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Washington Nationals’ first-half in review; second-half questions: How will Nats fix their bullpen?

Dusty Baker doesn’t just want to maintain the Nationals’ lead in the division, he wants to add to it and pad the 9.5-game lead in the NL East.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports


Washington’s offense finished the first half leading the National League in AVG (.277), OBP (.345), SLG (.467), wOBA (.343), hits (855), extra-base hits (320), runs scored (486), and RBIs (472), and they were second in wRC+ (108 to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 110).


Nationals’ starters went into the All-Star Break with the NL’s third-lowest ERA as a group (3.71), behind only the Arizona Diamondbacks (3.43) and LA Dodgers (3.24); the third-lowest FIP (3.79), behind the D-Backs (3.65), and Dodgers (3.53), second-lowest BAA (.231) to LA’s .223, second-lowest WHIP (1.20) to the Dodgers’ 1.13, the NL’s most strikeouts (566), K/9 (9.40 K/9), and innings pitched (541 23 IP).


It’s not pretty. Nationals’ relievers finished the first 88 games with the NL’s highest ERA (5.20), highest FIP (4.90), highest BAA (.273), second-highest WHIP (1.45), and second-most blown saves (14). Fix this.


Dusty Baker and Co. wrapped up the first half of the 2017 campaign by going 19-17 over a stretch of 36 games between June 2nd and July 9th, entering the Break at 52-36 with a 9.5-game lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“We had a good first half, I mean, I wanted 20 [wins],” Baker said of that last stretch, after a win over the Braves in the first-half finale, “but you always want more than you have as a manager, but these guys, they gave us every drop of energy that they had, I mean, cause everybody was dragging this period that we just went through, this 46 games in 48 days.

“That will take its toll on you. The guys, like I said, they gave us every bit of energy that they had. I asked them to play through the Break and not to the Break, and that’s what they did.”

Baker and the Nationals know, however, that there are a lot of games to be played and the ultimate goal is getting to the postseason and getting beyond the NLDS, to the NLCS... and the World Series.


So what needs to improve in the second half? Baker said the Nats want to put even more distance between themselves and their divisional rivals.

“We don’t want to just continue to have the lead, you want to pad the lead,” Baker told reporters.

“There are a few areas that we really have to improve on, you know, we’ve got to improve on our first-pitch efficiency, our bullpen efficiency, we have to improve on getting runners in from third with less than two outs and we really have to improve on our day game percentage of winning, cause that’s the one area where we’re not very good. I’d like to improve our one-run games, so there’s a few areas of improvement, we’ve got to improve sometimes our defense, we just got to tighten up our game going forward.”

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

They also have to improve their bullpen, and with the non-waiver trade deadline later this month, now is the time. It didn’t work out for the Nats this winter, when GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office pursued a number of bullpen options and came up empty, forcing them to turn to in-house options which haven’t worked out, due to the struggles some relievers have experienced, and the injury issues that have weakened what was already a questionable corps.


Can Blake Treinen get back to being 2016 Treinen? So far this season, it’s been pre-2016 Treinen for the most part, though there have been stretches, but a consistent performance from the sinker-balling right-hander in the second half could help the bullpen considerably.

Same with Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, and Sammy Solis, if they can get back on the mound and stay healthy, the Nationals have the talent for a solid bullpen, though they still need more.

There’s also one of the bigger revelations thus far, in Enny Romero, who is still a work in progress. He finished the first half with a 3.63 ERA, a 4.21 FIP, 15 walks (3.40 BB/9), and 45 Ks (10.21 K/9) in 39 23 IP, but he also went six days between his last two relief appearances, before he came out firing in the first-half finale, throwing 21 pitches total, 19 of them fastballs that sat 99-100 in a quick, scoreless inning.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Washington Nationals Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

“He was strong,” Baker said after that game.

“He hadn’t pitched I think in five or six days, so you saw he hit 100 quite a few times.

“We still have to improve on his command a little bit, and I’d like to see him get at least a second pitch that he could feel comfortable with. He has one, but I don’t think he feels comfortable throwing it yet.”


Will Matt Albers continue to produce?

Who will Rizzo add to the bullpen mix?

How much is it going to hurt for the Nationals to get what they need when everyone in the baseball world knows it’s fairly desperate in D.C.?

Will the innings the Nationals’ starters have thrown so far, at least in part due to the bullpen’s struggles, become a problem down the stretch?

Will Ryan Zimmerman and the rest of the Nats’ middle of the order bats continue to produce the way they have thus far? More on this later...

What did the MRI show for Joe Ross after he dealt with “triceps tenderness” in his last first-half start? Who takes over in the rotation if Ross is unavailable?

St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals - Game Four Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Will Tanner Roark get back on track after a rough first-half?

Will Trea Turner be able to get back in the flow of things after two months off, assuming he’s able to return on schedule from his fractured wrist?

Will Stephen Drew and Wilmer Difo get the Nationals through until Turner is back?

Is Michael A. Taylor for real, and will he come back from his oblique injury and continue to do what he’s done since taking over as the everyday center fielder?

Will Brian Goodwin continue to produce?

Who is Mike Rizzo going to get fix the bullpen again?