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Washington Nationals: Days after elimination, Williams, Nats look to regroup for 2015

(October 6, 2014 - Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)
(October 6, 2014 – Source: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)

The Washington Nationals had the National League’s best record during the regular season for the second time in three years. For the second time in three years, the team failed to win a playoff series.

The latest playoff disappointment has the Nats looking forward to 2015, wondering what could have been… again.

Washington looked poised to rebound from their playoff collapse to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. Many of this year’s players were part of the run that totaled 100 wins (including the playoffs) that year. This year was supposed to be different. This team wasn’t new to the playoffs anymore.

The playoff jitters were gone, they came back from deficits all year, and they had the league’s best pitching.  None of that mattered and Washington is watching the NLCS from home once again.

Washington’s offense, which was productive during the regular season, was silenced by the San Francisco Giants’ pitching staff. In the four playoff games, the Nats managed only 9 runs, including 1 run in an 18 inning contest in Game 2.

Their pitching also allowed 9 runs, but the Giants won all three games that were decided by a single run.

While the offense struggled to score runs and the pitching staff tried valiantly to stave off elimination, it was manager Matt Williams that ultimately cost the Nats their first trip to the NLCS. Williams’ extended list of bad decisions got even worse in the decisive Game 4, leaving baseball writers across the country to criticize the rookie skipper.

Williams’ decision to only go with two left-handed pitchers in the bullpen was questionable in itself, leaving Ross Detwiler off the NLDS roster. What was even more mind-boggling was that one of the lefties, Jerry Blevins, was brought in to face Gregor Blanco. If that wasn’t bad enough, Matt Thornton was left in to face Buster Posey.

Williams managed this game like it was a regular season game, refusing to bring in his best pitchers in the toughest of situations.

Aaron Barrett, not Tyler Clippard, was brought in to put out the 7th inning fire in a tie game. His inability to find the strike zone led to the game-winning run, but Barrett was part of one of the wildest plays you’ll see in any baseball game. After Barrett threw a wild pitch to bring in a run, he was planning to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval.

During an intentional ball, Barrett lobbed the ball over catcher Wilson Ramos, who threw out Posey at the plate with Barrett covering. Clippard, closer Drew Storen, and ace Stephen Strasburg, who was announced he was available to pitch in Game 4, were spectators the entire game.

The 2015 season may be the Nats’ last chance for a legitimate World Series run, as several pending free agents are due hefty raises. Shortstop Ian Desmond, starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, and Clippard are all free agents after next year. If Washington picks up a $9 million option on Denard Span this year, he too, will be a free agent after 2015.

First baseman Adam LaRoche has a $15 million mutual option for next year, but it’s unlikely he’ll be brought back, even if he wants to come back.

It’s been noted that the Nationals’ owners, the Lerner family, has the funds necessary to pay almost any free agent, but Mark Lerner said the payroll is “beyond topped out” in April. Desmond and Zimmermann are looking at a $15 million annual salary (or more) if they were to stay with the team past next season.

Ryan Zimmerman, who logically would move to first after LaRoche’s departure, also makes a huge salary, along with Jayson Werth.  Don’t be surprised if Zimmermann or Desmond is traded during the off-season, as it sounds unrealistic for both to be retained past next year.

Unfortunately, baseball is a business, and whether or not players want to stay on their respective teams is not always their choice. General manager Mike Rizzo has gotten a ton of credit for his job as the Nats’ GM, but anyone could have drafted Strasburg or Bryce Harper.

Rizzo has to earn his worth by deciding between two key players that could keep Washington relevant in the NL East. As for Matt Williams, he needs to shake off a miserable postseason and have his team ready for another playoff appearance.

Washington’s team may look very different this season, but for now, they have to forget about this one.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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