LAKE BUENA VISTA — I’ll post some pictures and random thoughts about the Braves’ complex a little later, but for now let’s talk about Matt Williams.
Williams was a bit of an unknown quantity to most fans when he was hired as the Nats’ manager. One obviously knows of his playing career and one knows he coached in Arizona, but it was harder to get a read on his preferences and dispositions as a manager. Is he going to be one of the new breed of cerebral managers who puts a lot of stock in advanced metrics? Is he going to kick it old school? Inquiring minds want to know.
This morning during his media availability Williams was asked a lot about that. What are his go-to stats. How he feels about taking extra bases. Defensive shifts. That sort of stuff. His answers suggested that he is going to take every single piece of data, be it from the analytics department or his own gut, into account. He’ll leave nothing off the table.
For stats, he said that it depends largely on who the hitter is. He’ll look to on-base percentage for his leadoff hitters like Denard Span. For someone like Wilson Ramos batting average with runners in scoring position will matter more. For guys like Bryce Harper who, Williams says does everything well and “can take over a game,” it all matters but it’ll all probably take care of itself. For pitchers. he wants to see his strikeout guys striking guys out and guys who strike fewer batter out, normally speaking, to just get early outs. “Stats are good,” Williams said. “But feel is also good.”
I asked him about defensive shifts, and Williams said that there are “reams” of data out there and that it’s impossible to take it all in. That said, he’s going to do his best to try, and expects that he’ll have the Nats shifting more on defense this year than we’ve seen in the past while having his hitters do their best to take advantage of open holes presented by opponents’ shifts. But again, there are no absolutes. Not all pitchers can hit the spots necessary to force hitters to hit into the teeth of an extreme shift. Not all hitters have the bat control to poke it through the opposite side. Williams went back, again and again, to making sure that guys aren’t asked or expected to do things beyond their capabilities. That seems to be the common denominator for him.
So no, Williams is no extremist. No hardcore stathead but no old school curmudgeon either. Not that most managers are extremists about such things in comments during spring training. It’ll be interesting to watch his tendencies once the games start to matter, however. I can’t get any real read on what his predispositions will be once the enemy has been met and the battle plans are made obsolete.
We’ve got some potential craziness building in the American League Wild Card race with one day left in the regular season.
After dropping both halves of a doubleheader on Saturday in Baltimore, the Yankees are now just one game up for the first spot — hosting duties. Houston, currently in the second spot, won again Saturday in Arizona behind two Colby Rasmus homers and a very good start from Collin McHugh. Anaheim won Saturday in Arlington, Texas in maybe the wildest game of the year to stay one game back of the ‘Stros.
This also touches the still-undecided American League West, where the Rangers only have a one-game lead on the Astros and will face a fired-up Angels team on Sunday afternoon. By design, the start times for all these games that matter are the same: 3:05 p.m. ET. Only the Cardinals and Braves will play at a different time (due to Saturday’s rainout).
Buckle up, people. Get your popcorn ready. All that.
Your box scores and AP recaps from Saturday …
Yankees 2, Orioles 1 (Game 1)
Royals 5, Twins 1
Angels 11, Rangers 10
Nationals 3, Mets 1 (Game 1)
Rockies 2, Giants 3
Marlins 7, Phillies 6 (Game 1)
Blue Jays 3, Rays 4
Reds 3, Pirates 1
Yankees 3, Orioles 4 (Game 2)
Red Sox 0, Indians 2
Cubs 1, Brewers 0
Nationals 2, Mets 0 (Game 2)
Marlins 5, Phillies 2 (Game 2)
Astros 6, Diamondbacks 2
Padres 1, Dodgers 2
Facing an elimination number of one, the Astros staved off elimination in the AL West by beating the Diamondbacks on Friday night by a 6-1 margin. The Rangers suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Angels on Saturday afternoon, which temporarily put the Astros’ fate in their own hands.
Colby Rasmus hit a pair of solo homers and Jose Altuve added a solo shot of his own. Starter Collin McHugh tossed seven innings of one-run ball, limiting the Diamondbacks to six hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Reliever Will Harris allowed a solo home run to Paul Goldschmidt in the eighth, but Luke Gregerson closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.
The Astros trail the Rangers by one game in the AL West and lead the Angels by one game for the second AL Wild Card slot. The Rangers can clinch the AL West on Sunday afternoon with a win or an Astros loss. The Astros can clinch the second AL Wild Card on Sunday afternoon with a win or an Angels loss.
The Yankees lost both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles and lead the Astros by only one game for the first AL Wild Card slot.
If the Astros win and the Rangers lose on Sunday, they will play an AL West tiebreaker in Texas. The winner will win the second AL Wild Card if the Yankees win on Sunday, or the first AL Wild Card if the Yankees lose on Sunday.
If the Astros lose and the Angels win on Sunday, the two teams will be tied for the second AL Wild Card. They would play a tiebreaker in Houston, and the winner would play the Yankees in New York in the Wild Card game.