We are counting down the 10 biggest moments of 2015 for the Nationals as we approach New Year's Day. In the seventh installment, we look back at the downfall of Matt Williams as Nationals manager...
The precipitous fall of Matt Williams as Nationals manager was not only unlikely when the 2015 season began, but as late as Aug. 2, the last day the Nationals held a share of first place in the NL East division. He was the reigning NL Manager of the Year and, just like in 2014, he was in many ways overachieving with a roster depleted for much of the season due to injury.
Though some of his strategic decisions had come into question more so than in his first season in Washington, Williams was doing a good job. There were no public signs of dissension in the clubhouse and the Nats remained the favorite in the division. The Mets had made a few moves at the trade deadline, but the Nationals were getting healthy and logic would suggest they were about to take off.
It was only five weeks later that Williams was booed out of his press conference by fans at Nationals Park. That was after the Nats were swept for the second straight time by the Mets in a last-ditch series that essentially put the Nats down for good.
That moment alone may go down as one of the most indelible memories of Williams' tenure. Who gets booed out of their own press conference? It was an extremely unusual event that may have had no true precedent. It was not a good look at all for Williams, whose job security was becoming a serious question at the time.
The Nationals falling short of the playoffs in 2015 was one thing, as injuries took their toll all year and there were plenty of moments where his players simply didn't get the job done. But Williams did not do himself any favors during big games down the stretch with other decisions as well. The public fight between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, for one, reflected poorly on his leadership skills.
Williams' seat was already getting warm before Papelbon attacked Harper, but the way the skipper handled the situation may have been the final straw. Williams sent Papelbon back out to pitch after the closer choked the sport's best player on television. It was inexcusable and Williams didn't seem to fully understand the magnitude of it all until the following day when he began his press conference with a prepared statement.
Williams is gone, but the shocking devolution of the Nationals late in 2015 may have exposed issues that reach much further than the former Nats manager. The Nationals went from a first place team very quickly to one that couldn't stop losing streaks, cracked under pressure in big games and resorted to infighting and backstabbing through anonymous media reports. It will be interesting to see if any of the problems that surfaced under Williams persist despite the fact he is no longer in town.
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