MINNEAPOLIS - Originally published on TwinsDaily.com
Rocco Baldelli took home the AL Manager of the Year in his first year at the helm of the Minnesota Twins. Now, his managerial skills might be tested even more as Major League Baseball adjusts to a shortened season. Each game will be magnified. Each in-game decision will be scrutinized. So how will managing change in an 82-game season?
For managers, there’s always been a fine line between leaving a starting pitcher in the game or going to the bullpen. This line will become even more blurred during the 2020 campaign as each game will have increased importance. Managers will likely turn to their bullpens earlier, especially if a starting pitcher is struggling. There isn’t going to be room in the schedule to drop a game here or there because of a poor pitching performance.
Teams striving for the playoffs are going to need to get hot quickly and stay hot for the duration of the season. One clunker from a starting pitcher could put the team into a tailspin that could be tough to recover from. Managers are going to treat games more like the postseason and starters aren’t going to be given as many liberties as would be allowed in a typical regular season.
Bullpens have taken on even more importance in recent years and that will only increase in a season where there might be fewer off-days. Players will likely need to be prepared to enter games earlier because managers are going to have a short leash (mentioned above) with starters. Another consideration for relief pitchers is the new three-batter minimum rule. This will throw another wrinkle into an already unique season.
Luckily for Twins fans, Minnesota’s bullpen was considered a strength entering the 2020 season. This could be a silver lining for Rocco Baldelli if he needs to turn to his bullpen earlier and more often in games. Adding Tyler Clippard and a full season of Sergio Romo will likely help to improve the ‘pen. Those two are likely going to be middle relievers with Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey getting the bulk of the late-inning work.
Managers bench usage might not be thought of very often and most bench decisions are something that can fly under the radar. Minnesota’s bench would likely consist of some combination of players like Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Cave, Willians Astudillo, Ehire Adrianza, and Alex Avila. Do they send up a pinch hitter late in the game? When do you make a defensive substitution? If Nelson Cruz singles, should you put in a better runner?
Minnesota’s catching situation is certainly something to keep an eye on during a shortened season. Last season, Baldelli saw the value in giving each catcher regular rest. This worked well for Mitch Garver as he had a break-out season on the way to winning his first Silver Slugger. In a full season, it seemed likely for Garver to get more of the workload, but now that might not be the case. Avila and Astudillo could see a higher percentage of games because of the shortened schedule.
It’s hard to know how each manager will approach the 2020 season. The Twins had playoff aspirations in 2020 and that isn’t going to change with fewer games on the schedule. Those high hopes will only magnify each pitching change and other in-game decisions by the reigning AL Manager of the Year.