Minnesota Twins Week 8 Ups and Downs: Lowest of lows reached by bullpen

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Twins rebounded to take three of four from the Angels after a three-game bullpen implosion versus the Houston Astros.

A record of 3-4 for the past week tells little of the story the Minnesota Twins played out over the final week of May and into June. A “what could have been” week turned into a so-so one, as the Twins bid farewell to familiar bullpen faces.

On Memorial Day Monday, a huge crowd was on hand for the opening of the Twins-Astros series. A battle between two of the American League’s best records, with Houston leading the A.L. West and the Twins two games up on Cleveland.

Minnesota was coming off an extra-inning game that taxed their bullpen, and hoped that a long outing (even a complete game) by Ervin Santana could help alleviate that. He didn’t disappoint, carrying an 8-2 lead into the eighth inning.

DOWN: The bullpen would only need to record six outs, as Santana threw 114 pitches and was done for the day. Surely, win #8 would be in the books for the Twins’ ace. Right?

What followed over the next hour, carried into the next two days’ worth of games against the Astros. A bullpen that, while not “shutdown”, was reliable enough to fill their roles and get the majority of the men out that manager Paul Molitor asked them to.

Instead, history was made. Never before had a team trailed by six or more runs going into the eighth inning, and ended up winning that game by six runs or more. The final, 16-8 Houston, sent the nearly 25,000 fans home whirling.

If that made their heads spin, the next two days were more of the same. Three more runs on Tuesday by the bullpen, followed by an embarrassing performance Wednesday. After trailing 6-2, Minnesota battled back to make it a game, getting to within one run.

The Twins’ first two relievers didn’t record an out, instead allowing six runs to score to put the game out of reach, and sent the fans home early. Three more runs in the eighth had Molitor turn once again to Chris Gimenez to pitch.

The catcher made his third appearance on the mound, but this time wasn’t so productive. He allowed a two-run home run to Marwin Gonzalez to finish out the scoring. In the three games, the Twins’ bullpen allowed 28 runs in nine innings of work.

UP: While the bullpen was struggling, part of the reason for the comeback was the absence of Byron Buxton. He and Eddie Rosario got together on a fly ball to left center, cutting the ring finger on Buxton’s throwing hand.

Given the score, it was prudent of the Twins to pull Buxton, as to not exacerbate the injury. With a six-run lead, what could go wrong? Ehire Adrianza went in to play left, and Rosario slid over to center.

In the eighth, the infielder-turned-outfielder misjudged a fly ball that would have gotten the Twins out of the inning with the lead, and Rosario dropped a ball in center in the ninth that Buxton would surely have had.

What it showed is how much great defense means to the games’ outcomes. With Buxton leading the way, the Twins are currently first in defensive runs saved and according to Baseball Reference they also lead the league in turning balls hit into play into outs (71.4 percent).

Given the fact that most of the players are in the same positions as last year, the turnaround is remarkable. Especially with the strides Miguel Sano has made at third base. He started the Twins’ defensive highlight for the week in Thursday’s opener against the L.A. Angels.

With runners at first and second and no outs in the fourth inning, Sano started a 5-4-3 triple play to get Adalberto Mejia out of a jam, and keep the Twins ahead 1-0. It was the first Twins triple play in 11 years, and very reminiscent of the two they turned against Boston in the same game in 1990.

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UP: Back end of the rotation. While Santana has been consistent for most of the first third of the season, and Jose Berrios has arrived to provide a solid 1-2 punch, the Twins’ 3-4-5 starters have held up their end very well.

With Phil Hughes on the disabled list, Hector Santiago (4-5), Adalberto Mejia (1-1) and even Kyle Gibson have all pitched well of late. Gibson picked up his first two wins after four losses and an 8.20 ERA, and has allowed just two earned runs in each of his last two outings.

Counting Hughes’ four wins, that gives the “bottom” of the rotation 11 of the 29 wins so far this season. If the Twins can win at least three out of every five starts more often, the Twins will be looking like a playoff contender come September.

UP: Joe Mauer. While he will never be the slugger he was in 2009, his bat is coming around at the right time for Minnesota. His slugging average is just 21st among all first basemen, but his average (.287) has moved up to seventh, and he has the second-fewest strikeouts among fellow first basemen.

This, while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in his fourth full season at the position. No, he’s not Ryan Zimmerman, Joey Votto or Paul Goldschmidt. Yes, the Twins do lose matchups with most teams at that position because of Mauer’s low power numbers.

But when he hits like he did in May (.346), with elite-level defense, the team’s collective power at the other positions helps level off his shortcomings. The Twins truly are a team that needs a complete performance 1-through-9 in the order to compete night after night.

And so far, through a third of their schedule, they are doing just enough to stay in the conversation. If they can find a bullpen, they just might play meaningful games come Fall.

Next: Minnesota Twins Travel to West Coast

STRANGE, BUT TRUE, STAT OF THE WEEK: Prior to Monday’s comeback, the Houston Astros were 0-921 when trailing by six runs or more in the eighth inning or later. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only the Arizona Diamondbacks (0-374) have never mounted a comeback win of that magnitude. Conversely, the Twins have allowed 12 comeback wins of that sort, the most of any MLB team.