The Washington Nationals made a move Sunday to try and fix the team's struggling bullpen by acquiring reliever Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics for Blake Treinen and prospects Jesus Lazardo and Sheldon Neuse. The Nationals are 54-36 this season, the third-best record in baseball and second-best behind the Dodgers in the National League despite 14 blown saves this season.
The Nationals' bullpen has posted a 5.34 ERA this year, which is worst in baseball, and they are just one of two bullpens in baseball with an ERA over 5.00 along with the Tigers. The long ball has been a big issue for their bullpen, allowing 46 home runs this season which is tied for fifth-most in baseball but are allowing home runs on a MLB-worst 4.1 percent of plate appearances this season.
Contrast that with the Nationals rotation, which has been among the best in baseball with a 3.61 ERA entering Sunday, third-best among all teams, and a .232 opponent batting average, which is second only to the Dodgers.
Treinen, who will go to the Athletics in this trade, started the season as Nationals closer but lasted just two weeks in that role before being removed by manager Dusty Baker. Treinen had a 7.11 ERA in his first eight appearances this year before his demotion from the closer role, and he has a 5.46 ERA since losing the job on April 19, allowing runs in 13 of his 29 appearances since.
Will upgrades be enough?
Despite missing a month with a strained left shoulder, the third straight season he's spent time on the disabled list, Doolittle is posting career bests in both strikeouts per nine innings (13.1) and walks per nine innings (0.8). However, he has allowed three home runs this season in 21.1 innings, a rate just shy of the career-worst 1.4 per nine innings he allowed last season.
He also has been dominating left-handed batters this season. Doolittle has faced 24 left handed batters this year, not allowing a single hit and striking out 12 of them. That's not insignificant considering the Dodgers left-handed heavy lineup featuring Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Yasmani Grandal.
Doolittle is also boasting a 0.66 WHIP this season, third-best behind any pitcher with at least 20 innings pitched, behind only Craig Kimbrel (0.51), and Kenley Jansen (0.54). Also in the top 10 of that list is Ryan Madson, whose 0.79 WHIP is eighth-best among pitchers with at least 20 innings. Both Doolittle and Madson have a better WHIP than any pitcher in the Nationals bullpen.
For Madson, it's a return to the NL East where he spent the first nine years of his career with the Phillies from his debut in 2003 through 2011, the last of which he spent as closer, racking up 32 saves.
Madson's 0.79 WHIP is on pace to be a career best, surpassing the 0.96 WHIP he posted two seasons ago with the Royals. He's also posting an 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings this season, the best mark he's posted since returning to baseball in 2015 following missing three seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals are hoping Doolittle and Madson can help them avoid continuing a trend of letting games get away of them. The Nationals have six losses when leading entering the ninth inning, most in baseball and, they currently trail the Dodgers by eight games for home-field advantage.