For all the money both teams spent in the offseason, the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies have the same weakness: Their bullpens.
Both teams provided a masterclass in late-inning failures during the Nationals’ 9-8 win Wednesday.
The Nationals bullpen collapsed first, giving up four runs in the eighth inning. Tony Sipp, Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough all played a role in the disastrous inning. While Barraclough gave up the hits that allowed all four runs to score, Rosenthal’s performance is far more concerning.
According to @ESPNStatsInfo, Trevor Rosenthal is just the second pitcher in the Live Ball Era who failed to record an out in each of his first three outings of a season (Rich Hill, 2014).
— Eddie Matz (@ESPNeddiematz) April 3, 2019
With the Nationals now down by two runs, it was Philadelphia’s turn to implode. Seranthony Domínguez allowed a single and then a run-scoring double to cut the Phillies’ lead to one run in the eighth. A few batters later, the tying run came around to score on an error.
Sean Doolittle continued to be the only consistent Nationals reliever, shutting down the Phillies in the top of the ninth. Things didn’t go so smoothly for David Robertson in the bottom of the inning.
The 33-year-old Robertson gave up a single to kick off the frame. He then walked three straight hitters, giving the Nationals a win on a walk-off walk.
While both bullpens struggled Wednesday, the Nationals have had it much worse in 2019. In two of the team’s three losses — an 11-8 loss to the New York Mets on Saturday and an 8-2 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday — the Nationals’ bullpen has failed to keep the team in games.
The eighth inning, in particular, has been troublesome for the Nationals in 2019. In all five of their games, the team has given up at least one run in the eighth.
The struggles in Wednesday’s game, from both the Nationals and the Phillies, are made even more frustrating by the fact that one of the best closers of all-time is currently available.
Craig Kimbrel is still on the free-agent market after he failed to receive a deal he was looking for during the offseason. The 30-year-old has a long track record of success in the majors, posting a 1.91 ERA and a 41.6 percent strikeout rate over nine seasons.
Given how poorly both bullpens struggled Wednesday, Kimbrel would be a welcome addition to both the Phillies and Nationals. And while adding Kimbrel would push the Nationals over the luxury tax, it could be the difference between the team making the postseason or disappointing again in a tough National League East.
For the Phillies, it would further show the team’s commitment to going for it all in 2019. After improving by adding Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Robertson and Jean Segura in the offseason, the team still entered the season with one area of vulnerability. If the team is truly going all in, signing Kimbrel plugs that hole and give the Phillies a more complete team.
Given everything else they’ve done, Kimbrel could be viewed as a luxury, but this is the same team that said it had “stupid money” in the offseason. Paying Kimbrel to post All-Star numbers in 2019 is far from stupid.
Now might be the best time to strike on Kimbrel. The longer the reliever sits on the market and watches good teams blow games, the more leverage he gains.
How many more late-inning leads do the Nationals or Phillies — or Chicago Cubs or Atlanta Braves, for that matter — need to give up before Kimbrel gets a call?
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