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Bullpen Strikes Again

By Travis Hines

Here we go again. Just as last season, the Twins bullpen gave away another game on Monday in utterly disappointing fashion. The team had an obvious and glaring weakness in their bullpen to address this offseason, but really did nothing to solidify their late inning relief options. Their one acquisition, Luis Ayala, gave up a towering shot to Travis Snider, his second of the game, to put the Jays in front in the eighth. I'm afraid this could be a reoccurring theme throughout summer.

Ayala's core numbers last season (5.71 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) are pretty unsightly, but his peripheral numbers tell a different story. His strikeout rate actually jumped a full K per nine innings last year from 9.1 to 10.2, but Ayala got into trouble by giving out too many free passes. He was also a bit unlucky, posting a .316 BABIP. While it's unfortunate he gave up the bomb to Snider, Ayala is going to be a nice arm out of the Twins bullpen, and for an affordable $1.3 million price tag. The problem is his signing didn't address the real problem – finding a primary eighth inning guy to get the ball to Joe Nathan with the lead. And that was evident Monday evening.

Ayala can be a usable option in middle relief, but he's not the answer to the question of who can be counted on late. The Twins were spoiled by Pat Neshek's dominance and now seem content to live with a set-up by committee. Jesse Crain seems like the likeliest candidate to see the most eighth inning work, but is anyone really sold on him being the guy? I know I'm not, but there's no way I'm giving the ball to Matt Guerrier in the eighth inning and making it out of this season with any finger nails left.

There were plenty of options in the free agent pool this offseason to fill the Neshek void (Russ Springer and Brandon Lyon to name two), but the Twins just didn't seem interested in making a significant upgrade via free agency. Seeing the team lose a division title last year thanks to bullpen meltdowns throughout August and September should have motivated the team to be aggressive in the market. Standing pat was a mistake. Let's hope it doesn't keep the team from hoisting a new banner when Target Field opens in 2010.

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