As the Nationals play beer league softball against one of the lightest hitting teams in the league, the annoyance with the team’s struggles is palpable on social media. Fans are frustrated with the bullpen, the lack of situational hitting, Wilmer Difo’s unbelievable brain fart, some of Dusty Baker’s choices, the bullpen, the bench, and the bullpen. This slump is coupled with the Mets getting a couple of players back healthy and winning four in a row. This is baseball. Every team goes through this. The Rangers series was brutal, but if Difo runs this is a different conversation.
But let’s roll the clock back a year, almost to the date. On June 18, 2016, the Nationals were leading the woeful San Diego Padres 3-1. Max Scherzer pitched 6 sterling innings. After Matt Belise pitched a scoreless 7th; Felipe Rivero came in and the wheels fell off — he faced six batters, and all six reached. Blake Treinen came in, issued a walk and a hit, allowing all three inherited runners to score. Sound familiar? This kicked off a seven-game stretch of gaffes, errors, blown leads, bad at-bats, and generally bad baseball.
The Nationals had a six-game lead at the start of the losing streak. The Nationals would get swept by LA, blowing two late leads in that series—one of which by the infamous Puig Little League home run. They then went to Milwaukee, who were seven games under .500. Max goes in and serves up two home runs to famed sluggers Keon Broxton and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, giving up five runs over six innings. Gio would meltdown the next game lasting just three innings, giving up six runs. By the time the Nats would win again, the lead was down to just three games. That streak-breaking win was even a nailbiter, as Treinen and Shawn Kelley surrendered late runs and Werth misjudged a flyball with two outs in the 9th. The Nationals still won the division by eight games.
This team gave Jonathan Papelbon the closer role until July 28th, with a 4.37 ERA and 1.457 WHIP. But even he would be an upgrade right now to this bullpen. This team just surrendered five home runs to the team with the fourth fewest home runs in the Majors. It’s beyond annoying right now. It’s beyond frustrating right now. Three straight blown games by the bullpen, after a promising West Coast trip. It’s very difficult to see this team doing anything, at all.
As fans, it’s easy to look back and point fingers and say Mike Rizzo shoulda-coulda-woulda done this or that. The Nationals offered Kenley Jansen more money than the Dodgers, but he wanted to stay in LA. What could they do there? Greg Holland topped out at 88 MPH in his off-season showcase. The Rockies ponied up a $15 million option if he finishes just 30 games. No one saw him coming. The Melancon deal is nuts — four years and $62 million is going to be terrible for a fading and soon-to-be rebuilding team. He’s already spent time on the DL, and is serving up almost 11 H/9. He is definitely better than what the Nationals have, for now, but he is regressing, and is not worth that salary. No one saw Shawn Kelley serving up almost 5 HR/9. No one saw Blake Treinen’s ERA bloating to over 6.00. Sammy Solis has been on the DL since April. Koda Glover is hurt, again. Where do the Nationals look? Kelvin Herrera has a 5.33 ERA. David Robertson would be an improvement — but why would Chicago deal him now, when there will be several teams bidding for him in a couple of weeks? Same with someone like Alex Colome. And that’s assuming Tampa is out of the race by then.
Therein lies the biggest hurdle: Rizzo knows this bullpen sucks. Dusty knows this bullpen sucks. Everyone knows this bullpen sucks. In five weeks, there will be names available: Brad Hand, Ryan Madson, et al. Mike Rizzo will make several deals. To say he is either ignoring the issue or they are going to keep the same bullpen for the rest of the year is willful ignorance for the sake of being outraged. However, deals just are not made now — doing so would be a panic move, and may make the situation worse.
This team is still a very good team, and the bullpen is the easiest part of a team to fix midseason. They have one of the top offenses in the league and one of the best rotations in the league. This team gets on base and is one of the best teams with runners in scoring position. They can hit, they can hit home runs, they can steal bases, they’re generally not going to beat themselves. It’s difficult to be even remotely optimistic when the bullpen continues to blow leads, or when they leave the bases loaded with no outs and fail to score. It’s annoying as all hell watching pitchers walk sub-.200 hitters on four pitches. Losing the way they have been losing is the single most frustrating way to lose. However, as bad as everything has been, they still have only lost four in a row, all year. They still have an 8.5 game lead in a crappy division. There is a lot to like about this team.
The Nationals just called up Trevor Gott, who has been outstanding in AAA. He may be a solution, he may be more of the same. Time will tell. After the All-Star Break, we will see Erick Fedde, who is striking out 12.9 batters per nine innings as a reliever at Harrisburg. If things break right, first-round pick Seth Romero could make his debut in September. He struck out 85 in 48 2/3 innings — a 15.7/9 clip. Getting Glover and Solis back will help. And Joe Blanton had a scoreless inning!
As annoying as watching this team is right now, it’s not much different than the seven-game skid this time last year. They will pull out of this skid. The bullpen as it’s currently constructed is utterly detestable — but it will change. It is easily conceivable we will see as many as five new arms by the beginning of August. Until then… breathe, try not to throw things at Blake Treinen, and know help is coming.Tags: Blake Treinen, Erick Fedde, Joe Blanton, Koda Glover, Nationals, Nats, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Washington Nationals