Matt Williams’ must-win strategy could use some work

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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.

RELATED: Sick of seeing Cardinals, Giants in NLCS? Too bad

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.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: