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Brandon Veale column: Welcome to the bad bullpen club

The worst thing about having a bad bullpen is how there's often no way to make up for it.

Brandon Veale
Brandon Veale
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At the time of this writing, the Minnesota Twins are leading their division in angst and also winning percentage.

Whether it's Byron Buxton's "load management" scheme, Alex Kiriloff's balky wrist, Miguel Sano's knee or Max Kepler's broken toe, Twins fans have a lot to worry about in the lineup, but worry isn't the verb I'd use to describe their feelings about the bullpen.

The Twins currently have 20 saves in 38 opportunities. Your eyes are not deceiving you, that's pretty bad.

Maybe it's envy. On Monday, the Milwaukee Brewers traded All-Star reliever Josh Hader to San Diego and might have gotten better, acquiring ex-Twin Taylor Rogers, plus another pitcher and prospects, and cleared the way for Devin Williams to take over the closer's job in the same move.

It certainly wouldn't be novel for Minnesota sports fans to get jealous of something Wisconsin sports fans have, but R-E-L-A-X.


Would you believe that the Twins bullpen isn't in the top three in blown saves in Major League Baseball? In fact, the Rays (23) and Braves (19) have more blown saves but better records than the Twins, and both are in position to earn Wild Card berths.

You may be surprised to find that the Major League leader in blown saves is, in fact, Rogers, who has seven. Rogers also happens to be second in baseball in un-blown saves, with 28.

This helps me prove my point. Allow me to jump into the bad bullpen abyss with you and show you the way out of this despair.

You see, I'm very experienced with these things. From 1997-2001 and 2006-08, the Tigers employed a closer named Todd Jones. He finished off more than 200 games, and I'm not sure if he retired the side in order in the ninth inning in any of them. It got so bad that my friends and I developed "The Todd Jones Save Manual: A Guide to Creative Relief Pitching." Among the tenets of creative relief pitching? "Make sure to put as many runners on base as possible, so they can share in the experience." "Make sure to blow a save now and then, just to keep them honest."

Jones retired in 2008, and his legacy lived on throughout the 2010s. Among the most poignant of these moments was the evening of July 10, 2015. The Tigers led 6-0 through 7 1/2 innings at Target Field and 6-1 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Twins won that game on a three-run Brian Dozier homer off Joakim Soria.

Soria had more than 200 Major League saves. The Tigers have had bullpen disasters with scrubs and with legends.

In 2014, the Tigers acquired Joe Nathan, Twins legend. Of course, Nathan blew seven saves in Detroit and had an ERA well over 5 that year before blowing out his elbow in the first week of the 2015 season.

The 2014 Tigers will probably remembered forever, because they had Miguel Cabrera in the lineup and a pitching staff that included Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price ... and was swept out of the Division Series after the bullpen gave up 10 runs in the first two games alone.


In a tremendously cruel bit of irony, the 2022 Tigers bullpen is literally the only redeemable part of the current team, with several spare parts in demand as the Tigers lurch home in another lost season.

You can't blow a save without being in the lead first, so the Twins have been doing at least some of it right some of the time.

The Twins have only seven road games in August. After dispatching the Tigers this week, the Twins will get to see several other no-hopers like the Royals, Angels and Rangers.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, they're wondering if the Tigers front office is going to rebuild the rebuild. Needless to say, I'd be thrilled if the Tigers and Twins could switch places in the standings.

Nothing about the Guardians or White Sox should have Twins fans quaking in their boots, other than Emilio Pagan's bizarre inability to get anyone wearing a Cleveland uniform out. But whether it's that, the Twins' 18-game postseason losing streak or any of a number of small-sample-size marvels, baseball is a funny game.

The reason we all get worked up about bullpen disasters is that, unlike most of the other pitfalls of the game, there's often no way to bounce back from a bullpen disaster in the ninth inning. It's the hand grenade that goes off on the count of two.

But over 162 games, these things tend to even out. After all, despite their perennially horrific bullpens, the Tigers made the playoffs five times in nine years and reached two World Series (and the bullpen wasn't the reason they went 0-2 in those Fall Classics).

Baseball is a game of chaos spread over time. So the Twins have a little more than average. Being inconsistent beats being consistently bad.


Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the News Tribune. He can be reached at bveale@duluthnews.com.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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