Washington Nationals’ Ian Desmond (20) safely steals second base as Colorado Rockies shortstop Daniel Descalso (3) jumps to field the throw during the seventh inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in Washington. The Nationals won 6-1. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
While most good teams are currently hitting their stride, the Washington Nationals still seem plagued by poor fundamental decisions that may cost them a chance at earning a second straight division pennant.
Team Manager Matt Williams continues to baffle fans and observers alike with mind-boggling choices. This time last year, the fan base wondered whether Williams could lead the team to victories in the games that mattered most. He responded by leading Washington to a 96-66 record and a first place finish in the NL East. But when the pressure was on in the playoffs, he made some poor decisions which drove the team to an early exit.
This season, it seems Williams is either letting starters pitch to one batter too many or one batter too few, or bringing in the wrong pitcher for the moment.
Although the Nationals’ pitching staff has not lived up to expectations, some of the blame of their failures should fall on Williams’ shoulders. He hasn’t made the right calls during critical moments in recent games and it’s starting to hurt Washington’s pennant race chances. That was evident in the series that Washington lost to the division-leading New York Mets last weekend.
Williams made poor decisions such as allowing rookie pitcher Joe Ross pitch into the seventh inning when he had a healthy bullpen ready to do their job. Another instance was taking veteran starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez out too early after allowing just four hits and one run through 5.2 innings. Both of those decisions cost the Nationals winnable games against a team with whom they’re racing neck-to-neck down the final stretch of the season.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) throws during a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The return of starter Stephen Strasburg from injury is significant, especially if he can give the team electric efforts such as his first performance on Aug. 8. The young, promising pitcher delivered 12 strikeouts and lasted into the eighth inning before he was relieved.
With Strasburg back in the fold and looking healthy, and the return of center fielder Denard Span within a week, the squad will be at full health. They need to be firing on all cylinders, because the Mets aren’t going anywhere.
The Nationals need to weather this storm and keep pace with New York. They have just over 50 games to go. Will they step up or crumble?