“It’s all kind of confusing out there,” Johnson said.

The division of labor may be imperfect, but the results have been dazzling. During the Nationals’ 6-0 road trip against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, their bullpen allowed three runs in 15 2/3 innings, striking out 15 while allowing 11 hits and six walks. For the season, the Nationals’ bullpen has a 3.00 ERA, eighth in the majors and third in the National League.

Amid the inconsistent roles, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard have stabilized the back of the bullpen. Burnett has recaptured, if not exceeded, his 2010 performance, posting a 1.29 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 21 innings. Clippard has been near perfect since taking over the closer’s role from Henry Rodriguez, saving nine games in nine chances while striking out 11 in 9 1/3 scoreless innings.

“It’s been awfully good all year long,” Johnson said. “These pitchers are doing a heck of a job.”

The Nationals’ starting rotation has rightfully grabbed the most attention this season. But their bullpen, even without closer Drew Storen for the whole season, has been a crucial factor in their 38-23 record, 1 ½ games behind the Dodgers for best in baseball.

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