Twins looking to build on 2019 regular season success

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Ben Dettmer

With temperatures approaching 40 degrees and spring seemingly around the corner in Minnesota, it’s almost time for Minnesota diehards to start getting excited about Twins baseball. Spring training has kicked off, and teams are in the full swing of practicing together and playing exhibition games.

With both the Wild and Timberwolves seasons coming to a close in the coming months and their playoff chances slim to none (although the Wild remain in the hunt), Minnesota sports fans will once again gather around get their hopes up for the state’s sole team with a championship banner.

This year, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Twins have the chance to repeat as winners of the American League Central Division title, and with that comes expectations upon them that they haven’t faced since their last division title in 2010. However, this year, unlike 2010, the Twins are following an historic season in which they set MLB record for homeruns in a season and won 101 games, the second most in franchise history and most since 1965.

Yet the most electric Twins season in recent memory, with a promising record, was cut short by the dreaded Yankees in just four playoff games. The Yankees continued a postseason torture of the Twins that has endured throughout the last decade-plus and led to a brutally painful run of 16 straight playoff losses. The bitter taste that was left in the mouths of players and fans has lasted through the winter and undoubtedly has fueled excitement and nerves as the regular season approaches. An aggressive off-season and the return of last season’s core are reasons to be hopeful, but the question remains: Can the Twins capitalize on their window of opportunity?

The Bombers Are Back and Better

Thankfully for the Twins, they have unprecedented continuity coming into the 2020 season, as they’re bringing back virtually their entire core from a team that was historic offensively and won over 100 games. And as if that weren’t enough, the Twins made a splash in January by signing third baseman Josh Donaldson to a contract worth 4 years and $92 million, arguably the biggest free agent signing the Twins have ever made. Donaldson won the AL MVP award in 2015, has made three all-star games, and has hit 30 or more home runs in four of his last five seasons. He also represents a significant improvement as a fielder at the hot corner; he’s highly regarded as a top fielding third baseman and is a massive upgrade from Miguel Sano at the position. Sano, who signed a three-year extension this past offseason, was a below average fielder at third and will be moved to first base and will likely DH as well. The Twins’ notable offseason losses, C.J. Cron and Johnathon Schoop, are more than replaceable and will hopefully be filled by Donaldson and Luiz Arraez, a second-year player that the Twins are hoping will blossom in 2020.

Pitching & Injury Problems

One critique that could be said about the Donaldson signing is that it left the Twins with essentially the same starting pitching staff and a very similar bullpen to the one that caused the team’s downfall in the 2019 postseason. Legitimate questions exist about Jose Berrios’ ability to be a playoff-caliber ace, and the rest of the rotation will have to be relied on to step up as well, especially Michael Pineda, who returns to the team following a 60 game suspension for using a banned substance.

Injuries to key pitchers, especially starters, could be a serious problem given their lack of quality pitching depth.  Durability will be a very important part of the Twins being successful in 2020, as Byron Buxton’s injuries in 2019 hurt the Twins in multiple ways, among other injuries to key players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Twins go after a pitcher before the midseason trade deadline if front office believes the team is in a position to make a title run.

Conclusion: Win Now

Adding Donaldson to a lineup that’s fresh off of hitting 307 home runs was an incredibly aggressive move by the Twins front office and is evidence of their desire and commitment to winning now, something that Twins fans haven’t seen in some time. While questions remain about pitching, the Twins have one of the scariest lineups in the league outside of Los Angeles and have all the pieces in place to make a run. Regardless of the outcome of the season, there’s no denying that it is going to be a fun year of Twins baseball.