The lasting image of the Twins' truncated pandemic season came in a camera shot of the dugout during Game 2 of a playoff series against Houston. Manager Rocco Baldelli was informing his dejected-looking starter, Jose Berrios, that his day was done after only five innings and 75 pitches.
As odd and illogical as that decision appeared, considering Berrios looked strong and ready to battle, it underscored modern baseball's new template. Use the bullpen, trust the bullpen.
This (over)reliance on relievers puts a premium on finding the right mix of arms and specialists. Those of us easily annoyed by quick hooks and endless pitching changes can scream until we are hoarse, but nothing is changing unless or until analytics directs baseball down a different path.
In evaluating a team's preparedness for a 162-game grind, three areas typically receive the most attention: Starting pitching. Hitting. Defense. Bullpen should represent the fourth wheel because the car is careening into a ditch if that position group falters.
On the eve of Opening Day, the Twins' bullpen remains a question mark because of new faces and new roles. Gone are Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard and Matt Wisler, replaced by veterans Alex Colome and Hansel Robles.
That's considerable turnover from a group that has performed admirably in recent seasons. The Twins owned one of MLB's most valuable bullpens last season, with that group finishing sixth in ERA and third in WAR.
The team's brain trust reconstructed the bullpen with versatility in mind. No designated closer. No roles set in cement.
"We're talking about a pretty successful group over the last couple of years," Baldelli said. "It's a pretty reliable bunch and a group I like to turn to. It's an exceptionally deep group. Looking at the number of guys that can and have pitched late in games successfully, it gives us plenty of really good options."
The potential for another solid unit is there on paper, but still some unknowns with relievers who begin the season in prove-it mode.
Taylor Rogers posted the highest ERA of his career at 4.05 last season. He will share the closer role with Colome, who signed a one-year deal after a dominate 2020 for the White Sox.
The guess here is that Rogers rebounds to his previous form, and that a motivated Colome will benefit from working with the Spin Doctor, pitching coach Wes Johnson.
Tyler Duffey is a bulldog late-innings option who has tinkered with adding a slow curveball to his repertoire this spring.
After that top group, plenty of questions.
Robles, a veteran free-agent pickup, is looking to resurrect his career on a one-year deal after a nightmarish 2020 season for the Los Angeles Angels. The velocity on his fastball dropped and his ERA skyrocketed to 10.26. Maybe Johnson can have a magic touch in figuring out how to fix whatever went wrong.
Then there are two wild cards: flamethrower Jorge Alcala and Cody Stashak. Is either ready to take that next step and become a reliever counted upon in high-leverage situations?
Both have shown promise. Now it's time to see if they can deliver more.
Stashak has posted 42 strikeouts and only four walks in 40 career innings.
The 25-year-old Alcala has the power arm teams covet. His fastball rides in the upper 90s. He struck out 27 batters in 24 innings last season. The next phase of his development comes down to consistency and command and showing he can be trusted in late innings of close games.
Again, file that one under the category of TBD.
If the team's calculations are proven correct on Alcala and others, the bullpen should have an interesting mix of options for Baldelli, who isn't reluctant to call on his relievers.
If the calculations are wrong, well, things could get dicey.
Given the nature of modern baseball, we won't have to wait long to find out the answer.
Chip Scoggins' season outlook for Twins
Final record: 93-69. The call here is that the Twins and White Sox battle until the final week for the division crown. Flip a coin on the winner. The defense will be improved, which will help their pitching staff, the strength of last season. Their rebuilt bullpen is the wild card. If that group comes together and the lineup bounces back, this season should feature another postseason appearance.
Best-case scenario: Health will be a huge determining factor. The lineup looks completely different when Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson are healthy. If those two can avoid lengthy absences and be available at the end of the season, the Twins have a chance to win a playoff game. Let's stop there because they have to first prove they can conquer that mountain.
Worst-case scenario: Kenta Maeda regresses. Buxton and Donaldson miss significant time because of injuries. The lineup sets a record for whiffs. The bullpen falters. The team barely makes the playoffs, then gets swept to extend its postseason losing streak. But we're just spit-balling here.