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Minnesota Twins pitcher Trevor May is trying to take the high road. After coming into the “MLB The Show” Players League as one of the few baseball players in the tournament who actually streams video games, big things were expected from May.
He couldn’t deliver on those lofty expectations, falling short of a postseason spot by just one game. As the commissioner of the league, May knows he should be gracious in defeat. He even tries to be at first, wishing all his league mates well. But, eventually, May takes the bait. “I’m not going to trash-talk guys too much, but …”
Then he let his real feelings fly.
This is probably to be expected. Baseball players are still competitors, even when it comes to video games. The stakes for the “MLB The Show” Players League might be low, but those who missed out on the playoffs are carrying enough salt to sustain a Michelin star restaurant for a month.
The Players League playoffs will start Friday at 9 p.m. ET on FS1 with two best-of-three series: The Tampa Bay Rays’ Blake Snell (the No. 1 seed) will take on Los Angeles Dodgers youngster Gavin Lux (No. 8). And New York Mets star Jeff McNeil (No. 4) will face Baltimore Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. (No. 5).
Then, on Saturday, Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo (No. 2), Toronto Blue Jays star Bo Bichette (No. 3), Chicago White Sox ace Lucas Giolito (No. 6) and Chicago Cubs utilityman Ian Happ (No. 7) will duel on ESPN2. The two players who emerge from the brackets will square off in a best-of-five World Series on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Proceeds from the tournament will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
With the playoffs approaching, Yahoo Sports spoke to three members of the league who fell short of expectations. Our goal was to get a virtual scouting report on the contenders: what they did well, how to stop them, etc.
We got some of that. All three players offered up some helpful tidbits on what makes the top contenders great. We also got some trash talk that was too good to ignore.
Trevor May, Minnesota Twins
Players League record: 18-11 (missed playoffs by one game)
Gaming experience: High-level gamer
May, 30, is one of two players in the league who actually streams video games outside the Players League. He’s played video games his whole life, though is mostly a PC gamer. He had to practice using a controller to get ready for the Players League.
May, who has been involved in some Twins-themed gaming activations, had the idea of putting together the Players League. As such, it was only natural that he take on the role as the league’s commissioner.
Scouting advice: Real-life hitters have an advantage
“I was noticing a huge discrepancy between hitters and pitchers,” May said. According to May, real-life hitters have an advantage because they know how to work the strike zone better.
“The hitters were just really good at grinding counts out and looking for specific pitches that they could hit out,” May added. “Joey Gallo showed that right out of the gate.”
May also pointed out that the league settings are tilted toward hitting. The Players League sets pitcher to the harder “All-Star” difficulty. Hitting remains on “Veteran.” If you make a mistake on the mound, hitters are going to crush it.
“The way it’s set up is tailored for hitting, for sure, kinda like the game is now, the real game.”
Spoken like a true pitcher.
Best moment: Beating Blake Snell
May said defeating Snell, who went 24-5 and is the No. 1 seed in the postseason, was the highlight of the tournament. May wanted to get Snell, who also streams video games regularly, on a call for the game, but thought the better of it once game day got closer.
“I didn’t know what I would say,” May jokes. “I didn’t want to ruin a friendship.”
Worst moment: Blowing leads with his bullpen
May’s bullpen turned out to be his undoing. Six of May’s 11 losses came with him leading in the second inning or later (Players League games go three innings). May particularly had trouble pitching with Twins closer Taylor Rogers. Since Rogers is the only lefty on the team, the pitching meter would flip every time May used Rogers in a game. May couldn’t get used to it.
“Getting your timing down again, it’s really hard,” May said. “I really struggled pitching with Rog, and I feel terrible because he’s one of my best friends on the team. He really let me down.”
And in case you wanted to point out that May is also a reliever on the Twins, he’s well aware of that.
“I let myself let me down too,” May said. “I got walked off by Ty Buttrey [while] pitching with myself. That eliminated me, which was just a dagger. It is what it is. It still hurts. I’m going to hurt for a while, I think.”
Who he likes to win it all: Snell, then Gallo then Ian Happ or Gavin Lux
A commissioner never shows bias, so May offered up a couple guys he believes could win the league. Snell is May’s top choice, followed by Gallo. After that, he likes Lux and Happ. Happ had to win 10 of his last 11 games to make the playoffs, so he’s got the hottest hand right now.
Parting shot: You got lucky and you know it
“The guy who beat me on Byron Buxton just not putting his glove up and taking a ball off the shoulder … you know what happened,” May said. “You know what situation put you in the place to win, so let’s not beat around the bush here.
“I complained a lot, I’ll be honest. I complained a lot about certain things. In hindsight, it was me about 95 percent of the time. I’ll take full responsibility for not making the playoffs. But you guys [who should have lost to me] know who you are.”
Jon Duplantier, Arizona Diamondbacks
Players League record: 15-14
Gaming experience: Casual gamer
Duplantier, 25, had video games in his house his entire life, but is more of a social gamer. He’ll hop on and play with friends, but he rarely gets on by himself and plays games. He figured he would be able to hold his own in the Players League, and mostly did that, finishing a game over .500.
Scouting advice: Patient hitting wins games
Duplantier echoed May’s sentiment that the guys who did well in the tournament were patient at the plate.
“I think the best players tend to take pitches,” Duplantier said. “They don’t even swing at the stuff on the black. They wait for the pitcher to make a mistake, which, when you’re hitting on veteran and a guy makes a mistake, you usually do damage.
“There were no six-pitch innings with those guys, it was always, like, minimum 13. If you were under 13, it’s because they hit three hard liners and you just caught them.”
Best moment: Interacting with other players
Duplantier didn’t know a lot of the players going into the league, so he’s enjoyed meeting guys and talking with them during games.
Worst moment: Being a free swinger
Though Duplantier realized patience was the way to win, he just couldn’t help himself at the plate.
“I knew I was better off [taking pitches,] but I couldn’t not pull the trigger.”
Who he likes to win it all: Snell
Duplantier faced Snell on the final day of the regular season and came away stumped.
“I faced him the last day and that was just like, ‘All right, there’s nothing I can throw right now that’s getting by this guy.’”
Duplantier added that he doesn’t feel 100 percent confident in that pick and that, just like in real baseball, anything can happen if a guy gets hot.
Parting shot: Watch out, Amir Garrett
“I’ve gotta call Amir Garrett out again,” Duplantier. “We played and he put up a big run spot on me in the third inning and then let his fiancée finish me out. That didn’t sit too well with me.”
Video of that moment definitely exists. Look away, Duplantier.
Brett Phillips, Kansas City Royals
Players League record: 15-14
Gaming experience: Experienced gamer
Phillips, 25, has been playing video games as long as he can remember. Around seventh or eighth grade, he began attending “Call of Duty” tournaments when he wasn’t playing baseball. He considers himself an average “MLB The Show 20” player, though.
Scouting advice: Video games are real life
Phillips believes the best “MLB The Show 20” players play like they would in real life. He said Blake Snell excels at both because he’s consistent. Phillips also pointed to Bo Bichette hitting over .300 his rookie year and compared it to Bichette’s numbers in the Players League.
“Bo made a comment to me over FaceTime that he treats his at-bats in ‘MLB The Show’ like he would in real life,” Phillips said. “That was really cool to hear. Obviously, his numbers reflected in the game how he approaches the game in real life.”
Best moment: Calling out the announcer
During one of his games, Phillips came up to bat with himself. As virtual Phillips approached the plate, one of the announcers on “MLB The Show 20” referred to Phillips as a defensive player with a defensive mindset. Phillips hit the next pitch for a home run and gloated about that commentary.
Phillips did quite well with himself, hitting four home runs in 36 at-bats with virtual Brett Phillips. That performance made Phillips a nominee for the “best cameo” in the league.
Phillips is also glad players are getting a chance to show off their personalities.
Worst moment: Losing out on a huge home run
More on this shortly.
Who he likes to win it all: Bichette
Phillips knows Snell is the frontrunner. Phillips was also impressed with Gallo. But he likes Bichette to take home the hardware.
Parting shot: Don’t rage quit
“I’ve got some, I wouldn’t call beef, but Ty Buttrey from the Angels, he quit on me,” Phillips said. “He’s the only guy.
“The only reason I’m salty about him quitting on me is because Brett Phillips came up to the plate with the bases loaded, and he hit a grand slam and the runs and the home run did not count because [Buttrey] quit. And I’m very salty about it. Ty, I love you as a human being, I don’t know you, but you’re a good baseball player, but as an ‘MLB The Show’ player, you took away a grand slam from me and I’m salty.”
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