Nationals find relief in A's deal, but not a true closer

From ESPN - July 16, 2017

The Washington Nationals needed bullpen help like D.C. needs a dehumidifier. And they got it, acquiring relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Oakland A's on Sunday.

At first glance, the deal is a no-brainer upgrade for Washington. Even though the Nats entered play Sunday 9 games up in the NL East, it seemed there was no chance of them actually winning a playoff series for the first time ever with the 'pen as it was. On Saturday, the relief corps nearly blew a 10-0 lead in Cincinnati, allowing seven runs over the final three innings to elevate its ERA to 5.34, highest in the majors. It was merely the latest flare-up for a bullpen that has been one of the worst in baseball since Opening Day.

By adding Madson and Doolittle, the Nationals get a pair of proven veteran relievers who instantly improve manager Dusty Baker's bullpen. Since returning from injuries that caused him to miss 2012 through 2014, Madson has been one of the game's filthier late-inning arms. In 40 games with Oakland this year, the 36-year-old righty posted a 0.79 WHIP that ranked fifth in the American League, and a 4.2 percent walk rate that was fourth lowest in the AL. When healthy, Doolittle -- who missed six weeks earlier this season with shoulder problems -- has been just as good, if not better. In 23 games with the A's, the 30-year old southpaw checked in with a 0.65 WHIP, and averaged more than 13 whiffs per nine innings. He's also been death on lefties, who are 0-for-23 with 12 strikeouts against him this season.

In other words, Baker's bullpen is decidedly better today than it was yesterday. Perhaps best of all for the Nationals, the improvement comes without having to sell the farm.

Although Washington's payroll plumped up with the addition of Madson and Doolittle (combined, they are owed more than $5 million for the remainder of this season and just over $12 million next year), general manager Mike Rizzo did not have to part with outfielder Victor Robles or any of the club's other most prized prospects. Instead, Oakland received big league reliever Blake Treinen, a former A's draft pick who has had trouble finding consistency with his tantalizing high-90s sinker, and a pair of good-but-not-great talents in lefty Jesus Luzardo and infielder Sheldon Neuse.

But there's a catch. (There's always a catch.)

Even though the entire Nats bullpen has been a train wreck since Day 1, the caboose of said train wreck -- the shiny red thing at the end that sticks out above and beyond the rest of the mess -- has been the closer. Or lack thereof.


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