For the second time in three years, the Washington Nationals were bounced from the playoffs in the first round after posting the best regular season record in the National League. And that sound you just heard? That was every Washington Capitals fan saying “Welcome to the club.” The Capitals, of course, are famous in hockey circles for doing exactly what the Nationals just did: blowing away the competition during the regular season only to forget how to win come playoff time.
Much of the blame for the Nationals’ early exit is being pinned on manager Matt Williams, and for good reason. Williams very well may have blown Game 2 of the series for the Nats when he refused to let starter Jordan Zimmermann finish the game. Zimmermann pitched damn near perfectly for 8 2/3 innings, but Williams declined to leave Zimmermann in for the game’s final out. He brought in closer Drew Storen instead, who promptly blew the Nationals’ 1-0 lead. Giants win.
Yesterday, Williams made the unfathomable decision to bring in inconsistent rookie reliever Aaron Barrett during the game’s biggest spot. With the bases loaded, Barrett threw a wild pitch, and the Giants scored what would prove to be the game's winning run. Williams is being eviscerated in the D.C. region for putting Barrett in the game instead of one of the several elite pitchers (Tyler Clippard, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann) he had on hand.
Williams deserves all the criticism being heaped on him by fans today. But, with that said, let’s not forget one thing: the Nationals – the players, that is – completely choked during this series. The pitching staff, save for Barrett last night, was exceptional, surrendering just nine runs over four games. The same can’t be said for the team’s hitters.
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The Nationals were lauded all year for the team’s potent combination of top notch pitching and relentless hitting. But in this series, the Nationals looked completely lost at the plate. Save for Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, who were excellent for Washington, the Nationals’ typical run producers were terrible. How bad? Check out this stat.
Five of Washington’s best hitters – Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Wilson Ramos – went a collective 9 for 89 at the plate during the series. 9 for 89! That’s a .101 batting average. Not even Tony La Russa could win a playoff series with hitting like that. Yes, Williams coached like a rookie manager in way over his head. But the real reason the Nationals will be sitting at home instead of playing the Cardinals in the NLCS can be seen here:
Graphic H/T: Chris Chase