Why the Nationals’ bullpen depth would be tested in a shortened MLB season

If an MLB season is played this summer, it’s likely that the schedule would be reduced to anywhere from 48 to 81 games-down significantly from the typical 162.

Even though the league and its players union have yet to come to an agreement on the economic parameters of such a season, commissioner Rob Manfred gave a “100 percent” guarantee Thursday that a season would be held in 2020.

That’s good news for any team, including the reigning World Series champion Nationals. With hopes of defending its first title in franchise history, Washington has a win-now roster highlighted by perhaps the best starting pitching trio in the majors: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

However, the team is also coming off a season in which its bullpen posted an NL-worst 5.68 ERA and was a major contributor to the club’s abysmal 19-31 start. Though the offseason signings of Will Harris and Daniel Hudson should provide some stability, there are certainly question marks surrounding many of their depth pieces.

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On Friday’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast, NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes spoke with ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney, who offered an opinion on which teams would best-suited for contending in a shortened season.

“Well first off, and we know this, because there’s going to be a need for a second spring training…the starting pitchers are not going to be up to full speed,” Olney said. “You’re going to see a lot of games that are won and lost with the depth of relief pitchers. I think that when we see the nature of the expanded rosters for all the teams, there’s just got to be a ton of relievers.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

As for the Nationals, Olney is concerned even stars like Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin wouldn’t be able to help Washington overcome an exposed bullpen.

“The Washington Nationals in a typical season we’d say, ‘Well, their theoretical advantage is their starting pitching.’ I think those type of teams early will be playing catch-up,” Olney said. “I think the teams that have great roster depth are going to be the teams with the advantage: the Yankees, the Tampa Bays I think are going to be dangerous and always the Dodgers.”

Under recent proposals, the Nationals would face both the Yankees and Rays-as well as the rest of the AL East-often during the regular season. Several Nationals players and coaches spoke at length during spring training about wanting to get off to a good start in 2020 and avoid the long climb back into contention they were forced to take a year ago.

This year, there won’t be the chance for a comeback campaign if a team gets off to a slow start. Regardless of how little time the Nationals’ starters will have to get back into game shape, Washington is going to need them at their best out of the gate if they want to keep up in a season in which every game matters.

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Why the Nationals bullpen depth would be tested in a shortened MLB season originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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