Mandatory credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
The Nationals pitching staff is good. Historically good, in fact. Over the first two games, they struck out 31 Mets batters, which, according to STATS, is the most in the first two games of a season since 1914. 100 years. Time is relative, and to start this season it sped by like a 95 mph heater.
Sure, a pitching staff with Strasburg and Gonzalez will do that sort of thing. These guys can pitch. Pick one and build a rotation around him. Look past those guys, past the starters, to the bullpen. After two games, the bullpen struck out 15 in seven innings. After game three, those relievers struck down 18 in 10. Spring training may be over, but it’s only pitchers and catchers here.
Last season, the Nationals bullpen was above average. Not great. Not barrel dregs. Using WAR as a measuring stick, out of 15 National League clubs, the Nats were sixth at 3.0. Respectable numbers. The Cardinals were one tick above at 3.1, and their bullpen was considered an asset.
Still, the Nats were tied with the Cubs for fourteenth in strikeouts with 418, and taking innings pitched out of the equation, they were 11th in K/9 at 7.88. While being the best at striking batters out doesn’t necessarily make your bullpen unstoppable, it doesn’t hurt either. Lots of strikeouts typically indicate lots of guys with swing and miss stuff, which is a good thing.
If we look at last season’s overall strikeout leaders by team, in the NL you have Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Playoff teams. If batters can’t hit your pitches, runs usually can’t score.
Preventing runs wasn’t the Nats problem last season, and it’s unlikely to be a problem this season. This staff won’t forget how to pitch any time soon. An above average, but not great, bullpen helps win games, and, more importantly, won’t lose you many. The Nats relievers don’t walk many batters, ranking third in the NL in BB/9 last season at 2.98, and they were precisely middle of the road for keeping the ball in the park. They may allow a few more batted balls than the majority of teams, but they give their fielders a chance to make plays.
Here we are, three games in, and the bullpen currently averages nearly two strikeouts per inning. This won’t last of course. Greatness rarely does. Storen, of the career 8.5 K/9, and Clippard, at 10 K/9, will revert to their norms. The team travels on back to Washington to face the Braves and won’t see the Mets again until May 16. We’ll forget these early games, but you wonder if the Mets ever will.
Not for a hundred years.