Some people don't seem to recognize what an integral factor the Twins' spectacular bullpen was in their success last year. Even with Joe Nathan gone for the entire season and Jose Mijares gone for much of it, the relief corps was one of the most effective in memory.
That group simply did not give up leads. The 2010 Twins lost only twice when they took a lead into the ninth inning; only three times when they took a lead into the eighth inning. They went 75-5 when they entered the seventh with a lead. That's quite the testament to a bullpen which, while somewhat amorphous and not terribly flashy, consistently got the job done.
The front office's gutting of the unit during the offseason has yielded the expect results: the Twins aren't getting much relief from their bullpen this year. Already the team has lost six games after entering the seventh inning with a lead.
Twins' relievers have posted a rather dreadful 89-to-67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 2/3 innings this year, so it should come as no surprise that they've allowed 141 hits with a 5.33 ERA. No bullpen under Ron Gardenhire has ever had more hits allowed than innings pitched, but this year's group seems a good bet to break that trend.
Sadly, things are getting worse instead of better. Glen Perkins, quite literally the lone bright spot in an abysmal unit, strained his oblique over the weekend and will be out for close to a month. He was the only Twins' reliever who had made more than six appearances and posted an ERA below five; if you take his 1.59 ERA over 22 2/3 innings out of the equation, the bullpen's overall mark sits at 6.11. Yikes.
On the bright side, the Twins' crappy relief pitching won't have a chance to derail their season, as team-wide failures over the first two months have already effectively accomplished that feat. In addition, the team's lack of competitiveness should deter Bill Smith from dealing away more valuable assets for overrated "closers."
For the remainder of this season, the focus should be on auditioning relievers within the organization in an effort to determine who might be able to play a significant role in next year's pen (and beyond). So far, the Twins are doing it wrong. With Perkins and Mijares hitting the disabled list in recent days, the team has called up Phil Dumatrait, a 29-year-old with a 6.95 career ERA in the majors who had issued 11 walks in 15 2/3 innings at Triple-A, and Dusty Hughes, who had been demoted earlier this year after posting a 10.13 ERA in 12 appearances for the Twins.
Hughes and Dumatrait are both almost 30, and have established through a lengthy track record that they're not very good. Yet, the Twins opt to call them up and subject fans to their known mediocrity rather than taking a look at an intriguing player like Chuck James, Carlos Gutierrez, Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop or even the Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond.
There's no guarantee that any of those guys will prove to be credible MLB relievers, but they've all shown some level of promise in the minors, so why not give them a shot? The luxury of a season like this is that it enables a "trial by fire" approach for borderline prospects, and if they plan on a quick return to contention the Twins could benefit from seeing what they really have in some of these arms.
Even in terms of winning games now, calling on players like Dumatrait and Hughes is odd. Frankly, it only seems like an effort to justify the bad decisions of signing them and/or placing them on the 40-man roster to begin with.
It's what frustrates me most about this front office lately: they tend to compound their mistakes rather than correcting them.