No team took a bigger step forward in 2019 than the Twins, who increased their win total from 78 to 101 in a one-year span. They knocked the back-to-back-to-back AL Central-winning Indians off their pedestal in the process, taking the division by a cushy eight games. The Twins did it with a juggernaut offense known as the Bomba Squad – a group that smashed the all-time single-season home run record with 307 during a historically powerful year across baseball. In the end, though, the Twins’ longtime playoff nemesis in the Bronx proved to be their undoing once again when October arrived.
The Yankees continued to haunt the Twins, but there was still plenty to be encouraged about for the latter when its offseason began. The expectation entering the winter was that the Twins would make aggressive upgrades to their pitching staff, which was facing the departures of four free-agent starters in Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez. They wound up keeping Odorizzi and Pineda, though the latter will miss the beginning of the season after incurring a 60-game suspension for a banned substance last September. Those two and Jose Berrios should give the Twins’ rotation a strong foundation when Pineda returns, but questions abound otherwise.
The Twins didn’t come away with a Zack Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner type in free agency, instead reeling in the veteran duo of Rich Hill and Homer Bailey on one-year deals. Hill has been absolutely great when healthy. Problem is that he’s an oft-injured soon-to-be 40-year-old who won’t debut until the summertime after undergoing elbow surgery. Bailey’s career was all but left for dead a couple years back, but he did experience a resurgence in 2019, turning back into a viable starter with the Royals and A’s. The rest of the Twins’ rotation possibilities are decidedly less experienced, though there’s promise with the likes of Randy Dobnak, Brusdar Graterol, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer.
The Twins haven’t splurged on expensive starters or relievers (the battle-tested Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard signed affordable deals), but they’ve somehow found a way to assemble an even more intimidating offense. The club that boasted five 30-homer hitters a year ago just found a sixth in ex-Brave Josh Donaldson, whom it added on a four-year, $92MM pact. It’s the largest contract the Twins have given a free agent, but Donaldson seems worth it based on his lengthy track record of excellence.
The Donaldson deal might not look great in a few years, at which point he’ll be in his late 30s, but the Twins can worry about tomorrow when it comes. Today they’re focused on a World Series, and they just might get there with an offense capable of pounding opposing teams into submission. Assuming the baseball itself has less juice than it did last year, the Twins are likely to amass fewer HRs as a team. Still, when the likes of Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver are part of your regular lineup, there’s little doubt you’ll terrorize enemy pitchers.
As frightening as the Twins’ offense looks, the team itself could face more tests within a division that it owned last season. Minnesota went a combined 50-26 against the Indians, White Sox, Royals and Tigers. The Indians should still be a quality team (that’s if they don’t trade Francisco Lindor), and the White Sox are on the upswing after they made a slew of noteworthy acquisitons earlier this winter. Detroit and KC will be at the bottom of the division again, but at least the Tigers have made some effort to improve, including with the pickups of ex-Twins C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop.
While it may be a more competitive AL Central in 2020, the Twins remain the front-runners. The question is: Just how good do you think they’ll be?
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