Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series! OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter. It’s Playing Pepper! Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season. I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole. So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!
Since the year started with a 2, the Twins have been really the class of the AL Central. They’ve won the division eight times in that span and been to the playoffs as a wild card an additional time. What they’ve not been able to do is translate that success to the postseason. The 1991 World Series remains the last time they won a series in October and they’ve not won a game there since 2004. Is this the year the postseason success comes? Let’s see what some Twins bloggers think about this team!
C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?
Seth: No question it was different. But it was truly a great distraction from everything else going on. Work all day, and then to be able to watch a ballgame meant a lot. It was a “normal” thing. That said, it’s difficult to find meaning in what a 60-game season and the stats mean from them. Certainly that’s a question front offices had to ask themselves all offseason when making decisions on players. As for the rule changes, I think we can all agree that a Universal DH would be a good thing. (Editor: No, Seth, I don’t believe we can.) I didn’t end up minding the runner starting on second base in extra innings. I wouldn’t mind that continuing, though I like the idea of it starting in the 11th or 12th inning instead of the 10th.
TJ: I was not a fan of most of the rule changes. The only one I truly liked was the universal DH. You NL people and your silly pitchers-batting thing. Otherwise, I wasn’t generally a fan, but could accept the rules as the tradeoff for getting a season. Still, it felt like ownership and/or Manfred was cynically using the pandemic to add unneeded and largely unwanted rules from their wish-list. By the time baseball came back, I was able to get back to my day job, but losing the first couple months was bad, because I was in an endless loop without any of my routines or hobbies.
C70: Nelson Cruz is back to bash some more baseballs. How enjoyable is it to watch him as he continues to excel into his 40s?
Seth: It’s really pretty impressive. He posts many of his offseason workouts on Instagram and it’s really incredible what he does, but it’s also fun as a fan to see the results he gets. He’s so professional, and he’s clearly a leader that the other players look up to. But, when he’s going good, which has been most of the time, it is enjoyable to watch. That said, Father Time is ultimately undefeated, so we simply hope he’s got another good year in him!!
TJ: I love Nelson Cruz, mainly because he brings fun with him wherever he goes. He is clearly a leader for this team, and as long as he is hitting dingers, I’ll be happy its for my team. He’ll eventually have to hang it up, but he has a physical routine that helps him. Blatant plug here from the guy whose day job is “mattress salesman” — good quality sleep really is that important. As a DH-only, I think its possible for Cruz to play at a high-level into his mid-40s, since no one is counting on him to shag fly balls or anything like that.
C70: The Twins signed Alex Colome after his strong 2020 with the White Sox. How close can he get to repeating that and how important will he be for this team?
Seth: He will be important for the Twins, no question. Colome is a terrific relief pitcher, despite the low strikeout total in 2020. His cutter is legit and creates a lot of weak contact when he’s on. The Twins, specifically Rocco Baldelli, will not name a closer. He subscribes to the philosophy of putting his pitchers in a good position to succeed. Colome will get saves, but Taylor Rogers will too. It’s likely Hansel Robles, Tyler Duffey and even Jorge Alcala could get saves too. Colome is important for the Twins in trying to replace Trevor May in the Twins bullpen.
TJ: I really don’t know if Colome can repeat 2020, and I’m not sure he has to. That being said, a good performance from him will be very important, as the Twins lost a couple of their top relievers in Trevor May and Sergio Romo this offseason, and Taylor Rogers is coming off a very poor year. A return to form from the lefty closer and another good year for Colome give the Twins a strong left-right combo package at the back of the bullpen. Add in a couple guys stepping up, and we could be looking at another solid bullpen. Colome crashing back to earth would certainly derail a large chunk of that plan.
C70: How excited are you to watch Andrelton Simmons play shortstop every day?
Seth: It is definitely something I am intrigued by. To be able to watch a truly elite defensive shortstop nearly every day is going to be fun. How does that look? We just haven’t had that in Minnesota for a long time, if ever. Jorge Polanco showed good improvements at the position, but it’s clearly a big step up defensively for the Twins infield. It will help the defense and therefore help the pitching staff which was already strong a year ago.
TJ: If you had asked me in November, I’d have told you there would be no way the 2021 Twins might be the home of the best defensive shortstop in the game. Jorge Polanco was an all-star a couple years ago, but it wasn’t for his glove. Simmons, if healthy, becomes the jewel of a really good defensive infield, although you can put the same caveat on any player in that group. Still, when all healthy, I dare you to find a better all-around infield than Josh Donaldson-Simmons-Jorge Polanco-Miguel Sano from left-to-right. Given the guys in the Twins rotation, Simmons will have plenty of work, and we should get to see his skills highlighted.
C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?
Seth: This should be a very good team again, but I do think that the AL Central has improved so it’s possible they’re a better team but may not have a better record. They won over 100 games in 2019 and were on pace to do that again in 2020. It will depend on health, particularly for Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton, as well as Nelson Cruz. The Twins have some real quality depth, but multiple injuries would affect any team. I expect the White Sox and Twins to lead the AL Central, and I think it will be close, but I think the Twins can go 96-66 and hopefully that means a third straight AL Central title.
TJ: If the Twins don’t win the division, this season is a failure. White Sox fans might disagree, but their team is still playing catch up, and while stacked on paper, you can pick them apart pretty easily as well. Games aren’t played on paper, and I think the Twins have some intangible benefits the Sox don’t. Especially in the coaching department. No one else in the AL Central is either ready to, or trying to compete. Cleveland sold everything that wasn’t anchored down, I think their owner wants to move the team to Miami or something (boy, does that reference age me?) KC is a couple years away, although they could play spoiler, and Detroit is a year further. Most Twins fans, myself included, would suggest that while “division champs” is the floor, this team needs to achieve more. Its time to break this miserable playoff curse. The team, on paper right now, could easily win it all, but at the very least, must win a playoff series. This core is locked up for a few more years, but no one is getting younger or cheaper, and the Twins have finally invested in some top free agents the last couple years. Time for that to pay off.
C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?
Seth: I think a real solid B, or even B+ is due. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are now in their fifth season. They have turned the organization into one of the most respected in the game. They have really focused on scouting, the minor leagues, player development and analytics. They, along with Baldelli, have created a new culture in the clubhouse and through the whole organization. They have won two straight division titles, but their player, and specifically pitcher, development should really start showing itself in the big leagues in 2021. There are several very intriguing hitting and pitching prospects who are getting close. Twins fans should see a lot of wins for the next decade!
TJ: I’ll give them a B+ overall. The front office and coaching staff seem to have a solid strategy, and find players that fit their strategy. They’ve developed some talent, and have a few good ones about to graduate to the pros, but the cupboard isn’t bare behind that wave. For the most part, the right players on the field. I personally think the team could and should have invested in one more mid-tier pitcher this offseason, as Matt Shoemaker nor JA Happ inspires me with a lot of confidence in their ability to stay healthy, but I think the team likes what they have for depth in Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer, et al. I would have liked one more top reliever as well, but those are so unreliable I can’t blame them for trying to build one. Especially given the work Wes Johnson has done with guys.