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2017 Washington Nationals suddenly looking much more like the 2016 Nats...

The division champs part, not the first round playoff exit part.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Believe it or not, less than ten games really don’t mean that much. But for a team with World Series expectations, everything is amplified, from a bad inning, to a bad game, to a bad week or so of bad games.

So, nine games in, when the Washington Nationals were treading water, barely over .500 with a 5-4 record, all of the losses coming against either the Phillies or Marlins, was it really that surprising when Nats fans began to cry bloody murder, suggesting anarchy to overthrow the current bullpen?

“I could pitch better than Enny Romero,” said every single bewildered Nats fan that had lost their mind due to the incompetence of the bullpen, singling out Enny Romero for some reason.

Then, something weird happened. Enny Romero began to look effective. So did most of the rest of the bullpen.

In those first nine games, the Nationals allowed 22 runs out of the bullpen.

In the nine games they’ve played since, they’ve allowed 5 runs. Also related: the Nats now have the best record in baseball at 13-5.

Yes, this comes with a caveat — the Braves are still very much in a rebuilding phase, and the Mets are extremely injured — but even so, the Nationals are in the midst of an impressive stretch. Is it fair to say that perhaps they’ve righted the ship?

Granted, eighteen games in is not the time to make conclusions about the Nationals, or any team really.

But games a team wins in April are games that don’t need to be made up come September.

Likewise, having to dig out of a hole in April can lead to a mediocre May, and by that time, the distance to first place could already be insurmountable if the first place team keeps going the way they’re going—Terry Collins probably isn’t that happy with the five-and-a-half game deficit his Mets have worked their way into already.

These first eighteen games don’t appear to be super accurate in predicting how the Nats will fare over 162; the wildly unsuccessful Nationals of 2013 and the wildly successful Nats of 2014 had identical records after eighteen games.

The Nats got off to identical starts in 2012 and 2016, and have fared just slightly worse than last year’s iteration of the team so far.

Nats’ record through 18 games, 2012-2017

Year Record
Year Record
2012 14-4
2013 10-8
2014 10-8
2015 7-11
2016 14-4
2017 13-5

What’s more telling are the team’s stats (through 4/22) — a collective .273 average (with a .315 BABIP, so the team has been slightly lucky), and a 3.29 ERA (2.79 FIP) for the starting pitching. The bullpen’s ERA and FIP are already falling rapidly, down to below 5.00 (they were above 6.00 just days ago), and those will correct over time as guys revert to their norms.

Compare that to last April, when the Nationals’ starting pitching was a touch better (or a touch worse, depending on which stats you use), with a 2.28 ERA and a 2.98 FIP.

The bullpen looked like it should, with a 2.53 ERA and a 3.28 FIP (stats that the Nats’ bullpen can easily reach this season if they continue to pitch like they’re expected to).

The Nationals’ offense, the strength of which being what has often outweighed the team’s bullpen problems, wasn’t as impressive last year (.230 average, .267 BABIP), nor was it as good in 2014 (.258 average, .314 BABIP) or 2012 (.226 average, .276 BABIP).

The resurgence of Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, combined with the additions of Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters, plus Daniel Murphy’s sustained success, have helped the offense be the team’s saving grace.

Now, with the bullpen reverting to its expected form, all the Nats have to do is wait and hope for them to keep moving in the direction they’re moving.

If—and this is a big if—that’s what happens, guys reverting to the way they’re expected to pitch, then the conversation we’re having at the trade deadline in July changes from ‘how can the Nats save their bullpen?’ to ‘how can the Nats push this bullpen—and this team—over the top?’