The Washington Nationals didn’t need another closer: Kelvin Herrera trade, explained

washington nationalsThe Washington Nationals trade for Kansas City closer Kelvin Herrera, at first glance, made little sense.

The Nats already have a closer, and a pretty good one, Sean Doolittle (2-2, 1.71 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 19 saves, 1 blown save). So Herrera (1-1, 1.01 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 14 saves, 2 blown saves) is at best a luxury, right?

Maybe. Or maybe the Nats are thinking more about October than they have in their recent run.

Having a team with two aces – Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasbug – and two other solid starters (Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark) is a great prescription for winning division titles.

Think: Atlanta Braves, circa 1991-2005.

But those Braves teams only won one World Series, in 1995. The New York Yankees, who won four World Series during the Braves run of regular-season dominance, did so with a model based on dominance at the back end of the bullpen, dominance built on depth.

The 2018 Nats can now play baseball similar to the way those late ‘90s Yankees teams did. At full strength, manager Dave Martinez can go to another pair of former closers, Ryan Madson (1-3, 4.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 90 career saves) or Brandon Kintzler (1-2, 4.45 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 48 career saves) in the seventh inning, then Herrera in the eight and Doolittle in the ninth, effectively turning games into six-inning affairs.

What that does, in turn, is make the starting rotation that much more effective, limiting their innings and pitch counts in the regular season, and leaving some bullets to be used in the postseason.

And that’s what this 2018 Washington Nationals team is all about. After a run of four division titles in six years, with not even a single NLCS appearance to show for it, the Nats are where the Washington Capitals were heading into the 2018 postseason, facing what feels like a do-or-die with the current roster.

Column by Chris Graham


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