The Washington Nationals boast a championship caliber offense mixed with contact, power, and speed around the bases. As well as a starting pitching rotation that may be second to none. Their offense is highlighted by a powerful lineup from leadoff though the seven-spot. Washington leads the NL in runs, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. They are second in home runs.
Not even Adam Eaton’s season-ending ACL tear has foiled the Nationals’ offensive surge. Ryan Zimmerman leads the National League in every Triple Crown category batting .410 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. Teammate Bryce Harper is not far behind hitting .370 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs. Daniel Murphy’s numbers this season is on par with his MVP-caliber 2016 season, and yet he is playing third fiddle to the two.
The Nationals starting pitching rotation has been just as impressive. Entering Tuesday they sport the NL’s third-best ERA among starting rotations at 3.62. Opponents are hitting a league-low .229 against Washington’s starters. They had posted 23 quality starts in 33 games.
With the collection of bats and starting pitching Washington jumped out to its best start in franchise history at 21-9. They have a comfortable lead in the NL East standings. All are worthy of dethroning the Chicago Cubs and finally getting beyond the NLDS to reach their ultimate goal of a World Series. However, their bullpen has been the polar opposite as the bats and starting pitchers.
Blown saves, blown leads, inability to stay consistent has hampered any talks of this team being one of the most dominant in modern history. On Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles, the bullpen suffered its latest implosion. Leading 4-2 in the ninth, Enny Romero became the latest to blow a lead in a closer-by-committee that Nationals have been forced to imply.
Romero allowed three runs and more importantly two runs to allow the Orioles to tie the game at 4-4, sending it into extra innings and ultimately losing on a Mark Trumbo RBI-single in the 12th, wasting a Max Scherzer’s quality start in which he went eight innings allowing two runs and striking out 11.
The latest bullpen gaffe comes on the heels of Sunday’s implosion versus the Philadelphia Phillies in which the bullpen yielded three runs in the eighth while leading 5-2 in route to a 6-5 loss in 10 innings. The Nationals’ biggest weakness coming into the season has become their biggest nightmare.
The Nationals bullpen ranks last in the NL with a 5.47 ERA. Their relievers allow a league-high .287 batting average. They’ve allowed 19 home runs in just 97 innings of work. Eight relievers have an ERA over 4.00, The Nationals bullpen has simply taken an emotional toll on the club’s World Series aspirations.
“It takes a big emotional toll,” Baker said per Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball. “One of the biggest downers in baseball is when you blow a game late, and especially when you have a lead like that a couple times this week.
“It’s certainly tested my team’s emotional strength and stability, and we’ll just see how we come out of this.”
The Nationals have all the tools necessary to run the table. The trio of Zimmerman, Harper, and Murphy are reaching historic territory. The starting rotation continues to be stellar as in years past. Yet, the Nationals cannot be taken serious as a true contender without fixing its bullpen and closer situation.
It’s been well-documented how they missed out on closers Kanley Jansen and Mark Melancon this past winter. The Blake Treinen project did not work — he has a blustering ERA of 8.59. Koda Glover is on the disabled list, set to start a rehab stint this weekend. Shawn Kelly as a closer hasn’t work, and now he is on the disabled list after blowing three saves thus far. The closer-by-committee approach hasn’t worked either.
“Most people just see how many hits you get, how many home runs you hit and how many guys you strike out, but it’s the little things, especially in one-run games that cost you games.”
The Nationals closing issues have lingered long enough. It’s been a search that has spanned years. General manager Mike Rizzo has been unable to find a permanent fix. It’s been an issue that through the years has prevented Washington from being a dynasty. Papelbon, Soriano, Storen, the list of failed projects continue to grow in D.C.
It’s clear that at the present time the solution just does not exist on the current 40-man roster. And Baker and Rizzo are running out of options. The thought process was they could buy time until July’s trade deadline. It’s apparent that option no longer exists.
As the Nationals pile up the offensive records, and Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez stat their own cases for Cy Young, the Nationals’ aspirations of a World Series rest solely on the shoulders of its bullpen and/or Rizzo’s ability to locate an serviceable solution.