Last season, the Minnesota Twins snapped a seven-year postseason drought by clinching the second AL Wild Card spot. The team made major improvements from 2016 by becoming the first team to reach the postseason the year after losing 103 games the year before.
With three teams in the AL Central not competing for the playoffs in 2018, it’s time for the Twins to take advantage of what they have and win their first division title since 2010. There’s plenty of young talent but veterans Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, and Ervin Santana hit the open market at the end of the season. If the club wants to keep them around, they must make noise this season.
Minnesota has the pieces to contend, and win the division, but it’s time for the younger guys to step up and take charge if the club wants to be competitors in the long run.
1 Greatest Addition: Logan Morrison
It’s interesting that the Twins signed Logan Morrison, considering they have Mauer and Kennys Vargas who can play first and be the designated hitter. Morrison had a breakout year with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, hitting a modest .246 but with career highs in home runs (38) and RBI (85).
Morrison also has one of the best launch angle trajectories in the game according to the stats, which helps with the home run power. Target Field is a pitcher's park, but Morrison should have no trouble hitting home runs over the tall right field walls.
2 Greatest Loss: Matt Belisle
Mostly, the Twins are bringing back everybody from last season. The biggest and most notable loss for the club is veteran relief pitcher Matt Belisle. Belisle posted a 4.03 ERA with nine saves in 62 games last season, his one and only with the club.
Belisle has moved around since his time in Colorado ended a few years ago, but he’s been a great presence in the clubhouse for younger teams. Before coming to Minnesota, he helped the Cardinals reach the postseason in 2015 and the Nationals in 2016. At age 37, Belisle’s career may come to a close soon but his presence in the clubhouse will be missed, especially now that he is with the AL Central rival Cleveland Indians.
3 Greatest Asset: The lineup
The Twins may have the scariest offense outside of the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. The team is young, but their young stars can launch baseballs out of the park and helped Minnesota finish seventh in runs scored last year. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler posted three-home run games last year and Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario blasted a combined 55 home runs.
Brian Dozier is also in the mix after hitting 76 home runs the last two seasons, and utility player Eduardo Escobar also hit a career-high 21 homers last season. With the rotation and lineup as deep as they are, watch for Minnesota to make noise against the Cleveland Indians this season.
4 Greatest Liability: The bullpen
The additions of Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney don’t make a difference for the Twins bullpen in 2018. Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger could be bright spots in the relief corps as they were the only ones who posted an ERA under four last season besides Reed.
The 40-year-old Rodney was a good pick for the closer role but he is a gamble all around. When he’s good, he's good. But when he's off, he’s like someone trying to throw a baseball after smothering their hands with butter. Rodney posted a 4.23 ERA with 45 saves in Arizona last season but he was inconsistent, something Twins fans should keep their eye on.
5 X-Factor: Joe Mauer
After two down years in terms of batting average, Twins icon Joe Mauer bounced back last season by hitting .305 with seven home runs. Mauer is the leader in the clubhouse and on the field, meaning the team will march to his beat.
It’s more important for Mauer to exceed expectations this year because it’s his free agent season. If Mauer plays like an All-Star and helps the Twins reach the playoffs, he could receive a decent payday. If he struggles and shows signs of declining, he’ll be lucky to have a job in 2019 or be in a Twins uniform by midseason. It’s hard to imagine Minnesota parting ways with Mauer but if they want him to win a World Series, they need to give him that opportunity.
6 Final thoughts
The Twins are the team to beat in the AL Central coming into this season. The Indians lost power sluggers Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce to free agency and didn’t make any prominent moves to help fill those voids.
For the Twins, 2018 is do or die. If they can win the division, they’ll more than likely be able to keep Dozier and Mauer around but if not, some frustrating seasons will be on the horizon as the younger players learn how to step up and be leaders and winners for the next few years.
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