Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Beat Without A Sound For Twins

On May 29, the Minnesota Twins suffered one of the most embarrassing losses in club history. Leading 8-2 in the top of the 8th inning, the bullpen went on to allow 14 runs en route to a 16-8 defeat. At the center of the debacle was manager Paul Molitor's decision making, but there was no one around to hold him accountable.

The day following the meltdown, Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins was there. He called the game as it was, and lit Molitor up. Despite Minnesota bringing in Jason Wheeler, who was scheduled to pitch that day for Triple-A Rochester, Molitor went to a taxed bullpen and was given results that you may expect. Scoggins isn't a beat reporter, and he didn't need access to call the situation like it was. There's no way around it, Paul Molitor came up short.

It's been rehashed plenty, but for descriptive purposes, Molitor chose to go to Ryan Pressly with his six run lead. Pressly had thrown 51 pitches encompassing three of the clubs last four games. He was a part of a 15 inning marathon the day prior as well. He blew up for five runs. Craig Breslow and Matt Belisle then each allowed another three runs of their own despite also both participating in the marathon game a day prior. Wheeler, the healthy and scheduled arm, was never turned to, and heads were scratched.

In the days since, narratives from those on the Twins beat have been nothing short of excuses. There's been talk that Wheeler was nothing more than blowout insurance. Plenty have suggested that big league relievers should be able to get six outs, regardless of being tired. The general gist has been in defense of Molitor, a man that's made bullpen mismanagement the expectation rather than the exception. It has has added up to pose the question: Where does the beat actually fall short?

Newspaper outlets and online media alike have their guys that go into the clubhous and bring an extended version of access to the fans. While that's a great thing on the surface, there's a pretty clear conflict of interest at play as well. Despite Molitor being worthy of criticism and questioning, there was none to be found. We were given excuses and boiler plate remarks, and virtually the same information was conveyed no matter where you turn to for your daily reading. Accountability falls by the wayside, because the limits of the job come into play.

How can a beat writer go into the clubhouse and ask Paul Molitor why he stumbled on his bullpen usage, didn't turn to the right guy, and left his team out to dry? That same writer is going to have 50 something more games in which they are required to get quotes and interact for the purpose of their job. In ticking off a player or coach, that job becomes inherently more difficult to complete I'd imagine. Instead of being able to ask questions that produce real answers, the beat filters out the same boiler plate quotes across any number of writer to any number of outlets. We aren't given much in the way of insight, and there isn't any real thought provoked when prodding for answers.

Interestingly enough, the Star Tribune was at it again in another form just a day later. Patrick Reusse, another columnist and a guy not on the beat, called out Derek Falvey for simply shuffling deck chairs in the bullpen. Despite having arms with some sort of upside, the Twins have turned to the likes of Drew Rucinski, Buddy Boshers, and even Nick Tepesch. Reusse notes names such as Hildenberger, Curtiss, Busenitz, and Melotakis as options. These are players that could have a future in the Minnesota pen, but they've been spurned in favor of putting band-aids on bullet wounds.

In this scenario, Reusse takes aim at a bullpen that needed help going into the season, and one that has done less with more thus far. There hasn't been a slew of questions from those on the beat regarding why the Twins are playing with half the deck, or what those arms need to do to be in consideration. It's relatively clear to those watching the game closely that there's multiple options available, but right now, the Twins haven't called upon them. To question the strategy however, once again would open a beat reporter to scrutiny that could in turn hurt their job positioning.

At the end of the day, I think there's a need and a place for beat reporters in sports. They disperse information that is integral for the club to get out, and they are they immediately to garner reaction following competition. The unfortunate side of it is that there's a handful of journalists spouting the same quotes that have answers telling us little, and there's no one there to ask the questions needing to be addressed. Outside of an abrasive relationship with those you cover, there's probably not much to be done in order to get around this reality. There's no doubt though that a fresh perspective or a well appointed prodding question, no matter how it's received, is a breath of fresh air at times.