Monday Breakdown: Bigger Problem - Bullpen or Hitting?


The losing streak is over. It is a glorious day, and a great day to stay off of Twitter. Last night Thomas Boswell mentioned how Nats fans might be happy Papelbon is healing due to the impact of the cobbled together bullpen during the losing streak. Local Sports Radio Jackass responded with it wasn’t because of Papelbon’s absence. To which I made a sarcastic comment and all hell broke loose. People always have to have the one thing to blame. Which really for the losing streak could be any number of things, but if they win one of those games where the bullpen blew the lead then, guess what? No seven game losing streak.

With that off my chest and out of the way how are you doing this find Monday, Alyssa?

That’s good to hear but I have bad news. The Nats have an overarching problem. The people that want to focus on the offense for the losing streak are right that the Nats offense is a bigger problem than the bullpen they’re just wrong about it being the issue for the team losing seven games in a row. The more specific nature of the issue is that the Nats lead-off hitters are hitting a blistering .204/.249/.315. They are really pulling their weight at the top of the line-up there. It has been a problem all season and it really reared it’s head in the midst of a losing streak where the Nationals only scored more than three runs once.

The Nats need better production at the top of the line-up and I’ve got the perfect solution. The Nats don’t seem interested in using Trea Turner at all. He’d be the guy to hit lead-off if they were going to promote from within, but they’re not. So the solution is to trade Trea Turner. Along with Turner the Nationals have the best pitching prospect in baseball and an outfielder that is zipping to the top of prospect lists. They should trade them along with Trea Turner. By this time several Nats fans have had heart attacks reading this, but I’m going to fix that with one phrase, Andrew McCutchen trade rumors. That’s right. The Nats could trade a shortstop they’re never going to use, a starting pitcher that is still a year or two away, and an outfielder that is several years away for the third best player in baseball over the last three seasons.

Trout, Donaldson, McCutchen that’s the list in that order by fWAR over the last three seasons and the Nats could have Andrew McCutchen. Sure it’s going to cost a king’s ransom but what are the chances that Turner, Giolito, or Robles ever end up being even half the player McCutchen is? I’ll answer. Slim. Almost zero. The Pirates trading Andrew McCutchen for anything would be like the Marlins trading Miguel Cabrera. If the Pirates are really willing to do something that stupid, and the Nats have the prospects to get McCutchen then they should.  


I’ll gladly echo Dave’s “Ding, dong, the streak is dead;” the Nats’ worst losing streak in seven years is quite the reality check for anyone who thought the team could simply kick it into cruise control for the full season.  I may have given the Mets a little too much credit at the start of the season, but now, Washington has both New York and Miami in the rear-view mirror, which leaves no room for skidding into the All-Star Break.

I’ve always been – and likely always will be – reluctant to declare myself a Jonathan Papelbon supporter. But, I have to agree with Dave 100% on this – it seems borderline ridiculous to say that a team didn’t suffer the loss of its closer when two of the seven straight losses came on blown saves (Saturday, June 18, vs. the Padres by way of Felipe Rivero, and Wednesday, June 22, vs. the Dodgers by way of Shawn Kelley). I’d argue that you can’t guarantee Papelbon would have secured both of those saves, but his absence nonetheless required the Nats to reconfigure their bullpen in ways that just didn’t work.

I also agree that the Nats’ overarching issue is offense, and it certainly was a factor in the streak. Across those seven games, the Nats were overpowered 38 runs to 23 runs, collectively, by teams that rank 17th (Padres), 19th (Dodgers) and 22nd (Milwaukee) in runs scored this season.

The idea of a trade in which the Nats hand over Trea Turner, Lucas Giolito, and Victor Robles for a superstar doesn’t bring me heartburn. But, I also don’t think there’s a chance it could work with Andrew McCutchen, even with the trio in play. Sure, we’ve already passed the point of Cutch’s peak trade value, so if the Pirates were to make the leap of faith, doing so sooner than later will yield the best return possible. But in ways that you can’t quite draw a comparison to Miguel Cabrera and the Marlins, McCutchen is already, without question, the face of the Pirates’ franchise (if not of Major League Baseball). And, while baseball is a business that’s all about two tallies – wins and dollars – the Pirates “brand” would suffer a critical blow, and for what?

To quote Dave:  a shortstop, “a starting pitcher that is still a year or two away, and an outfielder that is several years away.”

That said, while I see Dave’s idea of Andrew McCutchen, I’ll toss out a different wild card: Carlos Gonzalez. There are reports that the Rockies are asking for an outrageously high price for CarGo, but I’d argue that the Nats would have slightly more luck negotiating with Colorado than with Pittsburgh. And, if the Nats aren’t willing to pull out all the stops to improve their offense (and, I’d bet that the bulk of their focus has likely been on what they can snag from the Yankees’ bullpen), why not consider a guy like the Reds’ Jay Bruce instead, for a lower cost?

Case and point, while I’d be all-in on a deal that brings Cutch to the District, I won’t hold my breath, even if the Nats are willing to put all cards on the table.

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