Williams’s Nats looking booked and cooked

Matt Williams, to whom the Book is too sacred when it needs to be set aside . . .

Matt Williams, to whom the Book is too sacred when it needs to be set aside . . .

Let’s not be too polite about it. The team every expert on earth picked in spring to win the National League East, with no few of them picking them to go all the way to a World Series ring, is doing its level best to make chumps out of every one of those experts. That’s because manager Matt Williams seems to be doing his level best to make sure they don’t even get to the wild card play-in game.

What other impression could you draw watching a man spend much of this season and the past month in particular prove that he learned nothing from managing himself and his Nats right out of last year’s postseason?

When the Nats smothered the Braves 15-1 Thursday night, it was as though a switch got flipped that was marked, “The only way to survive your manager is to out-hit his brain freezes.”

Or, in the case of Bryce Harper, out-walk them. He drew four walks and scored four runs in the rout and never took the bat off his shoulder. Only one other player has had two career four-walk, four-run, one-RBI (what else?—a bases loaded walk) game before his 23rd birthday, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. And to think the night before Harper’s glutes tightened up enough to scare an already edgy Nats Nation.

Harper didn’t beat the Braves all by his lonesome, of course. Ryan Zimmerman helped himself to three hits and four steaks, and Jordan Zimmermann pitched six smart innings of one-run, two-hit ball. OK, so they only gained a sliver on the Mets, who had Thursday off, but after dropping two of three to the Cardinals to start the week—thanks to Williams and his amazing stick-by-the-book stubbornness, every little bit helps.

The question becomes for how long, and for how much worth. Last we saw, the fat lady was loosening up her vocal cords in the Nationals Park arterials, just in case a dirge would be needed. For the Nats’ season and, possibly, for Williams’s job.

Williams still hasn’t got a clue about the right and wrong time to stay with The Book. Whether it’s hooking Zimmermann last October when the kid was one out from a complete game division series-tying shutout, or whether it’s forgetting that there come times when you can’t wait until you have a game-to-end lead that isn’t a lead yet to bring in your late hammer.

The Nats were sent to the Mattress yet again on back to back nights this week. The lesson for those games is, “Ignore what the boss didn’t do against the Mets to start August and this tailspin, and concentrate on what he didn’t do against the Cardinals to take advantage of a rare enough chance to gain a little on the Mets.”

He might not have gained Monday night with the Mets beating the Phillies in New York, but he could have gained a precious game on Tuesday, while the Phillies (at last!) exacted a little double-digit revenge for the terrorism the Mets wreaked against them in Philadelphia last week. (Short-lived revenge, alas; the Mets ended up taking two of three from the phallen Philadelphians.)

Tuesday night, Williams absolutely, resolutely refused to even think about Papelbon in a tied ninth. Never mind that Drew Storen—the incumbent the Papelbon non-waiver deadline deal unseated—had another off night and surrendered the tying runs, though he was victimised most by a failed bid to bag a force at third, leaving himself the bases loaded.

No, this just wasn’t Papelbon’s job, Williams insisted. He’s the closer. He closes. That’s his job. Period dot period. We didn’t get Jonathan Papelbon for holds. No, but wouldn’t you think about having Papelbon for a possible win instead? Nope. Williams handed it off to Casey Janssen. And Janssen promptly got two outs.

Then, on pitch number 13, he handed off a two-out double after having his man down two strikes. Six pitches later, a two-out  walk. Two pitches after that, a three-run walkoff homer. Brandon Moss, the Cardinal who swatted the gamer, would like to thank Williams for helping to make him a hero on the team with the best record in baseball.

“Let’s say, for instance, Pap throws a clean ninth and we score in the tenth,” Williams told a radio show the morning after. “Who’s closing the game for us? I guess it would be somebody, right?”

Uh, yeah, Matt, it would. Hell, it might be Papelbon himself, if your boys bust the tie in the tenth. You’re not going to hand it off to your last man standing, long man Sammy Solis, unless you score more than two or three runs. Actually, yes he might. Knowing Williams, he’d have done just that.

Monday was just as bad. Williams didn’t even think about Storen after Gio Gonzalez came out in the seventh after a fine start and a 5-3 lead, never mind that Storen can work two innings if necessary. He handed it to Janssen. And Janssen burped up the tying runs. Exit Janssen, enter Felipe Rivero, the younger guy. And Jason Heyward ripped a two-run double before Kolten Wong followed an intentional walk with an RBI single.

Did I mention the Nats lost both those games to the Cardinals by 8-5 scores? Did I mention that Williams is probably overusing Janssen and Aaron Barrett while not using Storen or Matt Thornton often enough? Did I also mention that the Nats have had their injury issues this year but so have the Cardinals, especially to Adam Wainwright, their best pitcher—yet the Cardinals have baseball’s best record as of this writing?

The Wednesday salvage almost didn’t happen, either. Not with Williams running through four relievers while the Cardinals tied things at three. He owes Zimmerman big enough for ripping the RBI double in the seventh to break the tie. It let Williams manage his preferred way. By The Book. Storen in the eighth. Papelbon in the ninth. Masterful, to use Nats GM Mike Rizzo’s words about Williams’s Tuesday management.

Williams should have asked for help from his predecessor. Once upon a time, long before he managed the Nats to their first division title, Davey Johnson had two closers, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. He’d use them both, often in the same games, and often as creatively as creativity got.* That was one reason Johnson’s 1986 Mets ran away with the National League East and survived hair-raisers in a League Championship Series and a World Series.

The fact that back-to-back wins gave the Nats a mere inch of a pickup on the high-enough-flying Mets is small consolation. Had Williams tossed The Book they might have picked up more ground. And with six games against the Mets to come, including a regular season-ending set, the Mets may not be the only ones throwing the book at Williams—and maybe even his enabling GM—when it’s over.

_______________________________________________________

On 22 July 1986, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco were the stars in one of baseball’s strangest games. When Davey Johnson found himself in need of options with his bench depleted against the Cincinnati Reds, and with Orosco on the mound already, the manager moved Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter to third base with Ed Hearn taking over behind the plate, sent McDowell out to play right field (Darryl Strawberry had been ejected earlier for arguing a strike call), and began switching Orosco and McDowell back and forth between the mound and right field.

The game went to extra innings. Orosco actually had a sharp fielding chance in the thirteenth, snagging Hall of Famer Tony Perez’s liner, a mischievious little smile on his face after he snapped his glove around the ball. Howard Johnson’s three-run homer in the top of the fourteenth gave the Mets the cushion for McDowell to close it out in the bottom for the win. But as Metsmerized Online says, the 1986 Mets were good enough that they could beat you with one outfielder tied behind their backs.

But we’ll bet you that if you suggest to Matt Williams that he try something similar with Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon, in similar circumstances or in just about any circumstances, Williams would probably have you measured for a straitjacket. In-game creativity isn’t exactly Williams’s style.

20 thoughts on “Williams’s Nats looking booked and cooked

  1. The Nationals playing the Braves may help them this weekend, but can’t see them winning the NL East. They only gained a half game on the Mets despite their 15-1 win last night over the Braves.

    • And the Mets go against the Marlins this weekend. The Marlins are so dysfunctional now from top to bottom that the Mets could stay in the dugout and in the bullpen and still win the weekend series. I see the Mets coming out of this weekend another game or two ahead of the Nats.

      • Mets are sending their best pitcher Jacob deGrom to the mound with his 12-6 record, while Tom Koehler, who has only won once since July 3 will take the hill for the Marlins. Koehler was 7-4 on July 3, but is now 8-13, for a 1-9 record since that date. It is almost too good of a setup for the Mets, but can’t see them losing this game.

  2. The Mets in August had their best month of the year (20-8) and most of it happened on the road. This series kicks off a ten-game trip. The Mets went to Miami in early August and skinned the Fish for 25 runs with 39 hits. deGrom is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA against Miami this season.

    The Nats actually have a prayer this weekend considering how badly the Braves have been playing lately, but I can still see the Mets gaining a game at least and maybe a little more when the weekend is done.

    • A lot of so-called experts picked the Nationals to run away with the NL East. Instead, they can barely stay over the .500 mark. Mets and Nationals have easy pickings this weekend….will see who has done better by the end of Sunday.

      • I did a search back on how the “experts,” as spring training expired, saw this year’s races. The Nats were the unanimous pick to win the NL East; the Cardinals were a majority pick to take the Central; the Dodgers were the near-unanimous pick to win the West; and, the wild cards seemed to be a grab bag with picks between the Cubs, the Giants, the Pirates, the Marlins, and the Padres. Strangely enough, only one or two saw the Mets as getting anywhere even near a wild card slot.

        For the record, most of the same “experts” had the Orioles winning the AL East (by a majority enough; some picked the Blue Jays), the Indians winning the Central (slim majority, considering how many were on board with the Royals or the White Sox), and the Mariners winning the West (by majority enough; the Angels were the minority choice on that).

        That was then; this is now:

        AL East—The Blue Jays and the Yankees in a dogfight for the division title; the Orioles in fourth place, twelve games back, with the Rays in third at ten games back. (The Red Sox are last and fifteen back, but they started looking good enough of late to offer promise for 2016.)

        AL Central—It’s the Royals’ division to lose. They’re thirteen games up on the Twins, who could yet be a surprise wild card entry.

        AL West—The Astros have a two game lead on the Rangers (and who thought the Rangers would last this long this deep considering the injury decimation at the beginning?); the Angels are a mere five and a half back, but in that division five and a half back might as well be fifteen back. It’d take a huge last-minute burst to see the Angels coming out in the postseason this time.

        NL East—It’s the Mets’ division to lose by now. The Nats look a little too shaky to catch up to them, though that’s pending the six they have left against the Mets. The Marlins are fifteen games back and in third place.

        NL Central—It’s the Cardinals’ division to lose by now, too. The Pirates didn’t help themselves going 5-5 in their last ten; the Cubs didn’t help themselves by going 4-6 in their last ten, either, and they’re ten games out as it is.

        NL West—Unless something unexpected happens in the next week, stick a fork in the Giants and prepare the division trophy for the Dodgers. Unless.

        Wild cards:
        AL—The Yankees probably have the first card in the bank, and that card was likely to go to either of the AL East leaders anyway once the Jays surged and began wrestling in earnest with the Yankees. The Twins could shock by picking up the second; they’re only a game and a half behind the Rangers—who could also shock picking up the second. Unless the Angels have one more surge in them.

        NL—Stick the fork further into the Giants. The Pirates and the Cubs will probably take each card. Essentially, for the Giants and the Nats, it’s season over barring an unforeseen collapse in either of their divisions, but neither team will make it by the wild card route, either.

        • I agree the Yankees are almost sure to win the wild card, if they don’t win the AL East. I don’t count the Yankees out of a game, unless they are at least 10 runs behind. I have seen them come from behind too many times.

          Nobody predicted that the Astros and Rangers would be battling for first place in September, after they battled for last place in 2014.

          Twins are going to miss Glen Perkins, if he doesn’t come back fast. We will find out how good the Blue Jays are in their 7 games remaining with the Yankees.

          Giants were crippled by injuries with Hunter Pence, Joe Panik and Angel Pagan all out at the same time, with Pagan recently returning and Panik is now in rehab.

          Posted this on Giants yesterday on Facebook:

          The Giants record when Hunter Pence was on DL in 2015:

          April 6 – May 16 – 18-18
          June 3 – July 6 – 12 -17
          August 18 – till today and still on DL – 4-10

          Giants have a combined 34-45 record with Pence on DL. Giants have been playing without Pence, Angel Pagan and Joe Panik till Pagan returned this week.

          • The Jays made the big non-waiver deadline trade splash and it looks like David Price was the real key for them. Troy Tulowitski hasn’t quite been as good since as he was in his initial splash with the Jays, but Price has put a big boost into the team’s confidence and Josh Donaldson looks like he’s headed for the AL’s MVP. (Mike Trout had another lock on it until his wrist issue got the better of him in August.)

            And let’s see what happens with the Astros, too, they have George Springer back but who knows how much the long layoff took out of him with the hard stretch here.

          • I am an Astros fan, since we live 170 miles from Houston, and is only team I have seen in person in the last 25 years.

            Not sure if the Blue Jays can take the AL East title. Yankees even have Didi Gregorius hitting over .300 since the All Star game. A-Rod may hit a home run now and then, but he seems to have slowed down since the All Star game.

  3. From the look of it the AL East could well be decided by half a game, either way. It’ll be the Blue Jays or the Yankees. (As I write, the Jays are up on the Orioles 3-0; the Yankees are behind the Rays 3-0.) They’ve each gone 7-3 in their last ten. They’ll probably dogfight it down to the wire.

    The only other truly close race looks like the AL West. Houston has the lead but the Rangers have put quite a stretch drive on so far. I can’t see the Angels hanging in, they have just too many small flaws that make big differences, unless something unexpected happens with them.

    I still think the NL East is the Mets’ to lose but I won’t be quite ready to hand them the title for another week or so. Let’s see what happens after they meet the Nats in Washington. In theory, that race could end up going down to the wire, too, the Nats looked pretty sharp beating the Braves in the first two of their set, and on Friday night for once Matt Williams used the brains he was born with and threw The Book to one side to win that game.

    • I agree…..the AL East is up for grabs right now. Yankees and Blue Jays are not running away with it so far. A Giants loss and Dodgers win today would about seal the fate of the Giants and they are way behind the Cubs in the wild card.

      Mets have been lucky often this season, in that the Nationals lost on same days, that the Mets lost. However, that could change in a hurry, if Nationals have a winning streak, while Mets slump. Mets should have won that game last night. David Wright hitting into a double play and grounding out weakly with the bases loaded for third out were rally killers.

      • The DP and the bases-loaded ground out didn’t help, but the game was really lost in the seventh by the Mets’ bullpen. Sean Gilmartin couldn’t put Dee Gordon leading off away on 2-2 and threw a first-pitch hit to Christian Yelich. Addison Reed, the new man from the waiver deal with Arizona, got behind to Martin Prado and then fed him an RBI single to tie. Striking out Justin Bour was the first out of the inning but Reed threw too-good pitches to Derek Dietrich on 1-2 to load the pads and walked Marcell Ozuma to break the tie.

        I’m not sure why Terry Collins didn’t go to the pen again after the strikeout to Bour (did he catch a little Matt Williams disease, since he had Tyler Clippard in the pen who could have held fort and for more than a single inning, perhaps) but that inning is the one that really cost the Mets the game on a night Prado was having his way with the Mets.

        • O’Flaherty is killing the Mets lately. Something bad is going to happen, whenever he enters a game. Starters can’t seem to stay in long enough, to pitch the 7th inning, and that is when their opponents take advantage of the shoddy bullpen work.

          • I thought the Mets would go back to the six-man rotation for the rest of the stretch to save those starters and get them to the seventh inning even managing Harvey’s and deGrom’s innings. As it is, the bullpen got overworked during August. O’Flaherty needs more experience; this race is too big for him at this point in his career. Bobby Parnell is all but useless now. They have Clippard and he should be considered a huge insurance policy since there was a danger of Familia being overworked and they’ll need him for a postseason run bad.

            Hark back to my earlier note about Davey Johnson using Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco as co-closers. Johnson got big years out of those two for a few seasons. Collins could do likewise for the rest of the stretch with Clippard and Familia, especially since Clippard can work the extra inning if needed, he’s done it before. From there, pick the absolute best, reliable pen men and ride them sensibly. With the six-man rotation it should be simple to manage them to seventh innings. deGrom looked like he could have gone another inning Friday night but I suspect Collins was looking at his pitch count and the one-run lead with which he left the game.

  4. I don’t think the Mets brought him aboard with the idea of having him close anything, I think they wanted him as one of the bridge men to Clippard and Familia. The only thing he showed last night, alas, was that the bridge was out. Collins wanted a certain platoon advantage but Gilmartin and Reed didn’t execute it.

    Reed was once a closer and a decent one—he had 40 saves for the 2013 White Sox and 32 for last year’s Snakes—and he has a 7.4 strikeout-per-nine rate, slightly below what you’d like in a closer but not terrible. From what I saw of him before he came to the Mets he was having command and mechanical issues which may explain the reason he was also so prone to the long ball.

    I don’t see Reed on the Mets’ postseason roster, assuming they go all the way to the postseason, and come spring training I see them getting to work with him on mechanical adjustments.

    • Didn’t mean to give impression that Reed is closer material. Those days are long gone. It would be nice to get a scoreless inning out of him from time to time though. This Matt Harvey thing is going to get ugly I am afraid, and it could hurt the Mets both in the regular season and postseason, since he is only 14 innings from the 180 inning limit.

      • ESPN’S Buster Olney has already suggested the Mets trade Harvey in the offseason if Harvey presses the innings limit and even shows evidence that his doctors advised it. Others suggest the Mets had always had a limit in mind for Harvey this year while his agent Scott Boras decided to beat his gums only recently about enforcing it.

        Harvey himself seems torn between the itch to pitch and the need to spare his long-term health. Who knew the Mets would be in the middle of their own Strasburg Plan mess three years later? (And let’s remember that it wasn’t the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg that stopped the 2012 Nats from going further than a division series.)

        Meanwhile, the Mets got some good news Saturday: Bartolo Colon becoming the oldest Met to throw a complete game shutout since . . . Warren Spahn (at age 44) in 1965. Colon also became only the fourth fortysomething to throw a shutout with no walks. (His company in that regard: Jamie Moyer, Nolan Ryan, and Phil Niekro.) It kept the Mets five games up on the Nats who’ve managed to put a 7-3 streak in their last ten together despite managerial fumbling in recent games. This set coming up in Washington between the Mets and the Nats either puts the Mets ahead of the Nats for keeps or pulls the Nats to within two and sets up a hair-raiser of a rest-of-month, right down to them tangling again to end the regular season. The continuing good news: the Mets can use Colon as either an extra starter or a bullpen swingman in the postseason, like a gilt-edged insurance policy. (Did I mention Colon’s in the middle of a 25-inning scoreless streak?)

        Big key for the Mets: If Steven Matz does well in his return Sunday afternoon. If the Mets can rely on him they can do what needs to be done with Harvey and mind his health. And it looks like Lucas Duda might be ready to return in time for that set in Washington. The Mets will need his power bat bad.

        • Colon has been hot and cold this season, so good to see he was hot yesterday. Boras and Harvey are putting their interest first and the Mets last. That is same Harvey who begged to pitch late last season, and now a year later he is begging not to pitch. Go figure.

          • This entire thing spiraled into something resembling the rhetorical equivalent of a tangled fishing reel, and if the Mets hadn’t jumped so strikingly into the race this season it probably wouldn’t even be a topic. The Mets aren’t exactly blameless: last year, they had to tie Matt Harvey down to keep him from pitching meaningless games; this year, they have a legitimate postseason shot, maybe going all the way to the World Series, and suddenly nobody seems to know how best to handle him?

            Put Boras to one side; the worst kept secret in baseball is that he pokes his nose out of his hole at just about the wrong time regarding his clients lately. If Harvey is acting and talking on the advice of his doctor, then who’s got his back? Terry Collins—who’s been adept at keeping his players on an even keel all season long—damn near threw him under the bus over the weekend by saying things that suggest questioning his man’s character, never mind that Harvey can be a character and Collins strained to emphasise that taking himself out of the picture wasn’t in Harvey’s nature.

            And Sandy Alderson, who steered the Mets to contention at last by pulling the trigger on much-needed bat reinforcement midyear, has thrown up a few too many mixed signals on how or whether the Mets were on board with a Harvey innings limit from the beginning.

            We presume Harvey’s surgeon Dr. James Andrews told Harvey entering the season that 180 innings or thereabout would be the smart way to go, in your first full season back from Tommy John surgery, not being able to predict the Mets would be striking for a division title or even a postseason presence at all. (Right now, it’s division title or bust; the NL wild cards won’t be coming from the NL East.) We also presume Andrews advised the Mets in that regard. Why didn’t the Mets set it plain and straight from the outset, the way the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg’s situation in 2012? Sure, half the world flapped its yap over that one down the stretch, but I repeat—it wasn’t the lack of Strasburg that kept those Nats from going past that year’s division series.

            The Harvey scenario has been bungled right from the start, it seems now. It’s doing him no favours and them no favours. They’re going to look as though they could care less about the long-term health of a pitcher on whom they’ve all but pegged the franchise, when they do have options to play in the postseason, and Harvey’s going to look selfish for daring to ponder his long-term health against a short-term goal.

            One way out, suggested by Yardbarker’s Baseball Essential blog—think about using Harvey out of the bullpen in the postseason. It would keep his innings down, it would give the Mets another pen weapon at a time when their most glaring problem is the bullpen other than Jeurys Familia, and it would let Harvey pitch in the postseason with little seeming danger while getting one and all off the hook for having bungled the whole thing in the first place.

            (Hark back to 1986, when then-Mets manager Davey Johnson adroitly penciled Sid Fernandez—one of his two team strikeout leaders—into the bullpen for the World Series and got sterling work out of Fernandez in that role, particularly in Game Seven when he all but imprisoned the Red Sox for two and a third and gave the Mets a chance to measure how far out of gas stout Red Sox starter Bruce Hurst, who’d manhandled them earlier in the Series, was getting by the middle innings . . . who’s to say Harvey wouldn’t be a similar hammer in the same position?)

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