96 wins and a 2nd NL East title in three seasons became a major after thought for Nats fans early Wednesday morning on the east coast, as a routine Wilson Ramos grounder resulted in the final out of the 2014 season. It was a grinding series that saw all four games won by the underdog (including the Nats stealing a momentum shifting win against San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner), the longest game in MLB playoff history clocking in at 6 hours and 23 minutes and a grand total of 18 runs scored over the equivalent of five games.
If you would have told the Nats they’d record a 1.23 ERA for the series AND beat Bumgarner, they would have had to feel like the only reason there won’t be a game 5 tonight is because Washington had already won the series, not lost it in four games.
Blame has been spread around in the wake of this disappointing and premature exit from the playoffs, with Manager Matt Williams and several bats getting the majority of the blame.
This series was razor thin close, as the scrappy and battle tested Giants took the series, on the back of three 1 run victories. Everyone will 2nd guess Williams decision to pull a dominant Jordan Zimmermann when he needed just one more out to secure a 1-0 game 2 win, or his baffling decisions in the 7th inning of game 4 in regards to his bullpen management.
Even though I wanted Zimmermann to stay in, that decision was excusable. Yes home plate umpire Vic Carrapazza had squeezed him on the Joe Panik walk that led to his exit, but he was about to face Buster Posey who had hit him hard the past few at bats. Drew Storen is your closer and should be able to get one out, even if there is a runner on. Perhaps Williams should have brought Storen in to start the 9th, if Zimmermann was going to have the short leash. Storen had just gotten the closers role back last month, now he’s facing the Giants best hitter with a runner on base.
The decisions of game 4 were far less excusable; pitching Aaron Barrett and Matt Thornton in an elimination game while Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Stephen Strasburg sat and watched was beyond puzzling. But to be fair, lots of poor performances led to those decisions. Williams still should have gotten Clippard into the 7th, but he was stuck in this situation because:
- Gio Gonzalez committed an error and walked a lefty with the bases loaded that allowed two runs. Gio’s main reason for making the rotation was shutting down lefty’s yet he walks Gregor freakin’ Blanco to walk in a run. Williams had no choice but to pinch hit for Gio in the top of the 5th, setting in motion all the bullpen moves.
- Tanner Roark couldn’t get two innings of relief. Rather, he only recorded two outs. Roark was in the pen just for this situation but immediately got into a jam and had to be bailed out by the very impressive Jerry Blevins.
- The Nats bats still couldn’t produce outside of Bryce Harper. His RBI double made the score 2-1 and left him on 2nd with no outs. He wouldn’t even make it to 3rd.
Still, after all this happened, Bryce Harper took Giants reliever Hunter Strickland deep into McCovey Cove. This was steroid era Bonds territory and Harper let Strickland know it. After all, it was just three games prior that Harper took Strickland to the third deck of Nats Park. This swing seemed to take all of the air out of AT&T Park, but when the game back from commercial, there was Matt Thornton standing atop the mound.
After two base hits, rookie Aaron Barrett came in to finish off the disaster. A wild pitch scored the go ahead run and the only out he recorded came on an attempted intentional walk pitch that sailed on him, perfectly kicked off the backstop and led to Buster Posey being thrown out at home. The damage was done, and the 3-2 score would hold until the final out.
Long forgotten in this series, is game 1, another 3-2 loss for the Nationals. This game didn’t have any controversial managerial decisions or bad calls. Just a very loose Giants team versus a very tight Nationals team. Stephen Strasburg got out pitched by Jake Peavy and the Nationals hitters consistently tightened up and over swung, squandering the few scoring chances they had. Bryce Harper’s mammoth homer woke up the crowd and was followed by an Asdrubal Cabrera solo shot. It wouldn’t be enough, and the tone was set that the Giants were extremely comfortable playing October baseball and the Nationals might not be there yet.
Besides the team not advancing, it’s just as disappointing that Harper’s season is done. Bryce went 5 for 17, with a double and 3 home runs. He also had several great catches in San Francisco’s tricky left field and ran the bases like a mad man. He quickly attained the status that if he had another at bat left, you felt like the Nationals still had a chance.
His last at bat would be a two out walk. Ramos aforementioned ground out would end the season as the Giants flooded onto the field and back into the clubhouse for a beer soaked celebration as their minds shifted forwards to the St Louis Cardinals.
The Nationals flew back to DC with questions and regret. A fantastic season ended with a thud; their minds shifted forward to offseason plans and the thoughts of who will be back on this roster next season.
Harper will have plenty of at bats next season, so you have to like their chances.