In better times, during a TwinsFest awash in optimism in the wake of the Josh Donaldson signing, I called the Twins’ 2020 roster the best in franchise history. With ridiculous power and underrated pitching depth, the Twins were well-prepared to succeed over 162 games.
The pandemic has changed everything. Now the 2020 Twins are well-prepared to succeed over 60 games.
As the Twins begin official workouts this weekend at Target Field, they may be even more formidable than they were a few months ago.
This winter, they had two injury concerns: Byron Buxton’s shoulder and Rich Hill’s elbow.
Neither should be a problem in Season 2.0.
For all of his injuries, Buxton still has a chance to become the best all-around player on a team that won 101 games last year and will be favored to repeat as AL Central champions.
He remains the Twins’ best fielder, fastest runner and best base stealer, and he has shown in monthlong bursts in the big leagues that he can produce power. Last year, he posted a career-best .827 OPS in 87 games.
At best, Buxton will be a superstar. Even if he becomes a modern-day Devon White — a superior fielder with occasional power — he will be an asset. White helped the Blue Jays win a lot of games, and a couple of World Series.
Hill may not be a name that evokes images of downtown parades, but he could be a sneaky-good addition, especially now that he’s presumed healthy. He can contribute as a starter or long reliever, and he owns a postseason ERA of 3.60 over 53 innings. His World Series ERA is 1.80 over 15 innings.
Hill’s signing increased the Twins’ pitching depth. Will pitching depth matter in a 60-game season? Yes.
Modern baseball managers were already hesitant to extend their starting pitchers into the late innings. After a shortened second training camp, starting pitchers may be removed after four or five innings, and the expanded roster will encourage managers to piece games together with a handful of relievers.
Everyone would love to have the Nationals’ pitching staff — one fronted by proven aces. What the Twins have might be the next best thing.
This is where pitching depth comes in. The Twins could use a reliever as an opener, then get a few innings from their “starter,’’ then have their best relievers primed to finish the game. Having pitchers like Hill, Homer Bailey, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer gives the Twins depth and flexibility, and the ability to expand the rotation to six or seven starters if they choose.
While the Twins’ pitching depth could become important, the ability of Twins hitters to punish mediocre pitching could be downright frightening. They set a big-league record for home runs last year, then added Donaldson, and now they are going to face a bunch of teams lacking pitching depth.
In a rushed, shortened season, the Twins will face a lot of lousy middle relievers, and they should be able to punish them.
Despite 101 victories and a home-run record, the 2019 Twins’ season didn’t proceed without flaws and problems. Miguel Sano was absent or lousy for half the season. Luis Arraez played in only 92 games. Buxton played in just 87. Mitch Garver, who shared time with Jason Castro, played in just 93.
The Twins could reasonably be projected to improve offensively in terms of overall production at catcher, first base, second base, third base and center field. And in left field, Eddie Rosario will be tasked to improve his on-base percentage of .300, which was masked by his 32 home runs.
This could be a better overall offensive team capable of taking better at-bats on the whole than last year’s record-setters.
The schedule sets up well for the Twins in terms of opponents, as well. Last year, the Twins won fewer than 40% of their games against these teams: the Yankees, Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Mets, and A’s.
None of those teams will be on the Twins’ Central-centric 2020 schedule, a schedule the Twins are built to dominate.