Nationals Bullpen Issues Could Prevent Deep Playoff Run

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 05: Blake Treinen #45 of the Washington Nationals in action during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 5, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Going into the 2017 MLB season, the Washington Nationals bullpen was dealt a crushing blow. After losing closer Mark Melancon to the San Francisco Giants in free agency, the Nationals were left without a ninth inning specialist. However, instead of finding his replacement in free agency or on the trade market, they opted to resolve their late-inning dilemma internally – a decision which has led to disastrous results and could keep them out of the NLCS.

Nationals Bullpen Issues Could Prevent Deep Playoff Run

By staying in house with righties Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, the Nationals felt that they still had the makeup of a productive bullpen; however, that notion has proven to be dead wrong. With all three righties getting rocked in the late innings, they’ve been underwhelming, to say the least, as they’ve contributed to the downfall of the Nationals bullpen as a whole. The rest of the Nationals bullpen has been just as bad, if not worse.

The Nationals bullpen as a whole has been lackluster, and is a serious problem going forward. Most recently, they blew both a three and a two run lead in the eighth inning to the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles, respectively. However, these woes haven’t played out in just these two games. Throughout the season, the Nationals bullpen has failed to get outs and finish games – a facet of their team which is their achilles heel, and may hurt them in the biggest way.

Despite having arguably the best lineup in the majors, led by Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, as well as one of the best one-two punches in baseball with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals bullpen prevents them from being serious World Series contenders.

For a team whose window for success is rapidly closing, it’s unacceptable for the Nationals bullpen to have a 5.47 ERA (third worst in the majors) as a whole. If they can’t close out games, or stop the bleeding for their starting staff, they stand no chance come October. The logical solution would be to go out and find a closer or a top notch reliever on the trade market. However, doing so will be challenging given the lack of assets the Nationals have at their disposal, as well as the few game changing relievers who will be available.

After surrendering two of their three top prospects in pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as 2015 first round pick Dane Dunning, for outfielder Adam Eaton, the Nationals are thin in terms of trade chips. Despite all of that, could they still swing a trade?

Potential Trade Targets

At the moment, the reliever market is rather thin, but two names have been shopped around who may intrigue the Nationals, one being Kansas City Royals righty Kelvin Herrera. Herrera has pitched as both a set-up man and closer in years past. His versatility, despite his shaky 2017 start, could intrigue the Nationals enough for them to surrender pitching prospect Erick Fedde or, potentially, Austin Voth. The other option for the Nationals is to finally swing a deal for Chicago White Sox closer David Robertson.

The righty Robertson was linked to the Nationals the entire offseason as a ninth inning target. Could their severe woes finally motivate them to pull the trigger on a deal? In the third year of his four-year, $46 million deal, Robertson could come in and be the Nationals closer from the get-go. However, if the Nationals cannot pull off a deal for either one or both of Herrera and Robertson, then they’ll have to find internal solutions – a daunting, yet still not impossible task.

Potential Internal Solutions

When it comes to finding internal solutions to the back-end of their bullpen, the Nationals have a few options, one being making Joe Ross the closer. While Ross has struggled immensely on the mound this year, posting a 7.47 ERA, a role change could be just what the doctor ordered. The Nationals could also opt to make A.J. Cole (who pitched six solid innings on the mound last week) the closer instead. Outside of their starters, the Nationals could send up righty Trevor Gott, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in a trade just a year ago.

The Nationals bullpen has been remarkably horrific so far in the 2017 season. If their woes aren’t resolved, they will be not be playing in the NLCS this fall.

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