Last night, Williams made one big questionable decision which helped send the game spiraling out of control. The worst part may not even be the decision itself, but other things around it. Such as the fact that there was a group of fans that didn't think that decision was bad but thought his follow-up was the problem. And the fact that the game blowing up helped hide another mistake that was going to rear its head as the game went on. Williams really can't win. But first the mistake.
In the bottom of the 5th Gio Gonzalez was the second batter due up. He had already hit 93 pitches and was getting out of self-made jams all night. It seemed only a matter of time until things blew up on him. The easy call was to pinch hit for Gio now and move on with another pitcher in the 6th. Instead Matt Williams let Gio hit for himself.
There are reasons why you could let this happen. Several in fact. The problem was almost none applied at the time. Gio could bat if :
- The Nats had a big lead : Nope. Nats were up only 1.
- The opponent had a lefty or lefties coming up early the next inning : Nope. The Dbacks had three straight righties.
- You thought Gio might be likely to come up in the bottom of the 6th : Nope. By being 2nd up in the bottom of the 5th with one-out it was unlikely that the line-up would work it's way back to Gio.
- Bullpen was gassed : Nope. There were two pitchers who Williams would likely avoid using last night but the rest of the pen would be fine to use.
- Gio had been cruising coming into this inning : Nope. He'd allowed 2 or more baserunners in 3 of the last 4 innings.
So there's the mistake(s). What other mistake did it cover up? The "Davey"ing of Storen and Papelbon over the past two nights. I call it "Davey"ing because it is kind of like what Davey did to Drew back in 2012. He failed to keep him loose, then felt forced to use him in a game that didn't matter, only to find himself forced to use him on three straight nights. Matt made the same mistake using neither Drew or Pap in the Mets series, feeling forced to use them so putting them in Game 1 vs the Diamondbacks when it didn't matter, then looking at having to use them yesterday and today. Either he could stretch them or sit them. Either would be sub-optimal.****
Not a good night for Matt. But what about the title of my post? Well here's the thing. You should be able to turn to your pen and they should be able to get you a few outs. This pen, outside of Drew and Papelbon, is often unreliable. So let's say Matt made the "right move" and went to Roark and he did ok for two innings (He seems to finally be settling back into the pen. This year he's had issues transitioning back to relief after spot starting, so let's just stop that). Now it's the 8th and the game is close. You probably want Janssen to pitch the 9th where it is likely the heart of the order will come up again. So who's in the 8th? Barrett? He's terrible under pressure. Thornton? Might be tiring at 38 and into the dog days. Rivero? Rookie arm?
And here's the other thing. The Nats couldn't score against Rubby De La Rosa. Just like they couldn't score against Patrick Corbin. Just like they couldn't score against Zach Godley. Can we finally say it's the line-up and not the pitchers they face? Please?
And here's the other other thing. Scherzer only went 6. Fister only went 6. Gio didn't even get there. Ross was the last one to pitch into the 7th and he gave up a homer and double before being pulled. Six innings is ok, but you want these guys pitching into the 7th if possible. That negates the unpredictable part of the pen and dammit it's what the "best rotation in baseball" is supposed to do.
Matt Williams is bad at managing the pen. That's true. He doesn't plan out usage well. He doesn't pick the right guys as logic would dictate. And if there's any art to it, if there's a sense that you can feel who's got it tonight, well if that's a real thing Matt don't got it. But this in itself shouldn't be a big problem especially with Storen and Papelbon at the back end. It only becomes a big problem because the Nats rotation isn't living up to it's end of the bargain***** and the offense can't score any runs. In that case every inning is important and the soft underbelly of the Nats and Matt Williams is exposed.
Understand this. The Nats aren't winning anything, not with Matt Williams at the head or goddamn Joe McCarthy, unless the hitters hit and the starters pitch.
*Note : This is where that other group of fans get angry. They think Gio should have been allowed to pitch the 6th, maybe more and pulling him, not letting him hit and pitch, was the big mistake. They are wrong, I don't know how you could have watched that game and wanted to see what Gio would do as he got tired, but let's put those differing opinions out there and discuss and/or ridicule.
**Whoever came in was likely to have to throw 2 innings of baseball because he wouldn't come up until the 7th. Barrett had just done that true, but Roark is probably the arm you trust most both in general and to put up multiple innings, especially with the middle of the D-backs order coming up.
***Bad throw or not Zimm really has to block that. He tried to short hop it and just whiffed completely. That's why Rendon couldn't get to it either. He was in position for if the throw missed Zimm, not if Zimm missed the throw.
****What Williams should have done, once the Mets series was over, was use Papelbon OR Storen in Game 1. If Game 2 was also a blowout he could use the other then. If Game 2 and Game 3 were both close he'd have both for Game 2 and at least one for Game 3.
***** A game score ~60 is generally a good, above 70 is usually a great game. Since Zimmermann pitched a 74 on July 5th (7IP, 5H, 8K, 1BB, 1ER). Here are the games above 60 - Scherzer, Scherzer, Scherzer, Ross. Meanwhile how many mediocre under 50 games have there been? Nine. The staff hasn't been terrible, but "not terrible" isn't acceptable from this staff.