WC loss shows Twins' need to add 'pen depth

After Santana's tough start, Minnesota relievers asked to carry big load

WC loss shows Twins' need to add 'pen depth

NEW YORK -- While the Twins featured a potent offense and an improved defense en route to their surprise run to the postseason in 2017, pitching depth -- especially in the bullpen -- was an issue.

Never was that more evident than in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, when neither starter lasted beyond the second inning and the win-or-go-home game turned into a battle of the bullpens.

It was the Yankees who had the stable of bullpen arms, which got the final 26 outs of the game, limiting the Twins to one run after their three-run first in an 8-4 victory. It ended Minnesota's season and extended the Twins' postseason losing streak to 13 consecutive games.

Date Score Highlights
Oct. 3 NYY 8, MIN 4 Watch

"What they were able to do with the bullpen is impressive," said catcher Jason Castro. 'It's something that's starting to grow in baseball with shutdown guys who come in and pitch like they did. It's a tough thing to come back from."

It's evident that improving the bullpen will be a top priority for the Twins this offseason, as closer Matt Belisle is a free agent and the club didn't have a single reliever who pitched at least 40 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA. Their bullpen ERA of 4.40 ERA also tied for 20th in the Majors. Minnesota lacks high-end velocity, as starter Jose Berrios -- used in relief -- threw its hardest pitch of the night at 97 mph; New York threw 60 pitches harder than that.

"That's becoming part of the game," second baseman Brian Dozier said. "You have to keep up and get ahead of everybody else. That's one of the best bullpens I've ever seen. But as far as velo, that's always great, but I like to make sure guys have heart and passion."

There is at least a young core in place, as rookies Trevor Hildenberger and Alan Busenitz emerged as dependable relievers and Taylor Rogers remains a solid lefty, but the bullpen was otherwise mostly inconsistent and hurt by the trade of All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July. Hildenberger could become the club's closer, but it'll look to add veteran relief options both in free agency and trade.

"Some of the youth we have in the bullpen is very exciting," Castro said. "Hildenberger wasn't even in big league camp, and the way he threw all season was impressive. Booze and Rog, same thing, they have great stuff. I think them seeing postseason experience was good and will only benefit them going forward."

Castro on early offense in loss

The Twins' lack of bullpen options forced manager Paul Molitor to turn to Berrios in the third inning after veteran right-hander Ervin Santana struggled through two innings, allowing four runs, including a game-tying three-run homer to Didi Gregorius in the first. It was only the second career relief appearance for Berrios, and while he showed flashes with four strikeouts over three innings, he surrendered three runs, including a two-run shot from Aaron Judge in the fourth.

Molitor mixed and matched from there, with Hildenberger allowing a run over 1 1/3 innings, while Rogers and Busenitz recorded an out and Belisle threw a scoreless eighth.

Hildenberger expresses gratitude

"We can definitely learn from that," Hildenberger said. "We have some good core pieces, for sure. There will be some additions and subtractions that will come and go, but right now we have a good group. If we can get better and work on weaknesses and add to their strengths, we'll be pretty good."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.