November 26, 2014

Nationals Matt Williams Named NL Manager of the Year

Matt Williams NL Manager of the Year

NATIONALS MANAGER MATT WILLIAMS NAMED
2014 BBWAA NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was named the 2014 National League Manager of the Year Tuesday night by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Williams received a total 109 points, including 80 first-place votes. Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle finished second in the voting, and San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy was third.

Williams, who becomes the second manager in Nationals history to earn this honor, had an exceptionally successful rookie season in the dugout as he led the Nationals to an NL-best 96 victories and the National League East Championship.

“On behalf of the Lerner Family and the entire Washington Nationals organization, I want to offer heartfelt congratulations to Matt on this well-deserved award,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “His first year in the dugout was excellent, and it was a pleasure to watch him grow throughout. He is a respected leader, and the steady hand that navigated our team through many challenges this season.

“What we accomplished this season would not have been possible without the right man at the helm. That was Matt this season, and we’re all looking forward to 2015.”

Since the inception of the award in 1983, Williams is just the fourth first-year manager ever to win it. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joins Hal Lanier (Houston Astros, 1986), Dusty Baker (San Francisco Giants, 1993), and Joe Girardi (Florida Marlins, 2006).

“I am incredibly honored and humbled by this award,” Williams said. “This was a very special year for us, and I am proud of what we accomplished in my first season at the helm. For me, as a newcomer to the managerial fraternity, it is a privilege just to be considered amongst the best in our game. Clint and Bruce are certainly that.

“While this is an incredible acknowledgement by the writers, I know we have bigger goals to accomplish in Washington and I look forward to the challenge that the 2015 season will bring.”

The Nationals, though besieged by injuries, won their division by the largest margin (17.0 games) of any in the Major Leagues under Williams’ watch. Over the course of the season, the Nationals saw 948 total games missed due to stints on the Disabled List, with key players like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche and Denard Span accounting for 284 of those games.

While the Nationals withstood that barrage, Williams’ guided them toward steady improvement as the season progressed. After playing to a .500 record (27-27) through the season’s first two months, the Nationals were at least four games over the .500 mark in each remaining month of the season, finishing 69-39 from June through September. That stretch included a 19-10 month of August that featured a 10-game winning streak from Aug. 12-21, the longest winning streak in the National League this season.

On Sept. 16, the Nationals clinched their second National League East Division title in the last three years, and they finished the regular season with a 96-66 record.

Williams, 48, was named the fifth field manager in Nationals history on Oct. 31, 2013. The five-time All-Star third baseman was also voted by his managerial peers as the 2014 Sporting News Manager of the Year.

NATIONALS MANAGERS TO WIN BBWAA N.L. MANAGER OF THE YEAR (2005-2014)
2012 Davey Johnson
2014 Matt Williams

Washington Nationals exersize option on Span; decline LaRoche and Soriano

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals exercised their $9 million team option on Denard Span on Thursday, ensuring the team’s leadoff hitter and Gold Glove caliber center fielder will remain on the roster for at least the next year.

Span, who will be 31 on opening day, hit .302/.355/.416 last season, leading the Nats in hits and setting team marks for hits and multi-hit games. He was 31-for-38 in stolen base attempts and hit five home runs to boot.

Bringing Span back reduced the Nats decisions on potential free agents down to five (ages on opening day).

Adam LaRoche (35, .259/.362/.455, 26/92): LaRoche had a mutual option for ’15 of $15 million with a $2 million buyout, but declined the option. With Ryan Zimmerman’s limitations in the field, it would be very surprising if the Nats re-upped with LaRoche.

Rafael Soriano (35, 4-1, 32 svs, 3.19/1.129): The veteran reliever looked like the Nats’ All-Star rep at the break, but was atrocious in the second half before going lights-out in the playoffs in a very limited role. Team option for $14 million was declined and considering the way things ended, very unlikely he re-signs in DC.

Asdrubal Cabrera (29, .229/.312/.389, 5/21 in 49 games for Nats): Cabrera became free agent at conclusion of World Series. Was excellent defensively and had a couple of offensive highlights, but his age and already diminished results suggest Nats will let him walk.

Scott Hairston (34, .208/.253/.299, 1/8): Hairston has outlived his usefulness as a Major League Player. That might sound harsh, but it happens to everyone. Was once known as a “lefty-killer” (even if it wasn’t entirely true, but his .293 OBP against lefties this season seal his fate.

Nate Schierholtz (31, .195/.243/.309, 1/4): The “other” Nate, Schierholtz was a waiver wire pickup midseason when Nate McLouth went down for the season to injury. Schierholtz was even worse than McLouth at the plate overall, though did chip in in the playoffs. With another $5 regrettably due McLouth, Schierholtz rides off into the sunset.

NATS: Washington Nationals NatsFest for 2015 Season

natsfest_dec

The biggest fan event of the offseason will be held Saturday, December 13, 2014
from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Season Plan Holders will have exclusive access to the event for an entire hour (10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.) before #NatsFest opens to the general public at 11:00 a.m.

Tickets and autograph vouchers will go on sale on Wednesday, October 29 at 9:00 a.m.

Tickets purchased in advance at will cost $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under, with prices increasing to $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under the day of the event. Season Plan Holders will receive an information about purchasing NatsFest tickets at a discounted rate.

A full schedule of events will be available in the coming weeks.

Washington Nationals’ Matt Williams Wins Sporting News Manager Of The Year

On Tuesday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams hauled in his first major award at the helm of a MLB franchise.

As voted on by the National League managers, Sporting News awarded the first-year skipper the NL Manager of the Year Award. Receiving four first place votes, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny got second (2) and the Miami Marlins Mike Redmond placed third (1). [Read more…]

OPINION: Washington Nationals might have blown best chance for this group to win championship

It’s never easy, the end of the baseball season. And make no mistake, it’s over. Sure, you can follow the rest of the playoffs until its conclusion, but for fans of the Washington Nationals, the end of the baseball season came late Tuesday night in San Francisco.

It came in a bitter, frustrating, disappointing manner — they weren’t so much defeated, but done in by their own mistakes and mismanagement.

It’s an unimaginable conclusion, after winning their way to the best record in the National League to be dumped in the division series, unceremoniously, on the road, practically in the middle of the night.

Most fans would like nothing better than to praise the winners for a job well done, victors in a meritorious fashion. But the bottom line of this NLDS is that the Giants, while victors, were no better than the Nats. Neither team hit at all, rather the Nats continued to make errors and mistakes, and as one of the analysts on the terrible postgame shows said, “If you aren’t scoring runs, you can’t give away outs.”

The Giants didn’t, the Nats did.

Both teams scored nine runs in the series. Four of the nine runs came via solo home runs, three of which came from the youngest player on the team — who could be the youngest player on the majority of AA teams.

It just wasn’t enough.

Manager Matt Williams was criticized — rightly — in three of the four games for decisions he made with his pitching staff, most notably how he managed his bullpen. Veterans Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos were non-existent.

Werth and LaRoche, the three-four hitters combined for two base hits in 35 at bats in the four games. In the game Span reached twice, the Nats won. Other than that, he was transparent. Desmond and Ramos are still swinging at sliders away.

It’s hard to fault the pitchers that didn’t come through, considering they gave up just nine runs in four games. Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark looked in over their heads. Gio Gonzalez got rattled after a physical error. Drew Storen gave up base hits when he needed strikeouts. But it’s nit-picking.

They gave up NINE RUNS IN FOUR GAMES. They should have won all of them.

Yes, this one’s gonna hurt. They all do. But this will hurt differently than 2012 did. The Nats were one pitch away from advancing on several occasions in a ten minute period and it was ripped away from them. Most thought they weren’t ready.

This year, they were ready. Full of veterans. Playoff tested. Best record in the league. Young players coming into their own. The best starting staff and bullpen in the league. Yet, it all blew up. Rather, they just didn’t show up.

The window’s still open with this group of players, but it won’t be forever. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche both have team options for next year. We don’t know if either will be back. Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are free agents after next season.

We have no idea where — or even if — Ryan Zimmerman will be able to contribute in a meaningful way the rest of his career.

For a team that’s as veteran as this is, there are a lot of questions. The sobering conclusion is that this very well might have been the Nats best chance to win a championship with this group of players.

And they blew it. It’s hard to type that. I’m sure it hard to read it. But it’s true.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 4: Nats fall short in San Fran; eliminated from playoffs

The San Francisco Giants scored three runs — without the benefit of a base hit — and beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 to eliminate the Nats 3-1 in the five game National League Divisional Series.

The game was filled with poor umpiring, bad defense by the Nats, and questionable managerial decisions. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 3 Review: Fister, 3-run seventh give Nats another shot

Doug Fister pitched seven shutout innings, an uncharacteristic error led to a 3-run inning, and the Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1 to cut their deficit in the best of five series to two games to one on Monday at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The win snapped the Giants N.L. record 10-game postseason winning streak.

The pitching matchup came off as advertised. Fister took on 18-game winner Madison Bumgarner and both pitchers were sublime for most of the game.

In the top of the seventh, though, Ian Desmond reached Bumgarner for a single to lead off the frame. Bryce Harper then got himself into a 3-1 count, then spit on an 88-MPH slider for ball four.

Wilson Ramos was asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but couldn’t get it done on the first two attempts. Usually, Ramos wouldn’t be asked to sacrifice, and he hadn’t successfully sacrificed since 2011, but with runs at a premium in this series, the Nats didn’t take the play off with two strikes.

Ramos was able to get a bunt down in fair territory with two strikes, and Bumgarner made the play. But instead of taking the easy out at first, he tried to cut down the lead runner, Desmond, at third. His throw was late — and wide of the bag.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval tried to reach for it and stay on the bag, but it sailed down the line, through the Giants bullpen, and into the right field corner. Desmond scored easily, and Harper followed him without a play, with Ramos ending up at second.

Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a clean single through the hole, and Ramos came chugging home with the Nats’ third run.

Bumgarner gave up three runs — two earned — on six hits and a walk, striking out six.

Fister gave up a single to Brandon Belt to lead off the home half of the seventh, but then retired three straight to get out of the inning and turned things over to the bullpen.

Fister gave up four hits and three walks in seven innings, striking out three.

Tyler Clippard tossed a perfect 12-pitch eighth inning.

Harper added an insurance run in the top of the ninth, homering off reliever Jean Machi.

Manager Matt Williams called upon Drew Storen in the ninth with a 4-0 lead. Storen, once again, had some trouble, as a single, double and sacrifice brought home a run. But he was able to get Travis Ishikawa to ground out to close the game and deliver a victory in Game 3.

The Nationals face the Giants again Tuesday at 9:05 pm Eastern, with Gio Gonzalez facing Ryan Vogelsong.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 2 Review: Belt’s homer in 18th ends longest game in playoff history

Brandon Belt hit a solo home run in the top of the 18th inning off Tanner Roark and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 in the longest game by time — and tying the longest game by inning — in the history of Major League Baseball playoffs.

The official time of the game was 6:23.

The Nationals now trail in the series 2-0 and travel to San Francisco to face 18-game winner Madison Bumgarner. Doug Fister will oppose him in the Monday game.

Jordan Zimmermann and Tim Hudson were terrific in the first half of this same-game double-header, but neither factored in the decision, obviously. San Francisco won its 10th consecutive playoff game — a National League record — with eight of those wins coming on the road. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 2 pregame press conference

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams addressed the media in advance of Game 2 of the NLDS. Here are some quick nuggets from that availability.

  • No decision has been made on the Game 4 starter yet. Williams said his attention was on today’s game and a decision will be made at a later date. With Tanner Roark in the bullpen, the debate appears to be whether Gio Gonzalez would take the start or if the team would bring back Stephen Strasburg on four days rest.
  • Williams said he did not give consideration to pinch-hitting Ryan Zimmerman for Adam LaRoche in the sixth inning of Game 1 when the Giants called upon lefty Javier Lopez to face LaRoche. “Adam’s been our 4-hitter all year long,” Williams said. LaRoche walked against Lopez.
  • LaRoche said he saw Lopez “okay” in the at bat and that he expects to see the sidearming lefty late in games throughout the series.
  • Both Williams and LaRoche said the hey to facing Giants starter Tim Hudson is to exercise patience. Williams said Hudson does a good job keeping the ball down in the zone with his sinker, while LaRoche said you have to get to Hudson “early” and not let him get into a rhythm. “Once he gets rolling he’s really good.”
  • Williams discussed the possibility of Ian Desmond missing a game as his wife, Chelsea, is close to her due date. He said they haven’t gotten to the point about consulting with the league about a roster exemption should she go into labor on a day game, but that the primary concern is for Chelsea and the baby.

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams discusses missed opportunities in Game 1 loss

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was fairly circumspect when describing his team’s 3-2 lost to the San Francisco Giants on Friday in his postgame comments.

“We had opportunities,” Williams said. “One swing of the bat can mean the difference in our game [Friday]. It didn’t happen. We will see if it can happen [Saturday].”

That was a common theme for Williams, who seemingly finished just about every quote with a “we’ll get ‘em tomorrow” caveat.

Williams was asked about how the Giants handled things, nickel and diming the Nats to death with single after single. “They defend well, they have speed, they have some power. They have the ability, with veteran hitters in the middle of their lineup that are battle-tested, to drive in runs.”

“They are tough to beat. We will see if we can give them a run [Saturday]. And we have one of our best [Saturday starter Jordan Zimmermann] going again. We will see if we can get them tomorrow.”

Williams offered his take on the performance of Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg, who gave up eight hits, but none for extra bases, and only struck out two over five-plus innings.

“He was good,” Williams said matter-of-factly. “I wasn’t that he was so excited that he wasn’t throwing strikes. Worked well through the first inning. I think he pitched fine. For the first time for him, it was good.”

Not a ringing endorsement, but not a condemnation either.

But the manager lamented the few opportunities the Nats generated, and how they didn’t take advantage when they did.

“We had some opportunities,” Williams explained. “We take that every day of the week. An opportunity with guys out there, middle of our order up. Today it didn’t happen.”

Specifically, Williams was asked about Ian Desmond, who struck out in two key situations in the late innings.

“That’s fine,” Williams started. “He has never seen [Giants’ reliever Hunter] Strickland. He throws a hundred [MPH]. Those are pretty good fastballs. And [Giants’ reliever Sergio] Romo takes the ball from the plate, away from the plate. It is difficult to lay off those pitches.”

“I would take that opportunity for Desi every day. He has been really big for us this year, hitting from that spot. Driven in a lot of runs for us. We take that opportunity anytime when we can get it.”

But the bottom line is that even though the Nats did have a few opportunities, they managed just two runs — on two solo home runs in the same inning. Williams knows the chances get more rare the deeper into the postseason a team goes.

“You know, we are down to it. We have the first one to three games, so you want to take advantage of it. It doesn’t mean it won’t tomorrow, and doesn’t mean it can’t for the rest of the time we play these guys.”

“We keep grinding, keep doing what we do. Look forward to the opportunity again tomorrow to get up. So, we’ll see what happens.”

We’ll all see together.

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