Entering Saturday, the Washington Nationals had the second-best record in the National League. Their 38-22 record also made them the third best team in all of MLB behind only the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies. With a 10.5 game edge over the second-place Atlanta Braves, the 2017 season has certainly been positive for the Nats.
The offense is certainly clicking on all cylinders. Prior to Saturday’s showdown with the Texas Rangers, the team was fourth in the Majors in homers, second in batting average and runs scored plus third in on-base percentage. Ryan Zimmerman has had a career rebirth this year. Bryce Harper is the current favorite for the NL MVP. Matt Wieters has come in and produced. Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon are both swinging it well on the season. Point is, the team can swing it with the best of em.
In terms of their starting rotation, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer are living up to their names. Stras is sporting a 2.80 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Over the course of 12 starts and 80 and a third innings pitched, he has earned seven wins an struck out 89. If you think those numbers are impressive, take a gander at Max’s stat line. The man with two different colored eyes is throwing to a 2.35 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, struck out 115 and has 7 wins over 12 starts and 84 and a third innings. Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark have been solid in their respective roles as well.
But the team does have one glaring weakness. That being the backend of their bullpen, which many have questioned before the season began.
Back in Spring Training, it was a three-man competition for the closer’s role. The candidates were Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover and Blake Treinen. When camp broke, Treinen was the man with the title. But things did not go too well for Mr. Treinen to open the year. While he saved three of four games to start the year, he was sporting an 8.10 ERA and 1.80 WHIP.
Those numbers simply weren’t going to cut it in the closer’s role. Things have not gotten much better since either, as his ERA is still above six and his WHIP is over 1.80. So, the role went to Koda Glover. He would earn his first save on April 22, six days after blowing one against Philadelphia Phillies.
While things were looking good with Glover at the end of the game, he would go down with a hip injury. Four days after his save of the season, he landed on the DL with a left hip impingement. He would return from the DL on Friday, May 12th, pitching the next day to the tune of an inning and a third of scoreless ball. Since his return, he has recorded six saves and a hold.
However, there have been a few rough spots along the way. In the game in which he earned the hold (June 4th in Oakland), he actually came into the game in the eighth. He would record one out, sending the game to the ninth with the Nats leading 6-4. The Nats would add on five runs in the top of the ninth to give Glover a comfortable 11-4 lead.
But then Glover blew up in the last inning. His final line would go down as one third of an inning, five baserunners and five earned runs. Shawn Kelley would need to be called upon to finish off the game, and Washington would hold on to win 11-10. This game would balloon Glover’s ERA to 4.58 from 2.08.
Two days later, he came in and shut the door against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But then on Saturday, some cracks once again showed through. Entering with a 3-1 lead against the Rangers, Shin-Soo Choo would hit a solo homer. That was followed by a few more hits, tying the game. The only reason the Rangers didn’t take the lead in the inning was because Pete Kozma’s foot got stuck in the ground before touching the plate, allowing Jose Lobaton to tag him out on a rocket throw from Harper.
The Nats would go on to lose the game in the 11th inning after Robinson Chirinos hit a three-run homer off of Kelley.
After the game, Glover revealed he was dealing with a back issue. As of now, he is considered day-to-day, but will likely be evaluated further in the coming days.
So, can the Nationals really be considered favorites in the NL to head to the World Series right now? While Glover has been fairly effective for most of the season, he has had his fair share of blowups, and now injuries are beginning to look like an issue.
Even if someone were to step up from the current group as we move forward, it would feel too much like rehashing the past. Back in 2012 and 2014 when the Nats won the NL East, Drew Storen was their man. He looked great in the regular season, but would blow games in each series.
Since 2012, the Nationals have made three trips to the MLB playoffs. Each of those years (2012, 2014 and 2016) they won at least 95 games and looked like they could easily be in the World Series. But all three of those years, they would fall in the NLDS.
If the Nats keep this roster as is, they are looking at a similar fate. Strasburg, Scherzer and the offense can look as good as they have, but if the pen can’t hold leads in those big October games, they are ticketed for another early exit. So it seems pretty obvious. They need to go out and get a surefire closer as soon as possible.
That begs the question, who could they go and get? Earlier in the season, I would have said Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals. He has electric stuff and the Royals were poised for a down season. But unfortunately, he simply hasn’t looked too sharp this season either, sporting a 5.55 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.
I’m not sure I would consider David Robertson “surefire”, but he is nine of ten on saves this season. He has a 3.38 ERA and 0.89 WHIP to go along with 29 strikeouts over 21 and a third innings. With the Chicago White Sox in dead last in the AL Central, he will certainly be available.
The Nats may look into a reunion with Tyler Clippard of the New York Yankees. Given he will be third in the pecking order once Aroldis Chapman is officially back, the Yankees may be willing to part with him. He currently has a 1.80 ERA and 0.88 WHIP while striking out 31 in 25 innings.
Other teams the Nats may end up turning to are the St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays. Alex Colome of the Rays has been linked to the team before, and is sporting solid numbers this season. With 17 saves in 19 attempts, the team may view him as the best name out there at the moment.
The club is probably wishing the Boston Red Sox would fade backward, in hopes of talking about a deal for Craig Kimbrel. But that simply is not looking like it is a realistic option at all.
At the end of the day, the team simply needs to do something. If they keep things as is, they are doomed to repeat history. A top closer is what stands between them and true World Series contender status.
What do you think? Do you think this team could go the distance as is? Or do they need some help in the pen to get there? If so, who should they go after? Tell us in the comments!