If you felt like the Twins didn’t play very much during the first month-and-a-half of this season, you are correct. If you’re worried about the future consequences of that … well, we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s a valid concern after a quirky start to the year.
Because of four weather postponements and six scheduled off days between the start of the Twins’ season (April 3) and Wednesday, the Twins played just 35 games in that 45-day stretch.
By contrast, the average MLB team had played 39.8 games entering Thursday. No other team had played fewer than 37 and two of them — the Rays and Angels — had played 43 games, eight more than the Twins already.
But with three of those postponements rescheduled as doubleheaders in the next month-and-a-half — with the first one being played Thursday against Colorado — and just three scheduled off days in the same span, the Twins embarked Thursday on a stretch in which they will have 53 scheduled games in a 53-day span leading into the All-Star Break.
Playing that many times as the weather (allegedly) begins to heat up can cause wear-and-tear on players. But the Twins’ pitching staff figures to be tested the most.
The Twins entered Thursday with 4.09 ERA from starters, 10th-best in the majors. But owing to some short starts and the nature of baseball these days, their starters were only averaging 5 1/3 innings pitched per game.
They’ve been able to get away with routinely asking for a lot of outs from relievers because of all the off days (and secondarily because entering Thursday the Twins had only played one extra-inning game all year, and that one ended in the 10th).
Their bullpen, while not great with a collective 4.72 ERA entering Thursday (22nd in the majors), at least hasn’t been overworked. In situations where they’ve needed outs in close games, the Twins have been able to use fresh pitchers they wanted to use. And in a lot of cases, in spite of that inflated bullpen ERA, those pitchers have delivered. Improved pitching numbers have keyed the Twins’ rise to first in the AL Central.
But playing 53 games in 53 days presents challenges for both starters and relievers.
For the starters, it puts pressure on them to work deeper into games. And while rainouts and off days so far allowed the Twins to sometimes avoid using underachieving or untested pitchers, now they will have situations where they need fill-in starters because doubleheaders throw off the normal schedule for days of rest. The first of those situations will come Monday thanks to Thursday’s doubleheader.
And if starters falter — or merely can’t work deep into games — relievers will wear down and/or less-than-optimal options will be called upon in key situations. It was important in the big picture, for instance, that Ervin Santana was able to pitch seven innings in Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader despite giving up early runs against Colorado.
We will see if the Twins have the pitching depth to withstand this stretch. After it’s over, they’ll get four days off from July 10-13 for the break. Then their post-break schedule includes 74 games in 80 days — a test, but not the kind of grind they’re facing now.
Then again, with more rain in the forecast for this weekend’s series with Kansas City, who knows what other scheduling surprises and challenges await.