Once again, the 2021 Minnesota Twins game script played out in Chicago on Tuesday night. Despite a three-run blast by Yasmani Grandal, Kenta Maeda had settled in. Rocco Baldelli pulled him after the 5th inning, only for the bullpen to immediately cough up the lead. Starters, relievers, anyone? Is there anyone the Twins can trust?
Rocco Baldelli’s bullpen is hot garbage. The front office brought in Hansel Robles and Alex Colome this offseason. Both are decent signings, but there wasn’t much in the form of additional firepower. Robles had question marks as to whether he could regain previous form, and Colome was certainly a candidate for regression (although not this far). With holdovers like Tyler Duffey and Cody Stashak taking steps backwards, it’s become Taylor Rogers or bust.
We’re now over 30 games into the season and the same trends are continuing on a nightly basis. No bullpen in baseball, save for the Tigers, is on par with the Twins futility. Their strand rate is dead last, they’ve accounted for an MLB worst 12 losses, and their ERA is the fourth worst in the sport. Why then does the skipper continue turning to them more often than he has to?
Yes, numbers absolutely suggest that the more times a lineup sees a starter, the more likely you’re going to run into trouble. The problem for the Twins is that they’ve been so risk averse with their starters, that the onus of each additional out placed on the relief corps only heightens the likelihood of problems.
Going back through the 33 games played to this point, I highlighted 11 different starts that seemed questionable scenarios to lift the pitcher. Not once did the starter have more than 88 pitches thrown, multiple times they were under 80, and in none of those instances had they allowed more than three runs. Six of those situations included the bullpen being activated in the 6th inning, with another four of them being 7th inning activations. That means the worst unit in the league is being asked to get something between 9-12 outs or at least 33% of a total game, despite the starter being in a good spot.
It’s also understandable that Rocco Baldelli would be hesitant to run a starter out for another inning and face the problem of bringing in relief help with runners on. Remember, this group allows inherited runners to score at an alarming pace, so bringing someone in without a clean inning only ratchets the difficulty of their task. At some point though, there has to be a shift in philosophy when it comes to finding a way that works.
Minnesota has an awful bullpen and we’ve seen that reflected by in game results on a near nightly basis to this point. The starters aren’t world beaters by any means but letting a guy with 85 pitches in the 5th or 6th inning start the next half has to become more commonplace. You know the devil that is the relievers right now. We don’t really know the devil that is the starters quickly running into a wall. Allow that to also be broke before you try fixing something that hasn’t been there. It’s not April anymore, pitch counts reaching or exceeding 100 shouldn’t be a fear.
The season might not be salvageable for the Twins at this point but trying a different strategy would certainly be a welcomed sign as opposed to practicing the definition of insanity.