The series was lost because the Nats couldn't score runs. That's the simple reason but it's also the most true. There are ways to win despite not scoring runs, but it's still despite. There's a implicit admission that the Nats would be winning even though they'd been put in a hole by their offense. I don't think anyone is forgetting that, but considering we're going to spend most of today lambasting Matt Williams, it's important to keep that in the back of your mind. Matt Williams failed to lead the Nats to victory after his bats failed him first.
But still he did fail in one of the most epic tempting of fates that I've ever seen during a playoff game. Decision after decision it seemed like Matt was eschewing the optimal for the familiar, and daring the game to get out of hand. It never did but eventually he made enough bone-headed moves that one finally cost the Nats. It cost them but a single run, but with the offense the way it was the Nats couldn't afford that.
Decision #1 : Letting Gio bat in the Top of the 3rd
This is probably his 2nd most defensible decision. If he pinch hits for Gio here he is starting the dominoes of PH and relief matching very early and likely leaving himself with few pieces to play at the end of the game. The problem is Gio had a very rough Bottom 2 and thus you were betting that Gio, known for his blow-ups, would calm down enough to give you another 2-3 innings of shutout ball. With two top notch starters able to go tonight in Roark and Stras you have to be sure he's going to perform and I just don't see how Matt Williams could have been. It's a toss-up and in hindsight the lack of offense probably tells you he should have done it, but Gonzalez wasn't beat up in the 2nd with hard hits. Gut deicion but I can't blame Williams here.
Decision #2 : Roark instead of Strasburg
As excited as we were for the prospect of Strasburg unleashed for 2+ innings of "just strike them all out" ball in retrospect this should have told us all we needed to know about the rest of the game. We wanted Matt to maximize the arms available to him, which was essentially everyone but Game 5 starter Zimmermann. By using Roark though, it should have been apparent that the plan simply went as far as those arms were available if needed. Using Strasburg, or Clippard/Storen before "their inning" were "break in case of glass" options. Knowing that the choice of Roark is obvious.
Decision #3 : Roark stays in instead of Thornton.
This is the first real "prove me wrong, normal person thinking" move he made last night. The key comes down to understanding Blevins splits and Sandoval's splits. Sandoval is a much better hitter lefty so you want to turn him around. Blevins who you like to face LHB, however, was terrible against righties all year long, so you don't want him facing a RHB. The obvious solution, with lefties coming up after Sandoval, was to use Thornton, who didn't have those splits. Matt opted to let Roark, who had given up two hits early in the inning to LHB and stay in and face Sandoval. Fate tempted. Pop up. Matt Wins.
Decision #4 : Blevins faces righties in the 6th
Historically Blevins is not bad versus RHB, but recently he had been. That's why I only had one firm rule : Blevins doesn't face righties. He faced righties. Fate tempted. Matt wins again as the admittedly weak Giant PHs fail to get a hit, though Duffy does rip one. Nice play by Desmond there.
Decision #5 : Thornton faces Posey
At this point - Bottom of the 7th - it's gotta be all hands on deck. If you have a RHP available to face Posey you use him. Matt didn't. Fate tempted. This time fate wins. Posey singles.
Decision #6 : Barrett instead of Clippard
Matt's 2nd worst call of the night. As we discussed earlier Strasburg at this point is a no go. There are more conventional options available. At this point Matt's choices are Stammen, Barrett, Clippard and Storen. Barrett may rank 4th among these choices. He's by far the wildest and the last time Barrett pitched he came in to face Hunter Pence and Pence promptly doubled. So you bring him in to face Pence again? Insanity. Perhaps over Stammen it does make sense. Stammen didn't really corrall RHP and despite his yeoman's work in the 18 inning affair, he doesn't inspire confidence. But both Clippard and Storen were better against RHB. While not the 8th inning, one out into the 7th has to be close enough that you consider Clippard and if you do consider him you come up with the obvious answer he should pitch. Fate tempted. Fate wins again as Barrett walks Pence.
Decision #7 : Barrett continues to pitch to Sandoval.
Matt's worst call of the night. See last entry. Add emphasis on Barrett being the wildest. Understand that the bases were now loaded by a walk issues by Barrett. See "Roark stays in" entry. Understand that while there are no lefties left in the pen, lefties hit Barrett much better than they hit Clippard (who they hit much better than they hit Storen). Storen would have been the best stat call here but based on his performance going with Clippard would have been understandable, maybe even preferable. Sticking with Barrett. Indefensible. Fate tempted. Fate kicks Matt in the face. Barrett throws two wild pitches and gives up the game
Decision #8 : Soriano in to pitch to Belt
Not as terrible as you'd think. Lefties didn't hit Soriano all that well and he'd been ok over his last few outings. He also never had an issue giving up homers, even during his collapse. Considering it would take a triple to score Sandoval from first you can justify this move, especially thinking one step ahead and hoping that the Nats might have to PH for the pitcher in the next inning. I won't deny I had a bad gut reaction too but upon review not a terrible move
Decision #9 : Soriano keeps pitching the 8th
OK now this is bad. Based on what you know of Soriano you can't let him have a full inning when you need a shut out. THIS IS EVEN CLIPPARD'S INNING! Fate tempted. Matt wins for the last time with big time help from the Giants though. Crawford would rap a LD single and the Giants would give an out moving him over. Then Bochy would give Ishikawa the green light on 3-0 for some reason and he'd ground out on a pitch that could have been Ball 4. Blanco would hit a hard GB but at LaRoche to end the inning.
Matt made 9 decisions pitching wise by my count, Maybe I missed one or two. Fully six of them were sub-optimal decisions that put the Nats in a worse position than they needed to be. The Nats pitching staff is good enough (implicit Rizzo praise here) that Matt's bad decisions didn't blow up the game, but in an elimination game with a struggling offense there is no room for bad decisions of any kind.
There's no call for a firing from me, but there is a sincere hope that sometime between now and the start of next season we hear a contrite Matt Williams express understanding of what he did wrong. The Nats will likely be in the playoffs next year and we don't need to spend it worrying that the team will be held back by the manager.