Rocco Baldelli can only fill out the lineup. There’s nothing he can do about the Twins offense producing four solo home runs during a three-game sweep by the Yankees and batting .107 with runners in scoring position — especially after watching them hit 307 home runs and average 5.8 runs a game during the regular season.
But Baldelli, the rookie manager, is not unlike his peers in that everything he does is up for scrutiny, especially in the postseason. And there were things to dissect after the Twins’ final game of the year.
On Monday, he gave the ball to Jake Odorizzi, who was passed over at Yankee Stadium, and watched Odorizzi boost his free-agent market value with five sharp innings during which he gave up two earned runs: One on a Gleyber Torres home run that barely cleared the wall in left in the second inning and one on an RBI single by Brett Gardner that should have never happened.
Baldelli decided to remove Odorizzi after five innings and 82 pitches when it looked as if he had enough in the tank to pitch at least one more inning. To that effect, he treated Odorizzi the same way he treated Jose Berrios in Game 1 — not allowing him to get a third trip through the order. Opponents hit .296 off Odorizzi the third time he went through the batting order during the season.
“We could have taken a chance and sent [Odorizzi] back out there, but we had a well-rested bullpen that was ready to go,” Baldelli said. “If we’re not in an elimination game in the playoffs, Odo is going to keep pitching in that game.”
So, in this there’s-no-tomorrow elimination game, Baldelli went to closer Taylor Rogers for a scoreless sixth, sent him back out for the seventh and saw him allow an RBI single by Didi Gregorius, which made it 3-1.
Rinse, repeat. Sergio Romo entered and pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Then he went back out for the ninth, gave up a home run to Cameron Maybin, was pulled with runners on first and third and ended up being charged with two earned runs.
With Trevor May — who replaced Romo in the ninth — Tyler Duffey and even rookie flame thrower Brusdar Graterol, there were bullets to fire to keep the game closer.
But pitching wasn’t the biggest problem Monday, as the Twins offense failed to represent itself.
Baldelli submitted the same lineup he did in Game 2, hoping that the group would be the right mix at the right time.
No hitter had a clear advantage over Yankees righthander Luis Severino, but history showed that lefthanded hitters had a batter chance against him. Baldelli made sure to get lefties Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Luis Arraez and Jake Cave in the lineup.
Cave was an interesting choice. The Twins thought long and hard about putting LaMonte Wade on the playoff roster over Cave, who has pop but has some hiccups in the field. It cost them in the third inning when Cave made an ill-advised dive on Gio Urshela’s sinking fly, turning a bloop single into a double. It wasn’t Cave’s first ill-advised dive of the year.
Urshela scored on Gardner’s single to left. That was a tough break, too, as Odorizzi got two strikes on Gardner, and the Twins changed their infield alignment, with third baseman Miguel Sano vacating the spot Gardner grounded to moments before the pitch was thrown.
There were other debatable moments in the series, such as using Cory Stashak and Kyle Gibson in Game 1 when trying to hold the line in the middle innings, starting Randy Dobnak in Game 2 in the most hostile environment in sports, and not giving Jonathan Schoop a start in either Game 1 or 2 when it appeared he had a favorable matchup with the Yankees starters
And maybe holding off on starting Odorizzi.
Some moves worked out for Baldelli throughout the series. Some definitely are up for debate. Especially when a team is playing in October.
“This is invaluable. Playing in the playoffs,” Baldelli said. “I’m going to take a lot out of it, and I hope our players do, too. I hope we are in this situation again next year.”
“You learn from what you’ve seen. And it can definitely be helpful.”