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  • Can the Twins' Youth Handle the Pressure of Playoff Baseball?

    Ted Schwerzler

    The Minnesota Twins are still counting down their magic number, but at this point they are all but guaranteed to win the AL Central and make the postseason. Much of the success down the stretch has come through the production of young players. Can they really trust this much youth in the playoffs?


    Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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    When the season began, Rocco Baldelli had a team that veterans propped up. Carlos Correa was back as the big offseason signing, and Joey Gallo added a track record in the majors. Christian Vazquez would do most of the catching, and holdovers like Byron BuxtonJorge Polanco, and Max Kepler would lead the team.

    As the offense struggled to get going, and the pitching did its best to win nightly, much of the lineup turnaround has been on the backs of younger players. Edouard JulienRoyce Lewis, and Matt Wallner are all playing in their rookie seasons. Their production has helped bring the Minnesota offense alive after the All-Star Break.

    Lewis has arguably been the most impactful of the trio, and he has thrived in big moments, time and time again. What he is doing isn’t normal, and despite the significant time missed over the past three seasons, he has stepped in and immediately become one of the Twins most productive players. In just 49 games, he has an OPS near .900, and he’s driven in runs every time Minnesota has needed it most.

    It took a while for Wallner to get his opportunity, mainly because of how well Kepler turned it on, but he has also settled in. Although he owns just a .218 average across 59 games this season, his .812 OPS reflects a power approach that brings some walks to the profile. He has played a strong corner outfield, and opposing teams have given up running on him.

    This trio producing in a race for a division title is one thing, but how can they be expected to compete when the stage is at its peak? It’s win or go home during the postseason, and there won’t be much time to make adjustments. Preparation is imperative, as Baldelli will be placing significant responsibility on young players.

    Although Lewis hasn’t slowed down at this point, we have seen Julien and Wallner go through some valleys. The infielder still has a .800 OPS across 48 games since the All-Star Break, but he has hit just four of his 11 home runs in that span. Julien does have a significant strikeout ability to his game, and while he walks, being too selective in critical situations could cost him. After coming up from Triple-A so strong and owning a .955 OPS through his first 49 games, Wallner has struggled as the opposition adjusts. In his last 28 games, he owns just a .671 OPS and has just 14 hits in his previous 100 plate appearances.

    When Minnesota invites an opponent to Target Field in October, they will be facing the best pitchers that the team has on every single night. The opposition will come prepared to attack the Twins young hitters. It will be on the youth movement to ensure they are equally ready and that the moment isn’t too big for them.

    Rocco Baldelli has a lineup that currently finds itself in a good place. That’s a positive reality. However, he’ll need to ensure that the youth is equally prepared to handle the most important games of their life, and if he can do that, a run further into October could be one to smile about.

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    While we never know how anyone will react to pressure, it seems likely that the Twins younger players won't be any more affected by the pressure of the playoffs than anyone else.  They are all high level professionals and even if they haven't been through this particular set of difficulties before, they have all been through plenty of tense situations.  The good news is that they are young enough to not really realize how good they are, how unique this is, and that there is a bit of a pattern of the Twins losing playoff games.  I think they'll be fine.  Now if we can just get everybody playing well at the same time. . .

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    Not worried about the young guys at all.  We do have Correa to advise them of what's coming so that definitely should help.  I'm also a very confident in Lewis especially.  He seems made for big moments and I feel that he will encounter one in a playoff game and come through admirably.

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    2 hours ago, Mike Sixel said:

    Is there any evidence this is a thing very often? I have no idea....

    I think there is mud, a wall, and throwing motion in this story. I might e a little forgetful but it seemed like at one time TD was about what was actually going on during the season 

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    Are they really worthy of playoff baseball? Seriously… any other division they are not making it…. But it’s the AL Central, so Rocco will get another year of pitching mismanagement. As far as this year… I expect the record setting playoff losing streak wend due to solid starting pitching. 

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    52 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

    This makes me recall Gaetti's comment about how difficult it is to play baseball when one is clutching their throat with both hands. Gaetti was the ultimate gamer and understood what it was like to be a young player in a pennant race.

    "It's hard to field the ball when you have both hands around your throat."  Just in case any young'uns might misunderstand, my recollection is that Gaetti was speaking of himself only, after (with a memory refresher on b-r.com) the Twins dropped a second straight crucial game in their final series, on Sept 28, 1984, in which they entered the bottom of the 6th leading Cleveland 10-2 and exited that inning clinging to only a 10-9 lead, keyed by an E-5 with two outs leading to 3 unearned runs, enroute to a crushing 11-10 outcome that ended their season hopes.  Losing pitcher for the eventual ninth-inning walkoff? Who else, but Ron Davis.

    Gaetti was totally a standup guy as that "young player" critiquing himself in the moment for all to hear.  Perhaps he "understood" something later on when looking back, but at the time he was simply sick at heart and embarrassed and didn't try to hide it. 

    It's right to give him mad props for a quote for the ages.  Poetic.  You could write a Country song with that as the tag line.

    Our current crop may have similar growing pains before they are ready.  Hope it doesn't take another 3 years like it did for The Rat and company.


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    11 hours ago, Bigfork Twins Guy said:

    Not worried about the young guys at all.  We do have Correa to advise them of what's coming so that definitely should help.  I'm also a very confident in Lewis especially.  He seems made for big moments and I feel that he will encounter one in a playoff game and come through admirably.

    Good article, and good questions to consider. I agree totally about Lewis. Even as a "rookie" he already seems to have a veteran presence. I also think Kiriloff won't be fazed by the playoffs, but not so sure about some of the others. The main thing I'm worried about are the pitchers in the back end of the bullpen. 

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    I played competitive (?) sports for over 60 years.  My experience (and I am only speaking for myself) is that after the first pitch is thrown or the opening faceoff (or in my case, the first shot I faced), it's pretty much a game just like all the others.  And that held true from Little League when I was seven until adult hockey when I was 70.

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    We're worried about the rookies? Really? After something like 180 years without a playoff victory composed of teams who were not entirely rookies, I'm not worried about rookies. I'm more concerned that the veterans still won't show up with their bats. I expect the starting pitchers to do well and the bullpen will be okay.

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