Since 1986, when Tom Kelly took over the Twins, it seems like the Twins have generally had decent bullpens (with the recent exception of 2008). But Kelly was hired at about the same time as "closer" Ron Davis was traded away. Coincidence?
Not to Twins fans who watched this team in the 80s it wasn't.
I don't remember a lot about teams in the mid-80s, and I'm pretty sure that's a defense mechanism. But I still shudder slightly at the words "Ron Davis." I vaguely remember working in kitchen of Big Boy on France, listening to the game, and feeling like I'd been kicked in the stomach, night after night.
I thought of this today while doing a little research on those mid-80s teams. The core of the 1987 team was put together during the early 80s, and by 1984 they were in the pennant race up until the final few games. Of course, they lost those final few games, including one in which they led 10-0. Guess who failed to close them out?
But there was still plenty of optimism starting the 1985 season. Instead the Twins struggled out of the gate, and manager Billy Gardner (who had coached the team since 1981) was fired in late June. The Twins record at that time was 27-35, and a lot of that had to do with Davis and the bullpen. Up until Gardner being fired, Davis had six saves versus five losses. Bringing him into a game was like flipping a coin.
For whatever reason, his performance improved significantly under new manager Ray Miller. He saved an additional 19 games and didn't blow a save again until late September. Similarly, the Twins also played better, tallying a .500 record under Miller and finishing in fourth place with a 77-85 record. Davis would save his really fantastic meltdowns for the next year, which I'm looking forward to researching the same way I look forward to remembering my last proctology exam.
Looking back at that core of players and the damage the bullpen did, I wonder if the Twins of 1985 and 1986 couldn't have been contenders those years too. I wonder if the bullpen didn't mask how good a team this really was, leading to the magic of 1987.