How do you lose a 3-2 game without ever using either of your two best relievers or the No. 1 starter you designated to the bullpen for the day?
Nationals manager Matt Williams used six pitchers in Tuesday’s Game 4 loss to the Giants. None of them were named Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen or Stephen Strasburg.
Williams made the proper move in taking Gio Gonzalez out for a pinch-hitter after four innings, but that was the only time he showed a real sense of urgency in the game. Gonzalez’s hiccup came in the second inning, when he botched a comebacker and then came momentarily unglued, giving up a pair of unearned runs. He was throwing well afterwards, and he was at just 55 pitches, but trying to score runs was the priority in the top of the fifth.
Williams, though, then decided to turn to his fifth starter, Tanner Roark, in the bottom of the fifth rather than his co-ace in Stephen Strasburg. That started the procession: Roark, Jerry Blevins, Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and Rafael Soriano.
The biggest mistake in there was letting Thornton, a lefty, face Buster Posey with one on and one out with the score still 2-2 in the seventh. Only after Posey singled did Barrett take over, but a righty should have been in the game already That it was Barrett over Clippard was something of a surprise. Not to take anything away from Barrett, who was excellent as a rookie and has a promising future, but with the score tied in the seventh inning of a must-win game, that situation had Clippard written all over it.
Unfortunately, Barrett walked Hunter Pence to load the bases and threw a wild pitch to allow Joe Panik to score. It was then that something truly bizarre happened: Barrett set up to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval, airmailed to throw home and would up with an out anyway after making a play on Posey at the plate.
At that point, it seemed like a given that Barrett shouldn’t continue. So it was finally Clippard time, right? Nope. On came exiled closer Rafael Soriano with the dangerous Brandon Belt at the plate. At least that all worked out for Williams — Belt lined out to left and Soriano stayed in to pitch a scoreless eighth — but it was still an awfully dangerous choice in a one-run game.
In the end, the Nationals’ NLDS downfall had much more to do with the offense than Williams’ self-destructive pitching changed. Nine runs in four games — essentially five games, since one was 18 innings — isn’t getting the job done. Of course, the Giants also scored nine runs in the series and they’re moving on. That’s not all due to the skippers, but anyone who voted Williams ahead of Bruce Bochy in the NL Manager of the Year balloting should be hiding their heads in embarrassment right now.