Pitching coach Mike Maddux should be smiling. There was that time the Nationals bullpen was teetering near a 6.00 ERA this season and the doom and gloom ensued and now the Nats bullpen is statistically the best bullpen in the National League in the second half of the season. We were 3 games into the 2017 when the Nationals suffered their first blown save in the 9th inning. Now the Washington Nationals bullpen has been a strength for the team since the All-Star break.
The Nationals bullpen’s statistics can’t be erased from April, May, June and early July which will skew the current numbers that have the Nationals as the 22nd best bullpen in the Majors at a 4.47 ERA. The Nationals could end up near the 19th best bullpen ERA which is occupied by the Astros at a 4.44 ERA which separates the Nats by just 0.03 now.
When you talk about “what have you done for me lately” you get to the Nats as the 3rd best bullpen in the Majors behind only the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.
The additions of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler in July have worked. It moved other relief pitchers to roles they could thrive in.
“Everybody got comfortable and there was direction,” Ryan Madson said. “You know what to expect more than before probably. When that happens, it is a recipe for success.”
Brandon Kintzler credits Ryan Madson for setting the tone in the bullpen and mentoring the players.
“Madson has two [World Series] rings,” Brandon Kintzler said. “He has done a great job of being a leader to us.”
In the fourth game of the season, Dusty Baker had already used Blake Treinen in 3 consecutive days. Within the first month of the season Treinen had a 36 pitch count game and a 33 pitch count game in the same week with a 15 pitch game in between. That’s 84 pitches and the recipe for disaster seemed to be there in the back of the bullpen. Later on it was Koda Glover who was leaned on until he seemed to literally break. His season would end days after he pitched in a meaningless multi-inning appearance when he sat 22 minutes on the bench as the Nats took a 7 run lead in the top of the 9th after Glover pitched the bottom of the 8th inning when the lead needed protection. That was June 4th and 2 appearances later Glover was lost for the season after he gave a flimsy excuse of hurting his back in the shower while in fact he later admitted he pitched through some shoulder pain which ended his season.
Tom Boswell deleted that tweet back on June 4th and that was then and this is now. The new bullpen has had no 3 consecutive game use and besides some outliers — not real overuse. Roles have been well-defined and the players have thrived. The only issue was a short DL stint for Ryan Madson. The fans yell “Dooooooooo” when Sean Doolittle enters games and they have something to cheer for now with confidence. Who would have thunk this after the way the season started with the bullpen issues.
The Nationals bullpen since the Doolittle/Madson acquisitions has turned the Nats into the 4th best bullpen this season in terms of blown saves at 15 for the season, and there has only been 1 blown save by the Nationals in the 2nd half of the season while Doolittle has been a perfect 19-for-19 in saves for the Nats. The Nationals ERA since the Doolittle/Madson acquisition is 3.34.
The Dodgers bullpen has now had 16 blown saves this season and it was the Nationals bullpen who held the Dodgers scoreless the entire 2017 season over a combined 20 2/3 innings. The triumvirate of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle known as “The Firm” along with Matt Albers and Ollie Perez who make up the 5 relievers that Dusty Baker has been using the most recently have been firm to end the games. Doolittle is the presumptive closer and he has thrived in that role.
“The ninth inning, it’s a different beast,” Sean Doolittle said. “It’s a different energy level.”
Most likely Dusty Baker will carry an 8 man bullpen in the post-season, however he went with a 7 man ‘pen in the 2016 NLDS. Enny Romero, Sammy Solis, Joe Blanton and Matt Grace are the other 4 relievers round out the group who Baker will select from for the final NLDS roster.
Great bullpens shorten games as they say when you don’t need your starters to push into their third time through a batting order when most pitchers can be figured out. The Nationals have an opportunity here with the best bullpen they have ever had for a post-season.
We write often here that a coach has to put their players in situations to succeed. You sometimes have to figure that out over time. It is not a given, but success is also built on respect and trust while confidence is gained.
“The issue then becomes to how are you going to match-up and slice it up the best way to give your guys the best chance of success?” Sean Doolittle said. “I think it all boils down to kind of communicating with the guys and making sure that everybody knows every possible scenario that they might go in.”
Brandon Kintzler and Matt Albers have never pitched in a post-season before. Their teammate Ryan Madson will be coaching them up while their pitching coach Mike Maddux and manager Dusty Baker figure out the multiple scenarios. Who said this was going to be easy?