Among the many questions surrounding the Minnesota Twins heading into the 2023 season is what the state of the bullpen will be.
More specifically, how much anxiety will fans be caused watching a unit that seemed like it should have been better than it was last year, and completely folded like a cheap poker table whenever a small amount of pressure was applied.
That’s being reductive to an almost unfair degree, but the fact remains that the bullpen was a major source of frustration last season and will remain so until it gives fans a reason to lighten up.
Ask Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, though, and he’ll point to a different area of his pitching staff as the unit that needs to step up this season.
Baldelli spoke to the media this week at Spring Training and specifically called out the expectations he has for the starting pitching staff this season.
“I expect more out of our starters this year,” Baldelli said. "We have several guys that, what they probably take most pride in, is giving you a good, deep effort into a ballgame. Guys that are not satisfied giving you five good innings. They want more than that out of themselves.”
Rocco didn’t necessarily defend the bullpen, but he’s highlighting a major reason why the unit cracked under pressure — it was constantly under it. Twins starters averaged about five innings per game last year, which mean the bullpen phone was being picked up early and often.
Starters not being able to go deep into games didn’t cause the bullpen issues, but that sort of strain certainly amplified it. Simply put, the starting staff is going to need to pull its weight this season in ways it didn’t last year.
The Twins know this, too, and went to great lengths to try and shore up some of the problems. Luis Arráez was traded as a direct result of Minnesota needing to acquire a pitcher who can reliably go deep into his starts, as Pablo Lopez pitched a whopping 180 innings last season for the Marlins.
Lopez is just the start of things looking up for the rotation in 2023. Joe Ryan is expected to take another step forward as the potential future ace of the staff and Sonny Gray is being counted on to lead the charge. Kenta Maeda is coming back from injury — and looks good so far — and Chris Paddack is expected back later in the year as well. There’s also Tyler Mahler to consider at the back-half of the rotation to help bolster things as well.
Not a lot went right for the Twins pitching last season, but that’s been the story of the organization for decades now. False prophecies and failed plans are nothing new for fans in Minnesota, but Rocco is right to put pressure on the starting staff now because a lot of the team’s success in 2023 depends on it.