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Back-end reliever on Nats' wish list in 2nd half

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- The next few weeks could be some of the most important days of the Nationals' season, as they will attempt to upgrade their bullpen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. It's an area the Nats have been looking to address since the offseason, but they were unsuccessful last winter in acquiring the big-name closer they desired.

Coming up short this time around could be the difference in how successful they are in the postseason.

WASHINGTON -- The next few weeks could be some of the most important days of the Nationals' season, as they will attempt to upgrade their bullpen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. It's an area the Nats have been looking to address since the offseason, but they were unsuccessful last winter in acquiring the big-name closer they desired.

Coming up short this time around could be the difference in how successful they are in the postseason.

Nationals relievers entered the All-Star break with highest ERA in the Majors at 5.20. They have blown 14 saves, and the team has changed closers on three occasions. So the Nationals will look for a way to shore up their bullpen to be able to hold a late lead in a crucial game. They believe completing a trade for a true lockdown closer can accomplish that and put the rest of their relievers in roles they are more comfortable in. Or perhaps they will try and add a few different relievers with so many pitchers struggling.

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They usually prefer a pitcher with more years on his contract after this season. The Nationals have been normally reluctant to add too much payroll midseason, and while they have prospects they are willing to deal, getting them to part with their top prospects could prove difficult. Victor Robles, Erick Fedde and Juan Soto, their top three prospects, might prove to be untouchable.

General manager Mike Rizzo generally likes to do his due diligence with every reliever who becomes available, so expect him to check into a variety of names during the next few weeks.

Trade scenario
Washington is in search of a reliever with closing experience, and the Royals' Kelvin Herrera would be a perfect fit if Kansas City falls out of the playoff race during the next few weeks. Perhaps the Nats would be willing to put together a package centering around young shortstop Carter Kieboom in order to pry Herrera from Kansas City.

What are they playing for
The Nationals are in position to reach the postseason for the fourth time in the past six seasons. However, they continue to seek their first playoff series victory in franchise history and have aspirations to win the World Series.

The road ahead
Washington will open the second half with a nine-game road trip, but the club has played well on the road with a .605 winning percentage away from Nationals Park. The Nats have played just two more home games than road games, so their schedule will be about even. They still have a few key matchups on the schedule that could serve as potential postseason previews -- including a three-game series with the Cubs at Wrigley Field from Aug 4-6, a three-game series with the Astros in Houston from Aug. 22-24 and hosting the Dodgers for a three-game series from Sept. 15-17.

Key player
Bryce Harper could be on his way to winning his second MVP Award after a strong first half. It will be worth watching to see if he can maintain this pace throughout the year and continue to be one of the most dominant hitters in baseball.

Prospects to watch
Right-hander Fedde could make an impact in the second half, either in the bullpen or the rotation.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals