Picking Splinters: U.S. Open, Capital Fixes & More in the Mailbag

The U.S. Open at Bethpage Black is up this weekend. Can this year’s Phil Mickelson story possibly top last year’s drama between Tiger and Rocco Mediate?

B. Hogan
The 19th Hole

No. Flat out, no. I don’t think there’s a soul out here in sports land who wouldn’t like to see Mickelson do well in honor of his wife, who is battling cancer. He is clearly the fan favorite. But last year, there were two fan favorites. And last year, we all saw something that we’ll likely never see again for at least 10 years – Tiger Woods as an underdog.

It took a bum knee to do it, but Tiger Woods looked beatable last year, battling Rocco Mediate, the classic everyman, to a playoff and eventually grimacing his way to a win. It was great watching the gallery cheer for Rocco, who has scrapped for every dollar he’s won on the tour. And it was utterly awesome watching one of the greatest sportsmen of our time overcome a catastrophic injury to win a major tournament. Even if Phil wins, as great a Hallmark moment as it would be, I don’t know if it has that same awe factor.

That said, bring it home, Lefty.

The Washington Capitals are heading for an interesting offseason, eh? What do you think their top priority should be?

B. McKenzie
Great White North

First off, I don’t really understand how Brent Johnson and Jose Theodore are comfortable playing golf together, as the Washington Post reported last week. Shouldn’t they be crouched behind a saloon window shouting things like, “There ain’t room in this town for the both of us!”?

If the Caps can find a taker for Theodore, they’ll jump, I’m sure, but I think the goaltending issue works itself out in camp. The blue line is the big area of concern.

Yes, I’m aware that my peers at ESPN Insider are calling for a big power forward. And yes, the Capitals desperately need a hulking crease crasher, but the value of a shutdown defenseman cannot be understated. Just look at the Stanley Cup finals.

Sidney Crosby couldn’t shake Nicklas Lidstrom all series and ended up a tangential contributor to their series victory. Chris Pronger shut down Pavel Datsyuk in similar fashion when the Ducks and Wings locked up earlier in the playoffs. True, both Pronger and Lidstrom lost those series, but take away a team’s top scoring threat and they instantly become beatable. More than adding a secondary scorer, the Caps could really use a top-notch blue liner. Too bad they’re about as rare as victories at Nationals Park. Which brings us to …

Tell me there’s hope for the Nationals. Lie to me if you must, but please give me something positive to think about. I can’t take losing anymore.

T. Roosevelt
Perpetually Last

This year? Teddy, I’m a journalist, not a politician. I can’t just make stuff up. But allow me to do my best Paul Begala and spin a tale of future success for you.

The Nats are bad. Real bad. But that could be very good. Next season, Bryce Harper, the wunderkind 16-year-old catcher from Las Vegas will be available in the draft. If the Nats get the No. 1 pick (read: finish dead last again) then they’ll get the chance to pick him and pay him every bit as much money as they do Stephen Strasburg this season – if not more.

But, if the Nats do ink both Strasburg and Harper to contracts, they’ll have the “best pitching prospect ever” in uniform, as well as the top catching prospect since Matt Wieters and Joe Mauer.

Championship teams are built on strength of the middle. And, based on draftable talent alone, it doesn’t get much stronger than Strasburg and Harper.