In 2013, the Washington Nationals ranked 8th in the majors in ERA, but with that being said, they only ranked 6th in the more pitching-oriented NL. All five NL teams ranked ahead of the Nats in ERA had 90+ win seasons, and made the playoffs.
After these five teams the Nationals were the only team in the NL with a win percentage over .500. Obviously, pitching is essential to win in the NL, and in a league that features all of the following: Craig Kimbrel (1.21 ERA), Aroldis Chapman (2.54 ERA), Jason Grilli (2.70), Trevor Rosenthal (2.63 ERA), and Kenley Jansen (1.88 ERA), being able to keep runs off the board in the late innings, as well as scoring runs is crucial. This is where the Nationals had their biggest shortcoming in the 2013 season. Nationals relievers ranked 17th in the majors in ERA, and the offense was a miserable 26th in runs scored in innings 7+.
With the recent announcement of Ross Detwiler being moved to the bullpen this is how the ‘pen shapes up.
CP: Soriano (3.11 ERA after 2.26 ERA in 2012)
SU: Clippard (2.41 ERA after 3.72 ERA in 2012 and 1.83 ERA in 2013)
SU: Storen (4.52 ERA after 2.37 ERA in 2012)
MRP: Blevins (3.15 ERA after 2.48 ERA in 2012)
MRP: Stammen (2.76 ERA after 2.34 ERA in 2012)
MRP: Ayala (3.27 ERA after 2.64 ERA in 2012 and 2.09 ERA in 2011)
LRP: Detwiler (4.04 ERA, held batters to .173 average in 32 1/3 career relief innings)
Looking at the stats above, there is lots of potential in this group; likewise there is definitely the chance of a disaster looming in the bullpen. Aside from Detwiler, if you take the best season of each pitcher above the bullpen looks like this – 2.26 ERA, 1.83 ERA, 2.37 ERA, 2.48 ERA, 2.34 ERA, 2.09 ERA. These are all closer-esque ERAs, and if they all happened in the same year the Nationals would have the best bullpen in the majors.
On the other hand if you take the worst season of each of these pitchers (aside from Detwiler, the unknown entity), the list looks like this- 3.11 ERA, 3.72 ERA, 4.52 ERA, 3.15 ERA, 2.76 ERA, 3.27 ERA. Obviously, the likelihood that either of these possibilities occur is very minimal, but the point is to show a picture of the two extremes in order to give an idea of where the Nationals could end up in 2014.
Each pitcher has had at least one season of being a premier bullpen option, which leads me to believe that the Nationals will have a significantly better year in the bullpen than in 2013. Remember that last season the likes of Zach Duke were making relief appearances for the Nationals, and now the lefty problem has been fixed by the acquisition of Jerry Blevins.
Now that two of Roark, Jordan, and Ohlendorf (one will be the 5th starter) are next in line for the bullpen in the case of an injury, the depth and experience that the Nationals may have lacked until late in 2013, has been fixed, since all three saw action in 2013. My prediction for the Nats bullpen is that they jump from 17th in reliever ERA to be in the top 7 in reliever ERA, and they enjoy not just a winning season, but a playoff bound season because of it.