Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition


Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

So, I’ve been quiet on the blog front lately.  Not much to write about right now, other than the injury bug that seems to be going around camp.  Max Scherzer named the opening day starter; I guess that’s news for a Monday.

Lets peek at today’s Tom Boswell 3/23/15 chat to see what kind of questions he fielded.  Despite it being post-March Madness, there’s still some baseball talk going on.  As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Say the Nats are under .500 after a couple of weeks. Will a full-scale panic start, or are team and fans’ nerves stronger than that?

A: Maybe the media’s panic will set in, but probably not the fans.  If the team is sub .500 after two months … you’d have to start asking some questions.  Same kind of questions we asked basically all of 2013.  Of course, that being said, the Nats’ early-season calendar isn’t exactly challenging:  10 of their first 11 series of the year are against teams that were sub .500 last year.  Now, we are expecting some of these teams (especially Boston, San Diego, Miami) to be much improved from last year … but the point remains.  The team has no excuse to not come out of the gates firing.  Boswell notes that if all the current injured Nats remain hurt on 4/1 … that fans will expect a long April.  He then goes on a long tangent about how screwed up the Dodgers are right now.

Q: Notwithstanding Taylor’s excellent weekend; I don’t understand why Williams would bat him lead-off (regardless of Taylor’s leadoff “skills”) but wouldn’t bat Harper higher than sixth.  Does Williams have a double standard for prospects not named Harper?

A: A good question.  Certainly some people have questioned Matt Williams‘ ongoing public criticisms of Bryce Harper.  Why call him out, in the media, for his supposed transgression of baiting the runner into trying for second?  Dude; its the 2nd week of March; it isn’t a big deal.  Except by calling him out in public, it *becomes* a big deal since Harper is such a lightening rod in the National media (deserved or not).  My two cents: there’s no lack of evidence coming out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization over the last few  years about the institutional bull-headedness concerning “the right way to play” and other old-school baseball idioms, and it seems to me that Williams has continued his dogged old-school ways as the on-field leader of the Nats.  Is this a good thing?  Probably not.  Harper is talented enough to back up his actions (see last year’s NLCS when Harper was one of only two Nats hitters to bother making the trip to SF).  But will this conflict become a distraction?  Will it drive Harper from this team eventually?

Sorry for that tangent.  To answer the question at hand; with Denard Span out, *someone* has to bat lead off, and if you’re an “old school” guy who do you pick?  Do you pick the skinny, fast center fielder?  Or do you take a smarter look at your hitter capabilities?  I guess we’ll see.  Boswell says that Taylor batted leadoff in the minors, so he’s ok there.  Uh; the bush leagues playing infront of a few hundred people isn’t quite the majors.  Oh, and Boswell conveniently “explains” why Harper was batting 6th too.  Williams, the old-school manager for the old-school baseball writer Boswell.

Q: Why is Pete Rose back in the news with regard to reinstatement?

A: Because new commissioner Rob Manfred was dumb enough to engage Pete Rose‘s request?   The Dowd report was a pretty galling chronicle of Rose’s activities.  I think Rose appears as a sympathetic figure because of the ardor to which former commissioner Bart Giamatti pursued his penalty.  I too was sympathetic to Rose, feeling like baseball went far out of its way to rid themselves of him at the time.

But, now with time and retrospection, Rose’s sins were pretty bad.

I think the best way for baseball to deal with the likes of Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and perhaps others will to eventually create a special election with large caveats to their enshrinement.  Yes these players were among the best in the game … but broke cardinal sins against the game.  Imagine a veteran’s committee designed to create a permanent special exhibit in Cooperstown dedicated to great players who have clouds surrounding their names.  I dunno.  The cynical part of me says that the museum based in upstate New York has no incentive to *ever* stop the rhetoric surrounding these guys.  It gets tiresome to argue about the *same things* over and over … but we do it anyway, year after year.

Boswell coincidentally advocates for Rose for the HoF but not an active role in the game. 

Q: With the Nats celebrating ten years in the District, do you have any random memories that stand out since they’ve been in town?

A: I put out a post periodically that talks about “Best games” in Nats history.  This question kind of feels like the games captured in this post and in the comments.   No need to re-answer.

Q: Who deserves the opening day start?

A: You can make a pretty cogent argument for any of the three of Strasburg, Scherzer or Zimmermann.  Strasburg since he’s gotten three straight such starts and normally you don’t replace the home-grown “Ace” of a team.  That’d be my choice and my argument, coincidentally.  Zimmermann b/c of his no-hitter last year and generally accepted stance as the “actual” best hurler on the team.  But its now known that Scherzer is getting the nod (not a real big surprise once you saw how the rotation was laid out starting from early spring).  For me (as noted in the prior thread’s comments), Scherzer is the only guy with a Cy Young to his name, so it isn’t surprising that players’ manager Williams goes with the veteran with the most career accomplishment in that ceremonial spot.  Works for me; we just bought our opening day tickets (we’re in section 131 I think) so I look forward to seeing him pitch.  Boswell says that Strasburg’s sore ankle cost him the spot.  BS. 

Q: With the likelihood of multiple starters starting the season on the DL, how do you see that effecting the bench players on the roster.

A: We’ve talked about this before, but clearly it means that at least one, perhaps two NRIs are getting opening day jobs.  And it means that some options-limited guys are getting shots too.  If Span is out a month, Werth can’t make opening day, if Rendon is down and out, if Escobar can’t get enough reps … that’s a lot of spots to fill.  For me, just guessing, i’d say the team heads north with Tyler Moore, Tony Gwynn Jr, Michael Taylor and maybe Ian Stewart to start the season.  Dan Uggla?  Numbers are good; lots of walks.  But he can’t play 3B (not well, presumably) and its 3B where the team might need some cover.  Boswell is more bullish on Uggla, thinking he’d be a huge steal.  I dunno; can’t play SS, doesn’t bat lefty. 

Q: Are there going to be any longer-term impacts to demoting Tanner Roark to the bullpen?

A: Maybe.  Is it a coincidence that Roark has the worst starter stats of any pitcher this spring?  Probably not; spring training NRIs have a tendency to be uber aggressive, and minor league defenders aren’t always adept at catching the ball when playing out of position.  Maybe not; Roark’s attitude has sounded great, and he’s hopefully being told that he’s first in line and likely will get a big number of starts filling in for the inevitable injuries.  He’ll have his rotation spot back next year for sure.   Boswell doesn’t think so.

Q: If the Nats don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year (assuming they will make it), do you think the fans develop the same anxiety that Caps fans have over the years?

A: Yes.  Two playoff appearances, two “best record in the majors” and two impotent first round exits to wild cards.  If the Nats fail in 2015, then  yeah we may begin to wonder what’s going on.  Boswell points out that the Caps have one of the worst track records in professional sports.

Q: What is your opening day lineup (including who leads off) given the injury spate?

A: If it were me?  If we assume that everyone who is  hurt is *not* making it to opening day, I’ll go with something like this:

Escobar-Desmond-Harper-Zimmerman-Ramos-Moore-Frandsen-Taylor pitcher.  Escobar at 2B, Moore in LF, Frandsen at 3B and Taylor in CF.  Not a great lineup.

A better assumption is that Rendon and Werth will make opening day, which makes the lineup a lot easier.  Escobar-Rendon-Harper-Zimmerman-Werth-Desmond-Ramos-Taylor-pitcher.  When Span returns, put Escobar at #8 and that’s that.

Boswell doesn’t give a leadoff-suggestion, but using induction by reduction, he’s likely pushing for Escobar at lead-off too.

Q: Is it time to cut the cord on Espinosa?

A: Not until you find someone else who can play short stop in a pinch who isn’t already slated to start.  Boswell gives a non-answer too.  I don’t feel bad.


Off Topic: my thoughts on Lance Armstrong


Sorry Lance, your 7 titles are no longer. Photo AP via

(Editor’s note: on this holiday workday when nobody’s likely reading baseball blogs, I’m clearing a topic that i’ve been collecting links and thoughts on for the better part of a year.   For months and months I’ve collected URLs for stories related to Armstrong.  I think part of this post is merely a cathartic cleansing of this draft blog post from the my WordPress instance so that I don’t have to look at it any longer.  But if you’re interested, read on.  This is a nice little timeline of events that led to his downfall at the end).

For months and months, I defended Lance Armstrong as being somewhat victimized by what I thought was an over-zealous pursuit of him based on evidence that wasn’t “court of law” worthy.   I think at the beginning I may possibly have thought he didn’t cheat, I definitely defended him in arguments among friends, saying that hearsay and testimony did not equate to scientific evidence in my mind.   The Tyler Hamilton interview on 60 minutes was pretty damaging though, and I began to waver in my beliefs that perhaps Armstrong was just the sole guy in a sea of cheaters.  After the federal case was dropped but the USADA case kept going, I began literally to feel like some sort of national witch hunt was underway, and my defense of Armstrong was less about his guilt or innocence and more about not agreeing with the vendetta that was clearly against him in the eyes of certain people (the head of the USADA Travis Tygart, Christine Brennan at the USA Today, etc).

Coincidentally, I hadn’t felt this way since the Pete Rose situation, where I felt like former baseball commisioner Bart Giamatti spent far too much time going after Rose, to the point where the pursuit of Rose felt like it was a personal vendetta.  (Coincidentally, if you’ve read the Dowd report, and if you’re familiar with the Rose situation, you’ll realize that my “feelings” were really misplaced.  My Dad in particular has zero sympathy for Rose, nor does a lot of the baseball community, and after going back and reviewing the literature at the time I realize that my “memory” of the time period was skewed.  I was a bit too young to really understand the issues at hand).  For the USADA’s head, I thought this was similarly a personal vendetta gone wrong.   I wasn’t alone; see the links below for congressional outrage over the findings this summer from those who thought the same vendetta thoughts.

Its clear now, I was foolish to ever defend him, even in casual sports-fan conversations.  Not only was he a fantastic cyclist and an inspiration to an entire generation of cancer fighters and survivors, he was also apparently the ring-leader of the greatest doping scheme ever concocted.  He tested negative for PEDs hundreds and hundreds of times over his career.  He kept clean while hundreds of his fellow riders were found to be dirty.  That’s an achievement.

What I don’t get is this: why would Armstrong admit to this now?  He’s already stripped of his wins, he’s already banned from competitions, he’s already resigned from Livestrong, he’s already lost his sponsors, and he’s already being sued by former sponsors and others looking to recoup losses.  What is his motivation now?  I mean, you’ve lied for 10 years, why not continue to live the lie at this point and keep the bravado up.   I don’t know.  Perhaps its just as simple as releasing the burden of guilt.  But what has changed now in January of 2013 vis-a-vis this guilt versus the last decade or so?  Does he really want to get his name cleared just so he can compete in triathalons on the side?   Does he think that he can get his ban reduced now, after all that has happened?

Apparently the question was asked and answered in the 2nd part of the interview (which I havn’t gotten to yet; having a newborn at home gets in the way of little things like TV, sleep, etc) and the answer seems to be “Guilt.”  Guilt on Armstrong’s part as he watched his 13-yr old son defend his father’s honor to a friend.  His confessions seem more understandible now.  This point is confirmed in this link here (which is also on the below timeline).

Personally, I view cycling similarly to the way I view all the runners in the 1988 Olympic game 100meter final.  The entire sport was a mess (is still a mess?), and if you weren’t cheating you weren’t trying to win.  That’s a shame to say, but by most accounts it seems to be true.   I’m not as concerned about his legacy or his wins or records; just like Barry Bonds‘ 73 homer season, we’ll always have to explain away his accomplishments as being artificially accomplished.  I don’t have children who are old enough to have idolized Armstrong and who now need to be told that he cheated, so perhaps i’m more than a bit jaded.  I’m also not a massive cycling fan who now feels cheated by this admission.

Here’s the collection of links that more or less follow the timeline, starting mostly with Hamilton’s 60 minutes interview, which seems to really have set off the chain of events that led to his Oprah Winfrey interview.

I think this about covers it.  I’m publishing this blog posting and probably will never talk about Armstrong  again.  And in about 15 minutes, i’m guessing America will do the same.

Written by Todd Boss

January 21st, 2013 at 11:01 am