Someone handed out another round of T-shirts in the Twins’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon.
They were distributed to Twins relievers.
They bore no words, just a picture, of a fire extinguisher.
They did not appear to be ironic.
“Pretty cool,” reliever Ryne Harper said.
While the Twins’ bullpen becomes Minnesota’s biggest crisis since the New York Times accused us of loving something called “grape salad,” Twins’ relievers are trying not to be offended at becoming a similarly unpopular concoction.
And they’re succeeding. At not being offended.
“Here’s what I think about it,” said Taylor Rogers, the Twins’ best reliever. “Nobody’s going to criticize our hitting, because we have more homers than anybody. We’ve pretty much had the same five starters all season — can’t criticize them. Our defense is great, we’ve got the best center fielder in baseball, so who’s left?
“It’s us. I talked with Trev (May) about that specific thing. There is nothing to criticize … so we’re there to criticize.”
Rogers said that before the bullpen continued to create more over-the-top drama to American society than anyone since Quentin Tarantino, allowing seven runs over the eighth and ninth innings in the latest arena football game played at Target Field. The wild 10-inning clash ended in a 14-12 loss.
Twins games have become a blend of WrestleMania, randomly-aimed fireworks and drunken cricket, and while Twins’ relievers are part of one of the best teams in franchise history, so far, the average Twins fan wouldn’t touch many of them without donning a Hazmat suit.
Can the Twins win big this year without making a trade? A state’s nerves say no. History says yes.
Lost amid the confetti and champagne of the ’87 and ’91 championship seasons is the state of those team’s bullpens.
In ’87, closer Jeff Reardon had a 4.48 ERA. If he was performing to that level in 2019, Twins fans would be asking for his release.
Reardon’s setup men in ’87? Juan Berenguer (3.94 ERA), George Frazier (4.98 ERA) and Keith Atherton (4.54 ERA).
In ’91, Rick Aguilera (2.35 ERA) was an outstanding closer. His setup men were journeyman Carl Willis (a career-best 2.63 ERA), Steve Bedrosian (4.42 ERA) and Mark Guthrie (4.32 ERA.)
Those teams won with powerhouse lineups, excellent fielding, top-heavy rotations and bullpens that got just enough outs at just the right times. That almost sounds familiar.
The 1987 Twins made one move for pitching at the trade deadline: Acquiring Steve Carlton, who would compile a 6.70 ERA in nine games. The ’91 Twins made zero trade deadline deals.
The thing about relievers is that they’re unpredictable by nature. Most of them failed as starters, and had to remake themselves as long or middle relievers.
Eddie Guardado made himself into a starting pitching prospect in the Twins’ organization, got hammered when he came to the big leagues, then became a one-out lefty, then a reliable middle reliever, then a setup man, and then an All-Star closer.
Nobody saw that coming, including Eddie.
So the key to this year’s bullpen could be a fan-pleasing trade, or it could be May figuring out how to pair his impressive fastball with a corner-seeking breaking pitch, or Lewis Thorpe becoming the next Carl Willis. Or Cody Allen or Fernando Romero pitching to their capabilities.
“With our hitters striking back like they do, we just want to keep the game where it’s at, not wreck all their hard work,” Rogers said.
Rogers is better now than Reardon was in ’87. The Twins’ other top relievers resemble those on the ’87 and ’91 teams. With the ball flying out of ballparks at a record pace, what the Twins need is bullpen depth.
When Twins relievers fail, they are identified as the team’s foremost problem. When they succeed, do they celebrate?
“Not really,” Rogers said.
“We did with Thorpe, with his first win — what he did was pretty impressive.
But you don’t need to be patted on the back for doing your job.”
But you may get a T-shirt, whether planted by a believer or a comic, out of the deal.