Apr 18, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Matt Williams knew there would come a time when he would be tested as a big-league manager for the first time. Not for anything he did or said in the dugout during a game. But for what he did or said in the Nationals’ clubhouse after a game.
That test came Thursday night when, after a trainwreck of an 8-0 loss to the Cardinals, Williams for the first time had stern words for his players.
Williams had no intention of sharing the contents of his message with the public — “That’s for me and my team, and nobody else’s business,” he said — but the actual contents probably are less important than the rookie manager’s tone. So, how upset was he?
“A lot,” catcher Jose Lobaton said. “I think not only him. I think everybody. I saw everybody’s face. It was kind of a little down, because we know we played really bad.”
Williams’ message, it seemed pretty clear, wasn’t so much focused on how the Nationals played Thursday as how they intend to play tonight when they take the field again for the second game of this series against the defending NL champs.
“It’s one game, and it’s not easy for them to play it and it’s not easy for us to experience it,” he said. “But what do you do now? You have one choice, and that’s to concentrate on tomorrow.”
Only 16 games into the season, more than a few trends have emerged. The good: The Nationals have largely dominated opponents late in games. The bad: They have a disturbing tendency to dig themselves into early holes, sometimes insurmountable. The really bad: They seem to play their absolute worst baseball against their toughest opponents.
The Nationals have flat-out dominated the Mets and Marlins, going a combined 8-1 against those two rebuilding clubs. But they’re now a stunning 1-6 against the Braves and Cardinals, two reigning division winners with a history of making this team look bad.
That fact isn’t lost inside the clubhouse.
“I mean, the numbers are what they are,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “It doesn’t worry me, because I believe in this team, I believe in what we can do. But believing in yourself only goes so far. You’ve got to go out and execute, and if we don’t start doing it soon, we’re gonna end up in the bottom. That’s not acceptable for any of us in here. So we’re going to fix it.”
As bad as they’ve looked at times through the season’s first three weeks, the Nationals aren’t anywhere near the bottom right now. Hard as it may be to believe, they’re still 9-7 overall, 1 1/2 games behind the East-leading Braves.
So there’s no panic coming out of 1500 South Capitol St., nor should there be. But there’s also an understanding that the longer this trend continues, the more reason people will have to panic.
“It’s nice to beat the good teams. It kind of reinforces how good a team we are,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Everyone still believes that. It’s just time to start showing it.”
Williams made that much clear after Thursday’s night loss. We’ll find out tonight whether the Nationals took that message to heart, and whether they’re able to put this debacle of a ballgame behind them.
“We have to,” Lobaton said. “It’s not easy, but we have to. We cannot come tomorrow with that game in mind. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to pass that day and just get ready for tomorrow.”
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