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Zulgad: Pitching a fit: Twins’ starting woes leave little hope for playoff success

There was an outcry from this corner when Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey did not add a quality starting pitcher to his first-place club at the Major League trade deadline on July 31.

Falvey’s failure to acquire a guy like Marcus Stroman or Madison Bumgarner was seen as a missed opportunity to improve a team with a lineup that was on pace to establish the single-season home run record. The theory was that a top-line starter could have slotted in above or below Jose Berrios and bumped everyone else down a notch, creating a staff that would have had to be respected entering the playoffs.

Nearly a month later, Falvey looks like he might have made the right move by not giving up a top prospect for pitching, but it’s not because his current starting staff has been doing its job.

Just the opposite.

The Twins’ rotation has gone into a such free fall that Stroman or Bumgarner, who was not moved by the San Francisco Giants, likely would been looking around at this point and saying, “Why did you bother?”

Berrios gave up nine runs in 5.2 innings to Atlanta on Aug. 6 — one start after not surrendering any runs and only two hits in seven innings at Miami — and the public panic was met with this bit of reassurance. Berrios is allowed a bad start here and there. He’s the Twins’ ace and he’s on his way to being a big-league ace so just calm down. Yes, that came from me. A guy long ago dubbed “Panic” by colleague Patrick Reusse.

Guess what? I was wrong. Berrios not only hasn’t rebounded from that poor start, he has gone into such a meltdown that the Twins’ front office has to be questioning if the team wants to approach the Berrios’ camp this offseason with a long-term contract offer designed to lock up some of his “prime” years.

Berrios’ latest flop came Friday night at Target Field in a 9-6 loss to the woeful Detroit Tigers. Berrios didn’t look sharp early but avoided giving up runs to a team that struggles to score them and thus had a 3-0 lead entering the top of the sixth. It all came crashing down as the righthander gave up a two-run double to Dawel Lugo and later a grand slam to Ronny Rodriguez on a breaking pitch that he hung.

It’s one thing to get shelled by the Braves but it’s another to get hit by a Tigers team that is last in the big leagues with 461 runs. Berrios is now 0-2 in four starts in August with an 8.44 ERA, having given up 32 hits, 24 runs, 20 earned, 10 walks and six home runs.

The problem is that there is nobody to pick up the pieces. Do you trust Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Martin Perez or Michael Pineda?

The Twins could have won two of three games against the White Sox this week, except for the fact that Gibson served up a juicy pitch to Jose Abreu in the third inning on Monday that was belted 442 feet for a three-run homer in a 6-4 loss. This came with Jon Jay hitting in the cleanup spot and due up next. Jay entered Monday with no homers on the season and yet, with first base open and two outs, Gibson elected to get cute with Abreu.

Since the trade deadline, Odorizzi has been the Twins’ best pitcher. He’s 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA in four starts, having given up seven earned runs in 22.1 innings In his most recent start, Odorizzi labored through five innings against the White Sox, throwing 104 pitches in five innings in a 4-0 loss.

Pineda, who had spent time on the injured list, has made three starts since the deadline and is 2-0 with a 4.00 ERA (eight earned runs in 18 innings). Gibson is 1-2 with a 5.96 ERA (15 earned runs in 22 innings) in four starts and Perez is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA (14 earned runs in 22 innings) in four starts.

So do you start Odorizzi in Game 1 of the playoffs and hope for the best? Do you pray Berrios’ struggles end in time that he can get back to the top. Is Pineda your best bet? The Twins hold a 2.5-game lead on Cleveland in the AL Central after the Indians beat Kansas City, 4-1, on Friday night. The Indians were coming off being swept by the Mets, and with Cleveland playing Kansas City and the Twins playing Detroit the assumption had to be that both Cleveland and Minnesota would win.

Only one team held up its end of the bargain and it’s wasn’t the Twins. The Twins scored six runs and hit four more home runs. It should have been enough to beat the Tigers.

If the Twins can’t win a series against the White Sox or beat the Tigers with the guy who is supposed to be their top pitcher (Detroit is 37 games behind the Twins and has 39 wins!), how is Rocco Baldelli’s club going to win a playoff series?

With this starting staff they aren’t. The trade-deadline additions to the bullpen — Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson — might be improvements but it won’t matter. The lineup is having a season that almost certainly won’t be repeated anytime soon, but it doesn’t matter. And adding one starting pitcher (no matter how good) wouldn’t  have mattered either.

The rest of the staff, beginning with Berrios, appears incapable of providing the type of quality starts this team so desperately needs. That’s disappointing but the reality Twins fans must now accept is that any potential playoff appearance is destined to be a short one.





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