CHICAGO – Baseball’s operations manual for this pandemic season doesn’t specifically mention splashing champagne or hugging teammates, but the social-distancing guidelines and limits on the number of people allowed to be in a room at once seem to prevent it. So Mitch Garver is resigned to a scaled-down celebration once the Twins wrap up their third playoff spot in four years.
“You can count on me carrying about six beers into the shower and spraying them all over the place,” Garver said Friday.
With 31 victories entering Friday, Twins can mathematically clinch one of eight AL playoff spots with just two more victories, or losses by the Tigers and Mariners, an achievement that doesn’t deserve to be minimized just because the playoffs have been expanded, their manager said.
“Any time you clinch anything in Major League Baseball, it’s cause to celebrate,” Rocco Baldelli said. “The amount of time and energy and sacrifice that people put in to get to this point of their careers, you should take a few minutes or an hour or a night to [celebrate], because the memories will stay with you forever. And you earned them.”
Just don’t expect the over-the-top revelry that normally accompanies such an occasion, not this year. The Dodgers clinched an NL playoff spot on Wednesday, and pointedly did not celebrate in the clubhouse. The White Sox were the first AL team to qualify on Thursday, and kept their festivities private.
The Twins’ celebration “is going to look differently if it happens,” Baldelli said. “If we’re lucky enough to celebrate, you’re going to have to probably abide by a few more precautions. We’ll wait and see what it looks like when it finally happens. If it finally happens.”
It’s hard for Garver to quantify which has been worse this season: The month he spent hitting .154, trying to figure out what was wrong, or the month he spent on the injured list with a sore intercostal muscle in his ribs. But it’s not hard for him to describe how he will approach the final 10 days.
“I’m going to treat these last eight games as a new season,” Garver said Friday, shortly after being activated from the injured list. “I can’t worry about the stats. Can’t worry about the home runs, RBI, batting average. It’s not important at this point. Most important is getting into the playoffs and being healthy for that push.”
Still, Garver said he feels far better now, after thoroughly examining his swing and testing it in about 20 at-bats against Twins extra players in St. Paul, than he did at the start of the season. He has changed the position of his shoulders in order to correct his swing angle. He has looked at video of his hands, and tried to recreate his “back-through-the-box” swing.
“I feel way more comfortable” now, Garver said.
With Garver healthy, the Twins optioned Willians Astudillo to St. Paul, choosing to keep rookie Ryan Jeffers and Alex Avila. “The three-catcher setup allows us to make some moves when we want, and also have several good options behind the plate,” Baldelli said. “We don’t have a set plan, as far as playing time or at-bats.”
Odorizzi in waiting
Jake Odorizzi was placed on the injured list Friday, an acknowledgment that the wound on his right middle finger would prevent him from making a start on normal rotation early next week. But Odorizzi insists he’ll be ready if he’s needed on Sept. 27, the season’s final day, and definitely for the playoffs.
“It’s basically waiting, letting skin heal. … If the last game of the season is an important game, I’m ready to pitch that game.”