- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2017

For the Chicago Cubs, times were simpler a year ago. Before this season’s .500 baseball, its injuries and pointing fingers. In 2016, the Cubs ended June with a 57-21 record.

The Cubs were rolling and the best team in baseball, but president of baseball operations Theo Epstein still wanted to upgrade its bullpen. After a slump in July, the Cubs went all-in to deal for New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline.

“It was motivation and made a statement to us that actions speak louder than words,” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said. “It showed they (the front office) were serious about trying to win.”

Chapman solidified the Cubs‘ bullpen and his postseason performance helped lead the Cubs to a World Series victory.

A year later, the Nationals are one of baseball’s best, despite a bullpen that has been a glaring weakness all season long. Manager Dusty Baker said earlier in the month that a bona fide closer would “put everyone in a position where they need to be.”

If the Nationals needed another reason to acquire a closer before the July 31 trade deadline, they need only look at the 2016 Cubs.

“When you get a guy like (Chapman), that throws 105, I mean anytime you have a lead going into the ninth, you feel pretty good about your chances,” Cubs star Kris Bryant said.

The Nationals‘ bullpen has been better of late. As a group, they now how have a 4.87 ERA, down from the 5.20 ERA they had 10 days ago. Blake Treinen, who started the season as the closer before losing the job, has been on steadier footing recently and reliever Enny Romero has a 0.57 ERA in June.

But the Nationals still have the third-worst bullpen ERA in MLB.

And Koda Glover told reporters Wednesday that an MRI showed “severe inflammation” to his rotator cuff, adding that he wasn’t sure when he would be fully healthy. Glover’s injury is more serious than thought when he was initially placed on the 10-day DL with a back injury. Glover, who was the Nationals‘ closer, has been on the DL twice this season and there will be questions surrounding his health moving forward.

The Nationals also signed disgruntled reliever Francisco Rodriguez after he was released by the Detroit Tigers last week. Rodriguez, also known as “K-Rod,” was signed to a minor-league contract and it is believed that he’ll have to prove himself with the Nationals‘ Triple-A Syracuse affiliate first. Rodriguez is fourth all-time in saves, but has a 7.82 ERA this year. Rodriguez is 35 and Baker wasn’t sure how much he has left.

Relievers Shawn Kelley, Joe Blanton and Sammy Solis are on the DL as well. The Nationals will have to make a roster move to activate any of their injured relievers.

“They’re big boys, they know,” Baker said. “I feel that competition is healthy sometimes. Most times. Also, if you can’t handle competition to keep your job, then how are you going to handle competition against the opposition down the stretch?”

Still in an ideal world, the Nationals would make a move to bring in a closer before the trade deadline. Chicago White Sox closer David Robertson and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Pat Neshek are popular candidates to be traded, but general manager Mike Rizzo might be strapped because of a limited number of assets in their farm system.

The Cubs had prospects to include in last year’s Chapman deal. They gave up promising shortstop Gleyber Torres as the main piece in the trade.

And, there was risk in the deal. The Cubs took heavy criticism for trading for Chapman, who served a 30-game suspension earlier in the season for an October 2015 domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend. Chapman, too, was seen as a rental and the Cubs knew he would walk in free agency (Chapman eventually signed with the Yankees).

The Cubs took a different approach to their bullpen this offseason than the Nationals. They made another move to get a certified closer — trading Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Wade Davis.

Davis, though, said he doesn’t think one guy can help you win games.

“I don’t know if one guy can make a difference as much as having six or seven guys,” Davis said. “I’ve always thought … the teams I’ve been apart of, have had five or six guys that were that good.”

The Nationals have been winning. They are 16 games over .500 and have the third best record in the National League. In speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer went out of his way to recognize the Nationals‘ quality of play after President Trump quipped Washington “probably will” fold in the playoffs.

“These guys have taken care of business,” Hoyer said. “These guys look great. They’ve run away with their division and lived up to their potential. And we should be looking up to them. They’ve played this season so far the way we should be playing this season.”

Last season, the Cubs were playing up to their potential and still made a move for a closer despite the heavy price tag.

“We lost a couple of good prospects, but we got a World Series in return,” Bryant said. “That’s something that we needed as a team and as a city and organization.”

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