The bullpen issues of the Washington Nationals are troubling and deep even for a team running away from their rivals in the National League East. It was the biggest question mark coming into the season when GM Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals’ brain trust decided to stand pat with the hand they had.
It has been an unmitigated disaster since then.
The Blake Treinen closer experience (71 ERA+/4.13 FIP/29.0 IP) was a failure. Shawn Kelley (64/8.91/18.0) has been a shell of his former self. As much as we all love that Matt Albers (210/3.25/25.2) finally got his first professional save, he shouldn’t be a back-end option for a contender. Koda Glover (87/2.66/19.1) is the only one that at times has looked the part, but can he be trusted to protect a lead against the Cubs in Game 6 of the NLCS? The Nationals have given up more runs from the seventh inning on than any team in baseball.
If Rizzo and manager Dusty Baker are willing to think creatively, I believe the solution to the Nationals’ problems is already on the team: Max Scherzer (194/2.88/99.2).
I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out. Traditional thinking is not going to bring home any championships with the way the Washington roster will undoubtedly be constructed.
It’s a foregone conclusion that between now and the trade deadline Rizzo is going to go out and get bullpen help. The David Robertson rumors haven’t quieted down and neither have the Alex Colome rumblings. It was recently reported that the Nationals were targeting Oakland’s Ryan Madson and Detroit’s Justin Wilson, but it’s tough to see either of them as more than a piece of the bullpen puzzle. No one who will be available on the trade market is going to be a lights out closer that you would implicitly trust in handing a one-run lead to in the ninth inning of a win or go-home game.
But Max Scherzer could be that guy for Washington.
I understand a starting pitcher is more valuable than a closer over the course of a season. But given the Nationals’ late-inning struggles and their deep rotation, this is something they could pull off for the quick sprint of the playoffs if they wanted. Even without Scherzer in the rotation, you would still have Stephen Strasburg (134/3.02/90.2), Tanner Roark (100/4.14/84), and Gio Gonzalez (152/4.30/87.1) as formidable playoff starters.
If an old dog can be taught a new trick, Dusty Baker could utilize Scherzer in high-leverage situations much like Terry Francona did with Andrew Miller last season to maximize the impact his best pitcher has on the outcome of the postseason. And with the playoffs scheduled the way they are, it’s conceivable they would never have to worry about pitching Scherzer out of the bullpen three days in a row.
I’m not suggesting the Nationals implement this kind of out-of-the-box thinking tomorrow. With a 9.5-game lead, the Nationals are all but a shoo-in for the playoffs. You don’t need to do anything differently between now and, say, mid-September. Just have Scherzer go out there every fifth day and pitch as usual.
But the window of opportunity for this version of the Nationals to do something in the playoffs is closing rapidly. The conventional way of thought has gotten them zero playoff series wins to this point despite being the higher seed all three years they’ve played in the postseason since 2012. It’s time to roll the dice and give it their best shot of winning the whole thing–not just qualifying for the playoffs–and that’s with Max Scherzer as a weapon out of the Washington bullpen.Next post: Gary Sanchez Poll Results
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