There will be plenty of time to sit and criticize Matt Williams during the offseason. After all, as a first year manager, Williams’ decisions will be under even more scrutiny than proven managers like Bruce Bochy, and rightfully so. But, the ejection from Game 2 notwithstanding, a manager can only control so much. The players must still go out and execute.
Which brings us to the Nationals’ offense. In case you’ve forgotten what “offense” actually is (forgivable, given the length of time it’s been since Nats fans have seen any), allow me to refresh your memory: the offense is the part of the team that generates runs, the most essential part of winning baseball games.
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As good as the Nationals’ rotation is, even they can’t win games without run support. Bryce Harper, as noted already, did his part to provide offense. Anthony Rendon certainly pitched in, as well. As for the rest of the team? They may as well have been swinging blindfolded.
In four games of the series, Washington hit .125 as a team, with an embarrassing OPS of .480. Apart from Harper (who posted an OPS of 1.251) and Rendon, Washington’s everyday hitters were flat-out abysmal: only Asdrubal Cabrera managed to average .200. Everyone else landed below the Mendoza line.
Denard Span, who spent the second half of the season beating pitchers into submission, reverted to the form that had fans questioning his role as the leadoff hitter, and Harper questioning whether or not he should be the one manning center field.
Meanwhile, Ian Desmond‘s power disappeared, and his tendency to whiff returned. In 18 plate appearances, Desmond had half as many hits (3) as strikeouts (6). Wilson Ramos fared even worse, with 6 Ks and 2 hits in 17 at-bats.
But perhaps the most surprising of all the Nationals’ struggles were those of their veteran leaders. Jayson Werth, a veteran of two World Series and owner of an .898 career postseason OPS, scratched out one measly hit for an average of .059. Adam LaRoche wasn’t far behind, posting an average of .056.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong once the calendar flipped from September to October, suffice it to say that the Nats’ momentum from late in the season failed to transfer to the playoffs. Maybe San Francisco’s pitching just hit a groove (they did, after all, crush a streaky Pittsburgh team). Maybe Washington’s hitters were pressing. Maybe the extended time off before beginning the series actually threw the Nats out of whack.
It’s impossible to give a definitive answer, but one thing was painfully obvious: the Nationals hitters were overmatched during the entirety of this series. Harper attempted to slug the team to victory, but how much can he really lift the team if he’s constantly hitting with the bases empty? How much good do Rendon’s hits do if no one behind him can follow his example? This is a team sport, and the Nationals lineup failed as a team.
As I stated before, Matt Williams will face his share of scrutiny as the Nationals wallow in the aftermath of 2014’s painfully short postseason. But a manager needs players who can execute in a game. This offense looked more like one on its way to be executed.