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Your move, Phils: How Nats' trade impacts race

Herrera acquisition shows 'pen disparity between NL East contenders
MLB.com @matthewhleach

It was a strange night in the National League East race. The Phillies, the only team in the hunt for the division title that gained ground, surely can't help feeling a bit frustrated. The Nationals, who won the resumption of a suspended game but lost their nightcap, will arrive at the park on Tuesday with a spring in their step.

That's because Washington addressed a need and prevented Philadelphia from doing the same -- all in one move.

It was a strange night in the National League East race. The Phillies, the only team in the hunt for the division title that gained ground, surely can't help feeling a bit frustrated. The Nationals, who won the resumption of a suspended game but lost their nightcap, will arrive at the park on Tuesday with a spring in their step.

That's because Washington addressed a need and prevented Philadelphia from doing the same -- all in one move.

The Nats traded three prospects to Kansas City for reliever Kelvin Herrera, a pitcher who will be something of a luxury item for them. Herrera will not close, at least in the short term, but he will provide welcome depth at the back end of Washington's bullpen. Another arm was, in fact, a need, but maybe not the most pressing one facing the reigning division champs.

"We have an All-Star closer [Sean Doolittle] right now," Nats manager Dave Martinez said, "so [Herrera] will be asked to do some different things."

But this trade doesn't just make the Nats better. It makes it harder for the Phils and Braves to do the same. The Phillies don't have a clear-cut choice in the ninth, and in fact sent Opening Day closer Hector Neris to the Minor Leagues on Monday. The first-place Braves have a solid closer in Arodys Vizcaino but also plenty of late-inning questions.

And it's only in that context that the Nationals' move can be fully appreciated. Sure, Washington needed another trustworthy arm in the late innings, but it's fair to ask whether, in a vacuum, adding an eighth-inning reliever was worth the price.

But if so doing keeps your challengers at bay? Yep, that's something.

Monday night's win -- and let's remember that they did win -- highlighted an ongoing issue with the Phillies. They have quite a few exciting relievers, but on the whole, not a very good bullpen and no clear choice in the ninth.

And while the Capital-C closer can certainly be overvalued, managing a bullpen without an automatic choice in the final inning is a challenge. Manager Gabe Kapler is a smart, thoughtful baseball man with a lot of pluses, but it's asking a lot for a first-year manager to operate with an added degree of difficulty.

So the Phillies might benefit more than most contenders from adding that guy at the end of the game who makes all the other decisions a little cleaner. Instead, one of the best ones available just went to one of their rivals.

Kapler said the right things, of course.

"I believe we have guys on this roster ... that can handle high-pressure situations," Kapler said Monday night. "That's not to say you can stick anyone into a game in the ninth and they're going to perform exactly the same. I don't think that at all. But I do think we have guys who can handle those high-pressure situations."

But Kapler is learning the ropes of managing big league games and about the strengths and weaknesses of his young relievers while his team is in a close pennant race. While again acknowledging closers can be overvalued, it's easy to see where an automatic, reliable choice would have benefited him and his team.

Instead, Herrera will benefit the Nationals.

Matthew Leach is the National League executive editor for MLB.com.

Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Kelvin Herrera