Wes Johnson, Chris Archer, and the current state of Twins pitching [5 Thoughts]
Ready or not, we’ll hit the mathematical halfway point of the season this weekend, as the Twins host the Baltimore Orioles in a battle of the two most improved pitching staffs in the American League (by ERA).
OK, so this series won’t get the same billing that 8 games with Guardians mustered.
But nonetheless that halfway point is a big deal in terms of using measuring sticks at somewhat arbitrary endpoints, and I mean that in full sincerity. I usually like to look up – or “come up for air” – at 40 games, on June 1, and then at the mathematical halfway point, which sets the stage for the trade deadline.
We’ve all got a lot on our mind at the latest juncture, so let’s get right into it.
This column presents 5 Thoughts on the Twins as we approach the 81-game mark, and depart the Wes Johnson Era in Minnesota.
1. Did the Twins just run out of pitchers?
After 11 games in 10 days – 8 against division rival Cleveland – it was hard to avoid the conclusion Thursday while watching Tyler Thornburg struggle through the late innings of a blown save in Cleveland.
The Twins just ran out of pitchers at the end of a bad stretch against an important team.
Archer, 90 pitches (4 innings)
Moran, 20 pitches (1 ⅓ innings)
Duffey, 28 pitches (1 ⅓ innings)
Thornburg 48 pitches in high leverage (1 ⅔ innings)
Moran was very good and Duffey was fantastic, both doing their part after a characteristic short start from Archer. Are you going to fault Thornburg for being put in that position? Let’s look at the circumstances that led to it instead.
Bundy, 83 pitches (5 innings)
Thielbar, 11 pitches (1 inning)
Jax, 16 pitches (1 inning)
Duran, 33 pitches (2 innings)
Pagan, 14 pitches (⅓ inning)
Cotton, 8 pitches (⅓ inning)
Similar to Thornburg, I’m not faulting Cotton for being put in that tough spot. He gets the blown save and the highlight reels, but that trouble – and Josh Naylor walkoff – were not all his doing. Pagan just finished what you would call a tough week at the office. And we can see here why Duran was not available for Thursday’s tilt. Moving on…
Smeltzer, 95 pitches (6 innings)
Winder, 81 pitches (6 innings)
Moran, 34 pitches (2 innings)
Jax, 21 pitches (1 inning)
Pagan, 22 pitches (technically 0 innings and his 5th blown save)
Duffey, 12 pitches (1 inning)
Thielbar, 10 pitches (1 inning)
This is why you hear teams complain about doubleheaders amid busy stretches. It really warps your pitching, and of course, it hurts too when one of your most trusted relievers (Pagan) is having a Very Bad Time. Combing this chart with Wednesday’s and you can also see why the Twins would have been without the services of Caleb Thielbar, Griffin Jax, Emilio Pagan, and Jhoan Duran on Thursday.
When you have roster space for 13 pitches (14 if you count the extra man for a doubleheader), and you use a 6-man starting rotation, and then tax your top-four trusted relievers in consecutive days, what you’re left with is what we got Thursday.
Archer getting to a season-high 90 pitches despite an off day for his command and control, leading to a 4-inning outing and extra coverage necessary from the middle-end of the bullpen. And then Thornburg pitching in a close game with the Twins on top in the 8th inning, giving up the lead, and then staying out there in a tie game to face the middle of Cleveland’s lineup for a 9th inning that did not end well.
2. Reader Terry asks: “How long can we go with Archer averaging under four innings and Ober and Bundy averaging less than five – with one less pitcher now – and contend in the Big Leagues?”
So how do the Twins move forward with their pitching, now that rosters are capped at 13 arms? First let’s turn to guys better equipped to answer that question. Then I’ll trot out a couple quick thoughts.
Rocco Baldelli acknowledged in an interview with Twins radio that the day rosters trimmed to allow “only” 13 pitchers was “a day that we weren’t looking forward to."