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.

2017 MLB All-Star Game Preview

The All-Star game, something every baseball fan looks forward to, is finally here. The NL holds an All-Time advantage with a 43-42 record against the AL, but has struggled in the last couple decades. The American League has won the last four ASGs, and 16 of the last 19, including a 12-game win streak from 1997-2009.

The Starting Pitcher’s for this year’s contest will be two of the top three arms in baseball, Max Scherzer (NL) and Chris Sale (AL). Clayton Kershaw, who is generally recognized as the best starter in baseball, will not be on the mound following a start this past Sunday.

Via Sporting New/Getty Images

The starting lineups and rosters for both teams can be found here.

When comparing the rosters, it seems as though the NL has a better starting lineup, bench, and pitching staff.  While they have more than enough star power to win, talent doesn’t always decide the All-Star Game. Both teams are loaded, and in what’s effectively a one game playoff, anything can happen.

That’s why we’ve seen pitchers at the top of their game like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Roger Clemens taking the loss, and players like Melky Cabrera, Carl Crawford, and J.D. Drew taking home the MVP.

Look for relievers to dominate the ASG, too, as starters aren’t used to coming out of the bullpen. It wouldn’t surprise me if the losing pitcher is a starter who comes out of the bullpen.

To win, teams are going to have to score early. When fireballers start coming in toward the end of the game, runs are going to be hard to come by. Last year, there wasn’t a single run scored after the 4th inning.  Also, no more than nine runs has been scored in an ASG since 2005.

The unpredictability of this game lies in trying to figure out which starter is most likely to struggle in a shortened outing, and that’s something no one is capable of doing. So rather than trying to and convince you of why the NL will win, I hope to convince you to watch the game — especially the first few innings.

The brightest stars in baseball are on display tonight, and it’s a great chance for everyone to see them, including the casual fans.

My dad and I have been discussing lately how the MLB lacks “legacy” stars in today’s game. The likes of A-Rod, Jeter, Bonds, Griffey Jr, etc. are gone, and now most of the leagues headliners are in their early 20s. While it leaves the game lacking a bit of nostalgia, I encourage fans to be incredibly excited about this new wave of youngsters taking the league by storm.

Via the MLB’s official website

The amount of young talent in this game is exceptional. From Trout (who unfortunately won’t be playing due to injury) and Harper, to Judge and Seager, Major League Baseball is flooded with talented young players.  Tonight is a fantastic night to see these guys in action. Get to know their names, because they’ll be around for a while.

Bryce Harper and Mike Trout at 2010 All-Star Game in Kansas City via H. Darr Beiser/USA Today

Maybe 15 years from now, the ASG will be flooded with “legacy” stars.

MLB Home Run Derby Recap: Yankees’ Aaron Judge is king

The derby had it all last night; suspenseful finishes, hometown energy, and the dominance of the game’s newest prolific power hitter. Aaron Judge walked away the new Home Run King in what was one of the most exciting displays of talent we’ve ever seen in the Home Run Derby.

Via Rob Carr/Getty Images

The first round brought us the two most exciting matchups of the night: Gary Sanchez vs Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge vs Justin Bour. Sanchez and Stanton provided an exciting matchup, as Sanchez put on a show (17 HRs), proving to Logan Morrison and all the other haters that he did belong in the derby.

Stanton followed with a slow start, but caught fire in the middle of the round, as he and his pitcher seemed to be working much quicker than the competition. He tired, though, coming up just short with 16 HRs. It was disappointing to many people, myself included, to see Stanton eliminated so early. Not only because of his home run hitting prowess, but also because of the possibility of a Judge vs Stanton match-up. Stanton advancing would’ve energized the home town crowd, too.

Stanton’s lesser known, oft overlooked teammate, Justin Bour, put on an amazing performance, blasting 22 HRs in the first round. He really put his stamp on the competition when he inhaled a donut during his timeout, though, showing that Team Fat Guy wasn’t to be messed with. The crowd was electric watching Bour, and I think most casual fans can’t help but love him after last night’s act.

Giancarlo Stanton feed Justin Bour a donut via Barstool Sports

Unfortunately, for those of us who fell in love with Bour over that 4:30 stretch, Aaron Judge demolished 23 HRs, stealing the show.

Judge was untouchable and uncontested the rest of the night, crushing four 500+ foot HRs en route to his first HR Derby title.  Lost in the fray of roof scraping, window denting HRs was Judge’s ability to muscle balls out to right field.  While Sanchez, Stanton, Bour, and Sano displayed power to their pull side, Judge set himself apart as the only guy who could clear the opposite field fence on less than perfect contact.

This Home Run Derby win will likely be the first of many for young Aaron Judge.