Although Toronto-born reliever Jesse Crain didn’t play a role in the Minnesota Twins’ American League Central-clinching win Tuesday night, he will certainly get a chance to make his mark in October.
While it might seem a bit of a reach to emphasize the importance of a middle reliever when more focus is placed on the starters on most teams, that is not the case in Minnesota.
Through Wednesday, the Twins bullpen sits atop the AL with a 3.18 earned run average, while Crain has compiled a 2.49 ERA over 65 innings.
The 29-year-old is not only enjoying another playoff-bound season in the Twin Cities, he is also relishing the best year of his career.
He struggled the past two campaigns after coming off shoulder surgery in 2007, and questions about his effectiveness were raised once again this season after putting up a 5.32 ERA through May—prompting Twins faithful to dub him the “Crain Wreck.”
But the tide slowly turned for the right-hander as his ERA gradually dropped, thanks to a superb stretch of pitching where he surrendered a mere five earned runs since the start of June.
And now, having locked up a playoff berth with a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Indians combined with the Chicago White Sox loss to Oakland, the Twins will expect more of the same from Crain.
Despite spending his entire seven-year career with the playoff-savvy Twins, Crain’s post-season numbers are limited.
His only appearances were in 2004 and 2006, where he racked up a measly 1 1/3 innings pitched combined, while the Twins bowed out in the opening round both times.
With another push towards the Fall Classic just around the corner, Crain takes his teammates’ praise in stride, and attributes the club’s bullpen success to a cohesive team effort.
“It’s gotta be right up there as far as the deepest bullpen we’ve had,” Crain told NBC Sports. “Although we’re missing [Joe] Nathan, we picked up [Brian] Fuentes and [Matt] Capps, and [Joe] Rauch closed half a season. To have them and myself and [Matt] Guerrier and [Randy] Flores, we’ve got a lot of guys in our bullpen that have played in big games.”
The Twins will undoubtedly need a heavy dose of offence if they plan on slugging it out against the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees, one of whom they will face in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS).
But as mentioned previously, pitching trumps all in the playoffs, and a Crain-led bullpen will be essential in toppling the beasts of the AL East.
Beyond his own personal success in the regular season, and his impending trek into October, Crain is confident this year’s version of the Twins has what it takes to make noise in the post-season.
“We all play the ‘Twins Way’ and I think it shows the way we’ve played in the second half,” Crain said. “It’s just playing hard and trying to cut down on the mistakes. Anybody who follows us knows we could be down four or five runs in the last inning but the game is not over until the last out is made. That kind of defines the ‘Twins Way.’ We never give up. We’re going to play every ball out and battle to the very end.”