October 22, 2014

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.

Washington Nationals Game 1 lineups

NATIONALS

1 Denard Span CF
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
28 Jayson Werth RF
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
3 Asdrubal Cabrera 2B
37 Stephen Strasburg RHP

GIANTS

7 Gregor Blanco CF
12 Joe Panik 2B
28 Buster Posey C
48 Pablo Sandoval 3B
8 Hunter Pence RF
9 Brandon Belt 1B
35 Brandon Crawford SS
45 Travis Ishikawa LF
22 Jake Peavy RHP

Washington Nationals Game 1 Pregame: Manager Matt Williams meets the press

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams met with gathered media ahead of Game 1 of the NLDS Friday morning. The skipper talked about the roster construction for the first round, Ryan Zimmerman’s availability and his bullpen.

Earlier in the day, the Nats announced their playoff roster. Zimmerman was indeed included, which meant someone had to be left off. The odd man out was outfielder Scott Hairston, who was on the roster all season long. Nate Schierholtz, a left-handed hitting outfielder with some speed who was a waiver claim late in the season, retained his spot.

Williams conceded that Zimmerman would come off the bench as a right-handed pinch-hitter, a move most assumed as his playing time down the stretch was managed heavily by the Nats first-year manager. Zimmerman obviously has not fully recovered yet from the torn hamstring that cost him over 50 games this season.

Zimmerman played only sparingly in the field upon being activated from the disabled list, and when he did was shaky, at best. Since the Face of the Franchise will be limited to pinch-hitting duties for the most part, that meant Hairston, who’s also primarily a right-handed pinch-hitter, became superfluous.

That situation played out in the bullpen as well. Ross Detwiler, who started the pivotal Game 4 in the 2012 NLDS, was left off the roster as well, in favor of Rafael Soriano, the demoted closer. Williams referred to Detwiler as the “third lefty” and said he preferred to carry just two: Matt Thornton and Jerry Blevins. Blevins was much maligned early in the season — though not nearly as much as Soriano was late — but the veteran recovered in the last month of the season to dominate down the stretch.

Soriano took the opposite tack. The veteran righty was dominant in the first half of the season and really could have represented the Nats in the All-Star game. But as good as he was early, he was that bad in the second half, running up a 6.23 ERA since the midsummer classic. His inclusion on the roster is curious, but Williams said he likes the luxury of having three 40-saves relievers in his bullpen, saying that his confidence in Soriano “never waivered.”

The last nugget of information to come out of the press conference was that Tanner Roark, who started 31 games with a 15-10 record, 2.85 ERA and 1.092 WHIP, was moving to the bullpen with the shortened playoff starting rotation. Though Williams didn’t mention him by name, Gio Gonzalez thus retains his spot in the rotation, unless the Nats decide to come back with Strasburg in Game 4 on one day short rest — a situation that would probably only arise if the Nats trailed in the series.

The Nats Game 2 starter, Jordan Zimmermann, also spoke with the media Friday. He said most of the players in the clubhouse are trying to go about their business as normal, but acknowledged that the playoffs brings a different edge and it helps the team went through it two years ago.

“We didn’t really know anything coming in two years ago,” Zimmermann said. “Jayson [Werth] is the only guy who said ‘It will be crazy, something you guys never experienced.’ You know, after going out there [in 2012], and experience it one time, I think we are all more prepared now and kind of know what to expect.”

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants NLDS Series Preview

After winning the NL East as well as owning the best record in the National League, the Washington Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants, winners of the NL Wild Card Game, to Nationals Park on Friday afternoon to kickoff a best-of-five National League Division Series.

Teams

Washington Nationals (96-66, 1st in NL East vs San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd in NL West) [Read more...]

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