At ten games into the season, it’s a fool’s game to make a prediction for how the year will unfold. One of the fun things about a baseball season is seeing a closer emerge from bullpen obscurity or a rookie – a la Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge – lead the league in home runs. All you go on is unwarranted projections from last year’s team; and of course how many games a team wins also depends on the quality of the opposition, a factor I have no good way of judging. Nevertheless, there are reasons for optimism as I look at the Twins’ chances in 2018.
Pitching: This is the biggest upgrade and biggest cause of hope. Getting Jake Odorizzi was the steal of the winter, and adding Lance Lynn gives the Twins a legitimate five-man rotation once Ervin Santana comes back from his finger injury. Of course, I am also assuming/hoping that the problematic Kyle Gibson finally turns the corner and that phenom Jose Berrios matures into a lights-out pitcher for more than five innings. The relief corps is always a work-in-progress, as the manager does situational testing. Last year at this time who had even heard of Trevor Hildenberger, yet he became one of the Twins’ most dependable arms. So far this year, however, he hasn’t had the same success. Most observers’ principal concern is having 41-year-old Fernando Rodney as the closer, but Addison Reed is a more than competent backup if Rodney falters. There are also a half-dozen pitchers-in-waiting in the minor league system should any of the current crop of starters and relievers falter or get injured. In sum, there is no ace, but outside of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, how many real aces are out there?, and the Twins have pitching that is good enough to keep them in most games.
Hitting: This will make or break the Twins’ year. Specifically, Miguel Sano could carry the team with his power, or he could be a strikeout machine. Byron Buxton could bedevil the opposition with his speed, or he could continue to flail helplessly at curve balls. Jorge Polanco was a .200 hitter for half the season, a .300 hitter the other half: which will it be? Logan Morrison hit 38 homers last year but can’t make contact this spring: is it a slump or was last year an aberration? Max Kepler suddently became overmatched against lefthanded pitching. Still young and learning, can he turn that around? Perhaps the most overlooked question mark is Eddie Rosario, a streak hitter who Molitor has been batting third and fourth this year without much result. When he’s hot he can hit anybody, but if he fails it will be almost as big a hole in the lineup as Sano. Joe Mauer, one assumes, will continue hitting as he always does, with not much power, although being in the last year of his huge contract might give him a little extra motivation. There’s no Jose Altuve in the lineup, someone you can always count on to get a hit; but there is plenty of potential firepower if even two-thirds of the question marks are answered positively.
Defense: It’s fun to talk about the Twins in the field, and this may be the component that ensures an over-.500 record. Buxton is recognized as the game’s best defender, which also helps the four fielders around him. Brian Dozier won a Gold Glove at 2nd, Mauer is steady, if not flashy, at first, and Sano’s arm at 3d is a marvel and his dexterity surprising. Jason Castro was signed for his defensive skills, framing pitches and blocking balls in the dirt; and Rosario has led the league in outfield assists. The shortstops and other outfielders are only average, but there are no clunkers in the lot.
Manager: For his first two years I thought Paul Molitor didn’t bring enough fire to the table, and I regret his reluctance to use bunts, hit-and-runs, squeeze plays – any of the tricks of the manager’s trade – but his results, especially last year’s, speak for themselves. The players seem to respect him, which is something. In all, I’d rate him a neutral force on the season’s outcome.
Conclusion: I don’t know if the Twins have improved enough to overtake the Indians or the Astros, and I always worry about the chokehold the Yankees have on every Twins team; but the playoffs should be well within their grasp. It should be a fun summer.