With Matt Williams Out, Who Will Manage The Nationals Next?

The saga that was Matt Williams’ tenure as the Washington Nationals manager has come to an end. Despite (miraculously) winning Manager of the Year in 2014, Williams could not grind his way through 2015, which will be remembered for his routinely bad decisions, including his choice to don blinders during the Jonathan PapelbonBryce Harper brawl.

With Williams no longer at the helm, the Nationals are looking for a fresh start under a new leader, raising the question of who can ultimately get them back on track. To delve into that question, I have compiled a list of managerial candidates for 2016. Some of these names are familiar, but there a few—including some with no managerial experience—that deserve a closer look. Continue reading…


A Look Toward The Future After Nats Drop Game 162 To Mets

Game 162 has finally, mercifully come and gone for the Washington Nationals (83-79), closing the door on one of the most turbulent and forgettable seasons in recent memory. It was a fitting, if disappointing, way to finish the year: with a loss to the NL East champion New York Mets (90-72). There are many things for the Nats as an organization to address in the coming off-season, but for now fans can simply breathe a sigh of relief that the circus sideshow that was the Washington Nationals 2015 season is over.

Roark Makes His Case

Tanner Roark could see time back in the starting rotation in 2016, and made a good case for his place there in Sunday’s loss to the Mets. Over six scoreless innings he struck out six hitters, pitching against a Mets staff that was hunting for a no-hitter of their own to match Max Scherzer’s from the previous night. Roark unfortunately did not receive the run support he needed, or the help from his bullpen as Blake Treinen gave up the decisive home run to Curtis Granderson in the eighth inning.

No-No Robinson

Three Mets pitchers were bidding for a combined no-hitter and were successful through the sixth inning. Thankfully for the Nats, Clint Robinson came to the rescue with a hard hit single that bounded off of Mets third baseman Ruben Tejada and was ruled a hit. It was really the only offense to speak of in the game and one of the few bright spots closing out a dismal season.

Looking Ahead

There will be much for the talking heads to discuss concerning the epic meltdown of 2015. Surely this season will live in infamy in the nation’s capital for many years to come, joining the Redskins 2013 season as one of shocking disappointment. Matt Williams will most assuredly be let go just a year after being named NL Manager of the year. Veterans like Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond will head for greener pastures, and then there’s still the matter of Jonathan Papelbon to be discussed ad nauseum.

But my advice is to focus on the things that won’t be talked about as much given the D.C. media’s propensity to dwell on the morbid. Look at how strongly Stephen Strasburg came back from the DL. Revel in the history made by Scherzer, who looks to have a bright future in this city. Brag on Bryce Harper who had a historic season and has showed no signs of slowing down as he heads into next year.
Yes, 2015 was heartbreaking and dumbfounding on many levels, but you and I wouldn’t still be sports fans in Washington D.C. if we didn’t have one thing in spades, and that is hope. Foolhardy, unfounded, glorious, beautiful hope.


Mad Max Does It Again: Scherzer No-Hits Mets

For the penultimate game of the Washington Nationals’ 2015 season they traveled north and braved the rain to play the NL East Division Champion New York Mets. Despite the season (and Matt Williams’ managerial career) being essentially over, there was still plenty to root for as Max Scherzer faced off against Matt Harvey (not shut down? But shut down? But not again?) in a game that started as a pitching duel but turned into something far more historic. More on that in a few.

Aside from the pitching performance, fans were treated to a classic game-161-post-doubleheader-already-eliminated-Nats lineup that featured Trea Turner, Tyler Moore, newly surging slugger Matt den Dekker, as well as Wilmer Difo making his first career start.

But none of that mattered as Nationals ace Scherzer threw his second no-hitter of the year (the first pitcher to do so in the regular season since Nolan Ryan of the 1973 California Angels [not of Anaheim]).

After an utterly dominant start last time out against the Cincinnati Reds (8.0 IP. 2 H. 1 R. 3 BB. 10 K.), there was something in the air in Flushing and it was not sewage. Scherzer dialed up his own Saturday Night Special at Citi Field as he put together one of the most dominating statistical performances in Major League Baseball history: 9 IP. 0 H. 0 R. 0 BB. 17 K. From the beginning it was evident that Scherzer had “it” – the electric no-hit stuff that we have seen from Max several times this season.

There are countless statistics and trivia questions that will be tweeted and written about over the next few weeks and months but I would like to sum up a few of them right here:

– To be clear: by Bill James’ Game Score (a statistical measure to judge single game pitching performance), this game was second in baseball history only to Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game.

– The third time through the order Scherzer struck out every single batter he faced – including pinch hitters (not-MVP) Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda. The nine straight strikeouts were a franchise record.

– Watch each of those strikeouts right here: 

– Scherzer set a franchise record for strikeouts in a single game – beating his own record.

– He is only the sixth pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a single season.

– In each of his no-hitters, Scherzer got a hit. He is the first pitcher to do so in two no-hitters in a season since Jim Tobin in 1944 (h/t @theaceofspaeder).

– Not to be outshined, Wilson Ramos has caught three no-hitters in the past 161 regular season games; Jordan Zimmermann’s and both Scherzer no-hitters.

Scherzer in 2015 has been nothing short of breathtaking and he has already made his $210 million contract worth it in the eyes of most fans in D.C. On three separate occasions he was as close to perfect as possible; a bloop single off the bat of Carlos Gomez of the Brewers, a Jose Tabata leaned in HBP, and an out-of-position Yunel Escobar throwing error. Instead, he will have to settle with having the TWO of the best game scores in the history of the game – second- and sixth-best.

At the end of a lost season Scherzer delighted fans one more time and gave them something to hang their hats on for the year. Not only have we been witnesses to one of the best offensive seasons of all time by Bryce Harper but we have now seen two of the best individual pitching performances of all time – both by Scherzer. This may not have been the October performance scenario that the Nationals hoped to see from their ace but it was one that will be long remembered in Nationals and MLB history.

For good measure here is Mets beat writer and professional troll Anthony DiComo’s scorecard from tonight. Revel in it. Cherish it. You likely won’t ever see anything like this again.


Papelbon Attacks Harper In Loss

Yes, there was a game Sunday. Yes, the bullpen blew a lead and then some, condemning the Washington Nationals to yet another embarrassing loss, 12-5 at the hands of the lowly Philadelphia Phillies. But the story of today’s game was not the contest played on the field. It was Jonathan Papelbon‘s attack on Bryce Harper in the dugout that rightfully captured the headlines.

After Papelbon retired the last batter of the eighth inning, Harper came to bat in the home half of the frame. He lofted a fly to left and jogged to first. Papelbon took umbrage with his perceived lack of effort and yelled at him from the dugout. As Harper returned, the two continued arguing, and the confrontation turned violent as Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat and pushed him against a wall, starting a fight that their teammates broke up. You can watch the bulk of the incident below.

Of course, it was far from over there. Harper stormed off, shouting “I’m f****** done!” as he blew by manager Matt Williams. Williams, in an act of tone-deafness on par with his pinch-hitting for Jordan Zimmermann in what was likely his final home start at Nationals Park Friday, decided to keep Papelbon in the game. His oh-so-fitting reasoning, as he said after the game, was simple: “He’s our closer.” As I later alluded to on Twitter, those words are a perfect fit as his managerial epitaph, emblematic of his by-the-book cluelessness and his utter inability to gauge his clubhouse.

Unsurprisingly, the Phillies battered their former teammate. Freddy Galvis blasted a two-run homer, and an error helped Papelbon load the bases before being pulled for Sammy Solis, who let six more runs score after an error and four consecutive singles. And this all happened with Tyler Moore in left field, replacing the departed Harper.

The saga continued after the game. Williams said the fight was a “family issue, and we’ll deal with it that way.” He said no internal suspension had been discussed. But he later said that he did not see video of the incident until after speaking with the press, and in light of it, he would “absolutely not” have used Papelbon for the ninth inning, adding, “I’m livid.” Even with that in mind, how he missed a fight in his own dugout and how he kept in his closer even after an altercation between the two caused his MVP right fielder to storm into the clubhouse is hard to understand.

To his credit, Papelbon was contrite after the game, saying, “I’m in the wrong.” He said he had apologized to Harper and gave a quote that was quite telling about his actions.

“I grew up with brothers,” Papelbon said. “He grew up with brothers. I view him as a brother of mine. Sometimes in this game there’s a lot of testosterone, and there’s a lot of intensity that spills over, and I think that happened today. For me, I can’t allow that to happen in the middle of a game. You handle that after the games or allow the manager to handle that.”

This logic should make sense to baseball fans. In the heat of the moment, players get angry, as has happened before with the Nats. But it’s never a lingering issue because these arguments never turn physical. Papelbon went way too far in his assault of Harper, and though the thought process is one that exists in some form for many players, the actions are inexcusable. Papelbon may well view Harper as his brother, but his attack of his teammate means the closer is likely not long for the Nationals’ roster.

If the team trades Papelbon and Drew Storen as expected this offseason, general manager Mike Rizzo will be tasked with building a bullpen from scratch. Felipe Rivero seems like the only lock to relieve for the Nats in 2015 and 2016.

Craig Stammen and David Carpenter, both reliable when at their best, will be returning from season-ending injuries and will be tough to count on. Aaron Barrett will be lost for the year with Tommy John surgery, and Matt Thornton and Casey Janssen are free agents. Tanner Roark is expected to return to the rotation. Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis wil have shots, but have been inconsistent in their MLB stints this year.

The only remaining relievers on the 40-man roster are Erik Davis, Matt Grace, Rafael Martin, and Abel De Los Santos, all of whom should serve as minor-league depth. Taylor Hill and Taylor Jordan have both relieved at the MLB level before, but are primarily starters at Triple A. But Davis and Jordan will be out of options in 2016, meaning they will have to make the MLB team or be exposed to waivers.

Harper was understandably not talkative after the game, saying “I’m looking forward to the next six games” four times according to the Washington Post’s James Wagner. About Papelbon, he said, “He apologized, so whatever. I really don’t care.” But his attitude belied his frustrations.

The Washington Nationals are a mess, and Sunday was the nadir of what has been a season of increasingly embarrassing lows.

By the way, Sunday was likely Ian Desmond‘s final home game as a National, after a storied and meaningful seven-year career on and off the field. At least he got a nice ovation.


Nationals Organization Fails Their Players and Fans In Handling Of Papelbon’s Attack On Harper

On Sunday, the Washington Nationals organization took a massive hit – both on the field and in the stands.

In an embarrassing display of machismo and “testosterone”, trade-deadline acquisition Jonathan Papelbon decided to take baseball’s unwritten rules into his own hands, chastising Bryce Harper for not running out a pop fly fast enough to his liking. His actions afterwards alienated an entire fanbase.

In the bottom of the 8th inning in a tie game, Papelbon informed Harper that he was simply a pawn on his chess board, yelling at him for lack of effort as he approached the Nationals dugout. When Harper decided to use his words, Papelbon, who is currently appealing a three-game suspension for intentionally plunking the Orioles Manny Machado near the head, chose to use his hands – to choke Bryce Harper, his teammate, and push him down the steps into the dugout.

As appalling as this behavior was, it continued to get worse. Lame-duck manager Matt Williams, admittedly unaware of the goings on in his own dugout, decided to send his closer back out for the 9th inning where Papelbon proceeded to give up the go-ahead runs to the worst team in Major League Baseball in what turned out to be a 12-5 loss. It should be noted that the 9th inning was played without Harper, who went straight to the clubhouse after the unprovoked attack.

It bears repeating for effect: Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon choked his teammate and shoved him against the bench and then was allowed to continue pitching.

The story somehow gets even worse.

As the game wound down and fans seethed with rage, demanding termination of both Papelbon and Williams for the events of the day, the manager finally entered the press room for his post-game media availability. What followed is one of the most obtuse and incompetent displays of humanity that baseball has seen this year:

Reporter: What was behind your decision to send Papelbon back out of the ninth?

Williams: At the time, it’s a tie game

Reporter: But given what had happened…

Williams: He’s our closer.

Reporter: It appeared that [Papelbon] put his hands on [Harper’s] throat.

Williams: He’s our closer. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. He’s our closer.

Source: @AndrewSimonMLB on Twitter (

Williams has sent a dangerous message to not only the ball club but more importantly to all the young fans that violence is okay. That it was just “testosterone flowing”. That it’s a “family issue” that won’t be discussed further.

By all accounts, the Nationals are an incredibly fan-friendly organization, and many departments inside the team are excellent about pursuing worthy causes and reaching out to fans. However, the backwards thinking behind allowing a person to assault his co-worker and get away with it is completely against all the goodwill that the Washington Nationals have worked so hard to build. Whether it is the team MVP or the 25th man on the roster or a bullpen catcher, this kind of behavior is unacceptable in any way, shape, or form.

We unequivocally condemn those responsible in the front office of the Washington Nationals for failing to provide swift and forceful action against both Matt Williams and Jonathan Papelbon.

Assault is assault, and it has no business in a Major League dugout. The Washington Nationals have some serious work to do to regain the trust of their fans.

We’re waiting.

This post was written by Craig MacHenry on behalf of the The Nats Blog staff.


Williams Defines His Ineptitude With Completely Tone-Deaf Decision To Pull Zimmermann

Matt Williams has been a terrible manager for the Washington Nationals in 2015. He’s blown bullpen decision after bullpen decision, he’s called for his best hitters to bunt in irreconcilable situations, and all the while, he’s appeared not to care about the way his team has played during an incredibly disappointing season. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the reasons he shouldn’t be back as the Nats manager in 2016.

All of those boneheaded moves and in-game disasters culminated in one supremely unaware and aloof decision as Jordan Zimmermann pitched what is probably his final game in a Nationals uniform in DC.

While the Nats organization and its fans tried to celebrate the no-hitter he threw last season and honor one of the best players the team has seen since their arrival in DC, Zimmermann was getting absolutely lit up in the fifth. Rather than pulling him before the inning ended or allowing him to hit in the fifth so he could be removed in the sixth and get the ovation he has earned, Williams pinch hit for him with Wilmer Difo. That was it. No ovation. No recognition. Just, “that guy’s gonna hit for you now.”

In a season that is all but over, Williams had the opportunity to honor a player that has been one of this most steadfast players in the nearly 11 year history of the Washington Nationals. Instead, he was completely tone-deaf to the circumstances and pinch hit for him. If this is, in fact, Zimmermann’s last game in DC, he deserved a better send off. It may simply be the final decision that defines the comedy of errors that is Matt Williams’ ability to manage a baseball game and a clubhouse.

Since Williams couldn’t even properly send off one of his best players to his home crowd, we’ll try to do it here.

From all Nationals fans, thank you, Jordan for your time in DC, and best of luck wherever you go.


Why Denard Span Shouldn’t Get a Qualifying Offer

With their season about to end, one of the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals is how to handle the impending free agency of outfielder Denard Span. The talented but injury-prone fan favorite falls on the borderline when it comes to receiving a qualifying offer—which the Nationals must make available to Span before free agency if they are to receive a draft pick as compensation for his departure.

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Another Blown Lead Gets Nats Swept

For the second straight game, the Washington Nationals (78-74) led the Baltimore Orioles (76-76), only to see their advantage disappear. With a towering two-run homer by Matt Wieters in the top of the eighth, the Orioles claimed a 5-4 lead and went on to clinch a three-game sweep over the Nationals.

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