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Swinging Sixty: Minnesota Twins 2020 Season Preview

On day one of the first iteration of spring training, reigning Manager of the Year Rocco Baldelli set clear expectations and aspirations for his team: World Series. Five months later, as the Twins gear up for a season nothing like the one they expected to play, their goal hasn't changed.

The path to a championship just looks different.
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Read 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.

READ: A Closer Look at the Twins' 2020 Schedule


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.

READ: The 3 Scariest Stretches on the Twins 2020 Schedule


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.

READ: Breaking Down the Twins' 9 Opponents


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 2.0GREAT EXPECTATIONS

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.

READ: The Case Stands: Twins Enter Summer Camp as AL's Top Team


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.

READ: Minnesota Twins Opening Day Roster


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:THE NEW GUYS: BRINGING EXPERIENCE AND EXCELLENCE

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)
Avila hasn't had much success and Bailey has only made one playoff start, all the back in 2012, but neither of those role players is likely to figure into Minnesota's postseason plans much. The other four, meanwhile, seem like they were targeted with October very much in mind. I didn't include Sergio Romo since he's technically not a newcomer, but he's a three-time World Series champion so he very much falls in the same category.

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
Jose Berrios: May 21 - July 31
  • 78 IP, 4-3, 2.31 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 73-19 K/BB
Rich Hill: April 28 - June 19 (10 starts)
  • 53 IP, 4-1, 2.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 61-12 K/BB
Kenta Maeda: April 16 - July 6
  • 68 IP, 4-3, 3.18 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 69-18 K/BB
Homer Bailey: July 17 - September 24
  • 71.1 IP, 6-2, 3.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 66-12 K/BB
A couple caveats: Hill's sample was only 10 starts because that's how many turns he took before landing on the shelf in June; Bailey's timespan actually covers the 13 starts after he was traded to Oakland, but I subtracted his second turn with the A's because it was an outlier (2 IP, 9 ER) pitched in Houston. I don't think I need to elaborate on why I find that result reasonable to exclude.

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.

READ: Will Jake Odorizzi Be Minnesota's Ace in 2020?


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.

READ: How Jose Berrios Used Video To Regain Confidence


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.

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9 Comments

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ToddlerHarmon
Jul 24 2020 03:26 AM

TEN wins? In twelve starts? Yes that is just one hot streak (a la Radke's 14? straight), but that is a very tall order.

 

Similarly 25 HR in 60 games.

 

I fear Bailey and Dobnak may stumble, and there's not much room for that.

 

Non-bold prediction: Twins make the playoffs :)

 

    • mikelink45 and blindeke like this
On the record: Buxton will be the teams MVP this year and in the conversation for league MVP…and the Twins are loaded with candidates who could be in play for that title: Donaldson, Garver(if he plays enough games), Palanco, Sano, Kepler, and Berrios.
This is the season a player might hit .400 or at least challenge that figure. It won’t be over the standard 502 plate appearances, maybe half that, but if Arráez plays all or most of the 60 and improves over 2019 at all, he has a shot.

The Twins have lofty goals and could very well reach all of them. However, playing just 1 practice game could hurt, expectations for players such as Garver, Kepler and even Arraez may not be met and Sano trying for 20 home runs could hurt him and the team. I'm a bit disappointed they released Chacin as you never can have too much pitching but maybe he wasn't coming back to previous abilities. I think the Twins will win 37-38 games but the Yanks will win 41 so the Twins will rank 2nd in the AL and probably play the White Sox or Cleveland in first round of the playoffs. Berrios will be the best starter at 7-2, Cruz will come close to MVP and we will trade for a starter in August. Now let's play ball.

Nick, with the enlarged playoffs, seems a no-brainer that this team will at least make the first round.Before the pandemic, I,too, believed this team should be the favorite in the Central; however, the reduced 60 game season gives me pause as bad streaks, injuries and just fluky runs by other teams can very easily upset the apple cart.

 

I see a few clouds on the horizon:

 

1. Playing only one exhibition game prior to today's start is not conducive to a fast start, nor is the absence of 2 of our 3 best pitchers.Look for the Sox with Giolito tonite taking at least 2 of 3, with a possibility of a sweep.The latter would not be disastrous but could tilt the odds to Chicago oin a shortened season.

 

2. As mentioned above, our rotation to start the season is shaky. Berrios is a strong #2 and Maeda maybe a good #3, but I have little confidence in Bailey and 40-year-old Hill(maybe one will shine, but not both).If Odo is back and in form quickly that will help, but right now there is a big falloff after Berrios and Maeda. Losing Pineda for 2/3 of the season hurts big time.Sure, one of Smeltzer, Dobnak or Thorpe could surprise, but can't count on that.

 

3. The offense almost has to digress from 2019 - too many career years.It should be one of the best, but a falloff by 0.5 to 1 run/game is possible, especially if this team gets off to a slow start.

 

4. On paper the bullpen looks good(probably better than last year's), but an injury to their one proven closer, Rodgers, could be disastrous.Who would step up without a loss of efficiency?This is a very precarious position to be in, especially in the playoffs.

 

Granted, I might seem like a nervous nellie here, but my optimism is tempered by the vagaries of such a short season and repeat of last year's offense.So, put me down for making the playoffs, maybe 35 wins, but without an ace, doubt this team is a strong contender to advance far into the playoffs.

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Doctor Gast
Jul 24 2020 08:36 AM

Because of a shortened season I see many players will go all out to attain that elusive notoriety of being a .400 hitter, hopefully Arrais has a shot. Although I hope the rotation will really produce as a whole, I wouldn`t bet on it. I`m most sure of Berrios & if Odorizzi & Hill recover quickly &stay healthy & Baldelli uses his BP efficiently, we`ll advance well into the PS. To win the ALC we need a bonafide ace but because of the early trade deadline (comparatively) & extended PS team will not be willing to trade away one

With the new playoff system for this season it takes the pressure off of each game because each division will send 2 teams then top two wild cards.What is interesting is doing this means that there is a good chance three teams make it from central.Mainly because Detroit and KC are expected to be bottom feeders raising the wins for all three other teams.Assuming none of the remaining three crush one of the the others and they are nearly same win totals in the division.So the NL is what will make the difference and the NL central is supposed to be the weakest of the NL divisions as well. 

 

It is an interesting concept with not playing the other divisions the wild card teams will really come down to how weak the other teams in the division are.If three of five teams are competing for top two spots it increases the chances that three make it.If two of five are competing for top spots it decreases chances wild card comes from that division.It will also be very unlikely that two wild cards come from same division, unless they crush the other leagues teams, raising their non division wins.  

 

I predict Twins Cleveland and Sox make it out of central.Ray and Yanks out of the east, with Boston and Toronto being a team to watch because both could go on good short term runs, and the West will be tough both in division and on NL west.There are 4 teams in AL west that are competitive, and at least 3 in the NL that are.That may lower the overall wins in the AL meaning if either Boston or Toronto can beat up on Baltimore and the other team between them they will be in good wild card position.  

 

The crazy season is getting crazier with a crazy playoffs.Buster Onley reported there may be a selection show of who will play who in the first round of playoffs.Meaning the top seed will get first pick of opponent, of bottom four teams I would assume, then on down the line.Figure after that it will be normal seeding.This is not official, but rumored from a source. 

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Nick Nelson
Jul 24 2020 11:58 AM

 

The crazy season is getting crazier with a crazy playoffs.Buster Onley reported there may be a selection show of who will play who in the first round of playoffs.Meaning the top seed will get first pick of opponent, of bottom four teams I would assume, then on down the line.Figure after that it will be normal seeding.This is not official, but rumored from a source. 

I'd heard rumblings of this too, but according to MLB's website it's a simple seeded bracket, with #1 seed playing #8 seed. I feel like if there was gonna be a dynamic like that in place it'd need to be established before the season started, no?

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operation mindcrime
Jul 24 2020 03:33 PM
Here's my prediction... 73-0!

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