Nationals lament lost season, division..will the Manager be next?

With the much adored Beltway Series on the schedule in this second-to-last week of the regular season, the Nationals had a chance to at least show the fans in the DC/Baltimore area what kind of resolve they had even though the division title and playoff hopes were basically dashed.  What those fans got is exactly what they have seen all season.  Managerial blunders, no sight of any clutch hitting, wasted starts or starters who didn’t bring it…etc etc etc.,

Sounds like a broken record.  With the New York Mets clinching the NL East title on Saturday night, it concluded one of the most disappointing seasons in recent DC Sports history, and that’s saying a lot.  Manager Matt Williams didn’t end endear himself to the Nationals fans with his strategy and at the end of the day, the play on the field of the roster showed a disconnect.  Maybe it was the “stay medium” attitude that has been Williams mantra since the day he was hired.  That methodology works when your winning but there was something else needed, some sort of sense of urgency from the leader and that never happened.

Some people may think that having a voice that creates a certain atmosphere on a team of veterans such as the Nationals is overrated.  I for one, believe no such thing.  Leadership from your manager matters.  You must be able to feel the pulse of your team and make moves and adjustments on the fly. Establish the environment temper and tone.  Williams has demonstrated that he just isn’t capable of that task.  Maybe he will learn that aspect of being a manager in a couple of years of doing the job, I just hope that it isn’t here in DC.  Getting swept at home in the two biggest series of the season (Mets and Orioles) takes deeper explanation than just “the other team is better”.

Take this quote from his an unnamed player when speaking of Williams and his attitude towards the job.

“A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it made any difference,” one player said this past week. “But after what we’ve been through for two years? It’s huge. Huge.”

The players know it, the fans know it, the media knows it….will General Manager Mike Rizzo do the right thing by everyone involved?

As season winds down, Nationals refuse to throw in towel

M-V-P

Even as a dissapointing season winds down to its final days, the Washington Nationals are still showing life albeit for no postseason pot at the end of the rainbow.  Winning 5 of the last 6 contests is an accomplishment whenever it occurs, it just sucks that when it was time to really show everyone what this team was truly mattered, they crumbled.  The team showed resiliency and a fiery demeanor that has been sorely lacking this week with a couple of tough, extra inning wins vs Philadelphia and Miami.

Bryce Harper has been so good, MVP level good.  So much so that he’s leading the National League in so many statistical and analytical categories that he should easily win the MVP award regardless if the squad makes the playoffs.  “His numbers say he is [the NL MVP],” Saturday’s starter Jordan Zimmermann said. “We’ll see at the end of the season, but I’m pulling for him.”  National Park faithful, fully aware of what’s transpiring before their eyes, have now started the ubiquitous “M-V-P!” chants for each of Harper’s at-bats.  With 5 homers this week alone to up his lead leading total to 41, there shouldn’t be any doubt who wins the award but as with any MVP voting in any major sport, winning matters to voters.

Steven Strasburg’s resurgence to elite level starter, and the solid offerings from the other starters have been been both welcomed and maddening at the same time.   Seems as if once the pressure of the pennant race was gone, they could just pitch freely.  Going into next season, whoever’s in the rotation must show some sort of backbone and bring this same effort when the stakes are raised.  But with a 1-2 combination of Max Scherzer and Strasburg, I’d take my chances with those guys any day of the week.  When the starters are on their game, its less likely Matt Williams can make as many managerial blunders with the staff, if he’s the skipper in 2016.

Hopefully this effort continues in the final two weeks of the regular season, if anything, watching the culmination of a MVP season for a 22 year old wunderkind is worth the price of admission.

Nationals succumb to pressure of Pennant Race, look toward 2016

As painful as it is to write this, but after the end of quite possibly the worst week in its 10 years in Washington, the 2015 edition of the Nationals will go down as one of the most disappointing teams in recent memory whatever the sport.

In winning 8 of the previous 11 games going into the season-defining series vs the division leading New York Mets, the final 2 losses of that group of games could have been placed at the foot of Manager Matt Williams with his continued fumbling of the bullpen who gave up 2 leads after leading into the 7th inning.  In a heart-wrenching twist of fate, fans tuned in across America watch the same exact scenario happen for 3 consecutive games, all losses, as the home team was swept in excruciating fashion at home.  After scoring 5 runs in the 4th inning powered by a Wilson Ramos grand slam, Max Scherzer could not give the team the type of start that this team needed and was tagged with three homers and 5 runs.  Beyond that was the inexplicable reasoning of letting Scherzer bat in the bottom of the 5th with 2 outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd base.  I can understand the strategy if Scherzer was on his game but he was clearly not, so of course he grounded out which turned out to be the last time the offense had a chance to score.  Williams had to eventually use FOUR pitchers in the 7th inning to no avail.

If you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Nats fans in the final two games of the series, you were sorely mistaken.  Mets ace Matt Harvey was tattooed for 7 runs in the worst start of his career, as the Nats took a 7-1 lead into the 7th inning behind six strong from Jordan Zimmermann.  What took place in the 7th inning was nothing short of embarrassing. Again the Nats had to use FOUR relievers in the 7th as they gave up six total walks and 6 runs to give up the lead.  “Leading” the way was former closer-turned-setup man Drew Storen who walked 3 himself and gave up the game tying double to Yoenis Cespedes.  Closer Jonathan Paplebon allowing a pinch hit HR in the 8th inning you would think the icing on the cake to the toughest loss I can remember.  Yet when Nationals manager Matt Williams called for — or at the very least allowed — Anthony Rendon to bunt with no outs, a runner on first and his team trailing by one run in the ninth inning of Washington’s heartbreaking 8-7 loss, Williams knew Rendon was for whatever reason incapable of reaching base safely in that spot.  Sometimes there are moments when everyone in the world realizes that the moment may be too big for a person in their job capacity.  This may have been that moment for Mr. Williams.

With the bullpen in shambles and Matt Williams becoming a national punchline, an Ace-level type starting pitching performance was sorely needed.  Stephen Strasburg delivered with 7 strong innings and 13 strikeouts but was handed the loss because Drew Storen continued the awful pattern of choking when the pressure is at its apex.  No one on earth was surprised that Cespedes immediately took Storen deep for a 3 run homer to win the game, the man is broken literally and figuratively as he is now out for the season with a self-inflicted injury to his pitching hand.

After those 3 games, and having national pundits from Keith Law to even John McEnroe during the US Open openly criticizing and flabbergasted by the moves Williams has made during the week, its hard to say that this team can recover from this monstrosity with him at the helm.  Thats not to say he’s a poor manager, because he’s not.  Every move he’s tried to make has backfired spectacularly and someone has to take the fall for it. The team, besides Bryce Harper ironically, lacks a spine.  That comes from your leader. No one expected the team to go to Miami and win (which they didn’t which extends the losing streak to 5 games) and that is a problem.

It will be hard to take the stench out of this fan base without a new voice.

Nats make up ground, biggest series of season remains

In a week where the Nats could and should have gained more than the 1.5 games in the National League East divisional race than they did, managerial blunders cost the team 2 specific things this week.

One, the Nationals actually should have swept the St Louis Cardinals in a pivotal 3 game series but 2 consecutive days of idiotic decisions by manager Matt Williams cost them two of the 3 games in the series.  Winning the final game of the 3 game set in St Louis ended a 9 game road losing streak to DC Most Hated team.  Winning this series could have been crucial to the team psyche since the Cards have basically owned the Nats since the 2012.  Alas it’s hard to complain when the team has won 8 of 11 with the biggest series of the season on deck with the 1st place New York Mets at home.

The Mets have played so well that even with the good fortune of the last 2 weeks or so, the Nats just haven’t been able to make a meaningful dent in the standings, which makes this head-to-head matchup critical for both teams.

Ryan Zimmerman has been on a torrid pace batting .467 with 14 RBIs in his last 7 games including 4 homers.  Bryce Harper became the youngest player in MLB history to score 4 runs in a game without an official AB (all walks).  The accolades continue for the 24 year old and at this pace, a MVP award should be in the cards for Harper.

If the Nats could somehow sweep this Mets series, all bets are off.  The Mets are a pretty young team and haven’t played meaningful September baseball, the Nats have.  Will experience pay off or will youthful exuberance? Starting Monday in Southwest DC, we will find out.