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Souhan on Sports

Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene

Souhan blog: Twins' big concern is relief pitching

One constant theme during the Twins' four-year losing streak was the workload their bullpen was subjected to.

Now that they're winning, they're dealing with the same concerns.

Closer Glen Perkins made 15 apperances in May, while recording 13 saves. He was rested on Saturday and barely survived on Sunday. He's obviously tired, and there are four months of the season remaining.

Setup man Casey Fien has just returned from the disabled list. Blaine Boyer, a godsend, was seen icing his back earlier this week and has had to fill in for both Fien and Perkins.

The Twins' pitching staff has two current problems: Ricky Nolasco's ankle injury and the overwork of the key members of the bullpen. Both problems have easy solutions.

Whatever the tests on Nolasco's ankle reveal, the Twins should call up Tommy Milone from Class AAA, where he has an ERA of 0.70. If Nolasco couldn't get four outs on the ankle yesterday, he can't be trusted to pitch well in his next start. Shut him down and give Milone a tryout.

As for the bullpen, the Twins made a mistake when they sent down Michael Tonkin. He has the stuff to pitch at the end of games. Tim Stauffer does not have big-league stuff. Tonkin does. Tonkin may lack polish, but he'd be better in the big leagues, listening to Neil Allen and Eddie Guardado, then re-proving that he can get out minor-league hitters.

The big question around baseball is whether the Twins can sustain their success. I don't think they can keep winning in exactly the same manner, but they may not have to. 

Their organizational depth should serve them well over the next four months. Milone, Tonkin, Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Ervin Santana, Miguel Sano, Kennys Vargas, Oswaldo Arcia and Josmil Pinto all could play roles. You could argue that the Twins, with the best record in the American League, could have a much stronger roster five weeks from now.


Souhan: Twins in first. How is that possible?

National analysts keep trying to figure out how the Twins are winning.

Now that the Twins are tied for first place, having won 27 of their last 39, the questions will continue.

To me, there are six answers:

1) Fielding. It's always been the most difficult aspect of the game to quantify. I think it's safe to say that the Twins' fielding is dramatically improved. Trevor Plouffe has gone from a minus at third base to as good a third baseman as there is in the game. Torii Hunter makes plenty of plays in rightfield. Aaron Hicks, Jordan Schafer, Shane Robinson and Eddie Rosario have all put in good work in the outfield. And Kurt Suzuki and Brian Dozier have continued their strong defensive play.

``So many balls that went for hits the last four years are now outs,'' Glen Perkins said. ``That's what jumps out at me.''

2) Starting pitching has varied between good enough and very good. The Twins are 19-6 when their starter goes six or more innings, and their improved fielding has allowed pitchers to pitch deeper into games, which also protects the bullpen.

3) Perkins: He's 18-for-18 in saves even while embracing the occasional four-out save.

4) Situational hitting: The Twins are taking better at-bats, which is allowing them to perform better in the clutch.

5) Baserunning. This team is incredibly aggressive on the bases. If the lineup was filled with great power hitters, that might not be the right approach. But when your lineup is shallow enough that Eduardo Escobar is batting fifth, you might as well be aggressive.

6) Personality. I'm not sure that a more high-strung manager would have helped this team survive a 1-6 start, and the return of Hunter and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado have had an immediate impact on performance.

I'm amazed at how often I'll be talking to a player and they'll bring up Molitor, Hunter or Guardado without being asked.

On paper, this is an average team at best. On the field, situations and gamesmanship matter, and the Twins are winning those games-within-a-game.


6:10 PM (FSN)
Minnesota 30-19
Boston 22-29

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