How will the Twins replace Joe Nathan at closer?

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Joe Nathan is likely headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery and suddenly the Twins are faced with replacing a closer who’s converted 91 percent of his save chances with a 1.87 ERA during six seasons in Minnesota.

Truly replacing Nathan will be impossible, because few closers in baseball history have had a six-year stretch that dominant, but bullpen depth was a strength for the Twins before he went down and they now have a handful of capable in-house options to choose from in the ninth inning …

  • Jose Mijares was often billed as a “future closer” in the minors and had a 2.34 ERA in 62 innings as a rookie, but Ron Gardenhire may be hesitant to trust a second-year southpaw who allowed right-handers to bat .283 with a .791 OPS against him.
  • Matt Guerrier has been one of the league’s best setup man in six years with the Twins, posting a 3.41 ERA in 401 innings, but his raw stuff isn’t overpowering and Gardenhire may not like the idea of yanking him from primary (and often multi-inning) setup duties for a role he’s never filled before.
  • Jon Rauch looks like a closer at 6-foot-11 with neck tattoos and has the most closing experience in the group, but even that basically amounts to 17 saves with the Nationals in 2008 and his raw stuff is much closer to Guerrier than Nathan.
  • Jesse Crain was once thought of as a future closer and has the mid-90s fastball for the job, but struggled his way to a mid-season demotion to Triple-A last year and has never been particularly consistent or reliable even in a setup role.
  • Pat Neshek was dominant as a setup man with a 2.91 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 121 innings, but is coming back from Tommy John surgery of his own and just saw his first post-surgery game action last week. As a side-armer his relative susceptibility versus lefties is also a potential issue.
  • Francisco Liriano was moved to the bullpen last year after struggling as a starter, but if he looks good enough to be a closer option the Twins will want him back in the rotation and if he doesn’t impress enough to win a rotation spot they won’t trust him in the ninth inning.

Handicapping the situation is tough, because Gardenhire hasn’t given any hints and the most experienced, trustworthy options also have the least impressive raw stuff. I’d likely go with a closer-by-committee approach that used Mijares whenever lefties are due up, but Gardenhire seems likely to prefer one man for the job and it wouldn’t be surprising if Rauch’s previous closing experience, however brief, gives him the edge initially.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason


Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.