Washington Nationals Rapid Reaction: Is Struggling Bullpen a Major Concern?


The Washington Nationals entered the 2015 season with a new-look bullpen. Familiar faces like Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, and Ross Detwiler had all departed the team via trades or free agency. Experienced long reliever Craig Stammen is most likely out for the entire season. Free agent signing Casey Janssen and a group of new rookie arms have been expected to fill in the holes left by those no longer pitching in a Nationals uniform. While Drew Storen has taken over the closer role in dominant fashion, the rest of the clean up crew has struggled mightily.

So far this season, Janssen, Aaron Barrett, Matt Grace, Blake Treinen, Rafael Martin, Felipe Rivero, Xavier Cedeno, Taylor Jordan, and Sammy Solis have combined for 83 innings of relief, in which they sport an atrocious combined 4.77 ERA. While Janssen has just returned from injury, the rest of these young arms have run into serious trouble against major league hitting.

In the Cincinnati series alone, the relief corps went 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA in 11.2 innings. Storen did not make an appearance in the series,  as he watched the Nats get swept by a below average Reds team. Matt Thornton was the lone bright spot of the three game set, firing two separate innings of scoreless relief.

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The excuse of “it’s early” is running out of time to remain applicable. Through the quarter mark of the season, coaches, GMs, and fans alike have started to get restless. This team is built for success in 2015, and as was evident with the 2014 Detroit Tigers, a bad bullpen does not get you very far come playoff time.

Should Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo start eyeing the trade market for some dominant bullpen arms? The trade deadline is not for another couple months, but this team cannot afford to lose ground in the division with the New York Mets breathing down their necks, just a half game back.

Sure, this was one bad series that actually followed a string of dominant outings by the Washington ‘pen. However, this group of arms does not have the look of a playoff team. Five of their relievers, including spot starter A.J. Cole, made their major league debut this season. The rest severely lack playoff experience, and those who have seen October baseball (see Storen, Barrett) have not had success.

The Nationals are in win-now mode and with many key pieces set to hit free agency after this season, the window may be closing for Matt Williams and company. If these struggles continue, it could end up costing Washington a playoff run.

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