I already wrote about attending Games 1 and 2, which were both Nationals losses thanks to terrible situational hitting and some questionable (at-best) managerial decisions by Matt Williams with respect to the bullpen.
Heading out to SF, everyone thought the sweep was in order. The Nats were after all facing the Giants' ace, Madison Bumgartner, who was last seen thoroughly dominating the Pirates in the Wild Card game. Washington, however, could take some confidence in that it was Doug Fister on the mound to save the season. Fister spent the first month or so on the DL. Since then, he was arguably the Nationals best starter (the ONLY argument to made otherwise is for Jordan Zimmermann, NOT Stephen Strasburg).
And, in this game, the Nationals FINALLY had a break go their way. Ian Desmond led off (the 4th I think) with a single up the middle. Harper walked. Ramos asked to bunt. Quickly draws two strikes. Matt Williams gambles and keeps the bunt on. Despite a great jump from second, Bumgartner looks to throw to get him at third and wildly misses the covering shortstop. Ball gets lost in the bullpen. Desmond and Harper both score, Ramos to second. I believe that Cabrera and Fister got out and Span walked, leading to a Rendon single to drive in Ramos from second. 3-0.
That led to this insurance run:
Harper also had two really nice plays in left field that led to crucial outs. And the Nats held on 4-1 to stave off elimination.
This was always going to be the nail-biter, regardless how the series was going, with Mr. Inconsistent, Gio Gonzalez starting for the Nationals. And, while he was okay, his own mistakes led to an early 2-0 hole. When Gio is not on, command is always the problem. Here was no exception. After walking a few guys in a row, he walked in a run. In a playoff game. In an elimination playoff game. He also misplayed a grounder back to the mound and he and Rendon combined to misplay a bunt down the third baseline, leading to the second run. He came back from that rocky 2nd inning but didn't even pitch into the fifth inning.
In the fifth, Desmond led off with a single and Harper put together a really nice at-bat, that led to a Desmond-scoring RBI double. Then, both Ramos and Cabrera failed to advance Harper to third with no outs, and one out, respectively. Just absolutely inexcusable in the playoffs. And the type of mistake teams like the Giants and Cardinals simply don't make.
Harper, the team's MVP of the series, wasn't done though. Top seventh, this:
What. A. Bomb. And though some sportswriters didn't like it (ahem, ahem, asshole Mike Wise), I absolutely LOVED that Harper stared down the pitcher and how crazy he went in trying to fire up the team. In that moment, he was putting the team on his back and just needed a little bit of help.
Unfortunately, the bullpen, bats and manager gave him none.
Thus, after Harper's game-tying HR, bringing the Nationals back in the series, in the bottom of the seventh, Williams goes with...Matt Thornton.
Groundout, single, single.
Williams goes with...Aaron Barrett? WHAT?!?!?! Remember, he had Strasburg, Craig Stammen, Soriano and Tyler Clippard all in the bullpen. None of them warmed up or threw a pitch in this game. Why? Because Thornton and Barrett were the seventh inning "plan" according to Matt Williams. The knock on Barrett is also control (not to mention having never been in a pressure situation like this before). So he promptly walks Hunter Pence and throws a wild pitch to Sandoval. Giants up 3-2. Really game over at that point.
The Nationals went down in order in the eighth and, except for a two-out walk to Harper in the ninth (the Giants really wanted NO part of Harper in that at-bat), pretty much went down without much resistance. Giants advance. Best-in-NL Nationals go home.
- Matt Williams refusing to deviate from his "plan" in games 2 and 4 were epic blunders. At the same time, the players ultimately claim responsibility for this choke job and here's why.
- The first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh hitters -- Span, Werth, LaRoche, Desmond and Ramos, were a combined 9-88 in the series. Span, Werth and LaRoche were especially bad out of this group. This is the core of your offense. They simply didn't produce and needed to.
- These two columns from ace writer Thom Loverro (number one and number two) pretty much explain it all
- I don't expect LaRoche to be back next year. They need to play Ryan Zimmerman somewhere and 1B seems logical, especially considering LaRoche plays much, much better in contract years and in light of his failings in this series.
- Span, on the other hand, I do expect to be back, despite his offensive woes in the series and in the first month of the season. He simply brings too much to the table is relatively inexpensive for a player with his tools.
- I expect Asdrubal Cabrera to be too expensive in free agency to keep. The Nationals will need to find a second baseman somewhere.
- Pretty good two young cornerstones to have, eh? Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon?
- Drew Storen is not the answer at closer. Need to find one. Rafael Soriano is gone.
- Lots of decisions for the club to make in the next few years, as contracts expire and people stand in line for big paydays: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, Clippard, Fister.
- As a Cubs fan, nothing about this ultimately surprised me. In fact, this collapse felt eerily like the Cubs 2008 choke-job. Speaking of Cubs, yesterday was the 11th anniversary of this (good times):