Nationals bullpen boost brings NL Pennant, World Series into contention

When I wrote my trade deadline article last week, there was one major deal that I left out and that’s because I wanted to give it and the Washington Nationals a more in-depth look.

When I first started writing here, I created a list of possible article ideas and one that I was really looking forward to writing was how the disastrous Washington bullpen would let itself down in October if they didn’t make any upgrades. As we sit now, the tone of the article is changed as their recent acquisition gives me and I assume their organization new optimism.

The trade I have alluded to was one in which they acquired relief pitchers Sean Doolittle and a personal favorite of mine, Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics. The Nationals did not give up much to do so. The package they sent to Oakland included RP Blake Treinen and prospects LHP Jesus Luzardo and 3B Sheldon Neuse who prior to the season ranked as the No. 15 and No. 17 best prospects respectively in the Nationals system, according to Baseball America.

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via MLB Trade Rumors

The Nats hold a commanding 12 game lead in the incredibly weak NL East. Every other team in the division looks to be sellers at the deadline, other than maybe the Mets who have been crushed by injuries this season, which means that Washington should waltz to a division title and playoff berth.

With one of the most dominant lineups and starting rotations in baseball, Washington has been a pleasure to watch. Washington’s roster is headlined by superstars Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, but the likes of Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez are all having career years as well.

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via RantSports

The strength and depth the Nationals have at the top of their rotation and lineup is scary.  Harper, Murphy, Zimmerman, and Scherzer all started for the NL while Strasburg was a reserve for the team and Rendon was unwisely left off as he currently leads the NL in WAR according to FanGraphs. All of these guys will be potential MVP and Silver Slugger, or in Scherzer’s case, Cy Young candidates at the end of this year.

These stars are the main reason why Washington sits in second behind the Houston Astros in basically every offensive category including runs (540), total bases (1611), RBI (526), AVG (.278) and OPS (.817). Their starting rotation is No. 3 in ERA (3.58) and IP (595.2), and No. 1 in BAA (.229) and SO (626).

Despite the fact that this team sports the most dangerous lineup and consistently effective starting rotation in baseball, just two weeks ago I believed the Nats were going to have an early exit in the postseason. Their bullpen has been a nightmare all season and surely would have let them down in October.

The addition of Doolittle and Madson, however, gives this bullpen new life for the last 60 or so games of the season. Doolittle and Madson aren’t the most dominant bullpen arms in baseball, but they’ve both had solid seasons in Oakland so far and more importantly are massive upgrades over what Washington was trotting out to the mound on a nightly basis.

Prior to the trade, the Washington bullpen ranked last in baseball with a 5.34 ERA, .810 OPS against, and -0.9 WAR. The 36-year-old Madson comes to Washington with an impressive 1.2 WAR, 1.91 ERA and 2.37 FIP over 42.1 innings while Doolittle sports a 0.7 WAR, 3.33 ERA and 2.66 FIP in just 24.1 innings after spending some time on the DL.

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via Baseball Stadium Reviews

The two have quickly slotted in to the No. 8 and No. 9 inning roles for the Nationals. Both players have closer experience but it is unclear who will be the closer going forward and there’s a chance they split time depending on matchups. Regardless of what inning they throw in, they bring a new shutdown feel to the Nationals pen that has surrendered countless leads this year.

It is to be seen if Washington will go out and make another addition to further solidify their pen but the trio of Matt Albers, a journeyman having a career year of his own, Madson and Doolittle should be good enough to hold most leads.

The National’s bullpen still does not stack up to the likes of the Indians, Yankees, or Dodgers and it will be really interesting to see if it will be able to hold its own in the postseason.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, when looking at the top of the bullpen rankings in baseball, the list is crowded with playoff teams like the three aforementioned, as well as the Red Sox, Astros, and Diamondbacks. The fact that the Nationals have been so successful this season in spite of having one of the worst pens is a true testament to just how talented and impressive the rest of the team has been.

Washington is primed for a deep and competitive playoff run. If they’re able to get the same kind of production from their staff and lineup that they have in the regular season, they could easily run away from the competition and breeze to the first World Series title in Washington since 1924.

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