CHICAGO — Rocco Baldelli’s focus each day is that day’s game. So conversations about the playoffs, at least publicly, are to wait until the Minnesota Twins actually qualify for the playoffs.
But with the Twins destined for the playoffs and MLB releasing its new format and schedule on Tuesday, Sept. 15, Baldelli briefly talked about the playoffs, and admitted that some of what he saw was somewhat unexpected.
MLB has made the decision to bubble up, which was expected as the league attempts to cut down on possible COVID-19 risks and exposure. The first round will be played at home ballparks before the remaining National League teams will head off to Texas and the American League teams to Southern California.
That, while it might not be the most popular decision with players as MLBPA rep Taylor Rogers mentioned on Sunday, was expected. A lack of off days in between games during the Wild Card Series, American League Division Series and American League Championship Series was the surprise.
There are two off days built into the World Series, which will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“If you think you’re just going to lean on three starters and go out there and throw the same three or four relievers every game, I think you’re mistaken,” Baldelli said. “I think it’s certainly going to cause people to reassess some things and make some adjustments going forward and probably deal with a playoff situation a little bit differently than first planned.”
Baldelli said he thought his team, with its depth, was well equipped to handle it, pointing to the fact that the team has six starters — Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, Kenta Maeda, Randy Dobnak, Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi — with one more — Homer Bailey — on the way.
“I’d say the schedule is not what I personally expected to see. It was a little unexpected,” Baldelli said. “But again, we’ll react accordingly and take advantage of all of these different talented guys that can do different things.”
There’s still plenty the Twins have not found out yet. Contending clubs are reportedly supposed to go into quarantine during the last week of the season, which, for the Twins, would mean on Tuesday. He said he had spoken with Rogers, Odorizzi and Hill but there was still a lot left for them to look into and learn with the new playoff protocols.
“There’s so many different questions and variables and what ifs in the protocols and procedures going forward,” he said. “…It’s one of those books where you read a chapter and then you get to pick a direction to go in, then you read that chapter, you’re on an adventure.”
Travis Blankenhorn was on the field on Monday shagging fly balls when bench coach Mike Bell approached him. Bell tried to play it cool, telling Blankenhorn that Baldelli needed to talk to him.
“Who knows what he thought at that time?” Bell said. “He might have thought he had to drive back home to go the alternate site. Who knows?”
Instead, Baldelli had better news, telling the infielder shortly before Monday’s game that he would be promoted. Blankenhorn quickly called his parents and fiancée before getting back to work.
He made his major league debut on Tuesday, starting at second base.
“I mean it’s definitely an unreal moment,” Blankenhorn said. “Just finding out an hour before the game that, ‘Hey, you’re actually not going to be sitting in the stands today. You’re actually going to be sitting in the dugout’ was definitely a good feeling.”
The 24-year-old who hit .277 with a .321 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage between Class-A Advanced and Double-A last season is the Twins’ No. 18 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He can also play multiple positions.
“He’s gotten to a point where he’s a very competent second baseman, where you can feel good about him going out there and getting the job done,” Baldelli said. “Our ability to put him in the lineup comes down to his ability to be proficient in different spots. I’m looking forward to watching him go.”
Marwin Gonzalez (non-COVID illness) was out of the lineup again on Tuesday, but Baldelli said he was feeling better and will be available to return soon. … Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario were both back in the lineup on Tuesday after missing Monday’s game with minor injuries.