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Twins' 10-Run Collapse Shows Vulnerability and Necessity on Pitching Staff

Jeremiah Graves@cheapseatchronAnalyst IJuly 21, 2009

Monday night in Oakland, the Minnesota Twins seemed to have everything going their way—for a while at least.

This year’s de facto ace, Nick Blackburn, was on the hill, and the offense was firing on all cylinders. Blackburn was given a 10-run lead in the third inning and then—along with the bullpen—promptly coughed it up.

The Twins rallied to put more runs on the board, but no matter what they did, the Athletics—yes, those Athletics—answered with a run-scoring salvo of their own.

When the game went final—over three-and-a-half hours later—the Twins had allowed the lowly Athletics to come back and win the game 14-13.

Admittedly, the game ended on a blown call at the plate, as Michael Cuddyer was blatantly safe with what should have been the tying run.

The problem is that the blown call didn’t cost the Twins the game.

Yet again, awful pitching cost the Twins the game.

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Blackburn was throwing strikes, but nearly all of them were over the heart of the plate, allowing the A’s to stay in the game. When he exited after five innings, he’d given up seven earned runs on 13 hits.

The bullpen trio of Brian Duensing, Bobby Keppel, and Jose Mijares did their best to trump Blackburn’s awful outing by allowing an additional seven earned runs in just 2.3 innings.

Only the recently promoted Kevin Mulvey escaped unscathed by getting the only batter he faced, Orlando Cabrera, to line out to end the eighth inning.

The loss only further exacerbates the glaring need for the Twins to add at least one more quality arm to the rotation or the bullpen.

The bullpen is in dire need of at least one shutdown arm that belongs to someone other than Joe Nathan, and the rotation could use a legitimate big game pitcher.

Many expected Francisco Liriano to fill that role for the starting rotation following the departure of Johan Santana, but his inconsistency has left many wondering if he’ll ever be able to fill Santana’s shoes.

The rest of the starting five consists of quality pitchers, but none of whom can be considered an ace.

The bullpen—formerly one of the squad’s biggest strengths—has become a real problem in recent years, and as evidenced by last night’s performance, it may be the most glaring concern as the trade deadline approaches.

Now is the time for the Twins’ front office to start thinking about this year and not the future.

The Twins desperately need to make a move to bolster the pitching corps if the team expects to compete with the likes of the Tigers and White Sox down the stretch, especially if the team has any intention of going deep in the postseason.

The free agent market is relatively barren, consisting mostly of retreads and injury cases. Names like Ben Sheets, Chuck James, Mark Mulder, and Paul Byrd are still available, but all come with their own baggage.

It is doubtful that either Sheets or James will be ready to pitch in time to offer any assistance.

Mulder hasn’t stayed healthy long enough to show he’s worth any sort of investment. His last full season was 2005, and his 7.73 ERA and 1.83 WHIP over his last 23 appearances (21 starts), which span three years, aren't overly inspiring.

Byrd is by far the safest bet of the bunch, but he is not what anyone would call an ace or a big game pitcher. He does, however, have a track record of consistency and has experience pitching in the AL Central.

Unfortunately, Byrd doesn’t offer anything more than the pitchers already in the Twins rotation.

With that in mind, it is time for the Twins to explore the trade market.

I realize that the front office won’t be pushing to acquire Roy Halladay or Jake Peavy, but a move for someone like Seattle’s Erik Bedard or disgruntled Pirates hurler Ian Snell, who is currently dominating Triple-A, shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

Additionally, many teams have bullpen arms available, albeit at a steep price as we draw nearer to the trade deadline.

The Orioles, Blue Jays, Athletics, and aforementioned Pirates all have late-inning specialists that could help put the Twins over the top and help prevent any further 10-run collapses.

Either way—starter or reliever—the time for a change is now.

The Twins came out of the All-Star break on fire and should be sitting at 4-0 since the break and just a half-game behind the Tigers.

Shady pitching performances have cost the team two games already. How many more games is the front office willing to let slip away before they make a move?

At this point in the season—with the Twins a mere two-and-a-half games out of first place—it is time for management to get proactive and mortgage a little bit of the future for a chance to win now.

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