RP: You Are The Weakest Link…Goodbye?
Although the 2008 Minnesota Twins season was effectively ended on a Jim Thome home run in game number 163, the season realistically slipped away during the month of August, when the bullpen inexplicably failed to record any key outs (even Joe Nathan included, for a time) and lost game after game in the late innings. Any major league manager will tell you that any competitive team needs to have at least a decent bullpen, and right now that is about the only weak link (albeit a major weakness) for the Twins to potential shore up over the offseason. A quick look at how the major relievers fared in ’08:
Joe Nathan (67.7 IP, 39 SV, 1.33 ERA): Despite a shaky spell in mid-August, Nathan was by and large the most dominant closer outside of Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez for the majority of the season. No reason to be concerned here.
Matt Guerrier (76.3, 5.19): After Pat Neshek went down with a season-ending injury, Guerrier stepped up as an ace setup man, bridging the gap to the dominant Joe Nathan. Alas, Guerrier completely crumbled as the season progressed, getting to the point where he was pretty much “off limits” in crucial games down the stretch. His mindset is probably what needs the most soothing heading into ’09, as he was really messed up at the end of this year.
Dennys Reyes (46.3, 2.33): Reyes turned in a decent season out of the pen (his numbers are tricky, as he rarely throws to enough batters per inning to factor into the earned runs), but needs to work on one crucial area: control. When facing good hitters in pressure situations, Reyes would often throw terrible wild pitchers (ones Joe Mauer wouldn’t have a chance at stopping) and letting runners move up. So, batters would then key on the strikes and blast them, as Reyes would practically have to throw the ball right down the middle to be confidant of getting it in the strike zone.
Jesse Crain (62.7, 3.59): Crain can throw harder than any of the Twins’ current middle relievers, but still completely wilts in pressure-packed situations (think of LaTroy Hawkins trying to close in 2001). He far and away led the team in walk-off hits given up, due (like Reyes) to shoddy control, allowing batters to tee off on the pitches thrown down the pipe to prevent walks. The one hope for Crain is that ’08 was his first season back from arm surgery, so perhaps he was still just getting himself back into playing condition (although I don’t think so).
Craig Breslow: (38.7, 1.63): All in all, Breslow (acquired in mid-season from the Cleveland Indians) was probably the most consistent reliever of the bunch. He didn’t pitch many innings, but got the job done more often than not.
As if those less than thrilling reports weren’t bad enough, three more Twins relievers (Brian Bass, Juan Rincon, and Eddie Guardado) turned out to be complete busts, with no chance of returning in 2009 (Bass and Rincon are already gone).
There is, however, at least some hope on the horizon. Pat Neshek, the side-winding righty that is so difficult to figure out, will be back in ’09, while young Jose Mijares impressed many people in crucial late-season 2008 action. If those guys can come back strong, perhaps the Reyes’, Crain’s, and Guerrier’s of the world can better settle into their own specific roles.
-Is there anyone alive out there right now who DOESN’T think the Boston Red Sox are going to advance to the World Series by beating the Rays tonight?! Here is the starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70). The Sox are just following their typical playoff pattern…dominate the ALDS, come from way behind in the ALCS, then dominate the World Series. Will it continue? I think so.