Following the biggest injury of their season, a bone bruise suffered by Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals have seemingly become a kind of a different team.
A somewhat healthy roster—by Nationals standards, at least—found success through a high-powered offense and stud starting pitching. With Harper’s absence and missing other key players, the Nationals transformed into a traditional grind-it-out, lights out bullpen kind of team. The Nats’ 18-11 record in August shows that this newer method is working for the time being.
The starters have been great all season, with a special acknowledgement to midseason replacement Edwin Jackson, who in eight starts with the Nationals has pitched to a 2.94 ERA across 49 innings. But the emergence of Washington’s new bullpen has changed conventional wisdom. The bullpen posted a 3.81 ERA in August, nearly two runs better than their dead-last bullpen from the previous four months of the season. Through July 30, Washington relievers posted a 5.07 ERA, worst in the NL and 29th in the majors. The bullpen had 14 blown saves and was a key reason why the Nats lost six games when leading after eight innings—two more than all of last season.
Reinforcements have already begun to arrive for the September finish as veteran Jayson Werth, sparkplug shortstop Trea Turner and centerfielder Michael A. Taylor are back in the lineup and are already contributing. Turner’s presence on the basepaths cannot be understated; he has three stolen bases in just five games since his return from the disabled list. Werth hit a massive 425 foot homer in his first game back, but has looked a little sluggish at the plate and in the field—understandable considering age and injury history.
Given Stephen Strasburg’s injury history, every inning he pitches seems to be treated with a high degree of caution. Yet in his three starts since returning from the disabled list, he has only given up two earned runs in 21 total innings pitched. He looks sharp and refreshed, another great sign for the team going into the playoffs.
With a 15-game lead in the division and the “magic number” to clinch their second consecutive NL East crown at 13, Dusty Baker can tinker with the lineups, rest the big guys and hope that Harper can return and get into a rhythm by the start of the playoffs.