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Baseball postseason, Redskins, more -- Ask Boswell

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online to take all your questions about the baseball postseason, Redskins and more.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks you so much for today's feature on the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers. Loved it.

What do you consider the number one factor that prevented DC a baseball franchise for over 30 years? The reputation of NOT being a baseball town since we lost 2 franchises OR the blocking tactics employed by Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles franchise? I blame the latter. Am I wrong?

washingtonpost.com: Is it time for Washington baseball fans to 'forgive' the Texas Rangers?

Tom Boswell: Thanks very much.

Through the '70's, the "lost two teams" argument held sway. If the Short Senators has been better run, fielded a net-net .500 team through the '70's, then they'd have been in position to prosper along with the area's rapid growth in the '80's and '90's. I once did a piece on "attendance-per-victory" to show that, relative to the terrible teams the Nats fielded, Washington has, at worst, an average baseball town.

However, the Angelos factor, the "protect Baltimore" psychology, took over as soon as Camden Yards was built almost 20 years ago and sold out __48,000-a-night for many years. Nobody ever expected Baltimore to become a "goldmine franchise." Angelos wrecked that. But it took him a long time. The O's were in the ALCS in '96 and'97 and it looked like he could block Washington indefinitely, decency anddemographics be damned. But, by 2004, he'd run the O's so completely off the road that there was no Baltimore gold mine left to protect. So, when Washington got creative ballpark financing done __with lots of emphasis on taxes the tickets, parking, concessions, etc., of Maryland and Virginia fans who came to Nats Park__ the window opened to get a team back.

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Section 215, Row A: Tom:

What do you make of the all-road wins in the ALDS? Simply an anomaly, right? Please say this does not bode well for the Yankees.

Tom Boswell: Strictly a fluke. Never before. Probably won't see it again for many years. Home field matters in the playoffs. Not as much in baseball as NFL and NHL _-except in the case, perhasps, of the Yankees. It is really hard, psychologically, to close them out in The Big Ballpark. The Red Sox cracked that mythology in '04. But it still exists for novice post-season teams like Texas.

It'll be much less difficult __I won't use the word "easy"__ for the Rangers, with their humble origins, to close out the Yanks in a Game Six or Seven in Texas. And, if thwey get to a Game Seven, the "Lee Factor" is enormous. The Yanks fear him after the '09 Series, as they should, and my have to torque their pitching and strategy to avoid him.

It reminds me of how much the '86 Mets (a great team, rather than a very good one like these Yanks) feared Mike Scott (306 K's, 2.22 ERA) with the Astros. They were convinced they couldn't beat him in a Game Seven. But the Mets pulled out a win in a marathon GameSix and got their world title.

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Fairfax, VA: Boz: As a Skins fan, I'm glad to see what is happening in Dallas. But can you explain their poor performance thus far?

Tom Boswell: The Cowboys are overrated, just as they are every year, like every Yankees and Lakers team of our lives. I've always hated 'em all. In fact, they may be the only three teams in any pro sport that I dislike. (Thereare a lot of scummy college basketball and football programs that I enjoy seeing lose.)

At this point, I'd like to include a (long) post on the Redskins season so far. It's practically a columnb. But what can I say, I'm a nut. If the subject doesn't interest you, just skip it. There will be plenty of shorter answers on different subjects.

The Redskins are finally deep enough into their season to have enough stats (five games) to start a sensible analysis. Two points jump out. The Redskin's defense is LAST in yards allowed, yet they have a 3-2 record even though their offensive yardage is mediocre.

How?

As always in the NFL, when you're confused, look at __by far__ the most important factor in the sport over our lifetimes: turnovers.

The Redskins have only turned the ball over four times this year and only once by fumble __a rate of 12.8 turnovers for a full season. Can that continue? To a degree, yes, because Donovan Mcabb's greatest strength __which he proved for 10 years in Philadelphia__ is that he protects the ball as well, and maybe even better, than any QB in the NFL in the last decade. I'll document that later.

But, on the whole, no, the Redskins are very unlikely to stay on anything like a 13-tunrover pace. As excellent as McNabb was in Philly at preventing turnovers __he has the lowest interception rate in NFL history__ he still never had an Eagle team with less 22 turnovers.

The Redskins are just like the whole when it comes to turnovers; they've averaged 28 turnovers-a-year for the last 20 years. (Including 28 last year.)

If the Skins continue to allow tons of yardage on defense but revert to the league norm on offensive turnovers for the rest of the year (which would be 1.7 X 11 = 19 turnovers in the last 11 games), what will happen? Against the schedule they face, they'd probably finish under .500, maybe by quite a bit. Like 7-9, despite the 3-2 starts? Yes, like that.

It's unlikely their offense is going to get much better, given current injuries and personnel. So, the defense is going to have to get much better at basic yardage prevention for the season to work out well. Can it? Absolutely. The Skins were 10th last year and 4th in '08 in yards allowed. True, the scheme has changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That makes it harder.

But the Skins defense just can't be this bad. Though facing Peyton Manning doesn't do much for most teams stats __or W-L record. I'd think the Skins defense will give up less yardage, but the return to normal on offensive turnovers would result in a net negative over the rest of the year. It's going to be hard to get to the kind of 9-7 or 10-6 season that people are now discussing.

It's certainly possible. Close wins are inspirational. But inspiration only goes so far. You can't stay turnover free forever. Nobody does. The Redskins have never had less than 17 in a year.

Have the Skins improved in takeaways. That's the general preception. But it's a bit exaggerated, unfortunately. Yes, they've gone from horrible __18 and 17 the last two seasons__ to a little below mediocre this year on a pace 25.6 takeaways.

Here's the good news. As long as the Skins have McNabb at QB, they'll probably have a buiult-in advanatge of the league in turnovers of about +4 a season. In his decade as Eagles starter (136 of 160 games in the '00's), Philadelphia turned the ball over at a pace of 25 turnovers-per-season vs. the NFL average in the decade of 29-a-game.

That's a bigedge. It's almost all in McNabb's avoidance of interceptions. As far as fumbling goes __an overlooked element in evaluating NFL QB's__ he's about average for a top QB. In Philly, he fumbled 83 times in 10 years, recovered 16 fumbles (almost all his own). That means he created a net of 67 loose fumbles __about .4384-a-game. That's similar to Tom Brady (.414) and Favre (.420) and better than Brees (.472) or Eli Manning (.521).

Peyton Manning, because of his quick release, football brains and great O-line, averages only a net of .188 fumbles-per-game. He's a freak.

To sum up: never over look turnovers. There is no one stat in any sport __yeah, except "points"__ that even approaches the importance of turnovers. In games when you win the turnover battle, you win between 80-to-85 per cent of the time. With other stats, even yardage, you have a tough time getting more than 60-percent coorelation.

McNabb has really imprved the turnover picture. If/when the defense stops giving up such ridiculous amounts of yardage __or becomes a takeaway machine__ the Redskins will look like a playoff contender again. Could that be this year? Possible. But the 3-2 record is hiding some worrisome trends with ultra-low Skins turnovers and ultra-hig Skins yardage allowed.

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Bethesda, MD: Tom, on TV recently your colleague Dave Shenin was quite dismissive of the idea that Cliff Lee would consider the Nats, and more generally, of the notion that the Nats were a viable free agent destination. He explained that we landed Dunn a few years ago because everyone else took a pass. He said that the picture had NOT changed, and that the Nats would really have to overpay big time to land a free agent who was in demand. What's your view?

Tom Boswell: Unfortunately, I agree completely. I've continued to work the Nats-Free-Agents story in recent days.

First, I still don't like their chances of resigning Adam Dunn at all. Here's what's sad: According to a good Nats source, the team has changed its mind in recent weeks and now wants Dunn back. "We completely botched this negotiated, every aspect of it," said one Nats insider.

Nats fans don't know how much they helped their cause when they CHEERED Dunn after he struck out the fourth time in the Nats last home game of the season. He'd hit a walk-off homer the previous night and fans chanted "Sign Adam Dunn" in all four at bats of his last game as, he said, he tried too hard to please them and went K-K-K-K. One person close to Dunn texted him that "Wherever you sign, I hope it's a town where they cheer you after you strike out four times."

Dunn considered that a good point.

But it looks like the Cubs, now that they no longer have D Lee at 1st, will probably go after Dunn. "A four-year contract is nothing to the Cubs,' said one long-time baseball executive. "The Cubs still can't forget that they picked Milton Bradley __for three years__ when they could have signed Dunn instead after the '08 season. The Bradley-Dunn thing just drives them crazy and they want to correct the mistake.'

Dunn feasts on Wrigley Field with a career OPS there of over 1.100. If he signs with the Cubs, and I think the chances of that are better than his home-town Houston or Washington, then he'll hit 45 homers ayear, not the 40.3 homers that he's averaged the last SEVEN straight years.

There's no way the Nats get Cliff Lee. Just big talk. They can "overbid" all they want and it won't be enough, just like Teixeira. The probelm is that the Nats probably can't make a trade for a Garza or Greinke without giving up a multi-player package including a Desmond, Espinosa or Zimmermann. As for pitchers like Ted Lilly, isn't he another Jason Marquis.

Mike Rizzo has really made the case that the Nats will get a top of the rotation starter for next year __or even two pitchers. I don't see how they are going to do it. With Kasten leaving and big talk that may not pan out, they are setting themselves up to disappoint fans. They better understand it.

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Nats Off Season: Hi Tom,

If you were Rizzo, and had blank checks signed by the Lerners, what would you do to improve the Nats this off season?

Tom Boswell: No one with the Nats has ever had a blank check for anything.

No one has ever filed an expense account that wasn't checked, rechecked and rerechecked and maybe sent back.

Improving an MLB team is about increasing revenues. And to do that, you need to win games. The Lerner fortune was not built primary on concern for revenues, but, first, on tight budgets and managing expenses. I've never seen an MLB team succeed on that basis, though it works in plenty of other businesses and obviously has worked for the Lerners.

How can you be worth $2.5-billon, buy a baseball team in your home town, then run the team at least $20-million-a-year, and probably more like $30-million under a normal MLB budget for a comparable market?

The Nats have made considerable progrss in the last 22 months under Rizzo and Kasten. On the baseball side, things have changed __to a degree. And the Nats got incredibly lucky that in the two years when they were really bad they were 1) absolutely the worst and 2) had Strasburg and Harper available as draft picks. They should capitalize on this good fortune.

A blank check isn't needed. But a BIGGER check might bring really remarkable rewards to the fans, the team and the whole family that owns the team.

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Anonymous: Lee against the Yankees in last year's World Series was hardly as dominant as was Scott against the Mets. The Yankees hit Lee pretty hard in Game 5. I also think having Thames and Berkman will help them even more against.

Tom Boswell: When it comes to "unhittable," not just "dominant," the game I can't wait to see is Saturday night in Philly between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum __The Doc, comeing off a no-hitter Vs. The Freak, coming off 14 K's.

A reader sent me an interesting note saying that "standing on the mound, taking the sign, there is no one who looks quite like Lincecum. The pose, the haircut, the expression on his face: he looks like a character out of Shakespeare. It's as if he knows he's going to be the bearer of bad tidings to the hitter, and while regrettable, it simply must be done."

That got me thinking about this Elizabethan "bearer of bad tidings." In movies, the executioner, the psycho bad guy, sometimes gets that anti-style straight-long-haired-zombie look.

Just for flare, uniqueness, a skrawny kid who overpowers, Lincecum may be my favorite pitcher to watch. His delivery came from his father who thought that the bio-mechanics of the pitching delivery hadn't been maximized and came up with theories for Tim to be more limber __to the point of "freakishness" in ways he could contort his body. In person, he's as pale and hollowed out looking as a vampire, like he hasn't slept in a year or, maybe, sleeps hanging upside down.

He "jumps" at the hitter better than anybody these days. One split second he's still winding up, then the next instant the ball is already out of his hand. Optical illusion? Builds up torque, then releases it quickly? Don't know. But hitters talk about how hard it is to time him, how the ball is "on you" even faster than the mp.h., which is now "down" to 90-94. That's one reason, when he's on, that you get so many ridiculous swings at pitches that miss the plate by 6 inches or more. It's like his pitches come equipped with a Halloween "Boo!!" that makes the hitter jumpy. When teams are patient, they have better luck. But how many teams are patient in the post-season! An extra edge.

Everything about him makes the hitter uncomfortable, maybe "spooks" them like they are looking at this pale ghoul. Part of what gives some pitchers an extra dimension is an undefinable quality in their delivery that makes them different, hard to pick up __Marichal, Spahn, Satchel, Fernando, Dice-K when he was good and many others. And it's why, as a last resort, many go to a herky-jerky delivery even if they worry it will hurt their arm. Locally, Sean Burnett has mechanics so weird even he says he doesn't understand them and has to rediscover them every year. But once he's "on" he's better than his stuff would seem to indicate. Even his hat is on crooked.

The first time I saw Strasburg it was from right behind Pudge in a side session, from the angle of a RH hitter. With his release point, the ball seems to jump out of his shirt front. Odd. Don't know why. But I think it's part of the reason that he's much more effective to RH hitters and from a windup. Most pitchers show that tendency, but Strasburg's splits are really extreme. Almost unhittable. But his stats are average or even below average to LH hitters and from a windup. (Lots of room to improve!)

Lincecum sure is fun. The only way to hit him is to make he throw strikes __iow, don't expand the strike zone. But that is so hard to do. If anybody can, it's the Phillies.

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Centreville, VA: Can the Wizards void Arenas's contract because he lied to his employer for not showing up to work?

Tom Boswell: I only wish they could.

Arenas is a child. The trouble-making kid in elemenary school who can be charming __I always seemed to end up being that kid's friend__ but you know he has problems and will do anything to constantly attract attention, distract the class from the teacher to him. My mother weas a public school teacher at one tiume and was especially good with boys like this. She's make them here "helper" or special assistant __in other words, co-opt them as co-teacher or partner. Can Flip really run a team of NBA adults (hold the snickers) when he has to treat Arenas the way my mom treated the troubled second-third-fourth graders that her heart went out to?

Gilbert will be a nightmare until he is gone. And he will probably be a nightmare to any team wherever he goes. But he may not be as big a nightmare somewhere else. Now, if the Wiz can just convince one team __any one team__ to be stupid enough to buy that idea and take Arenas off their hands (at almost any price).

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New York, NY: What do you see as the Orioles top priorities for the offseason? And any specific targets? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: They need a 275-pound lefthanded-hitting cleanup hitter who can play 1st base 100-to-120 times a season, then DH the rest of the time to stay fresh and see if he can hit 45 homerswith 120 RBI in cozy Camden Yards.

I have no idea where they could find one. And I doubt there is any way that you could write an ironclad multi-year Albatross Contract that VOWS that the O's will keep this large fellow at 1st base, even if the manager or GM changes during the course of the contract.

So, if they can't get a Dunn-key, they need the next closest clean-up approximation. Boy, that's a short list. Out of all free agents, which are TRUE 100-RBI No. 4 hitters? Werth has never had 100 RBI. Lance Berkman now bats 8th for the Yanks. Carlos Pena is now a 6th or 7th hitter. Can you get Paul Konerko? Would he come?

What the O's need is very hard to find.

Of course, the Nationals have a player just like that and they wouldn't offer him a three-year contract before the tradinmg deadline. To each his own (lunacy).

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Turnovers: Hey Bos, right now the Ravens are minus 6 in turnovers, yet are 4-1. Does that mean they will play even better once they cut down on turnovers? Or will the turnovers catch up to them and they will play worse?

Tom Boswell: A great turnover-takeawy ratio doesn't necessarily have to catch up with you in the same season. It can (very rare) run to almost insane extremes.

The '83 Redskins of Joe Gibbs had a +43 on turnovers!!! That was 61 takeaways vs 18 turnovers. In the last 30 years, no other Redskin team has been better than +18.

Of course, the '83 Skin went 14-2 before losing the Super Bowl to the Raiders.

I'd say the Ravens are very impressive going 4-1 with a -6 in turnovers. Even if there is reversion, they're still mighty mean.

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Lynchburg, Va.: Right now, I'd have to say my "dream" World Series would be Phillies-Rangers because of the juicy Halladay-Lee subplot. You can argue that the Phils need a second World Series win to elevate themselves above similar mini-dynasties, such as the '69-'71 Orioles or the '88-'90 Athletics (or even above the Phils of the Schmidt-Carlton era in the eyes of locals). Heck, the previous "big red machine" in Cincinnati wasn't really validated until it won two World Series.

Tom Boswell: Good point.

I';m amazed at how few dynasties there have been in the N.L. Everybody now notes that the Phils are the first N.L. team to go to three straight Series since the Cardinbals during World War II. Well, since when does anybody include WWII baseball as meaningful? Good that they had it, but...

To find the last REAL N.L. dynasty that went to at least three World Series in a row, you have to go all the way back to the New York Giants of '21-'22-'23-'24!

The Yankees warp out view of what is "normal" because they have used their advanatge in wealth for so long to build a sequence of dynasties. They probably did something right somewhere along the way, besides just send money and, in the old days, treat Kansas City like another farm team, but I keep forgetting what it was.

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I'm Over It: Hi Boz,

Good column today. Like you, I was a youth here when the Senators left town. I held a grudge against Bob Shor and disliked the Rangers for a long time. I am over it and am glad that they have moved to a level that I hope the Nats will achieve in the next few years. If our spinoffs - the Twins and Rangers - can do it, so can our Nats!

Tom Boswell: The Twins won depsite having to overcome a rock-stupid racist as owner in Griffith; I sat next to him on a bus ride to a World Series game and didn't think I'd ever met a more stupid or offensive person in any position of authority. And the Rangers overcame the era of owner Tom Hick, the current gold standard for boneheaded.

You don't have to have a great owner or even a good one. The baseball people can overcome a lot. But it helps not to have downright bad ownership. As the Lerners have evolved over the last couple of years, the Nats have probably escaped thast fate. But I was worried. They still have a long, long way to go. Lets make this simple: If Kasten thought that the lerners were even "good" owners, there is nobody in baseball who thinks he would have left. So, how much below "good" does he really think they are? You'll probably have to wait for his memoirs to find out. I wonder when the light first came on for him that he wasn't in the job he thought he'd bargained for? I keep carbon-dating the moment of disillusionment. Could he have sensed problems by late '06? How much of his "Plan" talk was conviction, how much snakeoil and how much was self-hypnosis? It started at 100% convinction, I'm sure of that. He just won't talk about it. But one of his friends told me recently, "Stan says he'd forgotten how good it felt to sleep through the night."

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Brooklyn, NY: "there is no one who looks quite like Lincecum."

Then you haven't seen Dazed and Confused. He is the spitting image of Mitch Kramer. Apparently I'm not the only one who has noticed this...

Tim Lincecum vs. Mitch Kramer

Tom Boswell: Thanks!

I actually thought of buying "Dazed and Confused" last night ("On Demand") with no good sports to watch. I'd never seen it. But I decided to watch "Reservoir Dogs" just one more time. Hadn't seen it in years. Tarantino must be the biggest, saddest waste of talent in movies in my time. Two movies and then sell-out junk. "Fool for Love" by Sandy Rogers plays in the background as Tim Roth talks to himself in the mirror, building up his courage to be the undercover cop.

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Navy Yard: Boz -

Is Mike Rizzo really serious that Nyjer Morgan is the Nats centerfielder of the future? He's just saying that for public consumption, right? Just trying to "up" Nyjer's value for a possible trade, right?

Nyjer in centerfield for the Nats? Say it ain't so!

Tom Boswell: Rizzo sure talks a good game on Nyjer: The hits didn't fall in for him this season, etc.

It's probably tough to back off the first trade as GM that you made that looked like a big hit and has just turned out to be quite nice with Sean Burnett the type of lefty that's hard to find. I suspect Mike hopes to give Morgan one more chance next spring. I'd be looking more at Bernadina in CF. His bat is a fit there, but probably not good enough for LF. Or a Bernadina/Maxwell platoon in CF.

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NY NY: Do you think there would be any possibility the Skins try and create a package that includes Haynsworth to try and pick up Vincent Jackson? I feel like we're missing out on a lot of what McNabb might be able to bring by not providing him with a legit #1 receiver. One true deep ball threat for those bombs McNabb likes to throw.

Tom Boswell: Any package with Haynesworth in it is a good package. But there aren't any. He's had one pretty good game out of five. And that's about what he's going to give you in this defense and in his current state of mind. Do you really want that in your room?

Shanny inherited 10 years of mistakes. It takes a while to work your way through all the junk.

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Getting over losing a team: Hey Bos, I grew up in Baltimore and it took years to getting over the Colts. I didnt really get over it until the Ravens won the Super Bowl. I felt good that Baltimore won a Super Bowl before Indianapolis. DC still has a shot to win a World Series before Texas does. Maybe that is what will provide final closure?

Tom Boswell: That would definitely do the job!

And a fine note to end on. Thanks again. Off to Philly for Halladay-Lincecum, then Skins-Indy, then Cliff Lee in Game Three in Yankee Stadium next Monday night. Nice trifecta. Ought to be plenty more to talk about by next Thursday!

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