The Washington Nationals bullpen struggled in 2018. If they hope to make another postseason run in 2019, they will need to focus on improving their bullpen.
The Washington Nationals came into the 2018 season with one of the best rosters in the MLB. They had a deep lineup with proven hitters, excellent starting pitching, and they finally had reliable relievers in the bullpen to handle the late innings in games. Or so they thought.
After the team traded for Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle at the trade deadline in 2017, the team was able to bring back all three for the 2018 season. The trio had a great end to the year in 2017, so returning that same trio theoretically gave the Nationals stability in the back end of the bullpen.
Unfortunately, the Nationals’ bullpen never really brought that stability the club was hoping for. Ultimately, Kintzler and Madson were shipped away after disappointing first halves, and Doolittle was the only one left of the three relievers that the Nationals were hoping to rely on.
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The Nationals have Doolittle returning next year, and Matt Grace, the team’s leader in relief innings, is under team control for 2019. So the Nationals have their closer and can bring back a reliable lefty for next season. Everything else is up in the air.
Seven of the ten teams that made the postseason this year had bullpen ERAs that ranked in the top 10 of the league. The Braves and Indians both made up for their higher bullpen ERAs by having their starter’s ERAs rank in the top five of the league. The only team to make the postseason that had their starter’s and reliever’s ERA rank outside the top 15 was the Colorado Rockies.
The Nationals should learn from the postseason teams and should spend money to bolster the bullpen. Much of the offseason will hinge on Bryce Harper, but the Nationals should focus on the bullpen whether or not Harper returns to DC.
If the Nationals want to return to the postseason in 2019, they are going to need to improve their pitching. Bolstering the bullpen is a great place to start, and having great arms in the bullpen has proven to be an asset that teams can rely on to carry them to the postseason.