This is an easy one.
It starts and ends with Byron Buxton.
The Minnesota Twins will go as far as Byron Buxton takes them. And the gold glove centerfielder seems to know it and is embracing it…
He reported to spring training this year carrying an extra 7-12 pounds of muscle.
As the Twins slowly transition from the ‘Bomba Squad’ to a team that doesn’t solely rely on the homer for scoring runs, Buxton’s speed and defense will become even more critical to the Twins success this season.
He’s just going to need to stay healthy.
I’m not a big analytics guy. I would go almost completely without them if I was managing in the current era, so I don’t have any modern day bullshit statistics to back up my claim to how important Buxton’s health is to the team’s success.
I’ll just tell you I watched damn near all 60 games they played last year in the COVID shortened season and the team always had a little extra pep in their step when ‘Buck’ was in the line-up.
He does all the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s the first one to the cage in the morning for batting practice and the last one to leave the park at night, usually after getting an extra workout in. He makes sure to get a good nights sleep the night before a day game. He eats well. He takes care of his body. Buxton has a respect for the game that runs deep. He hones his craft. Baseball is not his job, it’s what he loves. He leads by example, both in the clubhouse and on the field. The guy is a pro’s pro.
He’s a five tool player—he can hit for power, he can hit for average, his speed in the outfield and on the base paths is second to none, and he’s got a golden glove with a strong arm. His teammates love him. He’s loyal. He can get emotional in big moments, but in general never gets too high or low. The guy still chokes up on his bat when he’s got two strikes. He’s not afraid to do the dirty work that needs to be done to win ballgames.
He’s also great in the community and sets a positive example for kids everywhere. I’ve never seen him turn down a request for an autograph. He gives a lot to various charities in the Twin Cities. He makes time for the Boys and Girls Club’s of America in the offseason.
And he’ll play out this season at the ripe age of 27.
Assuming he appears in the neighborhood of 150 games this year, I project his numbers to be around .275 BA, 33-39 HR, 85-105 RBI, 35-50 SB, with an OPS of around .950. And another gold glove wrapped up by early September.
His looming arbitration years and eventual free agency no doubt fueling him along the way…I look for Buxton to sow up that life changing money and make a run at the MVP award in 2021.
As for the rest of the team, they’ll need to come along for the ride.
Jose Barrios and Kenta Maeda should compete in a fun game of can-you-top this all season long and both be firmly entrenched in the mix for CY Young award.
(Note to Rocco Baldelli: Don’t be afraid to leave these two in the game past the 6th inning. Throw your data sheet away when these two guys toe the bump.)
Beyond that I don’t trust any of the other starters. Between Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, and Randy Dobnak, you’re basically just asking them for as productive of a season as possible. Hopefully one or two of them post winning records while the other two hang in there and give you some quality starts along the way.
Big difference between hoping and expecting.
I’m expecting it from Barrios and Maeda. Hoping for it from those other guys.
I think the bullpen has improved simply by bringing in a closer that’s not named Taylor Rodgers. He was awful last year in that role. Maybe, with the addition of Alex Colome to roster, Rodgers can find some sort of success as a set-up man. And the Twins can be more successful closing out games with a lead in the 9th.
I was sad to see crazy ol’ Sergio Romo was not re-upped. I Loved seeing that loopy headed asshole go out there most nights and dink around for an inning or so. He will be missed.
But I love the fact that they let Eddie Rosario leave. His baseball IQ is so low, that if put in certain situations enough, he’d be directly responsible for eventually getting his manager fired on any team he plays for.
The guy never gave a shit about anything in the field. Everything was always aloof and O-LEY out there for him. At the plate he was constantly taking strikes and swinging at balls. It’s amazing he was able to put up the numbers he did with that consistent formula. Last year he swung at over 46% of pitches he saw that were outside of the strike zone.
With Rosario out the door the Twins are smartly going with the addition by subtraction approach. He will be replaced by 23-year-old rookie Alex Kirilloff, who the Twins are expecting big things from.
And with the addition of shortstop Andreleton Simmons this offseason, a defensive ace with a decent bat, the Twins will move Jorge Polanco over to 2nd base, where hopefully someone will get in his ear about setting his feet before throwing in crucial situations, (Polanco had a big throwing error in the playoffs last year that essentially cost the Twins the game) and create a more flexible lineup.
I think the Twins’s bats are more than capable of being consistently productive this season.
Ideally, most nights, that lineup card would look something like this:
Garver or Jeffers C
Also look for Luis Arraez to get a lot of plate appearances during the season. He’s a valuable young utility player who can play multiple positions. I love the way he treats every at bat like it’s the bottom of the ninth with two outs. He should be able to fill the ‘super-utility’ role that Marvin Gonzalez left behind, and give them some added depth in case Zach Donaldson’s calf injury flares up again this season.
It’s a solid lineup with the potential to be great.
I can’t begin to tell you how much the Twins could use a big bat from the catcher position. Garver has shown the ability to do that with his numbers from two years ago, but last year regressed enough to be benched. Jeffers showed some flashes while seeing his first big league action. Either way, a productive bat and some pop from the catcher position in the lineup will go a long way towards pushing the Twins offensive efficiency over the top.
My only other observation I can’t emphasize enough how annoying it is to watch Sano at the plate. It always looks like he’s trying to swing a 90 pound bat. All he does is strike out, walk, and hit home runs.
And he doesn’t walk or hit home runs very often.
It should also be noted that I guarantee the lineup on opening day will look nothing like mine. I’m not sure if there’s a method to manager Rocco Baldelli’s madness, but sometimes he looks like he puts the batting order together by putting his player’s names on a bingo balls and drawing them.
It frustrates me. He elected to keep Buxton in the 7, 8, and 9 spots in the order last year until Buck got hot. Hopefully Rocco keeps him at the top of the order this year. It makes no sense for your best player to potentially get one less plate appearance per game than half your team.
Speaking of frustrating, the Twins are currently sitting on an incredible 18 game playoff losing streak. Easily the longest such streak in major sports history.
I’m really hoping they can get back to the postseason this year and get off that schneid.
I’m worried though.
With no expanded playoff format again this year, the White Sox being the new up-and-coming trendy pick for the experts, and the Indians still dangerously lingering around in there somewhere, its entirely possibly Minnesota could find themselves on the outside looking in come October.
On paper they should be competitive all year long though. And, even if they fall off the pace a little bit, it always helps that the Twins are generally an easy team to root for.
They’re not small market. They’re not big market. They’ll spend a buck here or there, but are never involved in a bidding war with the Yankees, Padres, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Mets, Cubs, or Red Sox for a big name free agent. They’re always somewhere in the middle…spending enough money to be competitive, but not enough to where any potential championship won would feel bought or unearned.
It’s a beautiful thing.
Plus they are such an easy watch. Put the game on in the background and keep doing whatever it is you were doing. There’s not a whole lot to get too excited about or much to get mad at either. At the end of the night it’s one win, or loss, in a season filled with 162 of them.
Not like appointment television Sundays with the Vikings, living and dying with every play while blocking out a three hour window from other responsibilities in your life to watch things unravel.
Twins baseball is more relaxing. A nice little summer of cleansing before you get back into the toxicity of everything that’s wrong with watching the Vikings, and the NFL in general, in the Fall.
The Twins organization is a nice little team with a pleasant history. A couple of World Series titles in ’87 and ’91 to look back fondly on, some great household names like Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, and Jack Morris, and an innate ability to sell their fan base on never expecting big things from them, while always keeping the achievement of reaching the World Series a realistic possibility in their loyal follower’s minds.
How are the Twins doing this year? Ahhh, they stink.
How are the Twins doing this year? Heeeey! Twinkies got a shot.
Both answers come with the same amount of time investment, emotional attachment, and pride.
They’re the Twins!
I’m proud to be a Twins fan. This is not a conceited bunch. We take all comers. Pull up a seat next to me. I won’t ask any questions about your journey. It’s safe here. We got ourselves a nice little team up north, fly fairly under the radar, and have lost 13 straight postseason games to the Yankees…The likes of which we say, ‘Eeeh, damn Twins. Hope we get another shot at them next year,’ and go on with our lives.
Red Sox fans aren’t as lucky in that scenario. They sifted through 84 years (since the Babe Ruth trade) of misery to finally get back at the Yanks, with countless beat downs along the way.
And the Red Sox, along with every other big market team, are considered failures if they don’t win the last game of the season.
The Minnesota Twins and their fans don’t have that headache.
What we do have is Byron Buxton in his prime.
***PREDICTION***: 93-69, 2nd Wild Card Team, and the playoff streak continues.