The Twins come home to open Target Field on Thursday after a successful five-game road trip to start the season that culminated with their 7-3 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
After starting the season 3-for-17, Miguel Sano went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI and two runs scored and moved his average up to .273. Brian Dozier continued his incredible home run streak with his fourth in five games. And Eduardo Escobar stayed hot, going 2-for-3 with two RBI to move his average up to .438, a great start in place of the suspended Jorge Polanco.
On top of that the bullpen backed up a shaky Jake Odorizzi, who allowed three runs on five hits and three walks in snowy conditions over 4⅓ innings, as Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney combined to allow three hits and no runs.
Hopefully the Twins can build on that momentum as they settle in for 12 straight home games. They weren’t so successful at home last year, going just 41-40 compared to 44-37 on the road.
A better start?
A year ago the Twins didn’t set the world on fire to start the season. They won their first four games, but finished 12-11 in April, 14-12 in May, 14-15 in June and 10-15 in July.
They finally hit their stride and had a great August, when they went 20-10. It was that stretch, which included a six-game winning streak, that got them an American League wild-card playoff berth, because they went 14-14 in September before winning their lone game in October.
The Twins will have to overcome a few things at the start of this season with starting pitcher Ervin Santana out until May and Polanco out for 81 games.
Polanco was a big catalyst during that successful August. He had hit just .224 in the first half of the season with three home runs and 31 RBI, but he really turned it around in the second half and hit .373 in August alone with six home runs and 23 RBI.
Santana, meanwhile, was the workhorse for the team in the first half of the season in 2017, when he went 10-6 with a 2.99 ERA and was named an All-Star.
The Twins are going to have to hope that Odorizzi and Lance Lynn can help bolster the staff without Santana and that Escobar can stay solid at the plate.
Yes this is a new ballclub for the Twins. While nine of the 13 position players on the 25-man roster are the same from 2017, the only two pitchers who broke camp with the 25-man roster this year that did so last year are Kyle Gibson and Ryan Pressly.
That means that 10 of the 12 pitchers on the staff were not here for Opening Day in 2017.
New coaches arrive
While the Twins have made big changes on the field, in bringing in such free agents as Lynn, Odorizzi and first baseman Logan Morrison, perhaps their biggest changes have been in the coaching staff.
Over the past two years they have completely revamped their key positions in replacing hitting coach Tom Brunansky, pitching coach Neil Allen and bench coach Joe Vavra.
This year Garvin Alston is in his first year as a major league pitching coach replacing Allen, who had been in that role with the Twins for three seasons.
Derek Shelton is the bench coach, replacing Vavra, who had been with the Twins in different roles for 12 years.
Twins President Dave St. Peter talked about how the transition has been going among the coaching staff.
“Derek Shelton comes to us as our bench coach and spent a lot of time with Tampa last year, with Toronto, he’s a really, really gifted leader and I think is really going to be helpful to Paul Molitor,” St. Peter said. “Garvin Alston, first-time major league pitching coach, and he’s had a tremendous amount of support from [senior pitching adviser] Bob McLure and the likes of Bert Blyleven.
“Garvin is going to be great. He’s going to bring a lot of energy and a lot of personalized pitch plans. We’re optimistic that he’s going to do for our pitching staff what James Rowson has done for our hitters. Both of those guys I think are a big part of our future.”
Yes, Molitor was very close with former coaches Vavra, Allen and Brunansky, but there’s no doubt the shake-up to bring in Rowson worked great last season and the Twins need the same to happen this year with Shelton and Alston.
ESPN ranks Vikings
ESPN graded out all 32 NFL teams this week for how they did in free agency, and the Vikings were the only team to receive an “A” grade. And that was before the team filled a huge need with wide receiver Kendall Wright.
ESPN wrote: “It took two years of strategic planning for Minnesota to enter free agency with $53 million in salary-cap space. The Vikings set themselves up to be able to get any quarterback they wanted this offseason, and that’s exactly what they did in offering Kirk Cousins — 2018’s top free agent — an unprecedented fully-guaranteed contract.”
They added that signing defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson put the Vikings among the biggest winners in the offseason.
This is another season where General Manager Rick Spielman and his staff have put the team in a great position heading into the NFL draft later this month.
• The Timberwolves game against the Nuggets on Thursday is one of the biggest regular-season games in team history. The Wolves are 2-0 against Denver this season, and the Nuggets (43-35) are one game behind the Timberwolves (44-34) in the loss column. While the Timberwolves could still finish anywhere from fourth in the Western Conference to out of the playoffs, there is one certainty: If they win three of their final four games there is no way they can miss the postseason.
• If the Wolves reach the playoffs and open on the road, their first home playoff game would be either Thursday, April 19, or Friday, April 20. If they happen to get into the No. 4 seed and open at home, their first home game would be either Saturday, April 14, or Sunday, April 15. ... The third annual Flip Saunders Legacy Award will be presented on Monday at that evening’s game vs. Memphis. The award honors the current Timberwolves player who has best demonstrated community service throughout the course of the season.
• Speaking of Kendall Wright, his athleticism appears to be unparalleled as he earned all-state honors in Texas in football, basketball and track and played both ways in football. ... The Vikings may be looking for a diamond in the rough in linebacker Reshard Cliett, who has been with six teams in three NFL seasons. Cleitt ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and is considered extremely fast for a linebacker.