The Minnesota Twins are coming off a 101-win season, headlined by winning the American League Central for the first time since 2010 — albeit they were swept by the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series.
Nonetheless, optimism is ever-so mounting around the Twins. Furthermore, the 2020 Minnesota Twins are reminiscent of the 2018 World Series-champion Boston Red Sox.
The Twins had arguably the best offense in Major League Baseball last season. They were first in MLB in home runs (307), second in runs (939), batting average (.270), and slugging (.494), and third in wRC+ (116). The nucleus of that offense remains in place this season.
An offense that features the likes of Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, and Luis Arraez can matchup with any team in the sport. They hit for power, get on base, and score runs at a high level. They also have a healthy mix of line drive and power hitters.
Coming off a season where their offense was muttered in mediocrity, the Red Sox opened the floodgates in 2018. They finished the season first in MLB in runs (876), batting average (.268), and slugging (.453), fourth in wRC+ (107), and ninth in home runs (110).
Mookie Betts and free agent signee JD Martinez had monster seasons at the plate. Meanwhile, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Mitch Moreland were splendid and came up huge in late-game playoff at-bats. Boston out-hit everyone.
Respectable but Flawed Rotation
Jose Berrios is at the top of Minnesota’s rotation. One of the more underrated starters in the sport, Berrios throws a mean curveball, can hit the high 90s with his fastball, and logs strikeouts at a high rate; veteran Jake Odorizzi is coming off an impressive 2019 campaign, headlined by a 3.51 ERA and 178 strikeouts across 30 starts.
The Twins acquired Kenta Maeda from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the offseason. The right-hander was in and out of the Dodgers rotation throughout his tenure. Maybe the Twins can get him to be a reliable, top-of-the-rotation arm. After Maeda, it’s veterans Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. When healthy, the two can be steady rotation fixtures. All in all, this is a rotation in the top half of the sport but is flawed. Can Odorizzi repeat his 2019 heroics? Will Maeda turn a corner? Can Hill stay healthy? Those questions are difficult to answer.
Chris Sale stood atop Boston’s 2018 rotation. At the time, he was the best left-hander in the sport not named Clayton Kershaw. He threw an overpowering fastball, got wicked movement on his off-speed pitches, and went deep into games. Midseason pickup Nathan Eovaldi was phenomenal down the stretch, posting a 3.33 ERA across 12 appearances and pitching remarkably deep into postseason starts/appearances.
Veterans Rick Porcello and David Price were respected starters who came up clutch in the postseason. That said, Porcello wasn’t providing length or performing with consistency leading up to the postseason. Young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez having a career year partially balanced out Porcello’s unpredictability.
Bullpen of Intriguing but Untested Relievers
The Twins bullpen features a handful of compelling young relievers. Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, and Zack Littell logged strikeouts at a high rate and recorded an ERA below three last season. At the same time, are any of them elite?
They’ve shown the ability to be reliable one-inning pitchers but not to the point where they’re all proven mainstays. This bullpen is trending upwards but is the part of this Twins team that will be tested in the playoffs, as starters’ leashes are shorter, subsequently putting games in the bullpen’s hands.
Boston’s bullpen wasn’t bad in 2018; they simply put games in harm’s way often and worked their way out of it. For the most part, Craig Kimbrel, Hector Velazquez, and Brandon Workman were sturdy in the late innings.
The issue was when Boston’s relievers took on a larger workload and/or Cora had to overuse them when their starters didn’t provide considerable length. Their bullpen collectively surrendered a lot of baserunners in both the regular season and postseason. Offense and timely starting pitching ultimately cancelled out their bullpen’s deficiencies.
Rocco Baldelli is entering his second season as a big-league manager. The former outfielder took over the Twins dugout following Paul Molitor getting the ax after the 2018 season. Overtaking the Cleveland Indians, who won the AL Central for three consecutive seasons, and getting a bullpen of young relievers on the right path marks a successful season for Baldelli.
The Red Sox hired Alex Cora after 2017, replacing the jettisoned John Farrell. In his first season Cora seemed to click all the right buttons with his team — apparently, literally. He did a savvy job arranging his hitters and keeping the ball out of his relievers’ hands in the postseason by going to starters late in games. It helped Boston win its fourth Word Series of the 21st century.
Coming Up Short in Recent Memory
The bulk of the 2020 Twins offense is young players who came up in the farm and have played together. It’s a core that has been to the playoffs two of the last three seasons and endured its fair share of lumps, losing the 2017 AL Wild Card Game and getting swept by the Yankees last season.
Of course, the Red Sox had three championships prior to 2018. That said, they were convincingly kicked out of the playoffs in the first round in both 2015 and 2016. Their 2018 core was mostly made up of young players who debuted between 2014-16. Betts, Devers, Bogaerts, and Benintendi either weren’t in the big leagues or not manning starting positions on Boston’s 2013 championship roster.
Signing a Veteran Slugger to an Established Core
The Twins added a power bat to an already high-octane offense this offseason: Josh Donaldson. The third baseman is coming off a season where he posted 37 home runs, 94 RBIs, a .900 OPS, and a 127 OPS+ with the Atlanta Braves. He’s also a vacuum with a cannon for an arm at the hot corner. Minnesota’s lineup is so deep to the point where Donaldson might be their fifth-best position player.
Boston’s offense underachieved in 2017 from a talent standpoint. They gave the lineup card a boost by signing JD Martinez the ensuing offseason. The outfielder became Boston’s primary designated hitter and flat-out raked, finishing the season with 43 home runs, 130 RBIs, a .330 batting average, a 1.031 OPS, and a 173 OPS+. He was an indispensable piece to their World Series run.