MINNEAPOLIS – This year, like every year in Major League Baseball, there will be a few teams that finish with a record of about .500 but will have shown some flashes of more. They’ll regret the couple games that they lost but felt they should have won. When the season ends, they’ll spend the winter talking about the grand difference one or two tweaks might have made.
The Twins won’t be one of those teams.
No matter what happens the rest of the season, it’s hard to imagine a reasonable person sitting down to dissect the what-if scenarios and concluding that by some small turn of fortune, the Twins would have played into October.
All of that is to say that there’s not one problem, there are many. One of those problems has been the disastrous results the Twins have gotten from their presumed back end of the bullpen, Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen and Trevor May.
Individually, you could have made the case this winter for each being in line for a good season. But there were questions marks, too.
With Perkins, the obvious question mark was his health. With Jepsen, who performed great after the Twins picked him up at the trade deadline last year, the question was whether or not he pitched better in 2015 than he was capable of sustaining. In other words, did he “pitch over his head”? And May, while he had some reasonable success after he moved to the bullpen last year, he’s still what you might consider an unproven commodity.
Well, seven weeks into the season and it’s hard to believe things going any worse for Minnesota’s late-inning trio.
Perkins pitched in two games, blew a save on April 10 and has been on the disabled list ever since.
May took the loss in that April 10 game, when he pitched the 10th inning and the winning run scored on May’s wild pitch. He had a nice run earlier in the season, but things have fallen apart for him, too, as he’s now given up a run in each of his past five games. He’s allowed 15 runs in 22 1/3 innings.
Jepsen took over as closer and has coughed up several leads and has allowed at least one run in 10 of his 19 appearances, including five of his past seven. He’s allowed 13 runs in 18 1/3 innings, including four home runs.
Numbers like May and Jepsen have posted this season look bad in basically any context, but I’d argue they look even worse when you consider that the Twins were counting on those pitchers to be lock-down late-inning options.
I don’t know if it makes it easier or harder to stomach these facts to know that the Twins haven’t had many late-inning leads to protect. Usually, they’re playing from behind. With Jepsen serving as the de facto closer, it’s not even clear right now who the Twins’ setup man is, much less who’d be next in line.
“I’ve had to use these people that we’d like to think of in other roles,” manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s very rarely when we’ve used anybody in the setup role or a closing role.”
“So I pretty much just have to get through games sometimes, which is not the way you want to manage a bullpen,” Molitor said.
The bullpen overall has been bad, so after 44 games, it’s probably fair to question both the usage of relievers and also the construction of the unit this winter. Collectively, Twins relievers have a 4.79 ERA, the second-worst mark in the American League. The shining success has been minor league free agent Fernando Abad, who has allowed just one run in 17 innings with a 17:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio as the primary lefty in the bullpen.
In fact, Molitor said there’s been talk of using Abad and righthander Brandon Kintzler to get “later outs” in ballgames, provided the Twins have a lead to protect late in a game.
It’s my belief that many teams, when faced with a six-week performance like Jepsen has turned in, would be looking for a new 9th inning guy. The Twins, meanwhile, are looking for 7th, 8th and 9th inning guys.