If the Twins are clinging to a lead in the first game of a series, the ball is expected to go to righthander Joe Nathan, who is on track to being the closer on Opening Day just a year after Tommy John elbow surgery.
If the Twins are in the same situation the next night, Nathan is expected to get the ball again.
But if there is a third consecutive night of white-knuckle baseball, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson probably will pick up the phone to the bullpen and ask for righthander Matt Capps. That's what the Twins plan to do and, instead of their plan billowing into a closer controversy, the two men involved have talked about how mighty of a one-two punch they could be.
"We're both under the same assumption and same thought that we're both going to be finishing games this year," Nathan said.
Said Capps: "If we are both healthy and both on top of our game, it's going to be a pretty damn strong bullpen."
Simply put, the Twins' season hinges on both of them being, as Capps said, healthy and on top of their games. And it starts with Nathan. The Twins have more than $18 million tied up in closers this year between Nathan ($11.25M) and Capps ($7.1M). That is an albatross around the neck of the payroll. The uncertainty surrounding Nathan's injury was a big part of the reason Capps was acquired and retained. If Nathan can't pitch to at least close to his 2004-09 level, it will not only have a trickle-down effect on the bullpen but also serve as an even more glaring reminder of the payroll inflexibility his unfortunate injury has created.
But if Nathan comes back strong, he and Capps could be the kind of 1-2 punch that carries a team through a season and gives it confidence in the postseason.
That "if" could define the Twins' season.