When a team leads its division in the middle of May by five and a half games, it typically doesn’t need to panic.
The Washington Nationals boast both the fourth-best record and third-highest run differential in all of baseball entering play Thursday, but there is a glaring weakness that the Nats’ front office might be more pressed to address than teams typically are at this point in the season.
Coming in with a 5.40 ERA and 1.8 HR/9, the Nationals’ bullpen has ranked among the worst in the majors through the first six weeks of the season.
Five different pitchers have picked up a save, with just one of them boasting an ERA under 4.15.
Their struggles have been well-documented again and again, prompting GM Mike Rizzo to address their issues in the late innings during an interview with 106.7 the FAN.
“Been bad,” Rizzo acknowledged. “They’ve been bad. Last in the league. We’ve got the best record in the National League and our bullpen has been the worst in the National League, so yeah, you’ve got to own it that they haven’t pitched well. How do you fix it is the question that were trying to answer and I think that first and foremost, I think you have to get your three best relievers healthy.”
The Nats’ GM also went on to say the team isn’t “actively out in the trade market looking for bullpen help right now.”
Despite his comfort level with where they are in the standings, Rizzo should start making phone calls more aggressively if he wants this team to go anywhere deep into the playoffs.
It’s fairly easy to see why the Nationals aren’t panicking just yet.
They have a comfortable division lead and no one behind them seems to be amounting to any sort of threat at the moment.
Washington also leads the NL in winning percentage, and just one club that made the postseason a year ago (kudos to you, Dodgers) is within four and half games of them.
However, losses are losses, and the Nats just dropped three straight before grabbing a come-from-behind victory over the Orioles Wednesday night.
Two of those losses were at the fault of the bullpen, and they weren’t the first of the season.
Losses now count they same as they do at the end of the season, and waiting around for the trade deadline could prove costly once other teams hit their stride and make late pennant pushes.
The Nationals may not be ranked highly on the farm system rankings, but they have plenty of pieces in Carter Kieboom, Andrew Stevenson, Juan Soto and Erick Fedde that they could part ways with if the price is right.
Losing any of those names would almost certainly hurt in the long run, but they could be the ticket to the Nats going all the way.
With the rest of the powerhouses of the Senior Circuit lagging behind, now is the time for the Nationals to capitalize and put some distance between themselves and the rest of the league.
Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley are on the mend and set to return soon, but neither has been too effective thus far and still won’t solve all the problems this relief corps is facing.
Their offense has the potential to be historic and starting pitching will always be their strong suit, but the Nationals must put themselves in the best position possible for the postseason and play for home field advantage — especially now that records determine who has the upper hand in the World Series rather than the All-Star Game.
Without a revamped bullpen, this season could easily fall into abyss that Washington fans have become all too accustomed to.