Washington Nationals: Bullpen must expand to survive

CINCINNATI, OH - MARCH 31: Sammy Solis
CINCINNATI, OH - MARCH 31: Sammy Solis /

A season of close games for the Washington Nationals has taxed the bullpen. An eighth arm would help, the the pressure remains. Here’s why.

The Washington Nationals have a tired bullpen and there is not a thing they can do.

After Saturday’s 21st game of the season, five relievers have pitched 10 or more times. Shawn Kelley has seven games logged and Trevor Gott, recently recalled from Syracuse, has five.

A mix of depth, a rookie manager and nail biting contests put Washington in a tough situation. As they battle in the National League East, the Nats are taxing the bullpen. When five guys are on pace for 80+ appearances, problems are around the corner.

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But, when you are fighting with three other teams in the division, Washington’s choices are limited.

No team has enough bullpen depth. The modern game will not allow it. Statistics show starters tire their third time through the lineup. Although Washington starters average 19 outs a game, you still need 27 to win. On nights when Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are not starting, the need increases.

Welcome to Major League Baseball in 2018.

Baseball is a sport which continually evolves. The sheer volumes of data at a team’s fingertips is massive. Washington and others believe it works better for starters to throw 90 to 100 hard pitches then turn things over to a group of guys who throw 15 flame-throwing pitches.

On an average MLB staffs strikeout 8.88 batters a game. If the pace holds that shatters last year’s 8.25 record by 0.6. Walks are up this season too. The 3.57 BB/9 is the highest rate since 3.75 in 2000. You need to go back to the mid-50s for regular walk totals as high.

Additional stress on the starters causes further bullpen wear and tear.

Back during the 1980s, pitchers were taught how to pitch to contact. Although your aces could rack up the punch outs, your mid-rotation guys could pitch seven regularly because they induced grounders or knew how to keep fly balls in play.

With focus shifting to give pitchers a more dominant role, they tire faster. Throwing over 95 often takes a toll. No wonder they have a hard time the third time through.

Until the game shifts the balance back, if it ever happens, the bullpen’s job will get tougher. Soft-tossing pitchers get hammered. It is full throttle right from the start.

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The Nats will need an eight-man pen. Because they are treading around .500, Washington will not escape close games that need tight managing. The eighth guy is a must, the bench be damned.