The most heralded, touted and celebrated team before the season started has used the first four-plus months of it to become easily the most disappointing.

The Washington Nationals would have shocked no one by winning 100 games this year, or by winning the National League East by double digits or by finishing the season with the Cy Young and MVP Award favorites on their roster. Coming off a year in which they won 96 games and then signed the best starting pitcher available in free agency, the Nationals were the clear favorites in their division and the popular pick to represent their league in the 2015 World Series.

But through spring training, Opening Day and into the dog days of right now, things have gone awry. Sure, there is the injury card, but it has also been dealt to league favorites like the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, so that excuse does not play at a table where those teams remain favorites to win their divisions. And unlike those teams, the Nationals currently do not hold a postseason berth with about 50 games to go.

Because of all of this, manager Matt Williams’ seat on the bench should be boiling. The security of his gig is at its breaking point, and it has been since the start of August, when the Nats went into Queens at the top of the standings and were swept back to the capital a second-place team.

Things remained bad during Washington’s seven-game home stand that wrapped up Sunday with a loss to the last-place Colorado Rockies. The Nationals finished the homecoming 3-4 and are now in the midst of a road trip that pits them against the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. They are scheduled to face Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.

The Mets series was the tipping point for a fanbase that has had plenty of criticism for Williams since he took over the job from Davey Johnson last season. Bullpen management, or a lack of competency for it, has been the sticking point, and that is the one area a manager can least afford to screw up. You can make ridiculous decision after nonsensical decision as a skipper, but if you can manage your bullpen, it masks a whole lot. Just ask Ned Yost, the Kansas City Royals’ front man.

How Williams handled his bullpen against the Mets drew sharp criticism locally and nationally. It was deserved. Equipped with a new weapon in his bullpen war chest, the NL’s reigning Manager of the Year never deployed closer Jonathan Papelbon or his previous closer Drew Storen despite there being plenty of high-leverage situations that called for it. Not for one single pitch, over the entire series.

Together, those relievers entered Monday with a combined 2.17 ERA, and it was lower at the time of the Mets series.

“Matt Williams has made all kinds of strange decisions this year,” Grantland’s Jonah Keri said on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight on Monday. “The bullpen certainly. … There’s been a lot of talk about what’s going on in D.C. and that they’re underachieving. The Nationals should be the best team in that division. They clearly haven’t [been]. You can’t blame it all on injuries. Williams, at least tactically, has hurt that club sometimes.”

This is a long-standing issue for Williams, and it’s the No. 1 gripe pinned on him by the frustrated fanbase. That became embarrassingly clear when fans were allowed to tweet questions to Williams as a part of the club’s local MASN broadcasts, as detailed by Scott Allen of the Washington Post last week. Honestly, this kind of comical backfire should have been predictable.

There are Matt Williams defenders. Sort of. More so, there are some less willing to crucify him on Twitter, where a simple search for the manager’s name and the word “fire” will drum up endless results—the same can be said for several, if not all, managers.

But this is not knee-jerk trolling. Not at all. This is rooted in bullpen mismanagement that is as deep as Williams’ tenure will allow, which is illustrated by another simple Google search of the manager’s name and the words “bullpen mismanagement.”

Williams’ bullpen maneuvers were questioned last season, but those questions turned into fiery pitchforks in October. The first head-scratcher came in Game 2 of last year’s National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants when Williams removed ace Jordan Zimmermann with a one-run lead and one out to go for the complete-game shutout. Storen allowed the inherited runner to score, and the game was eventually lost 100 hours later in the 18th inning.

Then, in Game 4, Williams’ decisions were indefensible. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs gave a great detail of them immediately after they were made, but the basic rundown is that in the seventh inning of a tied do-or-die game for the Nationals, Williams put relievers Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett, a rookie, in clear positions to fail. Thornton matched up horribly with Buster Posey, and Barrett had control problems. Posey got a hit off Thornton, and Barrett walked Hunter Pence and then threw a wild pitch to allow the go-ahead run to score.

The Nationals were eliminated. Their best relievers—Tyler Clippard and Storen—never even warmed up. Their ace in the ‘pen, Stephen Strasburg, never got close to entering. Had Williams used them instead, and not lifted Zimmermann in Game 2, the Nationals might be the reigning World Series champions right now. They were certainly good enough.

But Williams’ major managerial flaw showed itself then, and it’s shown itself this season, including the last 10 days. Last year it cost the team in the postseason. This year it could keep the game’s best on-paper team before the season started from even getting there.

Lighting a fire under Williams’ seat is not a knee-jerk reaction. It should be a legitimate consideration for general manager Mike Rizzo and owner Ted Lerner before the season is a complete failure.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

Read more MLB news on