It’s been clear that the biggest weakness of the 2019 Washington Nationals has been the bullpen. There have been many struggles throughout the group, and they have consistently not been able to close out games or keep some games close. The Nationals statistically have the worst bullpen in the MLB, sporting a 6.35 ERA so far on the season. Although the group as a whole has improved since the beginning of June, they’re going to have to perform even better if the team has any intentions of playing in October.
We've seen it from his bullpen management, but here's Dave Martinez plainly saying Wander Suero is his setup man: “He’s been fantastic. It means a lot to our bullpen. He’s giving the ball to Doolittle right now, and that’s a great feeling."
— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) June 28, 2019
There have been many smaller moves made throughout the season so far to try and shore up the bullpen. Some of these have worked and some have not. Many of these have included veteran options, rather than younger minor league prospects. While some would argue this is better for what is supposed to be a contending team, this also means arms that have much more use.
Javy Guerra is one veteran acquisition that has performed well for the Nationals. Guerra has not been spectacular, but he has more than often gotten the job done, and has proved he should be a capable bullpen arm for the rest of the season. However, the list of veteran bullpen acquisitions that have not worked out well, is much longer. Among the multiple failed moves in the bullpen includes Tony Sipp, Dan Jennings, and last but certainly not least, Trevor Rosenthal. All of these pitchers struggled mightily this season, and shown that they should not be on a MLB roster at this point in their careers. Their performances helped dig the Nationals a very big hole to climb out of early in the season.
The Nationals have finally clawed their way back to .500, and now sit only 2.5 games back of a playoff spot. But if they want to continue to keep climbing up the standings, the bullpen is going to have to perform much better than they have through this point in the season. There are a couple different ways this can happen, but it’s not clear what route that GM Mike Rizzo should take.
The Nationals have played .700 ball for more than a month now. If they somehow kept up that pace the rest of the way, they'd finish with 97 wins. If they play .600 ball the rest of the way, they'd finish with 89 wins.
— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) June 28, 2019
The Nationals could perhaps try and make a trade for a relief pitcher as the Trade Deadline nears, but the problem with that is the lack of quality prospects in the farm system. Besides Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, there are very few quality prospects remaining. This means the Nats would either have to part with one of their top prospects to acquire a big name reliever, or they could try and scrape together a package to make a smaller move, which would not be ideal.
The best course of action for the Nationals is most likely to be promoting from within, where they have a few prospects that have performed well, and are probably ready for a shot at the majors. AAA reliever Dakota Bacus would be a good player to take a chance on, as he has been phenomenal this season, and could add a quality option to the Nats bullpen.
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) June 27, 2019
But the biggest thing that needs to happen for the Nationals, is they just need guys to perform how they’re supposed to. Wander Suero is really starting to turn it around, and is turning into a reliable late-game arm. If a few more players step up, than the bullpen can improve to the point where the Nationals could possibly make a legitimate run at a playoff spot. The foundation has been laid, now it’s up to Davey Martinez and the bullpen to finish it up.