Ain't Their First Rodeo: The Perfect Storm of Seasoned Playoff Veterans
Image courtesy of David Richard-USA TODAY SportsIt was a sight that no baseball fan wants to see. Highly-touted prospect Edwar Colina had just exited his major league debut in a tight game against the Cincinnati Reds; and it wasn’t pretty. Recording just one out, Colina surrendered three runs on four hits and walked two, putting the nail in the coffin for a Reds win.
As the camera panned to a discouraged Colina in the Twins dugout a heartwarming sight prevailed. 40-year old veteran Rich Hill sat beside Colina and talked through the outing, probably offered advice, and without a doubt gave support that only a player who has seen it all like Rich Hill could offer.
Veteran leadership has been no stranger to the Twins this season. Whether it be Nelson Cruz strengthening the culture of the clubhouse through his contagious personality or Josh Donaldson boosting team morale with the investment of team robes (soon to come on Sotastick.com), the 2020 Twins have benefited on and off the field from having seasoned players on their team.
If there’s one thing that goes hand in hand with having veterans on the roster, it’s playoff experience. One could argue that’s one of the biggest reasons why the Twins have acquired names like Hill, Romo, Cruz, Maeda and Donaldson. Each one of these individuals carries a backpack full of experiences, successes and defeats that will be crucial for the Twins success in a postseason that has never been seen before.
As previously mentioned, the veteran left handed pitcher hailing from Boston has seen it all in his 16 year MLB career. Hill has played on nine different squads in his career, but is known by most for his rock solid performances in the Dodgers rotation and bullpen, specifically in 2018.
Hill has faced adversity on the field many times but the toughest challenge in his MLB tenure came in 2014 when he and his wife Caitlin lost their 2 month old son Brooks. Hill scripted a beautiful piece in the Players Tribune last year about his sonand started the ‘Field of Genes’ campaign with Caitlin to raise money for research on rare diseases.
Hill’s mental strength and experience will be valuable for the Twins as they enter fall baseball. As we saw with Colina, Hill has the opportunity to play a mentor role for young Twins pitchers who haven’t previously seen the high pressure postseason situations that he has.
It would be flat out wrong to not include Nelson Cruz on a list of veteran Twins who have the ability to be game changers. Cruz has played 44 career playoff baseball games. That is a big number. Cruz’s postseason numbers include a .287 AVG with 15 HR and 35 RBI.
There’s no doubt that Cruz is the Twins’ guy to come up with a game-changing late inning hit in the postseason. And while his postseason numbers are impressive, Cruz’s presence in the dugout is equally as valuable. Similar to Hill, Nelly has been around the game long enough to handle the mental side of baseball very well. We’ve seen him be a clubhouse leader for the Twins since he came to the organization last year and that continued leadership will be needed this fall.
A certified winner, Romo doesn’t just have one World Series ring, he has three. Romo was a bullpen warrior on the 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Champion San Francisco Giants. He’s appeared in 29 total postseason games, posting a 3.55 ERA in 25.1 innings. He wasn’t perfect by any means in last year’s ALDS matchup against the Yankees but his experience will be especially valuable with this year’s postseason format.
And if his postseason experience isn’t enough, Romo’s energy and intensity is a game changer for any team. Sergio is one of those guys who you love to have on your team but hate playing against. On a team that is arguably one of the nicest and most stoic in the league (we’ll forget about Donaldson’s incident last week), Romo provides a nice spark plug for the Twins.
Deep Breath in, Deep Breath Out
Baseball is a unique game. On one side it is arguably the most analytical game in professional sports, with stats and shifts dictating how managers craft their lineup and how teams play the game. On the other hand, baseball is pure and simple; put more runs across the plate in nine innings than the other team and your team comes out victorious.
Yet when the postseason rolls around a third dimension of the game becomes more apparent than ever; the mental side of the baseball. Postseason baseball causes players to get tight, refrain from playing loose, and make mistakes that they often would not make in an everyday game.
That’s where having a roster with seasoned playoff veterans truly shines. Not only have guys like Cruz and Hill been in big time pressure situations, they have the knowledge and strategy to help younger, less experienced players cope with the pressure and nerves of postseason baseball.
Good baseball teams get hot at the right time. Given the presence of seasoned veterans sprinkled amongst a group of younger key players the 2020 Twins may have the perfect storm to make a deep run in the playoffs.
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