Twins fans and observers have focused a lot of their attention on the team's bullpen (and in some cases Rocco Baldelli's handling of it) as a culprit in their 12-21 start, and for good reason.
Twins relief pitchers are now No. 27 in the majors in ERA (5.26) and dropped to a 1-12 record after another game that was up to the bullpens on Tuesday — 3-3 with the White Sox going into the sixth inning — turned into a victory for a Twins opponent, and a breezy 9-3 one at that after Chicago's 'pen held the Twins scoreless and Twins relievers struggled.
The script for that game was all-too-familiar, something I talked about on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Namely: Kenta Maeda gave the Twins five OK innings but was pulled after 87 pitches and couldn't hold the 3-0 lead he was staked to early. The bullpen faltered. And the Twins' offense was silent after some early work, staying stuck on three runs all game long.
That three-run marker is an important one, and it's one of two areas where the offense should get its share of the blame this season.
While overall the Twins' offense is tied for seventh in the majors in OPS (.736) and tied for ninth in runs per game (4.64), a lot of that damage has come in lopsided wins.
The Twins have scored three runs or fewer in 20 of their 33 games this season — a full 60%. They are 3-17 in those games, while they are 9-4 when they score four or more.
Last year, by contrast, the Twins were tied for 18th in runs per game (4.48), but they were held to three runs or fewer in just 26 of 60 games — 43%. They were 8-18 in those games, while they were 28-6 when they scored four or more.
Some of that might just be random, but the consequences are real: You have a better chance of winning if you score five runs in three consecutive games than if you score 12 runs, two runs and one run in those games, even if the average comes out to five per game in both cases.
That said, when the Twins get to the late innings with a chance to win, the offense has particularly faltered.
Twins have been leading or tied after eight innings in 20 games this season, but they are just 12-8 in those games — 11-4 when ahead, 1-4 when tied. That's a function of the bullpen, to be sure, but it's also a function of the Twins' failure to hit in late game situations.
MLB.com's Mike Petriello did an interesting segment with Twins Radio's Kris Atteberry on Tuesday in which he dug into some numbers.
He found that the Twins entered Tuesday with a .354 OPS in the ninth inning — the worst of any team in any inning 1-9 in all of MLB this season (and a figure that went down to .342 last night when they were retired in order in the ninth). The Twins' batting average in the ninth inning is just .103.
I dug a little more and found the Twins have an almost-as-dismal .391 OPS in extra innings this season — No. 25 in the majors. That's almost .400 points lower than the MLB league average of a .790 OPS in extra innings this season.
Twins pitchers, meanwhile, have an .865 OPS against and 5.04 ERA in the ninth inning (28th in the majors in the latter stat) and a whopping 1.150 OPS allowed in the 10th inning. Opponents are batting .364 against Twins relievers in the 10th inning.
Not surprisingly given all of those numbers, the Twins have been outscored by a combined 29-4 in the 9th and 10th innings this season, a lopsided differential that explains their eight losses after being tied or ahead after eight innings.
The Twins need to hope that those numbers through 33 games are a small sample size anomaly that smooth out as the year goes along.
But remember: It's not just the bullpen that's to blame for how it's gone so far.