The Washington Nationals start the 2017 campaign with high expectations and huge questions about their bullpen. Is there true reason for concern?
In a season with such promise, the Washington Nationals have a major question mark right now. Exactly who will close games and who sets them up?
On the surface, it is Shawn Kelley’s job to lose. The main setup guy last year, he filled in for Jonathan Papelbon when things went bad last summer until the arrival of Mark Melancon. If Kelley wins the job, he has 11 career saves listed on his baseball card.
Sure, bringing in Matt Albers and Joe Nathan give the Nats some solid bullpen options, but neither is built to close in 2017. We may see Blake Treinen and/or Koda Glover audition too. Sammy Solis may get a whirl too.
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Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland are names we will see, but in road grey uniforms. If the Nats were contending for a first trip to the playoffs, the current bullpen would not be an issue. Among all the unproven options, an answer lays somewhere.
Washington is no longer a team happy just to play meaningful baseball in October. A sample of what we see on social media suggests in unprintable terms you are not either.
Your understandable frustration added by the news of Holland’s deal with the Colorado Rockies coming with a vesting option for year two. Add Jansen’s thinking he would sign with DC if they gave him a fifth year and Melancon figuring he would return and we end up with a perception problem.
Out of those three, the Nats had the resources to get one, right? Well…
You get the sense Washington has a strainer of cooked spaghetti noodles in a strainer and are chucking them at the wall to see which stick. You cannot win a championship with that approach. Ask the Detroit Tigers.
Yep, the Tigers featured a high-powered offense with a feared starting rotation and never won the World Series. As they aged, they spent themselves in a corner and are starting again. Although the Nats pen is better than what Detroit had a few years ago, the similarities are there.
A proven closer is essential. Assuming all the teams who made the National League playoffs return this year, Washington faces Jeurys Familia with the New York Mets, or Wade Davis with the Chicago Cubs. Oh, and Jansen with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Melancon with the San Francisco Giants. All playoff tested.
We know the Nats are making the push to win now. The offense can score runs while the starting pitching is excellent if healthy. The bullpen is a collection of solid and unproven seventh inning arms searching to fill new roles. Kelley, Treinen and Glover can become that bedrock. They all have issues to prove.
Glover is inexperienced. Treinen induces ground balls, but walks batters. Kelley underwent Tommy John surgery in the past and averaged less than an inning a game last year. Dennis Eckersley, John Smoltz and Mariano Rivera will tell you great closers are created, not born.
The potential is there.
In a position which is equally over and underrated, the band-aid approach the Nationals use is risky. Come October, it has to work.