CHICAGO – Twins reliever Tyler Clippard on Monday provided a look at how the Twins might approach the final two weeks of the regular season.
While fans would like the Twins to teach the White Sox a lesson this week in Chicago and claim the top seed in the American League, Clippard pointed out there’s a bigger picture.
“I think with the way that the playoff structure is set up right now,” he said, “winning your division isn’t as important as it was in years past.”
Major League Baseball on Tuesday announced the playoff schedule, which involves eight teams from each league for the first time. The Twins entered Tuesday trailing the White Sox by two games in the AL Central. The division title is within reach. If that doesn’t happen, they have a good chance of being the team with the best second-place record, and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Twins are a sizzling 21-5 at home, which could be a motivation to qualify for home field. But after the first round, everyone is headed to San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston or Arlington and MLB’s version of a postseason bubble. What’s the point?
“It would be very important to win your division,” Clippard said, “but at the same time, using a series like this to prepare us for the playoffs regardless of what happens here. We use this in a positive way to get to the ultimate goal, which is winning a championship.”
Bench coach Mike Bell understands how some covet division dominance.
“But you see a banner hanging up in a stadium and to realize that you were some small part of it, there’s pride in that,” he said. “And I think that’s important. But you also want to see a banner with a WS next to it too. So once we get to the playoffs, however that happens, we’ll figure it out then.”
Pottsville, Pa., is home of Yuengling, a must-have of the East Coast beer cognoscenti.
It’s also home of newest Twin Travis Blankenhorn, who has established himself as a must-have around the diamond. Blankenhorn, who was promoted on Monday, has played second base, third and some left field. That versatility, plus a reputation for taking good at-bats, made him an option after Marwin Gonzalez got sick.
Down to just Ehire Adrianza as a second base option, the Twins decided to add a guy who had never played above Class AA. He debuted on Tuesday.
“Our ability to put him in the lineup comes down to his ability to be proficient in different spots,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I’m looking forward to watching him go.”
Blankenhorn was already on the trip as a member of the taxi squad and was in the outfield shagging fly balls when Bell told him the manager wanted a word with him. So all he had to do after being told was call his parents and fiancée with the news and get back to work.
“I couldn’t talk long, though,” the 24-year-old said, “because I was up and my BP group was hitting and I wanted to hit, so short phone call.”
Homer … no, double
Byron Buxton appeared to have legged out an inside-the-park home run in the ninth inning Monday. His drive to left bounced and went under the fence, but the ball was still visible. Left fielder Eloy Jimenez put his hands up to claim the ball was unplayable. Buxton sped around the bases and crossed home plate.
Umpires reviewed the play and ruled it a ground-rule double. “Did it look like it was an inside-the-park home run? Yes. It did,” Baldelli said. “But the ruling is what it is, and we have to live by it.”