Before getting into yesterday's travesty of a game, I should note that I, Nick Mosvick, have finally returned to some more regular blogging duty. I recently finally purchased MLB.TV and have found time after my summer associate job during the day to watch the games. (And, even I must admit, at work sometimes.) Hopefully, I can compete with Mr. Nelson's ever-increasing fan club for the same consistent and intelligent analysis.
As for the game, things could appear from an outside analysis to be much worse than they are. After all, the Twins were swept at Fenway after a lengthy run of wins. However, while the Twins did get swept, fans shouldn't quickly forget how close the first two games were to Twins victories. And, despite getting crushed by the Boston offense yesterday, at least the Twins offense showed up for the last two games and even displayed some power.
What do the 18 runs allowed and 23 hits allowed really mean? Well, there isn't any surprise that Livan Hernandez was part of that equation, given that at different points in the season he has been on pace to give up 300 hits, which would be a first since Phil Niekro gave up 311 in 1979. (And a first since 1975 in the AL, when Twins great Jim Kaat gave up 321 for the White Sox.) Livan's starts have been an adventure for fans, to say the least, throughout the year.
No, the surprise remains the unreliability of the bullpen outside of stalwart Joe Nathan. Now, my fellow blogger has already covered this subject, as well as Aaron Gleeman yesterday, so there is no need to push anymore the failures of Gardy to use the best bullpen piece. Even in years past, as the Twins fans have gotten used to have a reliable bullpen, Gardy's tendency to under-use Nathan was not always hurtful when he had the human "panic button" Pat Neshek available to mop up eighth inning problems. (Or 2004-version Juan Rincon.)
This year, however, the bullpen quickly lost its iron horse eighth-inning man when Neshek went down early for the year. After this series, it's hard to trust any reliever outside of Jesse Crain. The first two games of the series seemed to point to the fact that Brian Bass is clearly the worst reliever in the 'pen. Yesterday only added to that proposition, as Bass came in in the seventh to allow six hits and give up five runs in just 1 1/3 innings. You can decide for yourself what is an uglier number: the 5.27 ERA, the 1.60 WHIP, the .323 OBA, or the 18/25 B/KK ratio in 56 1/3 innings.
That last number is probably the most disturbing; despite being clearly the worst pitcher in the bullpen, Bass is on the pace to end up with the most innings by far and that reflects him being used as more than just a mop-up man (though he was yesterday) as well as it does the fact that he is on pace for 99 innings and Nathan for only 64. Those numbers should be a little closer, don't you think?
Of course, Bass is an easy target. Boof Bonser, Craig Breslow, and Dennys Reyes all gave up runs out of the 'pen yesterday as well. All told, the bullpen pitched six innings while giving up a whopping 20 hits and 17 runs in the series. Crain is the only pitcher out of the bullpen not to give up a run during the series, though he did allow an inherited runner to score in Monday's loss.
All told, the Twins and Gardy need to start to consider changing their bullpen if they can no longer rely on their bullpen the way they once could. Granted, one bad series doesn't say it all, but Matt Guerrier, Reyes, Bonser, Breslow, and of course Bass have all looked shaky and tentative. At this point, Gardy only has more evidence before him that he needs to be more aggressive in his use of Nathan, and Crain should likely be used more often in the set-up role or at least be given opportunities equal to that of Guerrier.
Once again, it's not all bad for fans. As mentioned, the team did score five runs each of the last two games and key hitters like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel all had a good series. However, the team cannot suffer anymore losses from bullpen failure in the key road series before the break in Detroit this weekend. The team and Gardy need to have learn some lessons from what was not a total loss of a sweep.