For years the Minnesota Twins have searched for the ace who they can depend on in the postseason. After starting their last two playoff series with Ervin Santana (a one-game Wild Card) and Jose Berrios, who struggled against the New York Yankees, it looks like they’ve got their ace: Kenta Maeda. Now it looks like they need a closer.
The Twins have one of the best bullpens in Major League Baseball: They collectively have a 3.58 ERA, ranking them fifth in the league. They have been lethal all season. But they have given up runs late in games. The two main pitchers used to finish games this season have been Taylor Rogers and Sergio Romo — the same tandem we saw in the Twins loss to the Astros.
With a bullpen made up of former starters and no Proven Closer™, the Twins need their offense to create a margin for error.
Rogers and Romo
There has been a question all season long about why Rogers has been off his game. His transition to the bullpen three seasons ago seemed flawless because he adapted to the new role and shined. This year was a different story.
Tonight Rogers looked like himself again. He was tasked with getting the Twins out of the eighth inning, and he did so flawlessly. He saw three batters, struck out one and collected three outs, leaving the game tied at 1-1.
Romo was given the ninth. Because of how dependable he’s been all season and throughout his career, you’d be forgiven for allowing yourself to think about Eddie Rosario or Miguel Sano hitting a walk-off homer in the bottom half to end the playoff losing streak.
Instead, past demons resurfaced.
Romo gave up two singles to start the frame. He got the next two batters out, but just when it looked like he’d get out of the inning, Jorge Polanco made an error on a routine ground ball, loading the bases.
While the Polanco error was bad, I don’t think it’s what inevitably cost the Twins the game. Instead what cost them the game was the next at-bat.
“My job is to throw strikes and get outs,” he said after the game. “I do feel that I put my teammates in a position they shouldn’t have been in.”
No real closer
The Twins have a great bullpen, but for the past few seasons they have not had a closer who they can fully depend on. Yes, Rogers has been their go-to guy in the past, but while he has had success early, he started to slip later in the season.
In the past they have been missing too many other pieces to give attention to the closer. But now with a roster full of hitters, defensive stars and stronger starting pitching, there is more focus on the ninth inning. The analytically-inclined will say teams should play matchups in high-leverage situations. Anecdotally, many former players will say one pitcher should have that role.
The Twins can come back and win this series, but they will continue to struggle until they can find someone who can shut down teams late in games no matter the situation.