May 21, 2018

The Nats bullpen finally looks playoff-ready, but did Mike Rizzo do enough at the trade deadline?

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo talks with outfielder Jayson Werth before their tilt with the Orioles on May 9, 2017, at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Photo credit: Keith Allison/CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

It didn’t take long for the Nationals to make a move after the All-Star break. The bullpen struggled in the team’s second half opening series against the Reds, prompting general manager Mike Rizzo to trade for Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Oakland Athletics. These two moves helped solidify a bullpen that has posted the worst ERA in baseball. However, it was clear the Nationals needed to make one more move.

In the final minutes before the July 31, 4:00 p.m. EST trade deadline, the Nationals made the move to get another reliable late-innings arm. The team acquired Minnesota Twins closer Brandon Kintzler.

Kintzler began his role as a closer last season, totalling 17 saves for the Twins. This year, he has been in that role full time, already recording 28 saves. Kintzler has a 2.78 ERA this year, sports a 2-2 record, and made the All-Star team for the first time in his career this year.

Kintzler possesses a fastball that can touch higher than 95 MPH. He also throws a sinker that stays in the low 90’s, a high 80’s to low 90’s slider and a changeup that hovers around the high 80’s, per Fan Graphs.

Kintzler is not a guy that is going to blow you away with devastating stuff. Kintzler pitches to contact, and forces a lot of ground balls. Per Fan Graphs, Kintzler has a 57.8 ground ball percentage for his career.

Doolittle has served as the Nationals closer since his acquisition. His outings have not always been pretty, but he has gotten the job done. The Nationals could elect to keep Doolittle in the closer role, or they may put Kintzler there instead. Doolittle hasn’t been a full-time closer for much of the course of his career, while Kintzler has more experience in the role.

The Nationals have put together the three-headed monster in the bullpen that Bryce Harper called for, and this group can become even better, as Koda Glover is still yet to return from injury. A combination of Glover, Madson, Doolittle and Kintzler now provides a group that is capable and ready for the postseason.

The Nationals loaded up for a postseason run at the trade deadline this year, however, one question looms over all of the moves the Nationals made: Did they do enough?

The Nationals stayed true to their typical formula. Don’t go for the top names on the market, and keep the elite prospect pool intact (the Adam Eaton blockbuster serving as the lone exception). The Nationals didn’t acquire the biggest bullpen arm on the market, and they didn’t give up their high-end prospects in doing so, sending just cash and the No. 17 overall prospect in the Nationals’ system to the Twins.

But while the Nationals kept their annual routine, the Nationals top competition loaded up, and were much bolder in doing so. No team is this truer for than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers came into deadline day with a 74-31 record, the best in baseball by six games. It’s a team that is on pace to win over 100 games with the roster they had before deadline day.

Despite all they had going for them, the Dodgers decided to go big. The team acquired back-end starter Tony Cingrani, and former Pirates All-Star closer Tony Watson to pair with the league’s best bullpen pitcher: Kenley Jansen. The team already has one of baseball’s top two starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw (who should be back for the postseason). This is on top of a powerhouse offense headlined by Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner. Cingrani and Watson were enough to strengthen what the team already had, helping them have the depth they needed to stay amidst the world series favorites.

And then the Dodgers traded for Yu Darvish.

As previously mentioned, the Dodgers were already stacked. The addition of Darvish, a true front-line ace, takes this Dodgers team to a whole new level. No longer are the Dodgers just one of the World Series favorites, now, they are the the clear pick to win it all. No longer are the Dodgers just a really good team. Now, they are a superteam.

The Nationals have their own superstar rotation, and the best offense in the National League. The fatal flaw with this Nationals team was its bullpen. Now, that issue appears to be solved. Health is still a concern for the Nationals, and once they get back to full health, the team boasts one of an exclusive group of rosters that can compete with the Dodgers.

But did the Nationals do enough at the deadline to be able to beat the Dodgers?

The Dodgers put all their chips on the table for this year, while the Nationals were unwilling to give up prospects like Victor Robles or Juan Soto for the top bullpen arm available: Zach Britton. The Cubs gave up their top prospect, Gleyber Torres, for Aroldis Chapman and proceeded to win the World Series. Every single Cubs fan would make that exact same trade again given the opportunity.

The fact that the Nationals were able to get to the point that they are now, the third best record in baseball, with so many injuries and such a bad bullpen until just two weeks ago is impressive. At full health and with a revamped bullpen, the Nationals have the talent to win the World Series. But the Dodgers juggernaut looms large out on the west coast.

The Nationals have played it safe at the deadline once again, time will only tell if failing to go all in will cost the Nationals and the D.C. area the one thing it starves for: A ring.

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