Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where it’s nice when facts can be part of a good story. Let’s get to it:
*The last time the Twins were within realistic shouting distance of the Cleveland Indians came on June 3, 2018. The Twins had just defeated Cleveland for the third consecutive time, this time a 7-5 win, to draw within 3.5 games of the AL Central leaders. Pretty much every team in the division was struggling, and things looked wide open.
In reality, though, things never got better. The Twins drifted far enough below .500 to be harmless, while Cleveland got its act together and coasted to another division title.
I mention that game in part because of the lineup the Twins put on the field that day. Here it is, 1-9:
1) Brian Dozier, 2B
2) Eddie Rosario, LF
3) Miguel Sano, 3B
4) Logan Morrison, 1B
5) Eduardo Escobar, SS
6) Max Kepler, RF
7) Robbie Grossman, DH
8) Ryan LaMarre, CF
9) Bobby Wilson, C
Now compare that to the expected starting lineup for the Twins on Thursday, when they open the season against that same Cleveland squad:
1) Max Kepler, RF
2) Jorge Polanco, SS
3) Nelson Cruz, DH
4) Eddie Rosario, LF
5) C.J. Cron, 1B
6) Marwin Gonzalez, 3B
7) Jonathan Schoop, 2B
8) Jason Castro, C
9) Byron Buxton, CF
Seven of the nine players are different, with only Kepler and Rosario being the constants. Of the seven from 2018 who are not in today’s lineup, only Miguel Sano is still on the roster.
Of the seven newcomers to the lineup: Polanco was suspended and returned for the second half of the year, when the Twins were already pretty much out of it. Castro was done for the season with an injury by early May. Buxton battled injuries and poor performance all year.
But the other four are true newcomers — three free agent signings (Cruz, Gonzalez and Schoop) and a waiver pickup (Cron) who is being paid like a free agent ($4.8 million). All are expected to hit for power and produce runs while occupying important spots in the order (yes, No. 7 is an important spot in the order these days).
Long story short: For all the talk about how the Twins didn’t do a whole lot in the offseason, they sure will look a lot different when they take the field for the first time in 2019.
*An interesting nugget unearthed in the midst of thinking about the NFL’s new rule that will allow challenges on pass interference penalties in 2019: Sure, it was motivated in large part by the botched call against the Saints in the NFC title game. But the Saints were also the NFL team last season that was called for pass interference the most times (19) and had the most pass interference calls go its way (14).
*Of the 46 games in the Women’s Professional Hockey League this season, 16 were sellouts — and Minnesota led the way in attendance, per Emily Kaplan.
*Karl-Anthony Towns’ pal Devin Booker put up another 50 point game in another loss Wednesday. He shot a VERY good 19 for 29 from the field and was a plus-8 in the three-point loss to Washington, so don’t blame him.