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Twins' postseason slide extended by nemesis

Bomba Squad hits 3 HRs before Yankees break it open vs. bullpen
@dohyoungpark
October 5, 2019

NEW YORK -- The Twins brought their record-breaking home run power to the postseason, as advertised, with three bombas at Yankee Stadium. But the turnover and relative lack of experience in the bullpen was also a story of this season in Minnesota, and that came into play when three inexperienced

NEW YORK -- The Twins brought their record-breaking home run power to the postseason, as advertised, with three bombas at Yankee Stadium.

But the turnover and relative lack of experience in the bullpen was also a story of this season in Minnesota, and that came into play when three inexperienced relievers had wild postseason debuts that gave the Yankees’ deep, powerful offense simply too many opportunities in a 10-4 loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday night.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 4 NYY 10, MIN 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 5 NYY 8, MIN 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 7 NYY 5, MIN 1 Watch

The Twins dropped their 14th consecutive playoff contest to establish the longest such streak in postseason history. They have now lost 11 straight games to the Yankees in October, dating back to 2004.

Box score

Minnesota’s bullpen had been among the best in baseball in the second half, with young relievers contributing heavily to a combined 4.8 WAR after the All-Star break, per FanGraphs, which represented the best mark in baseball by a wide margin.

But three of those relievers -- rookies Zack Littell and Cody Stashak and converted starter Kyle Gibson -- received a trial by fire in their first taste of the postseason, combining to allow seven runs as the Yankees blew the game open in the middle innings.

“These are guys we have leaned on heavily throughout the year,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We're going to continue to lean on them heavily. We're going to see them back out there and throwing in important situations. ... But our guys are resilient. Our guys have had outings here and there over the course of the year that didn't go as planned, and they come right back, and they're ready to go.”

One positive from Friday night’s bullpen usage is that most of the Twins’ late-inning core of relievers -- Tyler Duffey (who worked one inning in Game 1), Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers -- should be fresh and available for Game 2 on Saturday, when Minnesota will find itself needing to more aggressively defend close leads -- or deficits -- to avoid returning home for Game 3 in a deep deficit.

In formulating their pitching plan throughout the regular season, Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson established a clear demarcation with their usage of Rogers and Romo in particular. Of Rogers’ 60 appearances this season, 50 have come with the Twins on top. Romo has been used with a lead in 22 of his 27 outings in Minnesota.

Could that change for Game 2, with many of the Twins’ lower-leverage arms having been used unsuccessfully in a close game on Friday?

“It could,” Baldelli said. “We don't generally commit to anything early, but I think there's a chance that we end up running some of our guys that have pitched very late in the game. We could run them out there, probably still reasonably late in the game, but maybe push them up a little bit.”

Several factors played into Baldelli and the Twins dipping deeper into their bullpen depth on Friday. The Yankees laid off tough pitches and made Twins starter José Berríos labor for his outs, with the 25-year-old ace needing 88 pitches to navigate four innings.

A missed catch by first baseman C.J. Cron on a potential inning-ending double play in the third inning not only led to the tying and go-ahead runs scoring to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead, but it also extended Berríos’ inning by a batter. Earlier in the frame, second baseman Luis Arraez couldn’t corral a popup in shallow right field to key New York’s rally.

“I thought our guys did a good job of controlling the zone tonight, seeing a lot of pitches, not trying to do too much,” Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner said. “Up and down the lineup, we did a real good job of getting Berríos out of there and getting into their bullpen.”

All that resulted in Baldelli needing to go to his bullpen early, and he said after the game that the Twins felt both Littell and Stashak would need to pitch in important situations in the game as a result. They opted to turn to Littell first.

Littell, who only had four walks in the second half, emerged from Minnesota’s bullpen in a tie game in the fifth inning, and he issued a walk and hit a batter before Gleyber Torres cashed in both runners with a two-run double. Stashak entered an inning later with the Twins trailing by one and allowed homers to DJ LeMahieu and Gardner.

“I didn’t trust my stuff,” Littell said. “I was trying to be perfect. It’s a good lineup, and they took good pitches. It made me think I had to make perfect pitches.”

Gibson entered for the seventh inning having averaged 3.2 walks per nine innings this season. He walked the bases loaded, and the Yankees, again, took advantage when LeMahieu drove a bases-clearing double to the left-field corner to open up the lead.

In the history of best-of-five postseason series, the team that has lost Game 1 has rallied to win the series 37 of 132 times (28 percent).

The Twins’ bullpen depth couldn’t come through in their first pressure test. But if the Twins are to make a deep run in the postseason, they won’t just be able to ride Duffey, Romo, Rogers and May through October. That could again prove necessary in Game 2, when rookie Randy Dobnak will make his first career postseason start -- and just his sixth start in the Majors.

Baldelli could lean on his higher-leverage arms more aggressively on Saturday, but the Twins will also hope that their less experienced arms can bounce back, as they have all season.

“You can hear how to prepare and how to get ready,” Duffey said. “But it’s weird. Until you get out there in it, you don’t know how you’re going to react. There are a lot of guys in this clubhouse, it’s their first time in this. I mean, they’re loud, they’re loud for no reason a lot of times. It’s fun to pitch in this, but it’s hard to be ready for it.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.