The bullpen is not a hot mess.
The final inning was not the problem for the Nationals heading into the trade deadline last July. Drew Storen had things on lockdown, with an ERA far below 2.00. Rather, the sorry state of the bullpen’s middle relievers prompted the trade for Jonathan Papelbon.
Fast forward a few weeks, Storen melts down and breaks his hand punching a locker, Papelbon does Papelbon things and does not pitch all that well, and the middle relievers continue struggling. The bullpen swoon in late August and early September spelled the end of Washington’s postseason hopes last year. In hindsight, the decision to trade for Papelbon looks bad, but Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, and Casey Janssen may have continued blowing leads without the trade.
The Nationals made a pointed attempt to upgrade innings six, seven, and eight with bullpen additions Yusmeiro Petit, Oliver Perez, and Trevor Gott. It would have been nice to keep Drew Storen and settle him down, but that was a situation that could only be resolved with a trade. Petit, Perez, and Gott should help anchor the bullpen and provide a much straighter path leading to the closer. Rivero may be the biggest key. The young left-hander has elite stuff, but has not yet been able to fully command it.