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Tuesday (The Twins and the domino effect of short starts) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Target Field, Twins fans Updated: July 3, 2012 - 8:58 AM

The dark cloud looming over the Twins' increasingly functional brand of baseball -- hey, they have gone 24-19 now since that awful 10-26 start -- is the wear and tear on a bullpen in a season that hasn't even reached the All-Star break or even the actual midpoint yet.

Twins starters have certainly been "better" as the year has gone along -- from a 6.75 collective ERA from the rotation in April, to a 5.74 in May to a 5.09 in June -- but you'll notice none of their numbers are particularly good. The dysfunction has crept into July, as Liam Hendriks stared at a 6-1 lead needing just three outs for a chance at his first victory on Tuesday and instead recording zero before getting the hook.

That meant the bullpen -- which had to get 11 outs after Francisco Liriano couldn't get through the 6th inning on Sunday -- had to get 15 big ones on Monday. And they had to do it without Matt Capps, still on the DL until after the All-Star break, and Jared Burton, a gem who had thrown the previous two days and was off-limits. The 'pen, of course, delivered beautifully -- five innings, zero runs, including several very good pitches in very big spots. Their overall bullpen ERA is 3.59 -- middle-of-the-pack in the majors and a huge improvement over last year. The question, though, is how long can they keep it up?

They will all get a much-needed reprieve, of course, during next week's break. But there are still six games until then, and manager Ron Gardenhire knows his bullpen is overtaxed. Per Joe C's story:

Talking about this bullpen's overall workload, Gardenhire added, "We're getting toward the All-Star break, and we're already talking about what to do now. We might have to bring two pitchers up to get through this because we've been using guys a lot."

Long story short, and this is hardly rocket science: the starters need to start pulling their weight. Right now, the Twins' starters are dead last in MLB in strikeouts, 29th in ERA (5.84), 29th in quality starts and 28th in innings pitched. If they can't start working deeper into games, chances are the bullpen is going to run out of steam at some point. And then those thrilling 6-4 victories are going to turn into spirit-crushing defeats.

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