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Written By Brandon Warne (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski Photography
While the Minnesota Twins are a team with quite a few young players making their mark, they’re not completely without playoff experience.
Nelson Cruz played in the 2010 and 2011 World Series with the Texas Rangers, and reached the ALCS with the Baltimore Orioles in 2014.
Marwin Gonzalez has played in an American League Wild Card Game, Division Series, Championship Series and then won the World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017.
C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Jason Castro each have playoff experience. Heck, a large chunk of this roster appeared in the 2017 Wild Card Game against these same New York Yankees.
But for the players who’ll get their first taste of playoff experience on Friday in the Bronx — or sometime shortly thereafter — there are a number of storylines or thoughts to examine. They come from across all levels of experience, such as LaMonte Wade — a veteran of just 69 MLB plate appearances — to Kyle Gibson, who could be in his final days wearing a Twins uniform with free agency looming.
So between the visiting clubhouse in Kansas City and the media day at Target Field on Tuesday, Zone Coverage attempted to get a feel for what each of these guys are expecting on Friday in New York:
Catcher Mitch Garver
“The last, like, competitive playoff experience I had — I didn’t get to play in (the Wild Card Game) ’17 — was in college baseball. I just feel like being on that stage, the game is elevated. Everything is more scrutinized; every pitch matters. You can’t take anything for granted. I think that’s something we’re really looking forward to. We’ve proven ourselves throughout the season.
“Now it’s really time to put it to the test. Yes, we can go out there and our bullpen has really, really been good over the last month. We’ve been swinging the bat well for six months straight. Can we do it in a series of five games and win three of those games? You know? That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m excited to see our guys compete at that level. I really am.”
Relief Pitcher Tyler Duffey
“I wish I could tell you. It’s what you work for. It’s what everyone shows up saying in the spring. ‘We’re trying to make the postseason. We’re trying to do this or that. We’re trying to win however many games.’ It’s an opportunity we’ve obviously had in the minor leagues, but it’s never the same. Their crowd gets after it. It’s gonna be fun. I was there for the Wild Card Game. I made sure even just walking out to the bullpen to take in that moment. It’s just special. They’re loud; they know baseball. That’s what’s fun too. The fans know the game. They know how to cheer without being provoked. It’s something special. Going to New York, it’s going to be a blast.”
How do you think your perspective has changed from starting the season in Rochester to this point: “I knew I was there for a reason. I was making a full change basically of what I was trying to do. Once I grasped it, I knew I just needed to get up there. I felt great, was attacking and felt good when I was pitching. It was just getting an opportunity, and once I got up here, I kinda didn’t look back. But I remind myself. You have to remind yourself where you were. Once you forget, that’s when bad stuff starts happening. You gotta stay humble, because the game will let you know when you’re not. No matter what. We just gotta keep it going. Today is today, and tomorrow is a new day.”
Second baseman Luis Arraez
“I’m not looking for any specific experiences. I’m just looking to stay focused and help the team win as much as possible.”
How surprising is it to be in this position given where your season started: “I’m super proud and happy I was given the opportunity to be here. I’m contributing and we’re going to the playoffs. I’m excited.”
Outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr.
“It’d be amazing. Coming into this year I didn’t think I’d be in this spot honestly, you know. Now that we’re here, we’re living it. That’d be unbelievable, especially if my parents make it out there. That would mean the world to me. I’d just be honored just to have the opportunity to be out there. I’m just looking forward to going out there with our guys, going out there and hearing the fans, the crowd and living in the moment. Playing in the atmosphere and competing. At the end of the day, it’s the same game, we just have to slow it down and compete and do our best.”
Third baseman Miguel Sano
“I’m so excited to come here this year. God gave me an opportunity to compete in the playoffs. It’s a big moment for us, the whole team. I hope we can do an amazing job out there, and keep winning so we can be a championship team.”
What are you expecting in your first at-bat or the first time you field a grounder: “It’s my first time in the MLB playoffs, but I’ve played in other playoffs before. I won’t be as nervous, but it’ll be crazy. I played in the Dominican playoffs this year. There’ll be big moments. I’m so excited. I hope we do a great job out there.”
Relief pitcher Zack Littell
“I hope it’s like just another game. Obviously I anticipate there being a little more nerves and stuff. I think this is what every kid plays for their whole life. I’ve been looking forward to it all year, just trying to get on there (the playoff roster). Not that I didn’t think it was possible, but being a starter at the beginning of the year I definitely thought it’d be a lot harder for me to get onto the playoff roster. Then I got moved to the bullpen and everything came together. So just getting here was a big goal. At this point, we’ve all seen how the bullpen has performed. That’s everybody. Not just talking about the top-four guys, or even me, or (Cody) Stashak or (Brusdar) Graterol. Everyone is throwing well. Hopefully we can keep that going through the playoffs.”
Any added intrigue since you were once a Yankee: “You’re not the first to ask me that. I never played in the big leagues with the Yankees, so I don’t necessarily have that motivation to just go in there and beat ’em or something like that. I’ll see some guys I know, and it’ll be cool to pitch at Yankee Stadium because it’s Yankee Stadium. I’ve never been to the new Yankee Stadium. As a fan I went to the last game at the old Yankee Stadium.”
Oh wow, you had no idea you’d ever be a Yankee at that point: “I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. It’ll be cool to be at Yankee Stadium. We got to go to Fenway and that was pretty cool, but a playoff game at Yankee Stadium…I don’t think too many people get to experience that. I mean I would even say that in the game there are probably only a handful of people who’ve played a playoff game at Yankee Stadium. So that’ll be pretty cool. I’m hoping that performance-wise, just going out there it’s another game. I think that’s the best way to approach it. I’m sure it won’t feel like that, but going into it that’s what we’re going to work for.”
Outfielder Jake Cave
“I don’t know if I can give a specific example, but one of my goals forever has been to play in the World Series. To get there, you have to get through the playoffs. So it’s something I’ve always dreamed about. It’s going to be cool. There’s going to be a ton of people. The whole world is watching. It’s the best against the best. I don’t know what else you could want.”
You’ve played some high pressure games this season, how will this compare: “I’ve never been to the playoffs, so I don’t know. But I can’t imagine that regardless of how many times you play in that many big games…I mean it’s still the playoffs. I feel like it doesn’t even come close. Everybody is going to be wanting it or will be excited. But I’m sure everybody is going to take it like every other day.
Going back to New York, your thoughts: That’d be really cool. That’d be awesome. Yankee Stadium, in the playoffs…to win some games there. I think we can beat anybody.”
Plus it’s your old organization: “Yeah, that’s cool. I still talk to those guys and stuff. That’ll be cool to see them on the biggest stage. It’ll be a lot of fun. I’m still close with Aaron Judge, Mike Ford, Didi Gregorius, Tyler Wade and some of the other guys.”
Relief pitcher Trevor May
“It’s going to be cool. I’ll try to take it all in. It’s looking like it’ll be one of those atmospheres that you grew up looking at. Yankee Stadium in the playoffs, and all that kind of stuff. I’m really just going to try to be in the moment and enjoy as much I can. You just don’t know how many of these opportunities you’re going to get. I’ll just go from there.”
Will it take a while to sink in that you pitched in a playoff game once it happens: “I don’t think so. It’s just not different enough. We’ve played a lot of really important games to this point — must-win games with the team chasing us the whole time. It was kind of a lot of high-stress innings to this point. I think we’re well primed to be successful.”
Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson
“It’s something that we’ve thought about quite a bit around here. Unfortunately, in 2017 it didn’t line up for me to pitch in the Wild Card. Had we won, I’d have been in the ALDS. But it’s exciting. It’s one of those things. That type of atmosphere and against really good teams, you dream of it quite a bit. It’s something you prepare yourself for each and every year to hopefully make it there.”
Could be the end of your Twins time, and you’ve gone through a lot — Tommy John, struggles, 2019 health — will it be sweeter? Will it be bittersweet? How do you feel: I don’t know if it’s necessarily sweeter or even bittersweet. Everything happens for a reason. It didn’t work out for us in 2015. We were close that year. It didn’t work out in 2017. I think it just shows you can have really good teams, and for whatever reason it just doesn’t work out. You just can’t take anything for granted. If there’s anything the few injuries I’ve had or this year have really re-engrained in me is that you just can’t take anything for granted. You have to go out there. For the most part, I think I’ve done well. You just don’t know when your last outing is going to be. So you go out there and give it all you can for as many pitches as you can. You leave it all out there. Like I say, you just can’t take anything for granted. You just never know when winning a division or this kind of scenario is going to come up again.”