Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, June 30, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.

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The transcript follows.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Tom - These last few weeks have been brutal to watch in NATSville. It's not just the losses, but the way they are losing that is tough to watch.

Are current slumps, or poor production, going to lead to lower trade value? (Re: Guillen, Hernandez) Phonzie seems to be streaky anyway, but Jose's and Livan's recent woes are troubling.

Tom Boswell: Looks like the Nats are getting a reality check. And, in a long-term sense, probably at the right time. I wrote a few weeks ago that an easy schedule __and the easiest part of it is the next four weeks__ might distort public perception of the team and make it hard to do the deals that should be made. That "problem" certainly seems to be cured.

Soriano's value is rock solid. He should be out of his slump and he himself again long before July 31. Not that anybody who'd trade for him would judge him on that short a time frame.

Hernandez value certainly seemed damaged to me. He has a ton of innings in his career and is past 30. Is he a classic lost-his-fastball guy? There's really no way to know now. He could come back and have several good years. At any rate, you'd think he'd look like a fine fourth starter for a contender.

Just staying healthy and hitting .300 is plenty for Vidro to have more value than most expected. Guillen is having an awful season/slump. He's also an addition-by-subtraction guy. So those with the Nats who'd like to trade him would take anything for him. Those, like Bowden, who have always liked him, might think differently.

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Washington, D.C.: Boz, Enjoyed reading your column regarding the disparity between the AL and NL.

Here's my problem and I've talked to my friends who feel the same way. While we love our Nats, we also have found them to painful too watch (except for the Yankees series). I flipped MASN on (yes I'm lucky I have RCN) last night only to see the score 7-2 and turned the TV off.

Basically, what hope do we have to even watch semi-entertaining games worthy of OUR time? Has the team knowing trades are going to be made basically mailed it in already?

Can you give us fans any hope? Happy 4th to you and your family!!

Tom Boswell: Before the Nats hit the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays __in a row__ and went 3-9__ they weren't playing badly at all, given their limits. It is the cummulative effect of playing so many games in a row against tough A.L. East teams that wears down a pitching staff, especially one that is already injured and struggling.

If Patterson's arm is okay __unknown now__ and he can pitch decently while Hernandez can remains mediocre but presentable, then you still have a team that can win a few games, get out of its collective depression and be entertaining enough to watch. But, if both Hernandez and Patterson have a second half like the first half, things could get ugly.

If you had been told on Opening Day that the Nationals would get one win from Patterson by July 4 and hernandez would be 6-8 with a lousy ERA and not one game where he went more than seven innings, would you believe that their record could even be 33-47? However, they certainly have looked disspirited in recent games. There's no excuse for that. Perhaps 10 games at RFK, the first seven against Tampa Bay and the Marlins __followed by three days off for the All-Star break__ then nine more games in a row against the Pirates, Marlins and Cubs__ will help. If it doesn't, WHAT CAN? If they emerge from this period with the same dead-head look, something's gotta give. But, by then, they'll "look" better, even if, in reality, they're the same bunch.

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Greenbelt, Md.: Why is there such panic about the nosedive the Nats currently find themselves in? The team couldn't pursue quality free agents this past winter because of lack of ownership (see: Burnett, A.J.). The bench, while better, boasts of host of American League-type DH candidates (see: Ward, LeCroy and Fick). The overall athleticism of the roster hasn't been upgraded. Three-fifths of the starting rotation was cobbled together on the cheap and the bullpen was severely overused in 2004. The chronic losing allows management to see what a patchwork club this is and provides no illusions that a couple of trades could slavage the season of a tem that will probably win 70-75 games as most experts projected.

Tom Boswell: Correct. Wasn't there an indie movie about this? "Reality Bites."

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washingtonpost.com: NL May Be Out of Its League , ( Post, June 30, 2006 )

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Anonymous: I noticed Endy CHavez last night batting about .270 for the Mets. Did the Nats quit on him too early?

After watching Chavez, I thought about Marlon Byrd and his .220 avergae and what I assume is sub-par defense. Is Marlon living on borrowed Nats' time? What's the status of outfield prospects and why haven't the Nats brought one up (Brandon Watson?).

Tom Boswell: Byrd made another sprinting catch before running into a wall last night. He's made a lot of very good plays in the gaps and at the wall this year. Of course, with all the rockets the Nats have given up he's had a lot of chances. Anybody who thinks Byrd is not at least an average centerfield, despite his size, is wrong, IMO.

His hitting speaks for itself. He has that big ex-football star chest and is especially vulnerable to the classic pitching attack __fastballs up and in or on his hands, then soft breaking balls away. Still, if he did a better got of laying off bad balls, he'd probably be a decent hitter. However, it's getting late in a career to say, "If, if, if." At some point, you are what you are. But he's still a player I enjoy watching. Plays hard. Smart guy. Always working to improve. A good extra outfielder. Except on this team he starts.

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New York, N.Y.: Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota have all been on fire---and in spite of all those wins--there's hardly been a change in the AL Central Standings. Any mid-season idea of how the division will shape up? Minnesota has those great arms--but dug an early hole.

Tom Boswell: The races have taken clear shape. In the A.L., the Tigers and White Sox both look close to certain to make the playoffs. The White Sox proved themselves last year and now have Thome, too. (Too bad, Twins.) The Tigers now have an 8 1/2-game lead over the Yanks in the wildcard. Either the Yanks or Red Sox are going to get squeezed out. This may motivate the Yankees to be a big "buyer" in July trades.

The NL is bizarre. Seven teams are within 5 1/2 games of the wildcard (Reds), including everybody in the N.L. West, even though the entire division is only six games over .500! Anyb ody within a few games of .500 is going to be tempted to upgrade. It's rare to be able to say, "85 wins may get us in the playoffs. Our fans will kill us if we don't try. And as long as we have two top starters and a closer, who knows how far we can go in October." This is why the Astros, at 38-41, but with Clemens, see no reason they can't be back in the World Series. I sure don't think they'll be there. But, if the Mets old pitching backs up and the Cards don't play a lot better, a dozen teams out of 16 can delude themselves that they could __somehow__ end up in the NLCS or even WS. Yes, even Atlanta __10 games behind the Reds for the wildcard__ probably has this fantasy.

A lot of dumb decisions will probably be made before 7/31.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I keep reading in all the Nats trading options stories that Livan is expected to receive "strong interest" from other teams. Really? Don't they have TVs? (Well, maybe the other teams' scouts live in DC and CAN'T watch the Nats.)

Livan can't get anyone out, and it would be particularly stupid for an AL team to trade for him -- case in point, your column today and Livan's performance in Fenway.

Am I wrong?

Tom Boswell: You're right.

But there are a lot of mediocre NL teams for whom Hernandez might make the different between a wildcard spot and nothing. You buy yourself a lot of credibility, good will an dfuture attendance in some cities just by getting the post-season every once in a while. For example, the Phillies are DESPERATE for pitching. They're going with a bullpen staff on Sunday. Their pitcher tonight has barely even been seen __ever, anywhere__ by the manager or most of the coaches. If Livan had a decent July against lame teams...

Besides, there's always some genius somewhere who says, "I can fix him. It's his mechanics. I can get back that 2-3-4 m.p.h. he's lost. Then he'll be the Livan of the last 3 years."

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Baltimore, Md.: Hey Tom,

Thanks for doing the chats. This is the highlight of my week.

It looks like the Orioles' starters are getting into a decent groove. Do you think that Mazzone's influence is starting to take hold? Or are they just benefiting from a stretch of facing weak-hitting teams?

Tom Boswell: Bedard and Benson have looked very good. Yet both still have ERA's over 4.00. Are they inconsistent pitchers who are just in a spell of good work or have they picked up something from Mazzone? At 27, it's time __or past time__ for Bedard to pitch up to his stuff. He's been praised so much for so long that he sometimes seems to forget that he entered the year with a 12-18 CAREER record. This is a guy who should listen to every work Leo says and never say, as he sometimes does, "But that's not the way I've always done it." In recent starts, he looks like he's turned a corner __spot the fastball on both sides of the plate, trust the chanegup and keep it down. And put the hammer down with two strikes when they have to chase his good curveball in the dirt.

I've been at Lopez last two starts and he seems to be settled down. As for Russ Ortiz, if Mazzone can resurrect him, it's a big bonus. But that doesn't usually happen. Worth a shot since Chen appears to be history and Loewen isn't quite ready yet.

The Orioles will have to max out to get over .500 this year, but I keep saying I think they may. Of course, then there's the question of whether to trade Tejada. I never thought I'd see the day that HE would be the guy who wasn't showing up at the park at the appropriate time. Talk about the Oriole Curse. The guy with, maybe, the best attitude in the game when he arrives becomes a bad-attitude guy mid-way through his contract.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Boz,

So MLB is procrastinating again with making the sale of the Nationals offical. Is this having any tangible effect on the team's operations?

Tom Boswell: No effect whatsoever. The nats can make any moves they want. Bowden would just clear any deal with Kasten and the Lerners.

Also, I think you'll see the new bosses start to make some announcements quite soon about fan-friendly actions. (They should.) However, the most fan-friendly act would be to figure out how to get more games __yes, even losing games__ on TV. The Orioles would very much like to stand arm-in-arm with the Nationals against Comcast. Well, of course, they would. When Kasten and the Lerners are finally and officially in charge, the most interesting words out of their mouths will be what progress or decisions they have made about solving the TV nightmare.

Decisions on trades by July 31 are important. But, to anybody with any business sense, Job One is getting your games on TV. This is the first time we'll get to see how imaginative, determined, effective this group can (or can't) be.

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Annandale, Va.: Any chance that the new ownership will take your suggestion and install a decent wooden scoreboard in center filed before the 7/21 "grand reopening" of RFK? Personally, I couldn't care less about bands playing at the main entrance.

Tom Boswell: We should start hearing about "grand reopening" plans soon. By next season, given what a fine-but-cheap job the Cards did with their nearly-identical park, there's no reason to expect the Nats to "gussy up" RFK. I suspect things like that big wooden scoreboard and outfield upperdeck displays, if they happen, would be next year. Also, there should be about four more rows of box seats in front of the current boxes. It's easily done, I'm told. Reduce foul territory. Add premium seats, subtract the worst CF upper-deck bleacher seats __but ADD more cheap bleachers in the alleys at the lower-deck level like St. Louis__ and, thus, "break up the view" in the upper deck in centerfield.

You can make the place feel a lot prettier and fresher for less than $5M.

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Re: A lot of dumb decisions will probably be made before 7/31: Do you think any of these decisions will help us grab some really good prospects?

Tom Boswell: One project for July is to study just who those prospects are and, more to the point, which are actually available.

GMs absolutely hate to pull the trigger on trades before late July because they are terrified that, as good as they make a big deal, their team will immediately win (or lose) 10 games in a row and make their decision look idiotic. That's how you can lose your job. If you make a trade before the All-Star game because you think your team is "in it" and then they fall off a cliff by July 31 __but a couple of your star prospects are GONE__ then you may be "gone," too.

IOW, there is an institutional imperative NOT to trade until it is semi-safe for your career. And that time doesn't usually arrive until after the All-Star game. At least.

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Lancaster, Pa.: Do you know if the Abreu to the Tigers is a real story? It is over for the Phillies this year and Gillick should get what he can. Do you think Charlie manuel will last the year? He can't be back next year as Gillick will clearly want his own guy to manage his new team. Would anyone take Burrell's salary? Time for my Phillies to back up the truck

Tom Boswell: Just to get Phils fans upset, Manuel is one of the more underrated baseball people I've met. He's not young, handsome, slick or good with a quip. But I love talking baseball with him. Reminds me of Jim Frey, Jack McKeon __tangy, knows everybody, good eye for players, doesn't exhaust his regulars, takes the heat in public (as in the Myers mess when the front-office suddenly got marbles in its mouth). He almost got 'em in the playoffs last year with lousy starting pitching. Nobody could do squat with the hand he's gotten this year with Lieber down for two months. You can do a lot worse. And, given the fire-the-manager-coach mentality in Philadelphia, the Phils probably will.

This team has a lineup already. It has a young mega-star in Ryan Howard. And it has a new ballpark averaging more than 33K-a-game. Don't blow it up. Buy some pitching before next season. OK, Phils fans, tell me why that's all wrong. (Which is may be.)

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Temple Hills, Md.: The Post said this morning that Patterson was suffering from "dead arm" last night. If that is correct, he should be all right soon shouldn't he? However, couldn't St. Claire and Robinson tell almost from the very beginning, that there was something wrong with him? He certainly looked like he was struggling. Why leave him in there to get knocked around, just to "save the bullpen"? Aren't we "saving" the bullpen at the expense of the starter, and does that make any sense?

washingtonpost.com: For Nats, A Really Bad Trip , ( Post, June 30, 2006 )

Tom Boswell: "Dead arm" is a common term, often used early in the season, which means a starter didn't bounce back well from his previous start. Usually, it means little or nothing. But with Patterson's history of injury, you hold your breath. Any time a pitcher leaves a game in the middle of an inning, it's not normal and it's not good.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Tom: great column.

The ironic thing about last night's Red Sox "sweeper" win over the Mets is that the key run was scored NL-style: infield hit, stolen base, sac, sac. Just super.

Tom Boswell: The key in that inning was David Ortiz tagging up and going from second to third __with a head first slide__ on a fly ball to centerfield that wasn't terribly deep. He then scored the eventual game-winning run on another sac fly. I was surprised at his "speed" __at least for 30 yards.

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Fairfax, Va: Tom,

I always enjoy your chats and articles. My question is about todays article. Since the Nationals are building through the farm system isn't likely we can develop a hard throwing pitcher if we draft well and develop them correctly through the farm system?

washingtonpost.com: NL May Be Out of Its League , ( Post, June 30, 2006 )

Tom Boswell: There are almost no "big arms" in the Nats system. Certainly nobody close to the MLB level. (Bray, who fits the definition, is already up.) That's one reason it was so important to sign the team's high draft picks and it's perhaps the primary reason the team keeps talking about trades. They mean: Trades For Real Pitching Prospects.

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Springfield, Va.: Hello Tom! Soriano to the Angels for LHP Joe Saunders (West Springfield High and former #1 pick), 2B Howie Kendrick & SS Brandon Wood. We get our future keystone combo and another local pitcher. The Angels add a bat to assist Vlad. What do you think?

Tom Boswell: We need to start a list and see if anybody actually "calls one" correctly.

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Jefferson, Md.: I enjoyed your column today about the NL and AL. As part of your argument, you cite Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens as examples of aging pitchers who move to the NL and find success in their twilight years, presumably because the opposing lineups are softer. However, there is a contrary example of Curt Schilling moving to the Red Sox. In 2004 he was 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA, in 2005 he fought through injuries and was mediocre, but this year he's 10-2 and has an 3.54 ERA, barely above his career 3.40 ERA. Does this disprove your theory or is Schilling an anomaly?

Tom Boswell: It shows how good Schilling is and also illustrates how hard it was for him to get by in the A.L. without his best fastball in '05. You can't fake it in the A.L.

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Lost Springs, Wyo.: Do you know Nationals TV color analyst Tom Paciorek? Been watching baseball for 40+ years on TV and he's the best color guy I've ever heard. Great balance of baseball knowledge (18-year in the ML) and humor. He used to work with Hawk Harrelson doing White Sox games on WGN. Those two were a riot together! Thanks for the best baseball columns in print!

Tom Boswell: Tom is an old favorite from his playing days when he went by "Whimpy." His dry sense of humor matches mine. He breaks me up. Most fans have very strong reactions to announcers. It's like having somebody in your home.

Hawk is an example of that. Many like him. He's just too over-the-top for me as an announcer. But a vivid character.

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Gainesville, Va.: Who brings more back in a trade, Soriano or Tejada?

Tom Boswell: Why not trade Soriano, Hernandez and Guillen for Tejada (who's signed through '09)?

Just kidding. Assignment for next week: Come up with the most ridiculous __yet not completely stupid__ Soriano-for-Tejada trade. It must involve at least a dozen players. (Yes, I know the Nats and O's'll never make a major trade.)

Have a great Fourth. Cheers.

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Arlington, Va.: Given the team's attendance problems this year, and efforts to build a loyal local fanbase, wouldn't it be foolish for the new ownership to add a bunch of seats in front of current season ticket holders, making their seats worse? Not a nice way of rewarding your most loyal customers. Do you really think the "grand re-opening" will include such things that are hostile to the fans? Just because Dan Snyder can do it without it hurting his team, doesn't mean everyone can.

Tom Boswell: P.S.: I don't know how the Cards did it. Maybe everybody could get the choice of moving four rows closer to the field or staying where they are. Then you sell the new tickets for whatever seats are then left vacant.

I've been wondering if the Nats won't have some ideas to unveil quite soon since this is the last home stand before the Reopening.

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Rockville, Md.: Boz-one year ago today, I was sitting in RFK stadium as the Nats beat the Pirates to go 19 games over .500. In the frenzied post-game atmosphere, fireworks exploded, the fans applauded the players, the players applauded the fans, and Frank Robinson tossed baseballs into the stands. Now, one year later, the situation is quite different. What the heck happened?

Tom Boswell: A severe case of "baseball."

Fortunately, it's incurable.

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