The postseason — Justin Verlander's outing Saturday for Houston notwithstanding — has put an exclamation point on the message of the regular season:
Starting pitchers matter less than bullpens. (!)
Chris Sale led the majors in innings with 214.1. Some 40 years ago, that would have left him at least 100 innings behind the leaders. As it is, he faded in September and struggled in the playoffs for the Red Sox, and there are those who think Boston will seek to limit his workload next season.
This trend matters when contemplating the outlook for the 2018 Twins. In this five-and-fly era, they are closer to an October-quality rotation than to an October-quality bullpen.
For generations, lineups have sought to get the starter out of the game and feast on the relievers. If you're playing the Yankees this month, you need to get your runs before the waves of relievers wash on shore and drown your opportunities. That was the case with the Indians as well, and the Royals during their brief tenure at the top of the American League.
Paul Molitor this year never had more than three relievers he cared to use in game situations, and the identity of those three changed from time to time.
Early on, he had Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers. By season's end, it was Trevor Hildenberger, Matt Belisle and Alan Busenitz, with Rogers downgraded to LOOGY work. Everybody else was essentially a mop-up man.
Molitor did well at maximizing the leverage of his favored relievers. He needs more of them.
Belisle and Kintzler, who was traded at the deadline, are both headed to free agency. It's quite possible the Twins will re-sign either or both of the 30-somethings. (I would only do one, preferably Kintzler.) But they are not really foundation pieces for a quality relief corps.
Hildenberger, with his unusual delivery and a killer changeup, looks like a foundation piece. Rogers, despite his July fade, may be. Busenitz's impressive ERA came despite a subpar strikeout rate, however; either the ERA or the K-rate is a fluke.
There are other bullpen arms of promise in this organization. We saw glimpses of Gabriel Moya and John Curtiss in September. Neither did well enough to force their way onto the wild-card game roster, but each has a higher ceiling than Buddy Boshers. So do the more heralded but injury-plagued Tyler Jay, J.T. Chargois and Nick Burdi. (Burdi will not pitch in 2018 after having Tommy John surgery.)
The Twins may bring in more veterans this winter. But the real solution should be found in the young'uns.