In case you were wondering, the 2019 Twins were 40-20 through 60 games last season and had stormed to a 9½-game lead in the American League Central.
Winning two-thirds of their games right out of the gate would be an ideal way to start this shortened season, a season that will be unlike any other in the history of Major League Baseball.
After owners and players were unable to agree on how to shape a pandemically ravaged regular season, the owners on Monday implemented a 60-game season that will start July 23 or 24. The MLB Players Association notified the league on Tuesday that its players can report to training camp by July 1, and the sides Tuesday finalized health and safety protocols.
There will be a baseball season.
That’s what Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz has been waiting to hear. The slugger was prepared to leave his home in the Dominican Republic last week, then stop in Florida to visit his hitting coach for a few days before heading for the Twin Cities. He was encouraged by the progress the sides made on June 16 during a meeting in Arizona, but the momentum fizzled, so he stayed home.
But on Tuesday, Cruz said he was “headed up there in a couple of days.”
His teammates are making travel arrangements as well, some of which could be challenging because of dwindling options caused by the coronavirus, which halted the season in the first place on March 12.
“It will be a rush,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “but we will be fine. Flights are more limited, too. [Senior director of team travel] Mike Herman will have to save the day.”
While the prolonged and unsuccessful negotiations exposed both sides’ inability to collaborate for the good of baseball, at least there will be games to play. The Twins and other clubs will need about three weeks for pitchers to get stretched out to start games and hitters to work on their timing — the former more so than the latter.
Once they are ready, they will embark on a season unlike any other, one vastly different from the one they were supposed to play in back in late March.
Some new rules
According to various reports, teams will be allowed to have up to 60 players in training camp 2.0 (it’s hard to call it spring training 2.0 when it’s actually summer). Regular-season rosters are expected to be capped at 30 to begin before shrinking to 28 then 26, with leftover players forming a taxi squad. Three taxi squad players will be allowed to travel with the team, but one has to be a catcher. The trade deadline will be Aug. 31. Players have to be on a major league roster by Sept. 15 to be eligible for the postseason.
Teams will play 40 games against division foes and 20 against teams from the other league’s similar division. The Twins will play 40 against the AL Central and 20 against NL Central teams.
The next biggest change is adopting the DH in both leagues. It’s bound to be added to the next collective bargaining agreement, anyway.
The next biggest change — at least we’re digging into baseball stuff again — is that extra innings will start with a runner on second base. It’s been experimented with in the minors but will be unleashed during this short season. It will not be used in the postseason. And if the runner scores, it will be an unearned run for the pitcher.
A long delay
The Twins worked out the morning of March 12 before a spring training home game against Baltimore. That game was never played. The Orioles never made it to the park. The Twins finished their workout, held a meeting and called it a day.
Three days and more meetings later, the Twins broke camp as MLB shut everything down. That was when the deadly COVID-19 virus began to devastate economies as well as the sports world. Teammates split up not knowing when they would see each other in person again.
Many players and coaches went to their homes to wait until it was safe to play again. Several, such as Baldelli, Max Kepler and Mitch Garver, elected to come to the Twin Cities.
If camp opens on July 1, the target date set by the league, it will be 110 days since the Twins last took the field for any sort of baseball activities. The 162-game season is now whittled down to 60 games. While 162 games allows for enough time to navigate through rough waters and still quality for the postseason, a team has to be practically slump-proof to triumph over a 60-game schedule.
“I mean, it is going to be the case for everybody,” Cruz said. “You have to not think about it or complain. You have to go out and do the job, It is going to be difficult for everybody.”
Players have healed
With little room for rough patches, the Twins need their entire roster ready from the start. They have stated throughout this impasse that they have been pleased with how players have stuck to workout schedules. That will be verified in the coming days as players arrive at Target Field.
Injuries should not be an issue. Outfielder Byron Buxton should be fully recovered from shoulder surgery. Lefthander Rich Hill was expected to be out until July because of elbow surgery, which means he has a chance to impact the rotation from the start. The only pitcher not expected to contribute right away is righthander Michael Pineda, who has to serve the remaining 39 games of his suspension for failing a drug test.
The long wait now over, the baseball clock will begin to speed up. The players who have stayed in the best shape will be in the best position to handle the sprint of a season.
“The guys who don’t complain and just go out and perform and do their job will be the successful ones,” Cruz said. “That should be the goal, to focus on what you can control as a player and do what you do best. Play baseball.”
“Let’s see,” pitcher Jake Odorizzi said, “if I can remember how to play this game of baseball soon enough.”