DETROIT – If you count hangover management and rookie rewards, the Twins actually began the process of preparing for their first American League Division Series since 2010 on Thursday. But there’s a lot to accomplish this weekend at Kansas City, too.
Pitchers must receive enough work to keep their arms in shape. Injuries must be treated or rested, and hitters need a certain number of at-bats to stay sharp. And most of all, the 37 players who got to enjoy pouring beer on each other’s heads after Wednesday night’s clinching must be whittled down to a 25-man playoff roster.
And that won’t be easy, Rocco Baldelli said.
“There are multiple things, several things that are still to be decided. And it’s things we’re going to need to think over,” the Twins manager said. “Playoff rosters look different depending on who you’re playing against. … We’ll wait probably until the last second to make those calls.”
They will know soon enough where they are headed for next Friday’s opener, and it’s almost certainly their usual destination: The Bronx, where they have played, and lost, four playoff series and a wild-card game in two different Yankee Stadiums over the past 16 seasons.
That gives some on-the-fence players a weekend to convince Baldelli, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey, and a conference room full of coaches and advisers that they deserve one of the 25 roster spots.
Ehire Adrianza, for instance. The backup infielder aggravated an oblique strain on Sept. 12. Adrianza, whose lone playoff appearance was as a pinch hitter in the Twins’ wild-card loss to the Yankees in 2017, has been working to return in time to help again, and said after taking ground balls and batting-cage swings in Detroit that he’s feeling good again. He intends to prove it this weekend, when he has been told he will probably play twice.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not up to me,” Adrianza said. “But I want to show them I can help.”
The games might have extra meaning as well to Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr., for instance, two players who might be battling for a single fourth outfielder spot. And there are perhaps a half-dozen relief pitchers, and a couple of starters, too, who aren’t certain yet whether they will be coming along next week. Rookie Brusdar Graterol got another chance to make his case for the jury Thursday, retiring three Tigers on seven pitches, six of them sliders.
Those who are sure of a spot will pitch against the Royals this weekend, in a scripted schedule that might resemble spring training.
“Our relievers are going to probably get regular work. We might line their work up to make sure that we’re optimizing when they throw and how much they throw,” Baldelli said. “Thinking about what we’re going to do in those first two or three playoff games is going to affect what we’re going to do over the next couple of days, too. Basically, pitching-wise, some of is going to be firmly mapped out.”
Jose Berrios has been told to expect to start Game 1 of the playoffs, though Baldelli made it clear that’s not yet a certainty. Berrios’ two career starts in Yankee Stadium have gone badly — a 9.82 ERA, with neither outing lasting past four innings. And he also gave up three runs in three innings in relief of Ervin Santana in the 2017 wild-card game, including a two-run homer by Aaron Judge. Berrios is scheduled to start Friday’s game vs. the Royals, which would be an indication that he will indeed receive the Game 1 honors.
Who will be in the lineup behind him seems more settled, but with a few caveats. The week off gives more time for C.J. Cron’s thumb, Marwin Gonzalez’s oblique and Max Kepler’s shoulder to heal, but Baldelli and his staff must decide how much rest is too much.
“It’s balancing health, making sure that guys who are kind of beat up get a chance to catch up. But also, you do have to get some at-bats,” Baldelli said. “You’ve got to go out and play and stay sharp, and see some pitches, pick up some ground balls — I feel you do have to get out there and play, because if you don’t, you’re talking five or six days without any action. That’s too long to just take off.”
Health, organization, preparation — those are the goals for this weekend. What’s not so important? Catching the 1965 Twins, whose 102 victories remain the most in franchise history, or even simply reaching 100.
“That’s not really the goal here. If it happens, that would be really nice,” Baldelli said. But “we’re going to get ourselves lined up as best we can going forward, and I hope that leads to some wins. If it doesn’t, there’s nothing we can really do about that. And that’s OK.”