WASHINGTON — If winning cures everything, then losing must surely do the opposite.
Such is the case for the Washington Nationals, who have fallen from first place in the NL East to three games back in the Wild Card. The team is 4-6 in their last 10 games, but suffered a three-game sweep over the weekend at the hands of the now first place Mets.
Shortcomings that were once just fan speculation have begun to cause friction in the clubhouse, as CBS MLB insider Jon Heyman reports that animosity toward Nats skipper Matt Williams from “many” unnamed players is beginning to cause problems.
“It’s said to be an ‘unhappy scene’ around the Nats,” Heyman wrote in Friday’s edition of Inside Baseball, “as manager Matt Williams has not be well-received by many players, who find him ‘not loose’ and ‘never relaxed.'”
To be fair, another unnamed player defended Williams. Sort of.
“One player says that while Williams looks tight as soon as games begin, it isn’t affecting the players, saying, ‘The players are pretty loose. We have a lot of fun. I don’t really fell like the players are tight. We’re a pretty rowdy, loose, fun-loving bunch. We have a good ol’ time regardless of what’s goin’ on with our skipper. I don’t think it affects us. That’s just how he is.'” (emphasis added)
So what if Williams doesn’t match the personality of his clubhouse? The larger problem could be with the way he does his job.
“Players are wondering about Williams’ bullpen choices, though, from as far back as failing to use Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard in Game 5 [Game 4] of last year’s NLDS vs. the Giants,” Heyman writes, before opining: “It was odd again to see Williams not employ Storen and Jonathan Papelbon in two tight games against the Mets last week (while using the pair down five runs in their first game as soon as they left New York).”
Nationals management didn’t comment on this story, which isn’t surprising.
The Nats came into this season with not just World Series aspirations, but justified expectations, based on the roster. But outstanding play from Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer has masked inadequate production from others like Ian Desmond (.616 OPS and 0.1 WAR) and Stephen Strasburg (13 starts, 5-5, 5.16 ERA).
Prolonged injuries to Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Craig Stammen have prevented the projected starting lineup from February from ever suiting up together. They haven’t been as good as they looked on paper because injuries and slumps have prevented them from fielding that team.
The good news for the Nationals is that as of Friday at 5 p.m., FanGraphs still gives them a better chance of winning the NL East than the Mets (57.5 percent vs. 42.4 percent).
The bad news is that both teams have less than a 10 percent chance of winning a Wild Card spot, which means their hopes are pinned on winning the division, where they currently trail by 1.5 games.
The good news is that FanGraphs gives the Nationals a 61.7 percent chance of making it to the divisional round of the playoffs (denoting either a division win or Wild Card finish and play-in game victory).
The bad news is that the Mets have the easiest remaining strength of schedule, with a combine future opponent winning percentage of .455.
The good news is that the Nats have the second easiest remaining strength of schedule, with a combine future opponent winning percentage of .470.
The bad news is that the only team known for internal strife and winning championships was the 1974 Oakland Athletics. No player on this team was alive in 1974.
If there is internal animosity between players and Matt Williams, the team may need to start winning in order to put that to rest.