All I've heard over the past few weeks is how every bullpen in the major leagues is looking for help, how most of them are overworked and struggling. And guess what: it's false, at least for your hometown nine, the Minnesota Twins. You may contend that they had a lot of trouble early in the season, and you'd be right. The thing is that since mid-to-late May, we found a group of arms that get to Joe Nathan with consistency. And lo and behold, since May 21, the team is 24-17 and moved into second place in the Central Division. And Nathan? He's got 16 saves over that span after notching just six in the previous seven weeks.
Let's have a look at our fearsome five - our quintet of bat-missing mavericks who've combined to lock down late innings in reliable fashion. And I'll present them as different types of meat, because I'm grilling out tonight. (stats as of Wednesday night, July 8)
Filet Mignon: Joe Nathan. You can't screw it up… filet mignon is great no matter how you cook it. You don't need spices and you don't need sauces, but when you add them, it still improves. In the same way, Joe Nathan is a masterpiece of a pitcher, but with a sound bullpen around him, he becomes all the more lethal to the opposition. Since May 21, Nathan has tossed 18 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, and he's been about as dominant as anyone could hope for with an astounding 28:2 K/BB ratio over that span. Folks, when a pitcher doesn't put runners on base, and strikes out exactly half of the batters he faces, he can't be touched. That's what Nathan is doing, and when the other guys bridge the 7th and 8th inning gap, the game is virtually over.
Pork Tenderloin: Jose Mijares. If you cook a tenderloin just right - maybe let it sit in a brine a few hours, then grill it up - then you're bound to enjoy a juicy, delicious dinner. But pork is a fickle meat… you have to watch it because overcooking makes it taste like a boot. Señor Mijares came to the dinner table a little too often this past offseason, but has since returned a different man after a little Triple-A seasoning. When used in the right situations - a change of pace or against lefties - he's become dominant since May. Consider that he's only given up two runs in the past 16 games. Pretty solid for a guy who came to Spring Training looking completely unready to face major-league competition.
Burgers: Matt Guerrier. Everyone can make a burger, but not everyone can do it right. You can slap together a patty in five seconds, or add sauces and spices to the mix before flames ever char the meat. Matty-G learned this tough lesson last year… nibbling is great if you have pinpoint accuracy, but when you miss, the results can be disastrous. Thus, Guerrier came into 2009 with a different plan - make 'em hit the ball and let your defense do the dirty work. Since late May, he's thrown a larger percentage of strikes (69% in 2009 vs. 62% in 2008) and as a result, walked batters far less. This, of course, has led to less runners on base when he does give up the inevitable hit. Since May 20, Guerrier has even held batters to a .191 batting average against and just three extra base hits in his 20 innings pitched.
Beef Jerky: R.A. Dickey. When you're looking for a snack, beef jerky almost always fits the bill, but in large doses, can provide you with horrible gut rot. And we know Dickey is the same way, baffling batters with that wicked knuckler for an inning or so after the starter has been removed. Of course, when he's asked to go through the lineup more than once, the lack of velocity catches up with him. Still, since May he's posted a sparkling 2.45 ERA and struck out 14 batters in his 18 1/3 innings pitched.
Chicken: Bobby Keppel. Always good, and goes with everything. I like what I see with Keppel, and I'd like another helping, please. In his brief major league cup o' coffee, he's appeared four times and thrown 11 1/3 scoreless innings, with three of the outings spanning over two full innings. He's becoming a reliable option in the bullpen, and that, of course, is a good thing.
Enjoy your Friday before the White Sox series starts!