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Inexperienced, ineffective bullpen has doomed Nats

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Inexperienced, ineffective bullpen has doomed Nats

Matt Williams was asked, after yet another dagger of a loss Thursday evening, whether it’s fair to pin the Nationals’ overall predicament on a bullpen that seems to be at the center of just about every one of these.

“I wouldn’t believe that that would be fair,” the manager said, “to point at one thing and say: ‘That’s the reason.'”

Williams is correct. It’s never just about one thing. The Nationals find themselves in this scenario — trailing the Mets by 7 games with 10 to play after Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Orioles — for multiple reasons. Their lineup was never fully healthy. Their rotation didn’t live up to expectations. Their defense was suspect far too often. And their manager pushed too many wrong buttons at the wrong time.

But that bullpen certainly deserves to be near the top of the list, if not at the top, at least when discussing how the entire season has collapsed over the last month.

It happened again Thursday, with Blake Treinen handed a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth and two batters later turning it into a 5-4 deficit. But this was far from the first time it happened.

Since Aug. 31, a stretch of 26 games, Nationals relievers have blown 7-of-10 save opportunities. (Note: That includes any lead blown by a reliever, regardless of inning, not merely the ninth.) That 30 percent conversion rate ranks 29th out of 30 MLB clubs, only the Padres worse. The seven blown saves are tied for the most in baseball, only the Tigers and Rays duplicating the feat.

“I’ve got confidence in the guys that come in,” Williams said. “They’re ready to pitch. They’re eager to pitch. They want the ball every single day. Part of my job is to show confidence in them and give them the ball and be supportive of them when they go out there. It didn’t work out today.”

Williams has to say that. A manager must express confidence in his players, especially an entire unit, no matter how much it struggles.

But deep down, how much confidence can Williams have in a group that in its current incarnation features only a couple of reliable-but-overworked arms, veterans hanging on by a thread in late September and young pitchers thrown into the fire for the first time?

The seven pitchers who threw the most innings in relief for the Nationals in 2014 were: Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen and Aaron Barrett.

Not one of those relievers is currently pitching for the Nationals.

“Nobody wants to fail, especially with the implications that we’re still in the race,” Treinen said. “But to be a baseball player, you have to have a short-term memory. I think everybody’s learning curve is different. We just continue to pick up the ball every day when we get an opportunity and go out and compete as best we can.”

Who knows what might have been had the Nationals’ relief corps been merely adequate over the last month? They would at least be within striking distance of the Mets instead of on the precipice of elimination.

There will be ample time to dissect that once the season ends in 10 days. Until then, the Nationals will try to keep convincing themselves it’s not over, trying to believe somehow their biggest roster flaw can reverse course, no matter how implausible that sounds.

“It’s not great,” Williams said of his club’s current dilemma. “Not where we want to be. But tomorrow’s a game, and we have to play that game and we have to win that game. So, it is what it is. Need to be prepared for tomorrow.”

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE