The beauty of this upcoming Twins season, set to begin at 2 p.m. today (weather permitting), is that no matter what happens it will be exciting and interesting on many levels. If you can go into 2016 with no greater expectations than to be entertained and to gain hope for the future, you will have a fun time with this Twins team.
The downside of having a team with so many young, moving parts is that enthusiasm about potential tends to trump reality about the downside of things. Fans start a lot of sentences with “If …” and start putting those things into baskets marked “probably” instead of “possibly” because they want them to happen.
If Miguel Sano is the real deal … if Eddie Rosario continues to progress … if young pitchers bolster the rotation and bullpen early in the season … if Phil Hughes has a bounceback year … if Byung Ho Park can hit MLB pitching …
It’s natural to look at the Twins’ 83-79 record from a season ago and conclude that because they’re a relatively young team (at least in the lineup) they should continue to make progress. But there’s a nagging part of me that thinks the Twins overachieved a bit last season — and that if they simply have a proper level of achievement this year, they might show improvement overall but still fall a little short, even, of where they finished in 2015.
For all that went right in 2015, there is this: a weird and wonderful month of May, in which the Twins went 20-7 and briefly had the best record in the American League, pretty much carried the team all season. If you want to count on Ricky Nolasco winning five consecutive starts (as he did last May) or the Twins hitting roughly .800 with runners in scoring position (as they did in May), that’s your business.
If you want to believe Sano saved the season, you’re not wrong. But you should also consider: the Twins were 41-37 before he arrived and 42-42 after. You could also believe Tyler Duffey saved the season or Kevin Jepsen saved the season. Duffey isn’t in the rotation to start 2016; Jepsen is solid but figures to regress a little from the 1.61 ERA and 0.893 WHIP he posted with the Twins last year.
Other improvements will mitigate these pitfalls, but the big question is how much. I think the Twins will be an average offense and an average pitching staff in 2016. To me, that adds up to an average record, even in the midst of what will be an exciting season.
Put me down for 81-81, right down the middle, but don’t confuse that with a lack of interest in this year’s team. It’s just reality — this is the season before the season you’ve all been waiting for, but I’ll enjoy watching it all come together.