position. He takes some ground balls with each of them, I believe.

In spring training, Bowden didn't see why Frank LOVED Carroll. Carroll is only a decent SS but an excellent second baseman. Now Bowden sees the light. Carroll is one of about a half-dozen Nats who have saved the first 1/4 of the season with their emergency work __also Majewski, Carrasco, Rauch in the bullpen.

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Potomac, Md.: My wife is a third grade teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. As an exercise in writing a "persuasive letter" she recently had her class send letters to the person of their choice encouraging them to pay a visit to her classroom. A student in the class was delighted to receive a response to his letter to Screech the Nats mascot. That is until he got to the part of the letter informing him that Screech would make an appearance provided a fee of $400 was paid. Seems to me that the Nats Community Relations staff needs a little work.

Tom Boswell: Yet another reason to "Scratch Screech."

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I got the chance to catch the Nats on their latest homestand ... it was worth the wait. This is such a scrappy team and a great group to reintroduce professional baseball to Washington. What's most impressive is that they have survived two 9 game road trips (though they are off for another), a rash of injuries and still they sit near the top of the Division. Since their schedule can't get any worse and assuming the injury situation improves ... is it time to seriously consider that they might be fighting for a playoff spot all season?

Tom Boswell: It's been a remarkable first 1/4 of the season, that's for sure. The Nats have ALWAYS thought that they could stay close enough to contention to justify a couple of acquisitions before July 31 __one more pitcher and hitter. They saw themselves more clearly than I did. I thought .500 was a max out and 75 wins was a good guess.

As Weaver used to say, "Everything changes everything." But this is a real TEAM, like the '89 Orioles. I was the only reporter in the lcoker room after last Friday's loss. M an, do these guys hate to lose. I've seen MANY contending teams that didn't take a defeat this hard in August/September. They'd just lost three straight close games and were collectively furious __guys just sitting at their lockers, glaring a hole in the wall, for minute after minute. Before a mass of press (which had been at a Frank press conference) came in, they scattered to side rooms where reporters can't go. So, they weren't SHOWING how much they cared. Rather, they avoided that chance. Just an accident that I was there. It helped me understand how they have overcome so many injuries (so far).

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Wilmington, Del.: Mr. Boswell,

I was wondering if you could tell me if there is a front-runner in terms of the new ownership group for the Nationals? Also, does major league baseball feel the need to have a group that has local ties and is Cal Ripken Jr. still being pursued by any of the potential groups.

Tom Boswell: MLB very much prefers a local group. The Washington Baseball Club (Fred Malek's group) deserves to be the front runner __perhaps by a large margin. They've done 5-plus years of ground work when nobody else (except N. Va.) did anything.

Cal is an interesting question. But all that is SOOO far away. The people running the club right now are doing a good job. If that continues, that makes for a "nice problem to have" for the new owners.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: What do you think of Jim Palmer as an analyst, compared to Buck Martinez? And what determines which games Palmer does and which are done by Martinez? I'm a Palmer fan myself -- he seems candid, well-spoken and knowledgeable. Martinez seems to me to not want to be too hard on players and managers, and thus seems either to be pulling his punches or to be just less knowledgeable. What do you think?

Tom Boswell: I've always liked Palmer. Just a fine mind and a sly edge. I wish Buck talked on TV more like he talks when he's just sitting around shooting the breeze. I've told him. But that's hard for a lot of ex-players, managers.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom - the mound - why wasn't this an issue for the 10 years that the Skins and Nats shared the stadium? Maybe it was - but I don't recall it. Did they do something different then? (I sure they didn't use the lift system).

Natsbaseball

Tom Boswell: The mound, the mound, just pitch off the damn thing.

I hope Patterson hasn't got "mounditis" in his back (and head). His front foot does slide on his delivery and, on this mound, it sometimes slides too much. And he's had arm problems, so he could be gun shy. But Maddox didn't use it as an excuse after it drop him nuts just before Johnson's 440-foot homer.

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Columbia, Md.: Why have the Orioles not added Ripken to their front office? Does he want no further part of Angelos (Cal always was smart)?

Tom Boswell: Ripken and Angelos are on satisfactory terms now, as I get it.

That's not the same as wanting to work for the man. Still, Cal IS going to run a team for somebody somewhere someday.

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Baltimore, Md.: Will the Orioles be able to supplement their pitching staff this summer?

Tom Boswell: They better think about it. Ponson still looks like Ponson __a quality start, then an eyesore. Lopez needs to step up and be a 15-game winner. I think Bedard is going to be excellent. Cabrera may still be a year or two away because it's so hard for him to duplicate his (6-foot-7) mechanics.

We're going to see the Orioles clubhouse chemistry tested. Roberts is a great story, excellent guy, but he's hitting 100 pts over last year, on-base 100 pts higher and slugging 300 pts higher. That cannot and will not continue, even if he proves to be an All-Star level player. No 165-pound guy slugs .659. And his year has lifted the whole offense so far. If Sosa solidifies No. 4 and Raffy keeps hitting adequately at No. 5, then they can keep hitting enough to win a lot of games. But if they have lingering problems at No. 4-5, they're going to be head-to-head with the Yanks and Red Sox a lot sooner than they thought.

The O's are a serious enough contender now that they MUST make the mid-season upgrades that are the norm for a contender with a fat wallet. Peter got his RSN __let him put some more of it back into the team

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Chicago, Ill.: Are the Cubs' badly managed, or truly cursed? The payroll is up but we are still 6 behind the Cards, in no doubt due to injuries. Should the Cubs have done more to get a first rate closer in the off season? Should Wood be traded or moved to the bullpen? Any solace would be much appreciated.

Tom Boswell: The Cubs are a mess and going nowhere. Dusty is a "player's manager." That means he's good at getting along with the players. was Vince Lombardi a "player's manager?"

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Section 445: Tom,

I'm really curious: From speaking to the players, how do they feel about D.C. - the town, the support, the fans.

Also, this team went 83-79 in each of 2003 and 2004. If this team gets back to 100 percent health and stays there, is 90 wins a pipe dream?

Tom Boswell: Right now the Nats are on pace for 91 wins! (Enjoy it. As a girl friend of my wife (and daughter of a former big-leaguer) used to say when we were in a bar and some guy was staring at her, "Take a picture. It might last longer.")

A couple of facts from my e-mail column the other day. Right now, the Nats have the best winning percentage of any Washington baseball team since 1933 (excluding WWII).

Also, the team has already passed the season attendance of the '24 world champion Senators. The old Nats only drew 10,000-a-game 7 times in 71 seasons and only drew 12,000-a-game ONCE in their entire history.

People don't quite understand yet 1) how well this team is playing, 2) how unique it is for Washington to see baseball properly played and 3) how current crowds are just obliterating previous Washington norms (as they should).

I suspect that these Nats are the best FUNDAMENTAL teams Washington has had since '33. No Senator team from '56-to-'71 in my youth was ever accused of "playing the game right." Then, we had Sievers, Lemon, Killebrew, Epstein and Howard to placate us. Now, it appears we have a TEAM.

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N.Y.C: I watched the O's-White Sox game on WGN last week and was mortified by how bad the announcing team was. It was bad enough to hear the "he gone!" cry each time a K was recorded, but their knowledge of opposing teams was ridiculously low, to the point of mispronouncing last names. They seemed to know nothing about the Orioles. Of course, they are incredibly biased to the point of calling the White Sox "the good guys." Maybe all announcers are this biased, but this group was especially irritating. Is their reputation as bad as they seemed on TV?

Tom Boswell: They are pure "homers." BUT they are one of the few TV crews that TEACHES me a few new things. Hawk Harrelson has a good feel for the game. Of course, when he played he was a complete selfish, showboating slugger-stiff.

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Washington, D.C.: Everything seems awefully quiet on the new stadium front. Is this because everything is going as planned? Is no news good news?

Tom Boswell: No news is NOT good news.

WAKE UP OUT THERE.

Let's just say that the sense of urgency and the willing to kick-butt that Frank brings to the team appears to be lacking on the get-the-stadium-rolling front.

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Capitol Hill: Tom -- what's your current take on the MASN/Comcast disaster? As a Nats fan, shouldn't I be gritting my teeth and hoping that Comcast can bring MASN to its knees so that a new Washington owner can negotiate a legitimate deal in the best interest of the team (rather than MLB and the O's)?

As a DirecTV subscriber I have no worries about the TV mess right now, but in the long run it seems to be a real handicap to making the Nats a major-market, dominant franchise (potentially).

Tom Boswell: There is certainly a school of thought that if Comcast wins its suit and MASN dies that, in the long run, the Washington TV rights would revert to the Nationals. Don't have time for the 1,000-word explanation.

However, that could be a very "long" long run. Angelos is probably willing to pour a lot of money down a rat hole so that MASN is the survivor of this RSN battle.

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20006: What're Frank's current thoughts on a lineup when Vidro and Guillen return -- will he platoon Church and Byrd in left, leaving Wilkerson in center, or will things be switched around further?

Tom Boswell: Frank will jump up and down and click his heels, even though he's 69.

Note: On the ROAD, the Nats have one of the best offenses in baseball. At home, in the bottom 10.

When healthy, the Nats have a nice lineup with Church-Byrd platooning in left, Schneider-Bennett at catcher and only Guzman a weak bat. The other five hitters are all very good (not great) offensive players. All around, Vidro is still the best, IMO.

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Section 445: Marlon for Endy? Tom, what were The Phils thinking? To me, this is part of the reason why the new owners have to keep Bowden. The other acquisitions for Castilla, Guillen bear this out.

Tom Boswell: I really like my first impression of Byrd. Very smart, hard-working guy. Had four excellent years rolling through the minor, then hit .303 in his first full season ('03) w the Phils. He weighs 50 pounds more than Chavez (all of it muscle.) Also, like Guillen, Byrd already appreciates that Frank LIKES him and specifically wanted the team to get him. Remember Lowenstein-Roenicke in lf and Dwyer-Ford in rf? Maybe Church-Byrd.

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Burke, Va.: Tom -- I have thought for a while that all the hand-wringing over attendance was nonsense. After all, until the Cubs series, we had exactly ONE weekend series (the opening series) and averaging over 40K for the Cubs series and about 28 K for a mid-week series against the Brewers, for goodness sakes, should make folks feel better about attendance. Is MLB happy with the crowds at Nats games (they are loud, that is for sure) and how do you see attendance going the rest of the season?

Tom Boswell: Talked to Selig and others at the Congressional hearing this week. Everybody is delighted w attendance. Some are also quite surprised. And many in the game are starting to ask the question: "Explain to me again why it take us 34 years to get back to the Nation's Capital?"

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20009 - DC: Tom,

I'm similar to Rockville where I thought I'd go to a few games but have found myself addicted to this team. I picked up 20 game pack right before the season, partially to catch the opener and partially to share with my family. Well, I've been very selfish and not only have I gone to every game in my package so far, I've probably gone to an additional 4 games outside of the 20 gamer. I love the way this team is playing and am truly impressed by their - never give up - attitude. It really has made me appreciate the game and I believe all pro-sports could learn a lesson from this team... They're the definition of teamwork.

Can you provide an update on Eischen and Vidro? Thank you so much for the great work - Not only do I appreciate this team, I appreciate your work as well.

Best

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

This is the best possible TYPE of team for Washington to get. It's like Baseball 101. If they play smart and hard, do all the little savvy things that make the game so rewarding, they win. If they don't, it gets ugly fast __like last Friday night when they had an "'04 Expo Moment."

This team gives local fans a baseline for effort and other "intangibles." Better to set such standards at the beginning.

Eischen is already back in the clubhouse. He will set the world redcord for Crazy Man Recovering from Broken Arm. As for Vidro, high-ankle sprains, as I mentioned just after he did it, can last MUCH longer than you'd think. I'll believe he's back when I see him. I'll guess/hope another three weeks __which is later than the team now says.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I love the chemistry of this team. During the rain Sat night I hung out at the left field camera position above the Nats bullpen. Bob Natal started digging trenches to try to get the water out of the flooded bullpen and before you know it Ryan Church, Jamie Carroll, and Chad Cordero were all in the bullpen using the squeegie, lifting tarps, etc. it really was heartwarming to see teammates doing the dirty work to help each other out! Do you get this sense as well from seeing the team behind the scenes?

Tom Boswell: Yes. At one point, Frank was out there with a rake.

The Orioles have a "normal" clubhouse atmosphere. Not great, IMO, but plenty good enough. The Nationals, because of the Montreal experience and the Robinson-Minaya selection process have chosen the types of people they want. Bowden then added more "character" with Loaiza and Castilla.

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Bethesda, Md.: Thanks for both the columns and the chats -- been enjoying both very much!

There was a lengthy article in a rival newspaper yesterday about steroid use by baseball players other than the usual muscle bound home run hitters. It focused more on pitchers and role players using steroids to recover more quickly from injuries and the wear and tear of playing everyday. Now, I can't help but notice that, this year, the league starts cracking down (relatively speaking) on steroid use and there is a league-wide rash of injuries. Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Tom Boswell: Steroids, unfortunately, help in many ways. Strength, recovery time. It is a myth that only big muscle guys or hitters use them. I think the stats this year are already showing a steroid-testing effect.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: Mr. Boswell, thanks for your great coverage and commentary on the Nationals. Do you get as tired as I do to hear and read the so called experts, including some at your own paper, that say how bad the Nationals really are? First we hear that the team is only an injury or two from disaster, yet several key players have gone down and the team keeps winning. We then hear the pitching is suspect, yet while we have had a few problems, others have stepped up and the team keeps winning. We hear the Castilla signing was bad, but at times he has carried the team. We hear the Guillen trade was going to cause clubhouse problems, but he has proven himself to be a team player and has also carried the team at times. We hear that Johnson won't stay healthy, yet he is finally playing up to the potential he has. We hear that Wilkerson will be wasted as a lead off hitter, yet he continues to be a team leader. None of the so called experts would have thought this team would be 22 and 18 after 40 games. The way I see it, the real issue is none of the so called experts have taken into consideration one very important factor, heart. Everyone one of these guys does what it takes and everyone one of them has heart. Win or lose, I'll take that over statistics any day. Now if I could just see the games on TV. Thanks for listening.

Tom Boswell: After 41 games it's time to start seeing the data that's actually right in front of us rather than playing expert and assuming we know before the evidence actually arrives.

The Nationals are playing like a good team, despite a very tough schedule and lots of injuries. Anybody can say, "they lost 95 last year." What a blinding insight. The more interesting question is what they'll do if they ever get semi-healthy. The big crowds and lessened travel have definitely helped. The off-season additions have been a tgrue plus. You've got pitching, defense, morale, better hitter. But you don't have ANY superstars. That's a limiting factor. Still, a team with a LOT of solid to very good players can be quite exciting for quite a while.

Regardless of what follows, Washington DESERVED this start by its new team. And after what they endured in Montreal, the ex-Expos deserve the momentum, cushion and fan support that goes with being 23-18. Last year at this time, they were 14-27.

See you all next week. Thanks for the great questions. Cheers.

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