Barring a collapse of epic proportions, the Washington Nationals will be playing postseason baseball this fall. With a lineup that looks like it belongs in the American League and star-studded rotation that will always give them a chance to win, the Nats are well-equipped for a deep playoff run.
Standing in their way, however, is their abysmal relief corps. Entering play Thursday, the Nats’ bullpen owns an NL-high 5.20 ERA in just 181 2/3 innings of work. Manager Dusty Baker is pushing his starters alarmingly deeper into games just to avoid handing the ball off to his relievers.
Koda Glover and Sammy Solis currently sit on the Disabled List. Shawn Kelley, Joe Blanton and Blake Treinen have been nothing short of disasters. Enny Romero and Oliver Perez have seen some success but have been unable to remain consistent. The sole bright spot has been Matt Albers and his 2.10 ERA, but even he blew a save Monday.
General manager Mike Rizzo was candid in his weekly interview with 106.7 the FAN on Wednesday morning.
“We’re trying to find ways to remedy it. We’re trying to fix things from internally, of course we’re looking outwardly, and it’s something that was not unexpected. We saw this coming into the season, we tried to make some moves in the offseason. We tried to acquire some of the elite closers, we didn’t get them, and so now we have to keep looking. Keep fighting and keep grinding.”
Rizzo knows it, Baker knows it, the players know it, the fans know it: This team needs bullpen help, badly. With an eight-and-a-half-game cushion in the NL East, however, the sense of urgency is not there. Instead, the front office’s sights are set on the postseason and will make the moves necessary to get them over the NLDS hump.
One can reasonably assume that the Nats will acquire two relievers before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. A closer and set-up man would do wonders to ease the burden off the shoulders of their current arms. Yet looking down at the playoff picture, some of those arms might be left on the outside looking in.
Assuming the Nats do pick up two relievers, they will presumably join Glover and Albers as locks to make the playoff roster.
Romero’s fastball will likely keep him in the mix as well, and if Sammy Solis is able to return in time he’s the best left-hander they have.
That leaves just one spot open for Kelley, Blanton, Perez, Treinen and Jacob Turner to compete for. Not to be forgotten is the 24-year-old Trevor Gott, who was just promoted to the big league roster for only the second time as a National since being acquired in the Yunel Escobar trade back in 2015.
Also on the Nats’ radar is top pitching prospect Erick Fedde, who has been converted to a relief role for this season in hopes of bringing him up for some bullpen help as well. He was just promoted to AAA-Syracuse.
When rosters expand in September, all of these relievers will have their chance to leave their mark. With or without them, the Nationals are headed full steam ahead into the postseason. Nevertheless, it will still be up to the bullpen to determine just how far they go.