On Thursday (!) the Twins played their earliest season opener ever when they faced the Orioles at Camden Yards. The early start is designed to provide more off days during the regular season.
We are all reminded of how early it as we look outside and see snow on the ground.
Snow or shine, the new season is here. And that means it’s time for a prediction column.
This season, I prefer to issue a set of warnings, things to be prepared to see this season. So don’t act surprised when it happens.
1. Houston will repeat: The Astros picked up Justin Verlander on the way to the World Series title. Then Houston dealt for Gerrit Cole during the offseason. That’s Verlander and Cole to go with former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, a 27-year old MVP in Jose Altuve and the upside of Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Lance McCullers. Astros over Nationals in six.
2. The Yankees power trip will fall one step shy of the World Series: Giancarlo Stanton announced his arrival in pinstripes with two home runs on Opening Day. He should wear No. 114 — to represent his exit velocity. With Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, New York might set all sorts of home run records. With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle, the bullpen might strike out everybody. But their starting rotation will be their weakness.
3. No Show-Tani: Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year old two-way star, signed with the Angels. The Angels will switch to a six-man rotation to help him transition to the majors. There are red flags here. One, teams have enough trouble finding five starters, let alone six. And the Angels are banking on all their starters suddenly being healthy after two years of turmoil? Two, Ohtani gave up nine runs in 2⅔ spring training innings. Three, scouts are concerned that his bat isn’t major leagues-ready. He will be a season-long problem.
4. The Empire Strikes Back against launch angle: Increasing the angle of your swing is the new hotness. Logan Morrison increased his launch angle from 12 degrees to 17 degrees last season and hit a career-high 38 home runs. That swing is supposed to attack low pitches and hit more balls in the air. For every action, there is a reaction. Defenses will adjust. Houston went to a four-man outfield against Matt Adams during spring training and against Joey Gallo on Opening Day. Go ahead. Try to loft the ball.
5. White-flagging: The players union is complaining about teams tanking? Wait until the trade deadline, when teams that are out of it start tanking for 2019. For example — only an example — if everything goes wrong for the Twins and they are well out of the race, they could have the greatest fire sale ever. Morrison, Ervin Santana, Brian Dozier, Lance Lynn, Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney could all be dealt to contenders.
Around the Central Division
Indians: Cleveland led the Yankees 2-0 in the ALDS last year but ended up dropping the series. It was a tough way for a 102-win team to have its season end — and it should lead to plenty of motivation for this season. “Even though [the ALDS] didn’t end well for us, it’s an experience we can draw from,” reliever Andrew Miller said.
Royals: Twins fans had to have flashbacks to 1996 when it was learned that Royals catcher Salvador Perez tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Tuesday while carrying a suitcase to his bedroom. Former Twins closer Rick Aguilera once injured his wrist while picking up a suitcase.
Tigers: Detroit sent Jordan Zimmermann to the mound on Opening Day while former Tiger Justin Verlander started in Houston. Verlander made nine Opening Day starts for the Tigers, second-most in club history. Jack Morris is the Tigers’ all-time leader with 11 Opening Day starts — consecutive.
White Sox: Chicago traded Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks in 2013 for Matt Davidson (above), who could become a star in Chicago. The slugger belted three home runs on Opening Day against the Royals, joining George Bell, Tuffy Rhodes and Dmitri Young as players who opened the season with three home runs.