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Boswell on Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008 3:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, May 30 at 3 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals and the rest of Major League Baseball.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

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Lancaster PA: I know it is too soon to be cocky, but I think my Phillies really will be the class of the NL East. Florida will fade and the Nats are not ready. The Mets are a mess. Atlanta may be the biggest worry if their pitching comes off the DL.

Now that you have seen the east a couple of time what do you think?

Tom Boswell: Atlanta has excellent young everyday players everywhere you look. They're better than people think.

The Phils may have trouble if what Myers has shown so far is all that he has left. I was shocked. Can barely hit 90 a few times, isn't overpowering at all -- a shadow of his former self. Moyer shouldn't get anybody out -- but that was true five years and he still does. He's still in great shape. But Hamels is the real deal, Lidge is back where he used to be (glad to see it) and they can hit a ton -- even away from their park. The Mets truly are a mess.

So, gimme the Phils. But the Marlins look like they may have re-passed the Nats! Never thought I'd say that.

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Toronto, Ontario: Mr. Boswell, a friend and I are debating which team boasts the best starting rotation in the majors right now. I'd argue Cleveland. He figures Toronto. We'd like you to settle it for us. Dinner's on the line!

Tom Boswell: I'd go with Toronto between the two. All five starters, even if young, have enough previous track record in the cases of Marcum (!), Litsch and McGowan, to assume that they can continue near their current paces. When A.J. Brnett has the fifth-best ERA on your staff, that's impressive.

With the Indians, I assume Cliff Lee (7-1, invisible ERA) is just hot and can't stay that way after being mediocre since his 18-win year. Sabbathia's ERA is a worry. How has he looked recenly? Byrd is ancient. I've never seen the lefty Laffey andlook forward to it.

nd other staffs as rivals? Never thought I'd see the Braves and reworked A's staffs doing so well.

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Section 416, aka The Alps: Manny Ramirez's "High Five" play - love it or hate it? Especially that it seems to get more air play versus than the recent triple play and no-hitter?

And why can't the Nats have "problems" like this?

Tom Boswell: The Alps! Love section 420, too.

I thought Manny's spontaneous high-five after one of his 5 amazing catches per season -- balanced against his 20 unbelievably hideous plays a season -- as one of the most fun I ever saw. I was there and could hardly believe the replays. People in the press box were yelling,'Did you see his High Five the fan inthe bleachers after he caught it,' while the throw was still comng back to the infield.

Anbody can catch the ball, throw it back,then high five. Who but Manny has such joy in the game, and such lack of inhibition, that he can make a catch he should be capable of making, see the fan in mid-air, slap him and then finish the play. For me, despite all his great hitting, it's the signiture Manny-being-Manny moment. You can't plan it. You can only BE MANNY and let it happen.

Glad he's starting to talk to the press more, I hear. ooking forward to that.

The Nats have contributed the Harris diving catch and Langerhans gem yesterday. Better than nothing.

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Washington, DC: Bos, I love the Nats, couldn't be happier to have a team back in Washington despite their somewhat inconsistent play. While I'm no expert, it seems that everyone should be able to see that Milledge swings at everything, including near wild pitches. You sound as if he has good instincts and good work habits, and the Nats have to have picked up on this. Any chance he might take an occasional pitch in the future, especially those way outside of the plate?

Tom Boswell: Milledge is the definition of a raw talent. Everybody knows he kills the fastball anad can pull the ball. So, he sees slop away. Nonetheless, I actually think I'm seeing progress in several parts of his game. His instincts in CF aren't awful, as I feared, but perhaps improveable -- perhaps. Bt he just wants so desperately to be flashy, to be a highlight star before he is even a good ballpayer. And right now he's mediore at best, despite that monster third-deck home in San Diego on a hanging curveball. He was styling last week on a long flyball and almost injured his heel on the wall because he didn't go back, find the fence and THEN make the catch, but just drifted back.

I enjoy his ablity to bunt, his energy and enthusiasm -- which the Nats need -- and a genuine desire to learn. I suspect Manny is correct to call him a "good kid" who deserves to be surrounded with some patience. Not too much, because he can get carried away with himself. But quite a bit.

Lastings even looks more comfortable and patient -- okay, less completely impatient -- at the plate. His stolen base game -- looks like he an steals 25or 30 -- gives him confidence. He tends to get down on himself. Believe it or not, there might be a little humility under the facade. I loved a moment in one post-game interview when, instead of crowing about doing something good in the game, he said in passing, "not that I've done much so far this year."

I'm not sure Pena has much future. He's been a strikeout machine for a long time. And nobody knows which guys can bring their AAA stats up to the big leagues. Can Dukes? There's no evidence of it yet, but his tools -- fielding, arm, speed, power (if he ever hit the ball) -- are eye-popping. Milledge is at a different level. He's going to be pretty good. Is he going to be REAL good? Gotta wait.

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Reston, VA: Is it true that you can buy Ben's Chili Bowl hot dogs from other vendors at the stadium instead of waiting in line? If so which vendors? I heard that you can but my friend said thats hogwash.

Tom Boswell: Most asked question of '08. Weird. Yes, you can get Ben's hot dogs at all 10 "Nats Dogs" stands. Obviously, lines are much shorter. The biggest surprise to me at Nationals Park is that I look forward to the ballpark food when I go with family and friends. And there are a dozen things I want to try. The modern ballpark really is a kind of circular shopping mall with a game going on in the center of it.

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Silver Spring, MD: When I look at the Nationals offense, or lack of same, my mind flashes back to the 1967 Senators. That team finished with a .223 team BA and .285 OBP and still won 76 games. The Nats are currently on a pace to win 75-77 games. Were these teams separated at birth?

Tom Boswell: Actually, the Nats are on pace to win 68 games. If they started to hit, then 75-77 would still make sense. But...

The current Nats have a much worse offense than the '67 Senators. Back then, nobody could hit much. They had to lower the mound to help the hitters after '68. Now, everybody hits -- not as much as a couple of years ago -- but plenty. Except the Nats. (And Pads in their big park.)

After a third of a season it's really getting fascinating to see how long the Nationals can continue to hit so far below their career norms or, in the case of younger players, below the lowest #s you could project off their minor league stats.

Earlier in the year, I hoped people wouldn't scapegoat Harris. A young hitting coach can't contaminate a whole lineup. But you start to wonder. Maybe Ray Knight has said -- 1,000 times too often -- ook away, react in." Gee, that doesn't seem to be working either

To invert the question: How good is Randy St. Claire to make an actual pitching staff despite having no wins from Hill (or Patterson) and no saves from Cordero?

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Northwest DC: Tom,

Are you concerned about attendance at Nats games thus far? It would seem that a crowd of only 28,000 for a Memorial Day game is cause for alarm.

Also, if the Nats continue to fade, is there a chance we will see some of their touted project players brought up?

Tom Boswell: Nats attendance is fascinating -- because it's so hard to find the proper adjective to describe it fairly. I'd say attendance is "decent, but uninspired," yet revenue may qualify as "exceptional" -- up almost 100 percent in a year -- because ticket prices (and fancy seats) at the new park are so much higher than at RFK.

The Nationals are currently 15th in attendance, up from 25th last year. Ten spots is a good jump, especially for a losing team. Year-over-year, after 28 home dates, attendance is up 32 percent compared to the average New Park Team since '92 which has been up 37percent.

So, it's hard to say it's "bad" or "disappointing." Those words should have been said -- and were me -- ast year when attendance dropped so badly. The base went down BEFORE this year. The new park has brought it back to life. The question/problem is with the team's cor assumption that "We'll draw when we win. And we WILL win."

Nice confidene. But they BETTER win. Because Kasten and the Lerners consciously passed on the option of using a chunk of all that new revenue to BUY a decent .500 team right now. And, obviously create more interest quickly.

The Nats are doing it "the right way." But they are paying a price -- not a huge one, but perhaps 3,000+-a-night over what they could be drawing -- or the sake of classic bottoms-up player development.

nother point: all teams draw more in summer. For the whole sport, the final numbers will be about 7% higher than they are now. The Nat, if anything, usually see an even better July-August jump because of the summer tourist factor.

So, the Nats curent 29,141-a-game average will probably increase to 31,000. That's plenty to build a winning team. It's not far from a "normal" team with a new park. But that 30,000 total is not inspiring and reminds me of the first-year totals in Detroit (30,106), Pittsburgh (30,430) and Cincinnati (29,077). l had losing teams the year before their new park AND the first year in their new digs. The Tigersgot better, built a contender and now average 38,266-a-game -- a number which willprobably end up over 40,000 by the end of the season! The Reds and Pirates did not build winners and now have lousy attendance -- 22,000 adn 17,000.

The message: if you aren't any good when you open a new park then you better GET GOOD or the glow will wear off. Bt if you do win, you can GROW attendance for years until you fillthe joint.

However, just for shock value, let it be noted that in the first seven years that Camden Yards was open, the average crowd was slightly over 45,000. I asked a friend, who used to go in those days, to guess what he thought the crowds had been back then. He said, "35,000." And almost didn't believe 45,000. He said, "I guess I just thought the place was always full when I went."

Oh, Kasten notes that cold weather has probablycost the Nats about 1,000 walk-up sales a night. But that's just a rounding error. No big deal. Also, the Nats -- believe it or not -- ave oneof the LOWEST "no-show" rates in baseball this season and FAR lower than last year. "The average no-shows in baseball are between 20-to-25% a game. We're well under 20%."

I was surprised both numbers were so high.

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Gainesville, Va.: If you had to pick between the two to manage your baseball team, who do you choose, Dave Trembley or Manny Acta?

Tom Boswell: Trembley for the present. He's more polished "in game" and will get in people's faces. Acta for the long term because he's so patient and such a good red of people.

BUT if you had to name the strongest suits for both teams you would NOT name their current major-league roster players. Kasten and MacPhail would probably top the list for each team -- proven builders of winners -- with Acta and Trembley quite strong. Acta doesn't surprise me. He was a "hot prospect" manager when the nats got him. The Mets wish they still had him. But Trembely is a real heart-warming story and more impressive all the time.

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National's Mall: Hi Tom,

Visiting from NY last weekend... Happened into the gift shop and saw Senators Jerseys and T-shirts... Although they ran out of my size (D'oh). Do you know if those are hot sellers, and if it is any indication if they are going to rename the Nats? Does the city own the name or the Texas Rangers?

Thanks, you're the best!

Tom Boswell: They're the Nationals, now and forever. Or as long as the Lerner family owns them, which may amount to the same thing. The name works and doesn't need to be improved. The curly "W" is one of the better logos. The Presidents race is inspired, a marketing strokeof genius. Even the horrible baby eagle -- whatever its name is -- s loved by kids (and my wife, who informs me that he is "adorable.")

It's the team that needs to get better, not the name of the team.

However, the hottest minor leagues -- where the genuine prospects congregate -- are AA ball and High-A ball. (Not AAA.) In those two leagues combined, the Nats team at Harrisburg and Potomac have the best records in the enire minors.

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Baltimore, MD: True or False - The Orioles will be a .500 team this year.

True or False part 2 - The Orioles should keep Brian Roberts and try to extend him.

Tom Boswell: No. (But they are finally fun anyway).

True. (He's not old at 30. And he's special. In March, Bowden would have done anything to steal him for Belliard and a bunch of Wily Mos. But not real prospects.)

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Waldorf, MD: Bos, I asked Wilbon this question earlier in the week, and I'd love your take. If you had to pick one guy to pitch a game where your life depended on the outcome, whom would you choose? I went with Koufax, Wilbon said Gibson. Who you got?

Tom Boswell: Koufax.

At their best, which they were in big games, Gibson was almost impossible to hit. But Koufax actually was impossible.

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Chad Cordero Fan Club: I love Chad. Since 2005, he has given us more electric moments than any other Nat. The Mets radio announcers summed it up when they said that he didn't have overpowering stuff, but that he was unbelievably courageous, and would throw strikes daring opponents to beat him. In your experience, should we be optimistic or pessimistic. To me, it looks like he's done.

Tom Boswell: I've seldom hoped for the best for a player more than for Cordero and for exacly those reasons. You can win a lot of games with guts, great command and a sneaky fastball.

If the Nats blow out both Cordero and Hill, they'll have a lot to answer for. "The doctors said they couldn't hurt themselves more if they kept on pitching" is a crutch. Sometimes, with guys who have the talent to be keys in 2011-2012, you just have to BE RIGHT. And if common sense gets you there, rather than MRIs, so be it.

Hill says he feels better. I hope so. He sure didn't look "better" the other night. Lost mechanics can lead to new injuries as you try to compensate.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, A happy summer to you. I will try to keep it simple. Regarding the Nats (or baseball in general) when is it okay for the media, fans, coaches, players, ect to stop calling it a slump and start calling it what it is: bad ball players, poor coaching, and front office problems. The Nats have a terrible outfield, no hitting coach, and a front office that thinks a playground in the outfield will bring in fans and improve the team. Outside of Acta, St. Clare, and a handfull of players, this teams is simply bad.

When does the ax fall on some of these things?

Tom Boswell: I have always maintained that the single most important quality in analyzing baseball is patience. Over a long season, you simply do not know what you are looking at until you have seen a team at its very best -- on a plus-10-or-better winning streak, like 14-2 -- and at its very worst. EVERY TEAM, even bad ones, have these streaks -- of both kinds -- in almost every season. The Nats have had a 2-15. Odds say they'll also have a 13-2 -- believe it or not.

Same for players. Hit .450 for 60 at bats and hit .l50 for 60 at bats put you at .300.

That being said: This is getting old!

So, get it off your chest, Arlington.

See you in two weeks.

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