Five Questions for the 2016 Nationals

Will the bullpen be better?

Because of the small number of innings that relievers pitch, bullpen performance is notoriously volatile. Nonetheless, the inability of Nats relievers to reliably get through the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings absolutely killed the team last season. Rizzo tried to solve the problem midseason by adding Papelbon, a move that made sense at the time but turned out poorly.

Rizzo tried to land star set-up man Darren O’Day, but refused to pay a fourth year to a 33-year-old reliever. That deal fell through and O’Day stayed put in Baltimore. There were rumors the Nationals were pursuing Andrew Miller, but the Yankees’ asking price for Miller was astronomical so he stayed put, too.

Instead, Rizzo put together a solution involving some lesser-known but effective bullpen pitchers: righties Yusmeiro Petit, Shawn Kelley, and Trevor Gott, and lefty specialist Oliver Perez. All of them represent upgrades; Petit becomes the long man the Nationals sorely lacked in 2015, and Perez, Kelley, and Gott become part of the late-inning mix along with promising youngster Felipe Rivero and the ever-inconsistent Blake Treinen. Drew Storen‘s gone – a necessity for both Washington and Storen himself – so the extreme, intense, fiery Papelbon becomes the closer.

This new mix is a combination of high-strikeout, high-velocity young talent. Then throwing pitching coach Maddux into the mix, and this group bears close watching.

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