The Target Field crowd cheered when Jim Hoey induced the final out of the 8th inning Friday night. Perhaps never before in the history of sports has a team done so little to earn applause, as the Twins horrific bullpen gifted the Angels five runs that inning, ruining a solid Twins offensive performance and a brilliant Scott Baker start.
By the top of the 9th inning, when Hoey walked off the field after surrendering the go-ahead run, the cheers had soured to a chorus of well-deserved boos. Friday’s six run meltdown was just the latest in a string of contemptible bullpen performances that have destroyed leads both large and small.
In the past seven games, the Twins bullpen has blown five saves – the only five save opportunities they have been given - and lost all five games. The team has now lost six of seven, but with even a minimum of competence in the ‘pen, they would have won nine of the last 10, with Wednesday’s shutout loss ending an eight game winning streak and a win tonight starting a new one. By all rights, Minnesota should have a record of at least 21-28, and enough momentum to remain in the division race. Instead, the bullpen has all but nailed the coffin on the 2011 season for the Twins, who hold MLB’s worst record at 16-33.
With Glen Perkins on the Disabled List, Minneosta does not have a single reliever on the 25 man roster who can be counted on in anything but a mop-up situation. Matt Capps, the closer, has a 5.09 ERA. Alex Burnett is at 7.11. Joe Nathan is at 7.63 and probably needs some time at AAA to recover from his injuries. Anthony Swarzak is at 7.71. Dusty Hughes is at 9.95. And Hoey’s mark is a ridiculous 10.61. Lefty Phil Dumatrait lowered his ERA to 2.08 with a solid inning tonight, but he has only pitched four innings in the Majors this year, and his career ERA is 6.93. One could legitimately argue that none of these players should be in the Major Leagues right now, aside from Capps, who is making over $7 Million this year – far too much to pay a minor league player (but also far too much for a closer who has blown 36% of his save chances).
Even worse, there is no help on the way for the bullpen. Jose Mijares may come off the Disabled List soon, but he has been nearly as ineffective as the rest, with a 5.40 ERA and 11 walks in 11 innings. And nearly every able-bodied reliever at Rochester has already blown an opportunity to pitch with the big league club this year.
This situation is completely unsustainable, and not just becuase it will cost the team games. In fact, it is probably much too late for the Twins to worry about falling behind in the standings. Rather, the team needs to address its bullpen situation immediately because continued bullpen failures will force manager Ron Gardenhire to try to squeeze more and more innings out of his starters every night. Over the course of the season, the extra work will take a toll on the starters, and they could risk injury. Furthermore, the constant blown leads will turn fans away from Target Field in droves, thus depriving the team of revenues it could use to sign competent players for 2012.
Every day it appears more likely that the Twins will be sellers on the trade market this year. If this is the case, bullpen help needs to be at the top of their list. Every game that they fail to bring in help puts their long-term future at risk.