Swinging Sixty: Minnesota Twins 2020 Season Preview
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsRead on to find everything you need to know as we get this abbreviated season started, including roster breakdowns, schedule analysis, opponent intel, and predictions.
60 GAMES IN 66 DAYS: A CENTRALIZED SPRINT
Rather than facing 20 teams in 162 games spread across six months, the revised schedule will see Minnesota facing nine teams over 60 games in a span of eight weeks. A regionalized format, designed to minimize travel, has them playing 40 games against AL Central opponents, with the remaining 20 coming against teams from the NL Central.
Notably, the schedule includes only six total off days, and two of them come in the final week. The Twins have just one day off lined up in the entire month of August, and from July 28th through September 2nd they'll play 36 games in 37 days. Whew.
As Matthew Taylor wrote in the article above, "The way that the schedules shook out for the 2020 season is about the best scenario that the Minnesota Twins could have asked for." They receive an even heavier dosage of their own relatively weak division, and swap out an interleague schedule that would've had them facing the Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Padres, Giants and Brewers for one that has them facing the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Brewers. No more Astros, Yankees, Rays or A's in the regular season.
With that said, this thing still won't be a walk in the park.
HEAVY DOSE OF DIVISION FOES
Baseball's unbalanced schedule always yields a disproportionate number of intra-division matchups, but this year the dynamic is magnified. Forty of Minnesota's 60 games are against AL Central opponents, with each division rival accounting for 16.7% of the schedule.
As mentioned above, that's good news in the sense that Detroit and Kansas City were both 100-loss teams last year and carry lackluster outlooks into the new campaign. But the Twins will now face heightened pressure to perform against their two primary challengers, Cleveland and Chicago, and in such small samples the tables can tilt quickly.
Over the past week I've broken down each of the four AL Central teams, examining strengths, weaknesses, and X factors:
Central Intelligence 2.0
The Twins are not alone in their belief that they have what it takes to win it all. MLB.com's Mike Petriello grouped them with just two other teams – Yankees and Dodgers – in the "Title or Bust" tier of his team rankings. Meanwhile, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe is one prominent scribe picking the Twins to win it all in his 2020 season predictions, citing their "strong sense of purpose" under Baldelli's leadership.
Any credible power ranking would have to place Minnesota among at least the top five MLB teams heading in. They won 101 games last year, upgraded significantly during the offseason, and have the softest schedule in baseball.
STRONG AND DEEP AT EVERY POSITION
This. Team. Is. Good. The 2020 Twins are incredibly balanced and deep, without a single blatant weak spot in the lineup or, really, on the pitching staff. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have built a remarkably sturdy club that is prepared for the inevitable setbacks and bad breaks that will come along in an MLB season of any length.
During the original version of spring training, five years ago back in February and March, I ran through each positional unit in-depth. For the most part, all of the analysis still applies. You can find each entry below:
- Position Analysis: Catcher - Mitch Garver looks to solidify his case as an elite two-way catcher while joined by a platoon-friendly backup in veteran Alex Avila.
- Position Analysis: First Base - Miguel Sano must prove his defensive chops at a new position, but there's little question his bat is up to the task.
- Position Analysis: Second Base - After a sensational rookie season, what does Luis Arraez have in store for an encore?
- Position Analysis: Third Base - The biggest free agent signing in franchise history upgrades an already-dominant offense, but his stellar glove might make the biggest impact.
- Position Analysis: Shortstop - As ever, defense is a concern for Jorge Polanco. Can he shore up his glovework while continuing to hit?
- Position Analysis: Left Field - The stakes are high for Eddie Rosario, coming off an unspectacular season with prospects starting to press from behind.
- Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Center Field - Can Byron Buxton stay healthy? That seems to be his only barrier to stardom, but it's a wall he keeps running into.
- Position Analysis: Right Field - Max Kepler was arguably the team's MVP in 2019 and he's primed for another big year. Should he need to spend time in CF, ample depth is in place.
- Position Analysis: Designated Hitter - Nelson Cruz is simply the best DH in the game, and one of the best hitters period. At age 40 with a balky wrist, all he needs to do is hold up.
- Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher - Despite failing to land a bona fide ace, the Twins are sneaky good on the rotation front, boasting upside and depth.
- Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher - A mix of reliable vets and emerging young fireballers positions this unit to dominate the late innings.
Twins fans will be acclimating to some new faces this season, with several significant acquisitions coming aboard via free agency and trade. The commonality that strikes me with these newcomers – aside from all being quality, strategically-savvy additions – is their experience on the big stage.
- Josh Donaldson, 3B – 2015 AL MVP, 150 career postseason PAs (.769 OPS)
- Kenta Maeda, SP – 24 postseason appearances (7 in World Series), 3.31 ERA
- Rich Hill, SP – 53 postseason innings (12 starts), 3.06 ERA (1.80 in 2 WS starts)
- Tyler Clippard, RP – 14 postseason appearances (4.26 ERA)
- Alex Avila, C – 124 postseason plate appearances (.488 OPS)
- Homer Bailey, SP – 9 postseason innings (1.00 ERA)
If you could pick out one clear discernible flaw in last year's Twins team, which won 101 games in the regular season while basically avoiding any slumps, it was that lack of big-game experience, which showed through when they fell flat in the ALDS. That has been addressed in a pretty direct way.
SEARCHING FOR AN ACE
One thing that has not been actively addressed for Minnesota is the lack of a true proven ace atop the rotation. And as we talk about the club's championship prospects, it's a legitimate shortcoming for critics to point out. Without question, the Twins do not have a starter who's established himself on the level of their top two rivals in the division (Cleveland's Mike Clevinger & Chicago's Lucas Giolito), nor their top two rivals in the American League (New York's Gerrit Cole & Houston's Justin Verlander).
However, what they do have is five starters who are capable of pitching like an ace in a 60-game season, which constitutes a dozen starts. In fact, each of them more or less showed they could do it over 12-start stretches last season:
Jake Odorizzi: March 30 through June 2
- 64.1 IP, 8-2, 1.96 ERA, 70-21 K/BB
- 78 IP, 4-3, 2.31 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 73-19 K/BB
- 53 IP, 4-1, 2.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 61-12 K/BB
- 68 IP, 4-3, 3.18 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 69-18 K/BB
- 71.1 IP, 6-2, 3.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 66-12 K/BB
Oh, and for good measure, let's throw in Michael Pineda's final 12 starts for the Twins last year: 70.1 IP, 7-2, 3.20 ERA, 78-14 K/BB. Granted, he won't be available for most of the 60-game sprint, but he should be back in time for the playoffs.
The bottom line is that this rotation is deep on quality, which fuels consistency through the regular season, and they absolutely have studs capable of stepping up in the playoffs. There are multiple members of this starting corps who could very plausibly win the Cy Young simply by getting on a roll, especially in light of the relatively weak offenses Minnesota will routinely face.
BOLD TWINS 2020 PREDICTIONS
The Twins will be the American League's No. 1 seed at the end of the regular season. I don't know if they're better than New York or Houston (they're certainly at the same level), but the Twins will face a much easier schedule, and are entering the season less burdened by injuries and baggage. Home field advantage, here we come.
Nelson Cruz will hit 25 home runs. When he arrived in camp, Miguel Sano proclaimed that he intends to hit 30 home runs this season. I wouldn't put it past him. But that's a bit of a lofty target, and I actually like his teammate Cruz to most astound us with his barrage of bombas. The veteran DH has looked simply incredible throughout camp after drilling 41 bombs in 120 games last year. Twenty-five homers in 60 games would extrapolate to 68 over a full schedule.
The Twins will allow the fewest runs in the AL. For all the talk about the offense (rightfully so), I believe this pitching staff will surprise – in part because they are sneaky good and in larger part because they'll so rarely face high-caliber lineups. Of Minnesota's 60 games, only three come against a team that ranked in the top half of the majors in runs scored last year. (The Cubs were 10th.)
Josh Donaldson will disappoint offensively. He's traditionally a bit of a slow starter (.848 career first-half OPS, .914 second-half). This trend was on display last year, where after 60 games he had a .787 OPS and just eight home runs. Now, he's acclimating to a new team under strange circumstances, and he won't have much time to find a groove. With that said, disappointing production by Donaldson's standards is still very solid, and he'll be an asset overall thanks to his glove.
A Twins starter will win 10 games. And thus, very possibly the Cy Young. This a byproduct of the effectiveness I expect to see from the Twins rotation, and the backing of an elite offense. Berrios would be my top candidate, but honestly I could basically see any of the five doing it.
What are your bold predictions? How many games will the Twins win? How far can they go? Share your thoughts in the comments section as we count down the hours until first pitch.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email