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Twins falter in the end; bullpen woes continue

By Josh Newman
Gotta love those young teams. It’s always either up or down.

Then sometimes, as was the case last week, it’s right down the middle. As in a 3-3 record.

And that was a downgrade. Until the last two games of their series against Houston, they were staring right at an opportunity to finish with one of their best weeks of the season. Then, with one out in the seventh inning, the downfall occurred. It began with a one-out double by Hunter Pence, followed by an RBI single by Ivan Rodriguez. Baker was then relieved by Sean Henn. Pinch-hitter Jason Michaels then swatted a double to center, pushing Rodriguez across the plate. Two batters later, Michael Bourn slammed a pitch from Henn into the bleachers to clear the bases.

In my opinion, that was the turning point of last week. Entering that game, the Twins had a great opportunity to finish 5-1 on the week. Instead, that loss shifted momentum in the other direction because the young Twins failed to rebound.

Up to that point, it had actually been a fine week. They had just taken two out of three from Pittsburgh behind timely hitting and solid overall play. And they had just defeated the Astros in the opener of that set, so they had some momentum to ride into the weekend. Suddenly, hitters were being frozen out, the starting pitchers were being matched pitch by pitch, and as usual, the bullpen struggled.

Nick Blackburn had arguably his best game of the season last week as well. It was a complete game, six-hitter against the Pirates on the 18th, a 5-1 win for Minnesota. Kevin Slowey – maybe the other ace this year – also had a solid outing last week. In his only start, he held Houston to one run on six hits over six innings in earning his league-leading 10th win of the season.

As usual, the hitting was solid. Occasionally, the team will leave runners in scoring position, no matter how much of a clutch hitter the player is. Nobody’s perfect, so just accept it.

But the bullpen continues to be the Achilles heel. Last week – and singling him out is tough because he didn’t even pitch one complete inning – but Henn was simply rocked by everyone he faced. I don’t know much about this guy, but he managed to give up five earned runs on three hits in just two-thirds of an inning. In addition, two of the hits he allowed left the ballpark. Overall, his ERA for the week was 67.50, raising his ERA for the year to 7.36 in 11 total innings of work. Bust of the Week, no question.

The bullpen should really be grateful for any pitches that Gardy allows them to toss. I’m not saying that everyone who pitched out of the ‘pen is bad, but relievers are important. Even the best, most durable starting pitchers can’t throw a complete game every time. Their arms just are not built for it anymore. Plus, when your manager hyperventilates every time his starting pitcher approaches 100 pitches, it is almost a guarantee that the relievers will be called upon. To put it simply, unless the bullpen improves, you might as well just go to Joe Nathan or R.A. Dickey every time you go to a reliever.

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