Opening Day roster, Opening Day lineup, Opening Day outcome. The perceived significance of each is overblown. We all know it. But still, impressions from Minnesota's impressive performance during the season's first weekend, and especially Opening Day, are hard to shake.
Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 3/25 through Sun, 3/31
Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1)
Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +7)
Standing: Tied for 1st Place in AL CentralHIGHLIGHTS
The powered-up Twins pitching staff is already on display, setting a new franchise record with 39 strikeouts through their first three games.
On Thursday and Saturday, Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi became the second starting duo in history to open a season with back-to-back double-digit strikeout totals. The feat was only previously accomplished by Arizona's Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001 – arguably the greatest SP tandem in major-league history. No biggie.
On Sunday, Michael Pineda and Martin Perez piggybacked for 11 strikeouts over 7 2/3 combined innings, continuing the run of rotation dominance against a diminished Cleveland lineup (sans Francisco Lindor).
You can knock the quality of the opposition, but I would respond with two points:
1) There's nothing misleading about the results this group achieved. Everyone looked fantastic. Berrios unleashed a barrage of filthy breaking balls and mixed in an upgraded changeup. Odorizzi was changing speeds and eye levels expertly. Pineda pounded the zone with heavy stuff. Perez constantly worked inside with the same 95-97 MPH heat he was flashing in spring training. There was no smoke-and-mirrors behind this magic.
And, 2) The Indians aren't THAT beat-up. They're missing their best hitter in Lindor, yes, but fellow absentee Jason Kipnis hasn't been a factor in recent years. I mean, the fact that Tyler Naquin and Jake Bauers were Cleveland's #3 hitters in this series is really quite stunning. The qualitative difference between these two offenses was starkly apparent.
One of the most interesting aspects of this Twins team coming into the season, from my view, was the legitimately high-powered starting corps, which has come along so far since five years ago. In total, the four starters combined for 47 swinging strikes on 310 pitches, a remarkable 15.1% whiff rate. For context, only three qualified MLB starters induced swinging strikes at a higher percentage in 2018: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Carlos Carrasco (who the Twins knocked around in Sunday's series finale).
Meanwhile, the bullpen was effective for the most part. Rocco Baldelli rotated through all six of his relievers and got scoreless appearances from five of them, with Taylor Rogers going twice and looking particularly crisp.
So, early returns on new pitching coach Wes Johnson and his staff are resoundingly positive.
The offense was mostly quiet in the opening series, facing the unenviable assignments of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer in the season's first two games. Both enter this campaign as Cy Young frontrunners, and each looked the part in helping hold Minnesota's potent lineup to three runs on six hits through 18 innings.
But Nelson Cruz made an impact in all three games as the Twins' new #3 hitter. He set up Marwin Gonzalez' game-winning hit on Thursday with a leadoff single in the seventh against Kluber. He drove in Minnesota's lone run on Saturday with some impressive bat-handling against Bauer. And he keyed the offense's breakout on Sunday by going 3-for-5 with the club's first home run of the year.
The other most noteworthy performer was Byron Buxton. Fears of a post-spring drought quickly disappeared as he went 4-for-10 with three doubles and only two strikeouts in his first series. Last year, his third double came on May 12th. In 2017, he didn't get his fourth hit until almost two weeks into the season.
It's certainly a modest benchmark but this is easily the best start of Buxton's career. Seeing him fired up and pumping his fists at second on Sunday after delivering a key two-run double – with two outs, on an 0-2 count – was the most invigorating sight for me on a weekend that offered plenty to choose from in that regard.
There wasn't a whole lot to dislike in these first three games. The Twins won two of them in fairly convincing fashion, and fell short by one run in the other. The final inning of that loss provides the only real fodder for grievances.
Blake Parker was the only Twins pitcher to struggle in the entire series, and it wasn't because he got hit hard. The Arkansas native simply could not find any semblance of control in the chilly weather on Saturday. Carlos Santana singled, then moved from first to third on a pair of wild pitches. Parker walked Hanley Ramirez and fell behind Greg Allen 2-0 before allowing a sacrifice fly to deep center.
The outing was uglier to watch than it looks on paper: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB. All things considered, if that's your most disastrous pitching performance in a series you can feel pretty good.
And the Twins were well positioned to get that run back in the bottom half. Buxton led off against Cleveland closer Brad Hand with a wind-aided "double" to the shallow outfield. Baldelli then curiously elected not to use a pinch-hitter for Max Kepler, despite Hand's record of pure dominance against lefty swingers.
Kepler struck out, and the rally went on to fall short. Presumably, Baldelli is just trying to show confidence in his core guys, but turning to a contact machine like Willians Astudillo in that spot – speedy runner on second, no outs, deepest bench the Twins will have all year – seemed like such an obvious call that it was surprising not to see it from the ostensibly analytical thinker. Will loyalty outweigh logic in the future? Something to watch.
In general, Kepler is off to a slow start, as is fellow corner outfielder Eddie Rosario (combined 1-for-22), but there's no reason to worry about either.
There's only one active Twins pitcher we haven't seen yet. It's kind of crazy that the rotation showed such incredible swing-and-miss proficiency in the opening series without its reigning whiff leader.
Kyle Gibson spent his spring trying to regain strength and weight following a nasty winter bout with E. coli. He admitted after his last exhibition start – an ugly clunker against the Red Sox – that he still wasn't quite back to where he ideally wanted to be. So it's not surprising to see the Twins giving him as much time as they possibly can; Gibson's first start will come after Berrios takes his second turn on Tuesday in Kansas City.
How will he look? Gibson's success last year was fueled by career-high velocity, so any sapped voltage might have a material impact. But if he's mostly back to form, this rotation has a chance to start generating some real enthusiasm in short order.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Minor-league games haven't started yet, and in fact official rosters for the affiliates haven't even been announced yet. But that will all come this week, with Minor League Opening Day on Thursday.
Make sure you stay tuned into Twins Daily for unparalleled coverage of the team's system and prospects. I'll be recapping the most noteworthy developments in this space each Sunday night, but the day-to-day minor-league coverage on this site is beyond robust and comprehensive. Thanks in advance to all of the people who work hard to make it possible: Seth, Cody, Tom, Steve, Ted, Matt... can't wait to read all of your reports this summer.
Following a successful home kickoff, the Twins embark on a seven-game road trip with four off days sprinkled in. Baldelli will have a deep bench and rested bullpen as he tours through two National League parks, starting with Philadelphia next weekend.
TUESDAY, 4/2: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Brad Keller
WEDNESDAY, 4/3: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Homer Bailey
FRIDAY, 4/5: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Nick Pivetta
SATURDAY, 4/6: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Jake Arrieta
SUNDAY, 4/7: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Zach Eflin
Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps
- Game 1 | MIN 2, CLE 0: Berrios Dominates, Sets Twins Opening Day Record for Ks
- Game 2 | CLE 2, MIN 1: Odorizzi Strikes Out 11, Wild Parker Surrenders Go-Ahead Run
- Game 3 | MIN 9, CLE 3: Twins Take Series Behind Pineda, Tortuga
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