The Washington Nationals know what it feels like to have the National League’s best regular season record, only to meet disappointment in the playoffs.
It looks like the Nationals are about to face that same fate again. Washington looks to stave off elimination this evening against the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS. Nationals manager Matt Williams has made some head scratching decisions that may have put Washington in a win-or-go-home situation in the first place.
The first poor decision by Williams was to start Stephen Strasburg in Game 1. Strasburg, who made his first playoff appearance after being shut down during the 2012 playoff run, didn’t pitch poorly, but allowed enough runs to put the struggling offense out of reach.
Jordan Zimmermann, fresh off a regular season-capping no-hitter, would have pitched on regular rest and would start a potential Game 5, had he opened up the series. Zimmermann pitched 8 2/3 innings in Game 2, but was ultimately charged with an earned run when closer Drew Storen came in to get the last out.
Storen has had the haunted memories of the 2012 NLDS against the Cardinals etched in his mind since that crushing Game 5 defeat two years ago, whether he admits it or not. Storen, who dazzled in the month of September, was called upon after Zimmermann allowed a two-out walk in the 9th inning of Game 2.
Zimmermann only threw 100 pitches and was dominant the entire game, allowing only three hits prior to the walk. For Williams to take out his starter showed a lack of confidence in Zimmermann, who had one of the major’s lowest ERA this year.
Speaking of Zimmermann, there was another Zimmerman (albeit a different spelling) that could have made a difference in one of the Nats’ losses so far. That guy is Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s first ever draft pick. The former University of Virginia star had been relegated to a bench utility role for the playoffs and Williams had the option when to use his potent bat off the bench.
With the tying run on first in the sixth inning, the Nats manager left Adam LaRoche to bat against Giants lefty Javier Lopez. LaRoche, who was 0-for-9 with 8 strikeouts against Lopez, eventually drew a walk. Zimmerman had a favorable matchup with Lopez and the veteran has a knack for hits in key situations. Ian Desmond stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout.
Zimmerman was then inexplicably used as a pinch-hitter with no runners on base after Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera hit home runs. Williams then put a stamp on Game 1 by pinch-hitting Danny Espinosa, a .200 hitter since the 2013 season began, as the tying run (and potential final out). Espinosa, not surprisingly, swung at the first pitch and hit a routine grounder to end the game.
For what it’s worth, Williams did make the correct decision to name Doug Fister the team’s third starter in the playoffs, but it’s probably too late. Only a handful of teams have ever come back from an 0-2 deficit in the divisional series and the Nats’ uninspiring offense has produced 3 runs in 27 innings. Maybe a change of scenery will help at the spacious AT&T Park, but Fister has to be close to perfect when he takes the hill for Game 3.
As for Matt Williams, he’s been far from perfect during the series’ first two games and Washington is one loss away because of him.