CHICAGO – Luis Arraez has made batting .400 in this condensed MLB season a personal goal. Cleveland manager Terry Francona was so impressed with the Twins second baseman as a professional hitter despite being a rookie last season that he predicted Arraez will win a batting title at some point.
High praise for a guy who could bat eighth in the Twins’ batting order.
Of course, Arraez also could hit in the leadoff spot, too.
But that’s assuming Max Kepler isn’t batting first, and how do you move a guy who smashed 32 home runs as the leadoff man last season?
Then again, Kepler could hit cleanup on occasion.
Catcher Mitch Garver, in a breakout season that produced 31 home runs, batted in all nine spots in the order last season, and he played only 93 games. So expect him to shuffle up and down the lineup.
All of this is to say, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has options. Lots and lots of attractive options in filling out a lineup that looks even more formidable than the one that launched an MLB-record 307 home runs and scored a franchise-record 939 runs.
“That’s a great discussion to have to have every single day when you make the lineup,” Baldelli said.
Bomba Squad 2.0 has the potential to be special. Well, as special as any one facet of a team can look in 60 games. Records won’t fall this season with so few games, but the blueprint for winning hasn’t changed. It improved, on paper, with the addition of former MVP Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson makes a deep lineup even deeper. He gives a power-packed lineup more power.
This should be entertaining to watch.
An obvious disclaimer: Grandiose expectations are predicated, of course, on players repeating — or producing a reasonable facsimile of — past performances, namely 2019. Baseball is rarely predictable. Players slump. Performances regress.
Knowing that, the Twins’ lineup is filled with established hitters capable of hitting the ball a really long distance.
“We know we have a lot of options every day,” Baldelli said. “Sometimes it’s really tough because we have an entire group that would love to be out there and get at-bats every day. But they also realize who they’re playing with and who they’re playing next to.”
The traditionalist in me likes the idea of Arraez at leadoff. He had a .399 on-base percentage as a rookie, which would create opportunities for big innings to start games. But those 1-0 leads after Kepler’s first at-bat are hard to pass on.
Donaldson slides into his familiar No. 2 spot and Nelson Cruz, seemingly, into the three hole. If Baldelli wants to alternate lefty-righty, he could insert Jorge Polanco between Donaldson and Cruz.
Forcing pitchers to face Cruz in the first inning would be a smart strategy, but the addition of Donaldson adds another power threat. Or Baldelli could leave Donaldson and Cruz back to back as an imposing 1-2 punch.
Then who bats cleanup? Polanco? Eddie Rosario? Miguel Sano?
The answer is yes. Depends on the day and situation.
The lineup is always a fluid thing. Baldelli used 145 different batting orders last season. There is a balance of gut feeling and analytics.
“As easy as it would be to have somebody send down a lineup and spit something out for us, we have to consider the human element,” said Baldelli’s new bench coach, Mike Bell. “Somebody who’s hit in the third hole their whole career, is it that easy for them to jump into the fourth or second or fifth? In some cases, yes, but it’s very individual.”
When healthy, Byron Buxton slots at the bottom of the order. Maybe that changes at some point in his career, but not yet. Buxton showed improvement at the plate last season, and his speed puts stress on defenses. The Twins are a different team when he’s in the lineup, but injuries have hindered his progress.
Baldelli said he’s written out his lineup for the first 3-5 games “multiple times” but it is subject to change. He downplayed any outside concerns about hitters’ timing with the long layoff and abbreviated camp. He saw enough in training camp 2.0 to feel that the Bomba Squad is rarin’ to go.
“I feel really good with where it looks right now,” Baldelli said.
He should. He has one of the four best lineups in baseball (Yankees, Dodgers, Astros). On Friday, we finally get to see how he stacks it.