Revamped bullpen has Nationals looking like World Series threat
The big weakness for the Washington Nationals coming into the season was the bullpen, and everyone knew it. Even Dusty Baker admitted it took an http://www.officialredsprostore.com/brandon-phillips-jersey-c-1_12.html emotional toll on him and the rest of the team.
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Before July 31, Washington’s bullpen combined for a 5.07 ERA while allowing a 1.43 WHIP. In 39 opportunities, they converted 25 saves, while blowing 14.
The offense, which has scored the second most runs in baseball, was building leads. The starting pitching, statistically the best in Major League Baseball, was more than holding its own in sustaining those leads.
Once the game was handed to the bullpen, it was anyone’s guess what would happen next. That uncertainty, which led to Baker and the rest of the team publicly complaining about the unit, put pressure on general manager Mike Rizzo to make a move, sooner rather than later.
The team then acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
There were questions as to whether the Nationals had done enough to address the bullpen, specifically if they’d still try to add a closer to the roster.
Some thought the move was smart, with one league source texting right after the trade, “Nationals just sured up their bullpen! Madson is a gamer – off the charts human being.”
Still, questions remained.
Doolittle and Madson, while experienced, both came with uncertainty. Madson is 37 and has injury concerns. So does Doolittle. Neither were guarantees to make a significant impact, considering their injury histories.
At the last second on July 31, Washington pulled off a deal with the Minnesota Twins for Brandon Kintzler.
Since then, the bullpen has significantly improved.
Kintzler was surprisingly not thrown into the closer spot – he had 45 saves the last two seasons in Minnesota — but he has been strong in 18.1 innings of work since coming over, putting up a 2.45 ERA. While Kintzler has never been considered a strikeout pitcher, his numbers have fallen in Washington, collecting nine strikeouts (less than one every two innings).
Madson started off his Nationals career not allowing a run in his first 12 appearances until allowing two on Sunday. He did miss some http://www.officialredssale.com/desmond-jennings-jersey-c-1_17.html time due to a finger injury, but when on the field he has been strong.
Meanwhile, Doolittle provided the Nationals exactly what they needed: a legitimate shutdown closer.
He has converted 17 of 17 saves and has posted a 2.25 ERA with a 2.43 FIP and 24-6 strikeout-walk ratio.
His significance was on full display on September 8 in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Entering the ninth inning with a four-run lead, Shawn Kelley allowed a three-run home run to Maikel Franco to make it a one-run game. Doolittle entered and proceeded to strike out Tommy Joseph, Jorge Alfaro and J.P. Crawford to end the game.
Earlier in the season, the game could have ended with a different result. Instead, Doolittle entered in a high-pressure situation and closed things down.
With a much-improved bullpen, the Nationals are gaining on the collapsing Los Angeles Dodgers, who have lost 11 in a row and 16 of their last 17. They now trail the Dodgers by four games for the best record in the National League and if Los Angeles’ struggles continue, Washington could overtake L.A. for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, giving them home field advantage throughout.
When Mike Rizzo made the moves to acquire Madson, Kintzler and Doolittle, he tried to fill a major need with a deep playoff run in mind.
Granted, they weren’t the flashy, big moves we’ve seen in the past, such as an Aroldis Chapman or David Robertson, but sometimes those aren’t the moves to make; instead, the ones that slide under the radar not only benefit a team now, but in Roger Maris Authentic Jersey the long haul. (Washington didn’t give up top-five prospects in either deal.)
Armed with a much stronger bullpen, the Nationals, one of baseball’s most complete teams, look like prime contenders to make a deep playoff run.