Twins most likely to press Cleveland

Feb 27, 2018 3:01 AM

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of 30 at-bats for the upcoming 2018 major league baseball season. In the on-deck circle Wednesday are the Cincinnati Reds.)

Somebody has to step up in the AL Central and press Cleveland, so why not Minnesota? Especially when Detroit, Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox are rebuilding.

The Twins were in that situation last year after a horrific fall from grace in 2016 that saw them win just 59 games compared to 83 in 2015. But then came a splendid recovery with 83 wins and that was accomplished with Miguel Sano playing just 114 games. You hear about the Yankees power 3, but Minnesota takes a back seat to no-one for homers. And they just signed Logan Morrison off a career 38-homer season at Tampa Bay. Morrison can play 1B but with Joe Mauer there will likely DH.

Brian Dozier hit 34 homers as a second baseman and OF Eddie Rosario belted 27. But the key to Minnesota is having a healthy Sano, a beast at just 24. The third baseman has 50-homer capability and hit 28 before getting hurt. At 40-1 to win the homer title he’s definitely worth the investment.

Mauer is still the face of the franchise in his 14th season and off another .300 batting average. But playing first base exclusively now he needs to hit more than just 7 homers. If Joe can get 15-20, the Twins will definitely be in the hunt for the postseason.

 The Twins also lured Jake Odorissi away from Tampa Bay and the right-hander provides a nice No. 2 in the rotation behind Ervin Santana. At 35, Santana had a renaissance season a year ago winning 16 of 24 decisions. Odorissi was 10-8 with the Rays, but pitching is definitely an area of concern. It is not even close on paper to Cleveland’s staff.

Minnesota did bring in Brandon Kintzler (28 saves) from Washington as the closer. The first significant offseason signing was right-hander Michael Pineda from the Yankees for 2 years and $10 million. But Pineda has Tommy John surgery last July and is really being counted on for the 2019 season. Offensively OF Max Kepler hit 19 homers and at age 25 may be ready to have a breakout season.

The early season schedule gives the Twins a shot at a good start. They open at Baltimore and a rebuilding Pittsburgh, then have 12 straight games at home, although five are against Houston and Cleveland. The big question for manager Paul Molitor is whether the Twins are the team that won 85 games or the group that lost 103. Vegas has them at 83 wins. It’s not likely they can make up 17 games to Cleveland, but in that division, 83 wins is certainly possible.

Encore: The Twins do have an ace in the hole with Byron Buxton, the premier defensive center fielder in the majors. If Buxton’s bat comes alive, Minnesota will be one of the more exciting teams to watch.

2017 record: 85-77

2016 record: 59-103

2015 record: 83-79

World Series win odds: 25-1

Odds to win AL Central: +600

2018 season win total: 83