Baseball fans, pundits, beat reporters, and major league managers and general managers alike, look to the usual suspects when a team is below the .500 mark at this stage of the season.
Things such as a lack of clutch hitting, an erratic starting rotation, an ineffective bullpen, sloppy fielding, and inattentive base-running.
The Minnesota Twins have suffered breakdowns in all these departments at one time or another thus far this season.
That's why they sit at 15-17, mired in third place in the American League Central Division.
The bullpen, though, deserves the lion's share of the blame for the Twins' slow start.
Twins' relievers have consistently failed to get the job done in situations when a game has either been tied, or Minnesota has trailed or led a game by one or two runs. They've already amassed four blown saves, tied for second-highest in the American League.
Here's a breakdown of Twins' relievers in these clutch situations.
Jose Mijares (0-1, one blown save): 4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO.
Jesse Crain (1-1): 3.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 1 SO.
R.A. Dickey: 4 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO.
Luis Ayala (0-1, two blown saves) :5 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO.
Craig Breslow (0-1): 3 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO.
Philip Humber: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO.
Brian Duensing: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO.
Matt Guerrier: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO.
Joe Nathan (1-0, one blown save and four saves): 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO.
Collectively, the Twins bullpen has surrendered 22 runs in 36.1 innings of clutch relief.
If you take Guerrier and Nathan out of the equation, though, the state of the Twins bullpen becomes even more unsightly at 21.1 innings and 20 runs surrendered, or nearly one run per inning.
Ironically, Philip Humber and Brian Duensing, the only other Twins' relievers to show a flair in clutch situations, albeit in a limited role, are both in Triple-A Rochester following early season demotions.
Jose Mijares, who looked unhittable early on, has proved to be painfully mortal in his last two appearances.
Juan Morillo blew up in three relief appearances, all in mop-up roles. He, too, is in Triple-A Rochester.
The Twins continue to show faith in Luis Ayala, whom they signed in the offseason, and Jesse Crain. Both are laudable gestures on the part of the Twins, but woefully misplaced thus far in the season.
Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane of Oakland Athletics voices a common wisdom among baseball people in the know. He says that it takes at least 50 games for a team to properly assess the talent it has on the field.
The common perception, though, is that the Twins are left with too many weak links in the bullpen to be a playoff contender.
At some point, if the bullpen doesn't shape up soon, Minnesota will be forced to make a move. Either by calling up one of their bright minor league bullpen prospects or making a trade or signing an unrestricted free agent.
After Sunday's loss to the Seattle Mariners, a game in which Mijares and Crain surrendered four earned runs in one-third of an inning after Nick Blackburn hurled seven innings of five-hit, shutout baseball, the Minnesota Twins may be facing the decision sooner rather than later.
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