Short starts, extra innings set stage for outstanding relief work
By Chad Thornburg
The Nationals finished the week on a high note, defeating the Twins, 6-5, in a 16-inning marathon that was the longest game in both innings and length of time (5:56) of the season. In doing so, Washington leaned heavily on its bullpen, calling upon relievers to pitch 8 2/3 innings.
Sunday's walk-off win capped an impressive week by the Nats' bullpen, which played a crucial role in Washington winning five of seven games.
As part of the MLB Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2016 season, MLB.com is honoring the "Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford." An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.
Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:
• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save
Washington relievers totaled 112.5 points, the highest one-week figure to date this season. They did so by recording 80 outs and 25 strikeouts, while surrendering just four earned runs on 16 hits and seven walks.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon led the way by converting both of his save opportunities with 2 2/3 scoreless frames. Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit was another key contributor, tossing 9 2/3 innings, including 4 2/3 in Sunday's extra-innings victory. Petit gave up just two runs and struck out 10 batters.
"I think this is the best bullpen I've ever been a part of, and I've been a part of some really good bullpens." Papelbon said last week. "We're a really tight-knit group of guys right out of the gate, and that makes a big difference. We feed off of each other, so I like our chances in any ballgame."
The Nationals' accomplishments weren't just limited to statistical achievements. The club also demonstrated an ability to withstand adversity and succeed in spite of unexpected circumstances, like this obstacle they faced Wednesday:
The unexpected: Starter Joe Ross' outing was cut short after two innings due to a blister on his right middle finger, handing a one-run game over to the bullpen much earlier than anticipated.
How they prevailed: Petit, Oliver Perez, Blake Treinen and Papelbon combined to limit the Marlins to one run over seven innings of relief as Washington held on to win, 3-1, at Marlins Park. Petit shouldered most of the load, tossing four innings.
"I feel very comfortable in this role," Petit said through an interpreter. "I've been doing it for a while, and I've been getting used to it, and I've had a lot of success. I like the urgency that I feel when preparing to come in, not knowing when I'm going to come in. It's helped me have a lot of success."
The Nationals weren't the only bullpen to impress this week. The White Sox (95.5) and D-backs (94.5) each registered high BRS scores. Arizona, in particular, proved resilient this week as its relievers were called upon to pitch six or more innings three times, including Sunday's 13-inning loss to the Pirates, which ceded the top score to Washington.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.