On Sunday afternoon, it was announced that the Washington Nationals had traded reliever Blake Treinen, left-handed pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo, and infielder prospect Sheldon Neuse to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for former All-Star bullpen arm Sean Doolittle and closer Ryan Madson.
What it meant for the Nationals was a boost for their bonafide horrendous bullpen, which had ranked 30th (aka “last”) in ERA in Major League Baseball at a whopping 5.31; they are the only team currently in postseason position in the bottom eight in bullpen ERA. Doolittle and Madson had been, up to this point, bright spots on an otherwise dim A’s squad; Madson’s ERA has hovered around 2.00 all season long and is still strong after 40 appearances (2.06), while Doolittle has allowed just 12 hits in 21.2 innings.
The right-handed Madson and left-handed Doolittle provide depth and flexibility to a Nationals bullpen that to this point has had little of either. Opponents were batting an MLB-highest .279 against the Washington ‘pen, while they also had MLB’s fewest bullpen strikeouts (235). It was an obvious improvement for an gaping hole in the Washington depth chart.
Otherwise, this Nationals lineup is stacked. Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and more are having career years from a statistical standpoint, and all of their regular starters can contribute in a multitude of ways. For example, Rendon, their starting third baseman, leads the National League in offensive wins above replacement, while Murphy, Zimmerman, Harper, and Turner are all in the NL’s top ten in batting average and in on-base plus slugging percentage.
Turner is setting the base paths on fire with a total of 35 stolen bases and a team-leading four triples, as the 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up continues to climb up baseball’s totem pole. Their starting pitching staff is working their magic on a nightly basis, as the rotation led by Max Scherzer ranks third in wins (41) and ERA (3.57), while leading the majors in innings pitched (562.0).
Here’s the worrisome part of the Nationals’ respective dominance of the NL East, in which they hold a 10-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the divisional crown: they are seemingly nowhere close to the talent level possessed and displayed by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, it’s hard to say how a potential five-game or seven-game series between to the teams would play out, but I would be extremely concerned if I were in the Nationals’ camp.
It’s clear that both the Dodgers and Nationals are teams that are built to “win now,” meaning that they are willing to sell future assets in exchange for immediate help. Both teams have exemplified that lack of hesitancy in the trade market with the previously mentioned deals for Athletics’ relievers from the Nats, and what the Dodgers front office did back in December for Tampa Bay Rays infielder Logan Forsythe.
Both are similarly constructed teams with a good blend of veterans like Zimmerman or Chase Utley and youth like Turner or Corey Seager. They each have dominant starting pitching, and every player can contribute on all sides of the field from MVP candidates to utility players.
However, the Dodgers seem to be the more complete team. Winners of nine straight and 29 out of 33, L.A. is taking all of what should be a strong suit for their fellow pennant contenders and doubling up on it. If the Nationals’ strength is starting pitching, then consider the 14-2 Clayton Kershaw or the 11-0 Alex Wood. If the Chicago Cubs’ contact hitting and baserunning is giving you fits, remind yourself that the Dodgers’ have the NL leaders in slugging percentage (Cody Bellinger) and OPS (Justin Turner).
Nationals fans, players, managers, etc., need to hold out hope of this hot streak Los Angeles is riding being just that, a hot streak; perhaps the Dodgers have plateaued and will come back to the surface in National League West, in which they hold a 10.5-game lead. Otherwise, the hopes of the Nationals are all but gone.
Perhaps the classic Kershaw playoff collapse is looming, or an injury to a key player in the Dodgers lineup will occur. Purely hypothetically, even, one of the two NL West teams that will, as it stands today, compete in the Wild Card game (Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks) could strike at the right time and knock the Dodgers out of contention.
But, the Nationals are in a deep hole if the Dodgers continue the torrid pace they’re on. All things considered, the National League playoffs are setting up to be historically entertaining, but if I lived in Los Angeles, I would be setting aside some cash for a World Series ticket already.