Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nats, Orioles and More

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, September 24, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Redskins, the first week of the NFL, the Nats, Orioles and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

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Boswell Column Archives


Tom Boswell: There's been a lot of discussion lately about how unproductive the Redskins offense has been. So, I wondered, "How bad is it?" Especially compared to past Redskin standards. The results surprised me.

The first Joe Gibbs era was a period of amazing offense for the Redskins. Over his 12 years, they averaged 24.03 points a game in the regular season and 24.19 points in 21 playoff games.

How often have the Redskins averaged OVER 24 points a game in seasons other than Gibbs I?

Answer: Only once in the last 42 years!

Since'67, the only Redskin team (except Joe I) to score more than 24.0 was the '99 team of Norv Turner that scored 27.7 pts/g (443 points).

The only Redskin teams to average more than 24.0 were the '99, '67, '66, '40 and '39 teams.

Gibbs' '83 team, whose loss in Tampa I still remember as almost unbelieveable, averaged 33.8 points. If the wind hadn't been so strong that day, rendering Theismann's long fade passes up the sideline useless, I don't think there is anyway the Skins would have lost to Oakland. The players on that team certainly agreed. Watching warm ups, I noticed that Joe T couldn't get those long "touch" passes up the sideline anywhere close to receivers. And that play, the deep fade, was always a favorite Gibbs check-down against pressure. If you showed blitz, he kept in "max pass protection" and might only send out two receivers -- but one of themwas going to be a 40-yard pattern up the sideline and that's what he WANTED to throw. Joe was Run First, but ALWAYS accept the challenge of throwing the bomb when the defense threw down the gauntlet. Gibbs couldn't wit to max protect and go deep. But that coaching style takes guys. And insistence from Day One that "When we see these 'looks'" we attack."

Under what circumstances do the current Redskins ever attack? Yet this is a high-scoring period in NFL history. I suspect, just as the Skins were ahead of the offensive theory curve with Gibbs I, they may be behind it now. An offense without a credible deep threat isn't an offense. That's why, to me, it's so important to use this soft patch in the schedule to establish an intermediate-to-dewep passing game. And in the first half against the Rams, the Skins were coming closer. They really could have jumped out to a 14-0 lead.Then you might have seem a wide-open 350-yard passing day and 30-35 points.

Oh, Gibbs '91 team, the last Redskin Super Bowl champ, averaged 30.3 points a game, then scored 34.0 a game in the playoffs. I always thought that the Skins playoff foes were often more aggressive defenses and Gibbswas glad to see it. He loved to see pressure -- and burn it. Of course, by the time he came back, many trends worked against him. With the shorter time clock, his pre-snap shifts and man-on-motion schemes -- to identify the defense before the snap -- were almost instantly rendered obsolete (a huge disadvanatge). Also, the zone blitz arrived while he was gone and Saunders was one of the innovators in counerig that. One reasons Collins did so well in his brief run was that he has mastered all Sauders ideas ovefr seven years together. Would he be effective under Zorn? Nobody knows.


Federal H ill, Baltimore: Hi, Bos. Your column today is also dead-on with regard to Orioles manager Dave Trembley. I can walk to OPACY and often do, especially since they now have $1 tickets to all but Boston and Yankee games. Despite what looks to be a nucleus of good young talent (Jones/Wieters/Reimold) they just seem to be going through the motions.

I know losing builds upon itself, and it can't be fun knowing that no lead is safe with their bullpen. They've also ruined a lot of young pitchers by bringing them up too soon and letting them get clobbered. I'm not sure they had any alternative, but I expected better from MacPhail. Who do you expect to win more games next year, the Orioles or the Nats? Thomas Boswell: As the Games Wind Down, Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman Now Faces a Waiting Game (Washington Post, Sep. 24)

Tom Boswell: I know one veteran expert "baseball person" who knows the two franchises about as well as you possibly could -- the Orioles from the inside -- and he thinks the Nats will move past the Orioles fairly quickly. Maybe not in '10, but thereafter. He thinks both have good ideas for how to grow their own but the last off-season convinced him that the Nats were serious about using fee agency as a "third leg of the stool" while the Orioles are not. The Nats were serious about Teixeira, in his mind, the O's weren't. Dunn would have been a great fit for the O's and was available. The Nats got him. There were a half-dozen mddle-of-the-order bats available at about $10-m-a-year. The O's needs one, so did the Nats. We'll see if this continues to play out. The nats now claim they'll ave an active off-season. Some of the O's brain trust are worried that, once again, adding a ey element -- this time a veteran rotation piece to stabalize the kids -- won't be priced into the budget.


Natstown, USA: Mr. Boswell,

How about Jamie Carroll as second baseman for the Washington Nationals in 2010, with Ian Desmond or a veteran free agent as shortstop?

I think Christian Guzman's poor On base percentage, marginal power, and lack of range hurts the team on offense and defense (and the pitching staff, by extension). Shouldn't the Nats look to trade him, even if they have to eat half his contract?

Tom Boswell: Critism of Guzman's fielding is overdone. He has a strong arm, remins agile and WILL be part of the Nats middle infield next year, almost certainly. His $8-million contract makes him semi-untradeable. He's not worth that mch. But he is worth having. Almost every SS who has moved to 2nd base has immediately been perceived as a much-improved fielder. Every great defender is put at SS. Those who aren't good enough move to 2nd. So, Guzman's competition is easier. Good Lord, Dan Uggla plays 2nd. Also, almost every play is easier at 2nd. Going left or right (especially left), you can leave your feet and slide to make a stop and still have time to throw out the hitter a high percentage of the time.

There's a tendency to undervalue the players you see most often and to remember their mistakes. For example, Joe Torre loves Ronnie Belliard. I tried to pin him donw. "He just has a feel for the game." Positions himself well to hide his lack of foot speed. Really turns the P well -- fast hands. Could roll out of bed at midnight in the dark and still get a hit. As soon as Riggleman started playing him semi-regularly -- to showcase him -- Bellard stared to hit.

Don't undersell Guzman. if he gets his attitude straigh about trying second base and thinks the team is improved (if it is) he'll be more enthusiastic. Both he and Bellard have playedon post-season teams and, right or not, they had a hard time staying motivated on a 100-plus loss team. Bt, in the last year of a contract next year, there shoiuld be no motivation problem. And there wasn't much this year. More of an issue with Belliard.


Bonifay, Fla.: Eddie Jordan's firing was an example of, "It's easier to fire a coach, than to fire the team." Few front offices fire themselves.

The Wizards have a new coach and a suspect front court. The Nats and the Redskins have suspect rosters and a coach (or a manager) on shaky ground because parts of the roster are less than stellar. (offensive line and receivers for the Redskins, pitching and defense for the Nats.) Is the only light at the end of the tunnel attached to a train?

Tom Boswell: You bring up a fascinating and eternal question. The Wiz knew that they were getting rid of a proven good coach in Jordan. You better be careful when you replace "good" and hope for great. In Zorn and Riggleman, you have one coach who is completely unproven (JZ hasn't even been a coordinator) and another who has the worst winning percenatge of any manager in MLB history who has managed in at least 10 different seasons. So, the risk of replacing a Zorn or Riggleman is less because your "hurdle" for improvement is probably lower. Presumably the Redskins will give Zorn a long rope this year to find out if the second year in his "system" is the charm. Why? Because, above all things, the Redskins hate to be made to look foolish in public. Admitting mistakes is always Plan Z.


Roseland, N.J.: Is regular season dominance enough to guarantee Joe Girardi will be back next year, or would a first-round exit cause an itchy mini- Steinbrenner to make a change?

Tom Boswell: Getting the Yankees out of the playoffs in a hurry is going to be tough work. They have nine hitter with 64-to-118 RBI. That is ridiculous. Everybody can hurt you. usualkly, October is about pitching. So, you'd worry about A.J. Burnett, etc. But the Yanks may just club their way into the Series. I still don't think they'll win it. Hitting is always streaky -- even a team this deep in hitting. The old late-'70's Red Sox teams proved that even a 1-through-9 sacked lineup could go cold together.

So, we may yet have some Girardi drama.

By the way, Joe Torre looks years younger up close chatting in the dugout. Two years ago, I was watching him limp, sallow face, etc. Man, hope the Yankees don't do in this guy's health. Now, he seems like the guy from the late '90's.


D.C. in Washington, D.C.: U-G-G-L-A

Ain't your fault your name's that way You're Uggla! Hey hey, you're Uggla!

Tom Boswell: Thanks.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Who makes the call on how they are handling Ian Desmond in the field? I have to think it'd be Rizzo since Riggs is only here on an interim basis. But if Rizzo is in charge of the long term future of the Nats, why juggle Desmond's role so much, especially at such an impressionable time in his career? Are they banking on Espinosa as the future shortstop? Makes no sense ...

Tom Boswell: In a good organization, the brain trust talks -- Rig, Rizzo, Kasten. Bt, finally, the lineup belongs to the manager. Nobody told Manny who to put on the field. The Desmond-Guzman problem isn't easy. But I still think you can play Guzman 50% of the time at short. "Keep him fresh" late in the season, let him get his bunions and sore throwing shoulder feeling good. Play Desmond at SS the other 50% and have Desmond at 2nd most of the rest of the time. However, Riggleman does tend to have an old-school (and very nice) attatchment to veterans with proven records and hard-workers like Orr he seem to deserve a shot. But Desmond is a secial case, in my mind. His talent has always been touted. His defensive numbers in the minors are no worse than Jeter, Furcal, Tejada, Drew and others. And the guy hit .354 for a third of a season at AAA. What if, as Sheinin always writes, "the light went on."

Of course, September is always full of flase signals. Povich once told me, "Don't believe September." Rizzo says, "September scouting will get you fired."

Was it "September scouting" by the Nats of their own bullpen last year -- falling in love with Hinkley and Shell in September, as Bowden did, part of the '09 collapse? Yes.


Washington, D.C.: "above all things, the Redskins hate to be made to look foolish in public."

I don't think anybody makes them look foolish. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...

Tom Boswell: Okay, point taken.


Fairfax, Va.: Wait, the Redskins hate to be made to look foolish in public? That is all Danny has done for the past 11 years ...

Tom Boswell: We seem to have a consensus forming.

Weren't Portis' quotes the other day -- on every subject under the sun -- priceless? Just loved them. It's like having a file of Redskin quotes for every eventuality. They feel fresh if the team goes 11-5 or 5-11.

My son, the Redskins fanatic, now feels like defeat in Detroit is a certainty. I mentioned to him that, last year, when the Skins didn't have an offensive turnover in their first five games -- an NFL record -- that they weren't as good as they looked. The correct inferrence to make was that there woiuld be a reversion to the mean. And there was. I said, "That will happen again this year. They can't be this bad. They will have games when they score two or three offensive touchdowns -- because everybody does -- and with their good defense, they'll win those games. Given their schedule, some of them easily." Well, they should.

The defense is just FULL of hiters. As a group, I think they should be more intimidating. They have the potential to get opponent's fear, not just their respect. But they may have to bring more pressure -- not often, necessarily -- but with a wrath-of-God intensity, to get other team's attention. You need to plant the thought, "If we mss one assignment or don't spot one max-blitz, we could lose our QB for the season." hat element isn't there. It's just not a "nice" sport. Intimidation is part of it. A team with Haynesworth, Griffin, Fletcher, McIntosh, Landry, Horton and Orapko can really lay the wood.


Blacksburg, Va.: Going to try my luck with a college question. Huge match up here on Saturday (Miami vs. Virginia Tech) ... who do you like? Are you on board the Miami train along with what seems like everyone else?

Also, thanks for the great analysis!

Tom Boswell: Over the years, a couple of sports that I grew up loving, and covered for the Post, have taken a back seat ecause you can't be in two places at once. You can't send setyember and October, for example, on baseball, World Seres, Redskins and sometime Ryder Cup, but also say, "I'm a college football expert, too?" Oh, and you would be doing that when? Between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. on your off days? So, yes, I follow college football, especally Maryland -- they've been the local franchise since the '50's, long befre Va Tech. And I like the Fridge. (Not a popular stance at the moment, I admit. Theylook adsolutely awful.) But I'm not going to make predictions -- except this one: I'll be in the student section for the Maryland-Clemson game. Yes, that could get ugly.


Sec 114, Row E: Last week, you made a comment about the O's attendance and how they were holding on...

I disagree. - Against the Yankees, they averaged: 31,557 in 9 games. - Against the Red Sox, they averaged: 36,460 in 9 games. - Against everyone else, they averaged 20,614 in 60 games.

The Yanks and Red Sox fans are still propping up the Woes' attendance.

Tom Boswell: Yes, that's correct. But they always will. Or if the Yanks and Red Sox ever come back to pack, that may allow the O's to be competitive someday. So, all in all, their current rank at 20th in attendance -- ahead of 10 teams, despite 12 straight losing seasons and an outside shot at 100 loses this year -- is very solid. If 20th is what it looks like at The Bottom, that's not too bad, no matter where you get your fans.

However, I'd say that the Nats, coming off back-to-back worst-in-baseball seasons, are pretty lucky to be 24th in attendance, ahead of six teams. They were 29th early in the year. Wht's more interesting, however, is that the Nats would only have to draw 1,200 more a game -- Strasburg might do that or any team that came within sight of .500 -- would jump them up to 20thplace in attendance. However, Nats ticket pirces are so much higher than some of the teams that are 15th-to-20th in attendance, that a Nats team drawing 24,000 would be about 15th in baseball in revenue at the gate. They're at 22,568 now.


Arlington, Va.: One thing to remember about Riggleman is that he is still auditioning for the manager's job next year. So, he is less interested in evaluating players for next season as trying to squeeze as many wins as possible to increase his chance of staying.

Tom Boswell: A lot of truth in that. He's trying to win. Last nigth would have been an ugly loss if he'd tried to go to MacDougl for a six-out save only to see the game lost in the 9th. He took Mac out with the bases loaded, none out, the score tied and Ethier (31-103 RBI), Manny R and Kemp (25-97) coming up to face Burnett and then Rivera! Talk about staring doom in the face. Tey'd already had two errors in the inning by Guzman.

Then they get out of the inning with no more runs! And score in the bottom of the ninth by manufacturing a speed run with a Maxwell -7, sac, steal of 3rd and SF by Orr.

Strange spor. Ought to give them some 'energy." I noticed that Dukes, Zmmerman and Dnn all seemed genuinely excited for Orr in the celebration. I was surprised that some of the lesser players didn't seem as "into it" as these more talented guys whom you might think would be blase.


Bethesda, Md.: Tom,

I have a fairly serious question about umpiring this year. Let me begin by saying that I think that ML umpires are the best and most accurate officials in sports, college or pro, by a lot.

My concern is that many of them seem to be "going through the motions" this year. Maybe it is the presence of TV's K Zone (or whatever), maybe I'm getting cranky in my old age, maybe I'm seeing what I didn't used to (although I doubt that, since I spent a number of years as a paid umpire). The call on the bobble, by Dunn, in the eighth inning, last night, good call or bad, was inexcusable. The umpire used an out mechanic, then changed to a bobble.

Sorry, that is inexcusable. You wait a beat, then make the call. There have been a number of plays at second base (not necessarily in Nats games) where the umpire called a runner out in a double play situation, where the second baseman dropped the ball. The ball went straight down, which is usually considered the "tell" as to whether the ball was dropped (error, runner safe) or lost in the transition (runner out).

Now, I'm not advocating for instant replay, but just wondering what it happening here? I know that the umpires' contract is up, this year, and it seems to me that they are begging for a lockout, or whatever.

Tom Boswell: Interesting. Thanks. I'll ask around about some of these issues.

Last night Dukes made a great catch that was ruled a hit -- very tough call, but they got it wrong. And Bard made an amazing play at home to keep his foot on home plate (by an inch) on a wild throw by Guzman. That was missed, too. Also a very tough call. But, as you say, MLBumps have a reputation as the best. Anybody can get the easy ones right.


Clinton, Md.: I think the real question that isn't being asked about the Redskins is why their passing game doesn't utilize pass routes that seem to work so successfully for other NFL teams? Crossing routes, deep turn-ins, fades thrown to the back shoulder, and deep post patterns don't seem to be in their playbook. I see teams with less skilled receivers throwing to wide open receivers. (see the N.Y. Giants).

At some point Zorn is going to have to make his offense fit his players as the (Air Coryell) Gibbs did when he lost five in a row.

Tom Boswell: Crossing routes get little wide receivers killed. And the Skins big WRs have been a flop, so far. I think Kelly has a chance to be good enuff. And I'm hard to please. I proclaimed Heath S and Desmond H to be complete high-pick busts long before their first year was over.

Campbell has the arm for the deep turn-in. You saw the Colts use it in the 4Q of their win over the Wildcat. The next time the Redskins run a "back-shoulder route, it will be the first time I have seen them do it. The entire conceptof how to play defensive back has changedcompletely over the year. The ideathat you could cover a man with your back turned to the ball would have been considered insane for decades. Now, it's the least-bad technique. But, as a result, it means that back-shoulder and alley-ooop patterns, where the receiver knows what's going on but the DB is facing the wrong way, are part of every offense. Well, maybe not the Redskins. Hey, they seem to work for the Manning brothers.

By the way, the worship of the "wildcat" drives me crazy. But I'm also enjoing it to death. The wildcat is a nice hybrid mix of two ancient offenses -- the single wing and the triple option (probably with some Veer blocking schemes.) I played in the wildcat offense in the sixth and seventh grade for St. Stephens. But they had a different name for it then: THE SINGLE WING. Nobody wants to admit that what is (very, very) old is new again. This was my father's offense, for heaven sake, on his WVa state championship high school team in 1930. Same stuff. Spinners, crossbucks, wingback in moiton to take the handful, very few passes, but enough. An unbalanced line. (David Eisenhower and I were the two "fat tackles" on the unbalanced line on our 5th-6th grade team.) I've still got bibles ("sacred studies" class) that are filled with diagrams of blocking assignmments on single wing plays. So, now, I just laugh at the wildcat "innovation." In '63-'64, I ran the triple option (badly) in a sprint-out offense (precursor to the Houston Veer that Sleepy Thompson introduced in the IAC before Houston ever had it). Now, that stuff is "exotic." Give me a break. I can still "read" a defensive end in my sleep. (Unfortunately, that's all I can do. Awake, I'd probably trip myself if I tried to do the simplest option sequence.)

Okay, I guess that takes the record for "off-topic." Sorry.


L'enfant Terrible: At that PNC Park game, I noted that they used one scoreboard to indicate each pitch's break both vertically and horizontally, as well as speed when leaving the pitcher and at the plate. While I question the accuracy of the break numbers, the ability of technology to track the ball is indisputable.

So is there any reason why we shouldn't automate determination of balls and strikes? Yeah, I know the tradition argument, I know the "human element" argument, but seriously: Shouldn't we be trying to make correct calls in any way possible? I mean, they're using instant replay now. The umpires have already conceded that their fallibility.

Tom Boswell: I greatly prefer 162 games full of mistakes. Seriously, I do.

But I also greatly prefered baseball without the wild card. Now, on its 15th anniversary, I'd gladly admit I was completely wrong.


Sterling, Va.: Hi Mr. Boswell. Just a few comments.

I may be one of the handful that was encouraged by the Rams game. (Trust me, though I'm a fan, I share the same doubts about our team as the next fan.) Yeah, the score was embarrassing and we didn't get in the end zone, but I thought our play up to their 10-yard line was consistent and dare I say it, exciting. Sure, we were playing the Rams, but according to our modus operandi, I thought we were going to have maybe two good drives and several three and outs. Except that wasn't the case. We actually put together several nice drives.

It seems hard for me to believe that we couldn't get in because of the play-calling. I thought the halfback option was a good call; it just wasn't executed properly. (Would there be a controversy if Cooley had caught the pass?) The same with the 4th and goal play at the end. Would it have mattered if Portis had gone inside instead? Would that have kept their defensive line from pushing our guys back two yards? Looking at replays of key moments, I don't see how you can blame the play-calling when our players were unable to execute.

I'm not a big Zorn fan - I think he coaches too much like an ESPN analyst. But at least last Sunday, I thought he called a good game. He put our players in a situation to score time after time. At some point, the players are going to have to man-up and execute the plays. If this team had been the team facing the Dolphins on 4th and 1 some 16 years ago, I seriously doubt we would have gotten the first down, let alone the winning score.

Tom Boswell: Lot of good points. Can't answer all of them. Skins had drives of 83, 69, 53, 74 and 76 yards. That is extremely encouraging. The Rams are awful. But it's good against anybody. When I re-re-watched the game, I thought they played better than I'd thought on Sunday. (Just as I thought they'd played even worse against the Giants -- my fibal view on that is that they were almost dominated -- after I'd finished studying it.) You always hear the coaches say, "I won't know until I see the tape." ell, I'm not coach, but whatever your level of understanding of the game, it's very hard to apply it in real time. Even Joe Fan probably needs to review the tape.

I hated the Portis option play. Anybody on that defense who wasn't yelling "pass" or "fire" or whatever the Rams do, as soon as the ball was pitched, was behind some people in the press box.

I was shocked to learn, from Campbell's comments, that he isn't allowed to change out of plays inside the 10-yard line because of fear of missed communications! What!!!!!???? On the 4th-and-one Portis sweep left, the Rams were over-shifted to the left side. The TV announcer said, "They usually run left here behind Samuels and Dockery." And Campbell came right out and said, "We didn't have enough men on that side to get everybody blocked." He knew it before the snap but he had to run it anyway?

This is a professional operation? Can you magine a Gibbs QB, just to beat Zorn up with Joe, which is unfair but fun, saying, "It was the crucial gamble play of the game. I came to the line. I knew the play couldn't work. But I didn't have the option of changing the play that my genius coach had called. So, hell, I just ran it and got stuffed. Not my problem. Good thing the defense held 'em."

I think the technical expression is: Yikes!


Lost Springs, Wyo.: Another baseball record that will never be broken: Cal Ripken hit into 350 double plays!

Tom Boswell: He was the absolute worst I ever saw. Low-ball, line-drive hitters have this tendency. (Like Ryan Zimmerman). If you are also incredibly slow getting to 1st base -- Cal always carried a piano the first 10 strides -- it doesn't help.

I actually tweaked Total Average one year to include DPs because watching Cal proved to me that no comprehensive stat could ignore it -- because some players, like Cal and Rice -- hit into so many.


New York, N.Y.: Why not just have the Redskins, Wizards and Nationals all swap managers/head coaches?

Tom Boswell: The Cas' Boudreau could actually manage the Nas, I expect. Big baseball fan. Whatever he is, or sn't, as a head coach, Zorn is certainly "sports smarts," so I bet he could master another sport. Riggleman was a three-sport star and could probably coach/manage all THREE teams the best -- or least poorly -- because of his background.


L'enfant Terrible: Went up to see the Cardinals in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago and sat about eight rows behind the dugout in a seat with a face value of $27. Same seat at Gnats park: $75. Granted, it's fairly pathetic that the Pirates' market won't support higher ticket prices, but still.

I'd love to see ticket revenue estimates for all teams. I think the Gnats would fare better than most think.

Tom Boswell: I did a column studying that when the new park opened. The Nats upper deck -- every seat -- is one of the best bargians in baseball in a major market. The whoe park was built to bring the max number of seats asclose to HP as possible. nd they succeeded. The worst priced tickets were the bleachers. I tried to raise a stink about it and hope it was art of the reason about 8,000 seats got lowered in price out there after last season. Also, the lower boxes in both corners and the whole club/mezz level is a perfectly fine value for the money. The suites -- give me a break. And the 1,800 tickets behind HP -- the $150-to-$330 for-suckers-only -- are just what they look like: a trap for people with too much money and too little knowledge of baseball. I don't worry about them. All the rest of us are getting fair shake or in the upper deck a bargain.

If the team ever gets to .500, I'll be interested to see how the town reacts to the generally sane pricing. Will we "get it." I know I'm right on this one. I studied every section of every ballpark in baseball. (Yes, I am kinda obsessive. You can find 'em all on-line, even get a visal to "sit in the seat" for 20+ teams.

The Pirates seats, prices and views are, all in all, the best in baseball and (I'm trying to think) maybe the best in sports.


Sterling, Va.: With a number of Redskins players urging fans to "give it time, it will come," do you see the offense breaking out? Are the Redskins really that close, or are the players under some delusion?

Tom Boswell: Redskin players are, in general, delusional and have been for years. Portis quote that he really thinks the edskins have "the best talent in the NFL" is the atest example. But I could give you quoes like that from every one of the last 10 seasons. I walk in that lockeroom and think, "What alternate universe do these guys live in to think they are this good IN THE FACE OF ALLTHE EVIDENCE."

However, I also think they are better than they are playing. Hanyesworth can be a game-changer. Campbell is a erfectly decent QB. He just isn't as good as everybody wants. This isn't a town where you can say, "Hey, he's not bad. There are plenty worse. He'll never carry you to a Super Bowl. But he might not PREVENT you from goig to one if the rest of the team was great." People just respnd by screaming tha he's awful or he isn't being given a chance (or a proper offense). Only hsterical responses are satisfactory in Redskin discussions.

I keep hearing, "Disaster season." I keep thinking, "How do they avoid going 9-7?"


Harrisburg, Penn.: With Brad Lidge having the historically worst season ever for a closer with more than 30 saves (ERA at 7.48, 11 blown saves, record of 0-8, Opponents OPS at .950, 11 home runs, giving up 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts against), when is the tipping point where Charlie Manuel just puts anyone out there? It can't be worse than those numbers.

Tom Boswell: It's amazing to watch. Total implosion. One Nat said, "He can't get his curveball over. That was always his best pitch. So you just sit on his fastball. And he isn't locating that pitch as well as he used to, either."

You can't let him close a game in the post-season. Too bad. The photo of the '08 season was Lidge down on his knees after he'd clinched the Series and ended his perfect Relief Season.

This is the second timein his career that he's fallen apart. He rebuilt his career after the Pujols "to-the-moon" HR in Houston. Hope he can do it again. Madson (3.33 ERA, 14 saves) s having a good season. the ol' Red Devil's only choice is to go with him and cross his fingers that he can stand up to October pressure. The Phils have an amazing lineup that suits their park and both Lee and Hamels look sharp. But you can't repeat without asuperior closer. So, I don't like the Phils chances.

That's it for this week.Thanks again for all the great questions.


Washington, D.C.: Hey, Boz

Have you seen this level of outrage over the Redskins (or any D.C. team) in all your years of D.C. fandom? I haven't. I really think this has been bubbling for quite sometime, and it's more about how angry we are about Snyder than anything else. At least that's the case with me. I've absolutely had it with that guy and how he's ruined the team I've loved since childhood.

Tom Boswell: Malcolm Gladwell had a good book called, "The Tipping Point." There's a lot of social-interconnectedness in an idea "whose time has come." You're correct that this feeling exists around town, as if it had bubbled for years. I've been surpised by its strength and unanimity. Obviously, I felt it myself when I wrote my column earlier this month. (I usually tend to doubt things that suddenly become orthodoxy.) As I have written, I think it's only fair to understand that players and coaches on teams with unloved owners are "Not Guilty."


Washington, D.C.: Somewhat broad question here. I don't understand why the Nats are going to finish with almost exactly the same record as last season when the 2009 Nats are demonstrably better than the 2008 Nats.

The 2009 Nats have Adam Dunn, a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman, a healthy Nick Johnson (for four months), an improved John Lannan, and not anything close to the multitude of injuries the 2008 Nats suffered.

Granted, those things don't make them playoff contenders, but it should have bought them 5 to 10 more wins at least. Why have they made literally zero headway in the won-lost department?

Tom Boswell: Pythagoras.

The Nats "should" be 61-90.

Bll James has a stat "Pythagorean W-L" that estimates what a team's record should be -- given the number of runs it scores and the number it allows. There are several other variations on the formula. They all give almost identical results. They all back-test perfectly. Over long periods of time, even for one team, they are infallible.

But, within one season, you can have a fairly large "fluke" deviation from what a team's record "should" based entirely on how runs are distributed. Example: In a three-game series, a team can score 3, 5 and 7 runs. The other team can score 2, 4 and 6. Yet the team that scored more runs -- 15-to-12 -- can have a record in that series of 3-0, 2-1 or even 1-2. For example, they can win 7-6, 5-4 and 3-2. They could also win 7-2, but lose 6-5 and 4-3!

The Nats nine-game divergence from Pythagoras is one of the largest you will ever see. In evaluating "next season," always use Pythagoras.

This year, the Padres record "should be" 63-90. But, in reality, it is 70-83. Seven wins better than you'd expect.

The Nats "should be" 61-90. But they really are 52-99. Nine wins worse.

A huge gap between the two franchises of 16 wins from what "should" have happened.

Everybody always reacts to this by saying, "It can't just be a fluke. It can't just be random run distribution. There must be a reason. I'll find it and be a genius." Then they apply their advanced math degees, or psychology degrees, or business management backgrounds, to analyziung it for a few years, drive themselves crazy, and finally give up and agree with the rest of us: It's just a damn fluke. Or almost all a fluke. Of course, you won't believe me. (Part of me still believes, "It's the influence of the manager!") Call back in a few years after you've driven yourself crazy.

P.S.: By any and all measures, however, the Nats ARE the worst team in baseball. And by a gap of two-or-three games. They're just not THIS bad.


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