MINNEAPOLIS — At first, Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen gave a deadpan answer when asked how many pitches Jose Berrios might be allowed to throw out of the bullpen in tonight’s wild-card game.
“About 240,” Allen said with a chuckle. “Hey, your whole season comes down to that one game. We’ve got to live for that moment, that day, that time.”
Staff ace Ervin Santana will make the Twins’ first postseason start since Game 3 of the 2010 American League division series, when Brian Duensing matched up against then-Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes. Berrios, however, will be ready at the first sign of trouble.
More likely, Allen said, Berrios could throw as many as 50 or 60 pitches should the need arise and he’s able to get on a roll.
After making a 29-pitch tune-up (21 strikes) appearance on Sept. 29, his first relief outing in the Twins organization since 2012 in the Gulf Coast League, Berrios pronounced himself eager for the challenge. He also will lean on the experience he gained in March while pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
In addition to a five-inning start against Italy in the first round, he wowed Team USA with a 40-pitch relief outing in the WBC final at Dodger Stadium. Despite being charged with three unearned runs, he stole the show with strikeouts of Giancarlo Stanton, Jonathan Lucroy, Ian Kinsler and Christian Yelich.
Back in 2013, when he was just 18, Berrios came out of Puerto Rico’s bullpen to strike out Robinson Cano.
“In the WBC every game is like a playoff game,” Berrios said. “Every game you have to go out there and compete and try to win. That’s helped me prepare for this scenario. On Tuesday I’ll think the same thing. I have to go out there and focus pitch by pitch with one purpose. I’ll do the same thing.”
It also should help Berrios, 23, that he got his Yankee Stadium debut out of the way so recently. Making his first start after the birth of his third child and concerned about Hurricane Maria bearing down on his homeland, Berrios threw 90 pitches in just 3⅓ innings in a 5-2 loss on Sept. 19.
He was charged with three earned runs on five hits and four walks while striking out four. He threw 108 pitches at home on July 19 to beat the Yankees, allowing just one earned run on six hits and two walks while fanning five.
Don’t look for Berrios to be inserted into a jam. Rather, he would be given a clean inning and plenty of time to warm up.
“We wouldn’t ask him to pitch in the middle of an inning,” Allen said. “If we need someone to shut the inning down, we’ll go with someone who’s done that before.”
The Twins could go with double-barreled bullpen action should Santana run into difficulty in the middle innings. Berrios would be given at least an out or two to warm up that inning, plus the Twins’ whole offensive half-inning, to prepare for his biggest stage yet.
“It’s different but I think it will be fun, and I’m ready for that,” Berrios said. “Everybody talks about Yankee Stadium, but I did that already. Hopefully Ervin goes nine (innings) and we win. If he doesn’t, I’ll be ready to try to get the win for us.”
CHICAGO (AP) — There are no billy goats this time. No more lovable losers, either.
A year after their historic World Series run, the Cubs are back in the playoffs for the third straight season. For some Chicago toddlers, with names like Addison, Clark and Wrigley, this is all they have ever known — an almost unfathomable notion for generations of Cubs fans.
But unlike last year, when the Cubs’ run to their first championship since 1908 captivated the country, they are just another playoff team this time around. Cody Bellinger and the Los Angeles Dodgers rolled to a major league-high 104 wins. Cleveland and Houston also won 100-plus games, and the Nationals have Bryce Harper back for the best-of-five NL Division Series against Chicago, starting Friday in Washington.
That’s just fine with Anthony Rizzo and company.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, to be honest,” Rizzo said. “In my opinion we’re the favorites to win it all again. In Bryce Harper’s opinion, they’re the favorites. In Bellinger’s opinion, they’re the favorites, with the Dodgers. So everyone’s the favorites. You’ve just got to go out and play.”
While they are no longer America’s favorite team — not after months of national TV appearances, magazine covers and cereal boxes — the Cubs return to the playoffs with something more valuable. After making to the NL Championship Series in 2015 and beating the Indians in an epic World Series last fall, they welcome the pressure of October.
“Underdogs or overdogs, whatever,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The thing that feels different is that we know how to do this.”
The Cubs were shut out in consecutive games in the NLCS last year before they eliminated the Dodgers with three straight wins. They dropped three of the first four games in the World Series, and then put together another three-game win streak to take home the title.
Now free of everything that went along with the franchise’s long championship drought, the Cubs are looking forward to putting their experience to good use.
“This year, it’s a different feel for sure,” said Ben Zobrist, who won the World Series MVP award last fall. “As a club we feel like all those memories are very fresh, knowing how the postseason feels, and I think everybody’s just really excited about the chance to get back into that same mode of thinking, that same adrenaline rush.”
That chance was hardly a given when Chicago was 43-45 on July 9 and 5½ games back of NL Central-leading Milwaukee. But the Cubs roared by the Brewers with a 49-25 record for the last part of the season.
Chicago led the majors with 423 runs after the All-Star break. It became the first defending World Series champion to win its division since the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.
“I think guys just came together a little more and we played more Cubs-style baseball, where you see guys having fun and laughing, messing around,” Rizzo said. “I really think that was just it.”
No team has repeated as World Series champion since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000, and Chicago faces a stiff test in the first round. The NL East champion Nationals have one of the deepest lineups in the majors and a strong rotation fronted by aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
All Maddon is looking for from his club is more of the same.
“I just want our guys to go out and continue doing what we’ve been doing since the All-Star break,” he said. “No different, no different. Go out and play, play unencumbered, play mentally freely and just play out the game that we’ve learned to play over the last couple years. That’s it.”