Matt Williams puts up another strong performance in his quest to get himself fired

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It’s like watching a car crash. Wait, that’s not quite right. A car crash happens quickly and, in the moment, there’s a sense that you can’t do anything to stop it, so that’s not it.

This is more like watching someone slowly pedal a tricycle over a cliff. Only you notice them heading toward the edge 200 feet before they get there, you keep yelling at them to stop, at first panicked and then almost amused at just how determined they are to roll over the edge. But they don’t stop so instead of trying to stop them you just sit back and marvel at their suicidal determination. Hey, if they have no sense of urgency or regard for their own well-being, why in the hell should you?

I’m talking about Matt Williams and his performance behind the handlebars of the Radio Flyer that is the 2015 Washington Nationals. Last night he wheeled them and himself ever closer to the edge, wheels squeaking, horn honking and bell ringing. At this rate, we’ll soon see the little orange flag attached to the back flutter and then watch them disappear entirely.

The Nats carried a 5-3 lead into the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals last night. As Williams said after Monday’s late innings loss, the eighth inning belongs to Drew Storen. Except Storen didn’t have anything. He allowed the first two batters to reach, one via a plunking, and then allowed a run to score on his own throwing error. After an intentional walk he induced a double play which scored a run — fair enough tradeoff I suppose — and then got out of the inning. The game was tied 5-5.

In the ninth inning, Matt Williams had a choice. He could go to Jonathan Papelbon, one of the best closers in baseball history and the big piece for which Mike Rizzo traded at the deadline, or he could go with Casey Janssen, who imploded to give up four runs in Monday night’s debacle, throwing 26 pitches. Williams went with Janssen. Who, after getting two outs, gave up a double and a walk, likely due to the fatigue of throwing 45 high-leverage pitches in two nights to that point.

Why not go with Papelbon, either to start the inning or after it was clear that Janssen was tiring? Here’s Williams:

“We want him closing games out, yeah. So we’re down to two guys. We need a one inning guy there because we’re going to have to hit for the pitcher anyway and we’re going to have to go long with Sammy [Solis] in that regard.”

Which is to say that Jonathan Papelbon, as a closer, needs to pitch only with a lead and can never come in a game in the middle of an inning. Never mind that he’s your best relief pitcher and has hardly been used in the second half. Never mind that Janssen authored the previous night’s loss. Never mind that Williams already knew the Mets lost and that this game gave him a GOLDEN opportunity to make up some ground. And never mind that the Cardinals have scored 10 runs in the seventh through ninth innings over the past two nights, with Jonathan Papelbon not once getting into the game.

The book says you don’t use your closer in a tie game on the road, dammit. And that holds even if the alternative is letting a known arsonist into the fireworks shop and asking him to make sure the place is locked up before he leaves.

The result:

 

Credit to Brandon Moss and the Cardinals, of course. They’re the best team in the game this year and they’re gonna get theirs more often than they don’t. But they didn’t need to get this one. Or the one the night before. Those are games that even the good teams in the Cards’ position lose and even the bad teams in the Nats’ position win more often than not.

The Nats are not a bad team as we tend to think of bad teams. They just have a bad manager. A bad manager who will be looking for a job soon. As soon as early this afternoon if I or anyone with anything approaching a sense of urgency was running the Washington Nationals.

Twins reach historic home run total during 11-4 rout of White Sox

Max Kepler
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The Twins trampled the White Sox on Friday night, cruising to a cool 11-4 lead over their division rivals and collecting their sixth double-digit win of 2019. Even more impressive, they picked up their 99th, 100th, and 101st home runs, a feat that’s rarely been matched in a team’s first 50 games of any given season.

The first homer of the night was delivered by Eddie Rosario in the third inning. Working against a single-run deficit, Rosario lifted an 0-1 fastball from the White Sox’ Reynaldo López, planting it firmly in the left field stands and evening the score, 4-4. Two batters later, Rosario’s solo home run got a sequel: a 398-footer from Miguel Sanó, this one postmarked for the upper deck in left.

In the fourth, now leading 5-4, the Twins saw a third and final homer from the bat of Max Kepler, whose center-field blast traveled a projected 397 feet to give the club a two-run advantage. Per MLB Stats, the Twins’ record — 101 homers in 50 games — stands second only to that of the 1999 Mariners, who managed to club 102 home runs before their 51st game of the season.

While the record has undoubtedly been a team effort, Rosario leads the pack with a team-best 15 homers so far this year, closely followed by C.J. Cron (13), Max Kepler (11), and Jonathan Schoop (10). Sanó, whose solo shot marked the team’s 100th home run of 2019, has just five, though there’s little doubt he’ll reach double digits before the end of the season.

According to MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park, the Twins also made it to an even 300 runs scored in 2019, for a satisfying average of six runs per game and a new franchise record (previous high mark: 273 runs scored in 1992). With the win, they improved to 34-16 on the year and continue to hold a comfortable eight-game lead in the AL Central.