Nationals Bullpen Showing Their Teeth

A few months ago, several sports writers (myself included) were discussing the fact that the Washington Nationals bullpen was not reliable enough for them to win a World Series title this year. It’s amazing how quickly things can change in a baseball season. The Nationals have since traded for reliable assets in relievers such as Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and the new closer, Sean Doolittle.

A lot of credit should be given to the Nats GM Mike Rizzo for making the necessary adjustments at the trade deadline to put this team in serious contention for the pennant. With that being said, Rizzo has given manager Dusty Baker a lot of tangible assets to tinker with going into the home stretch of the season. The timing of these moves couldn’t have come at a better, and more critical time since the Los Angeles Dodgers made their own acquisition of Yu Darvish, putting themselves in the drivers seat for another key postseason push.

As the Nationals continue to coast in the National League East, with their commanding 14.5 game lead over the Miami Marlins, they must change their mindset to October baseball earlier than expected. What the Nationals happened to learn about themselves in the next few weeks or so against noteworthy postseason-ready opponents will go a long way in preparing all the players mentally for the rigors of postseason baseball.

The Nationals need no reminders about what has plagued them in years past postseason baseball, even after rolling through the regular season, much like this 2017 campaign. Truly, this team has a different swagger than years past, as their offense has bailed them out of poor bullpen performances during the first half of the regular season. So why will this year be any different?

For starters, the Nationals batting average as a team is better than its ever been.  A quick comparison at team batting averages of 2015-2017 shows as follows for the Nationals:

2015: team batting average of .251; 2016, team batting average of .256; 2017 to date, the team batting average is .275. That improvement this year is mostly thanks to the steady hands of Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, and the resurgence of Bryce Harper.

Additionally, the new pitching assets in Kintzler, Madson, and especially Doolittle, have incredibly bolstered the bullpen, and given Dusty Baker reliable options to close out games. Doolittle has stepped up into the closer role nicely, and continues to shut out the opposition when it matters most. The Nationals will certainly rely on Doolittle come October, and currently remain confident that their squad is in the best position possible to win a pennant this year.

In order for the Nats to “flip the script” on this year’s postseason, they need to continue to get healthy, rely on strong starting pitching, and know exactly what bullpen scenarios will put them in the best position to win games.

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