First, closer Glen Perkins was nearly unhittable before the All-Star break, posting a 1.21 ERA and going 28 for 28 in save opportunities.
Perkins’ dominance was part of an outlier month of May for Twins relievers, who posted a 3.40 ERA that month while the team won 20 games and vaulted to the American League’s best record after a dreadful first week in April. The Twins’ bullpen ERA in every other month last season ranged from nearly half a run to a full run higher than it did in May.
Perkins was beset by injuries and ineffectiveness (the two were linked, too) in the second half, but Kevin Jepsen (and a host of others) picked up much of the slack. The hope going into 2016 on the part of the Twins was that A) Perkins would be healthy and regain his form and B) Jepsen’s two months of work in 2015 (ERA: 1.61) would carry over to a similar performance this season instead of him being more similar to his career numbers (ERA: 3.64).
And, well, the Twins are paying for their optimism in critical situations. Their bullpen looked an arm short even before Perkins went on the disabled list. Compounding matters is the rough first 21 games for Jepsen.
He has three blown saves and three losses already in 10 appearances. Included in the blown save category was Tuesday night’s game in which he gave up the tying home run on a high fastball with two outs in the ninth. This time, the Twins bailed him out with Miguel Sano’s game-winning hit in the bottom half.
The interesting thing is, the Twins’ overall bullpen ERA of 3.18 is better than average (11th in MLB). Some of the perceived problems have mounted because relievers have been pitching late in games with little margin for error. The Twins have played 21 games this season, and 10 of them have been decided in the game’s final at-bat (Minnesota is 5-5 in such games).
That suggests the overall sentiment about the bullpen could change if the Twins start handing relievers leads of larger than a run or two.
For now, though, the late-game woes from the ‘pen — fair or not — really stand out.