by JACK KEWITSCH
The Twins’ season is only three weeks away from being over. Just as quickly as it started it will be over. Hopefully we see a deep run in October manifest itself, something many were rightfully anticipating heading into this season. Yet as I have discussed in the past, this season has been anything but perfect or spectacular, even going as far as suggesting major upgrades at the trade deadline in areas the team is struggling. Although the Twins did not make any moves, it seems to be paying off.
As I mentioned last week, the front office was expecting a slew of injury-riddled players to be back on the roster. They are also expecting more to be coming back and making an impact prior to the postseason. Yet this season is far from over, even if it does not seem like it. As I am writing, the Twins sit 1.5 games back of the AL Central lead with only 18 games remaining. Not a situation warranting doom and gloom, but enough to make a fan pace during a game. Yet this team still cannot seemingly get each facet of the game to work at the same time.
All you must do is look at Sunday’s game against the Detroit Tigers. After rallying the night before for a walk-off win on Byron Buxton’s absurd speed, the Twins repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in a game they should have won. Climbing back in yet another game, except this time, they took a commanding lead in the fifth and lead 6-2 before handing the game over to the bullpen.
However, even great bullpens have their day of reckoning and Sunday was one of them, completely imploding for eight runs over the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. While the offense was productive, scoring eight runs, even while the likes of Buxton, Josh Donaldson, and Nelson Cruz sat on the bench, the game was given away late.
Sure, one can point to the strange day Eddie Rosario had across the board, coming up milliseconds short of a home run robbery, a strange decision to stretch a hit, and weird ground rules. But those errors hardly compounded what we saw from the bullpen. Which brings us to the main point: this team needs to find a rhythm in all facets of the game and fast. They no longer have the time to rely on one or two aspects of the game to win and expect to be a high seed in the playoffs.
Yet we keep getting relatively bland insight from players and coaches. Rocco Baldelli said after the game that, “... it went in a direction that we haven’t seen very often ... That’s going to happen. I’m not really worried about that part [bullpen] of it in any way.” While he and his staff understand the roster far better than any writer or fan, you still wish we could see some more fire from those at the top.
While Baldelli may have every reason not to be worried, as seen by no Twins’ pitcher throwing more than 15 percent of their pitches in any area of the zone, when they do put it where a batter can hit it the outcomes have been relatively messy. Pitching coach Wes Johnson has done a superb job of managing and coaching this pitching staff, while Edgar Varela has done a less than stellar job in his first year as hitting coach. Something is not clicking, and I am not sure what can be done to fix it in a short timeframe.
I am no baseball savant when it comes to coaching, so take my word with a grain of salt. But what we are seeing is a consistent inconsistency in starting pitching and hitting. If this team wants to become the next champions of Major League Baseball, they will have to dig deep and focus on what makes them elite — hitting and pitching out of the bullpen. Yes, having ace starting pitchers can help come the postseason. Yet if they can at least get back to racking up big offensive numbers and locking down opponents late in games, this team could become a true force to be reckoned with in late September and through October.