Three Lessons From the Twins' Failure in Fenway

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJuly 9, 2008

Team A led for seven innings. Their starters' ERA was 0.44 in 18 innings.

Team B led for 7.5 innings, and their starters' ERA was 0.51 in 18 innings.

For 18 innings of this series, runs were at an absolute premium for both teams. Game one set the tone for the rest of the series, when both starters went seven innings without giving up a run.

Looking at the stats above, it is hard to believe that this series was a sweep, or that one team scored 25 runs in the three games. Perhaps this will unmuddy the waters a bit.

Team A's bullpen: 6 IP, 19 H, 17 ER, WHIP: 3.5, ERA: 2.83

Team B's bullpen: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, WHIP: 1.77, ERA: 0

Now it is clear. Team B is quite obviously the Red Sox and the Twins are, sadly, team A.

The Twins doubled their number of losses when leading after the seventh inning from two to four in this series, which doesn't seem that bad, but as LEN III pointed out in his blog, the Twins only had four such losses all of last year.

There has been enough ink spilled by whining about the bullpen, and I've been a baseball fan long enough to know that such rough stretches happen to almost every team, but that you've got to learn from them and improve.

So, what did the three-game sweep in Boston teach the Twins?

First, Gardy doesn't trust ANYONE in the 'pen.

Everyone seems to be on the same footing out there. No one pitcher has wowed Gardy and demanded the ball in the late innings. Gardy apparently also doesn't trust Nathan to get more than three outs, which is problematic.

This explains the reliever by committee that doomed the Twins in game one and why Nathan spent the entire series twiddling his thumbs.

Seriously, in the biggest series of the year so far, Mike Lamb saw more time than Joe Nathan, even though the game was tied in the eighth inning in two of the three games.

Second, this team won't make the playoffs without some new blood.

The Twins' policy of calling a player who comes off the DL at or near the trading deadline "as good as a trade" has never worked, but this may be the year.

Francisco Liriano isn't the pitcher who stunned the league in 2006, but he also isn't the pitcher who is currently sporting an ERA of over 11. He will be called up between now and the deadline, and he will be an improvement over whomever he replaces (either Livan Hernandez or Glen Perkins).

The rotation isn't the Twins' major problem right now. In fact, while I wouldn't bet on it, I could see a playoff rotation of Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn doing pretty well. Brian Buscher and Nick Punto, on the other hand, do not make a playoff-caliber left side of the infield, and Brian Bass has no business in a playoff-caliber bullpen.

If the Twins add a power bat at third, and Perkins transitions easily to the 'pen, perhaps that would be enough, but the Twins' current team probably won't be able to compete with the likes of the Sox (both White and Red), Angels, or Rays.

Finally, the Twins really are a very good team.

Yes, this is a fact proven by the sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. The Twins' starters not named Livan looked fantastic against a very good offense. The young OF had their share of rough plays, but more than made up for them in spectacular ones.

Sweeps happen even to good teams, especially in an away series. The Red Sox were swept by the Rays in St. Pete, after the Sox had swept the Rays at Fenway, and the Cubs and Sox swept each other in back-to-back weekends. All four of those teams are among the best in baseball, regardless of occasional slip-ups.

Even the best teams get handled once in a while. The real test of the Twins' mettle will come between now and the All-Star break.

Can they redeem this road trip in Detroit? They've played well against the Tigers so far this year, and Livan won't see the mound. Can the bullpen pull it together? They gave up two games in this series and one to Detroit at the 'Dome.

Four games stand between the Twins and the respite of the break, which is still plenty of time to make a statement. Hopefully Gardy can find an anchor for his bullpen like he did in 2006 when Pat Neshek broke onto the scene, or, failing that, hopefully the Twins can survive the struggles of the 'pen.