As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.
If the Twins were anything this offseason, they were busy. Whether they're vastly improved or not, that remains to be seen.
Twins fans probably are experiencing whiplash after the past several seasons: a 103-loss campaign in 2016, then a playoff trip in 2017 via the wild card, then back to a sub-.500 record and an uneventful October in 2018.
But the rebuild-heavy AL Central presents an opportunity for the Twins, who could capitalize on 19 games apiece against the White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, three teams that combined for more than 300 losses in 2018. And so the Minnesota front office got to work this winter and added quite a bit to this roster.
The biggest names among the newcomers are Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz. Gonzalez is two years off a big 2017 season, when his .303/.377/.530 slash line and 23 home runs helped fuel the Houston Astros to a World Series championship. He was one of the best players available on this winter's free-agent market, noted for his versatility after playing every position besides pitcher and catcher last season. Cruz is 38 and shouldn't be considered a part of any team's long-term plans, but the Twins want him for the 40-homer average he's posted over the last half decade.
That boost to the Twins' lineup gets amplified even more when you consider new additions Jonathan Schoop, who believe it or not put up better numbers than Manny Machado in 2017, and C.J. Cron, who launched 30 homers for the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
All those guys join what the Twins already had, chiefly Eddie Rosario, who had a big 2018. More specifically, though, he had a big first half, batting .311/.353/.537 with 19 homers before the All-Star break and just .240/.262/.361 with five homers after it.
So that's all very nice, and just on the new additions alone, that stacks up well against the Cleveland Indians' lineup, which isn't terribly imposing beyond the two MVP candidates on the left side of the infield. But are Gonzalez and Cruz and Cron and Schoop really enough to make the Twins a legit contender?
First off, it's important to note that none of the aforementioned players are pitchers. The Twins have a terrific starting pitcher in Jose Berrios, probably the best player on the team. He had a 3.84 ERA and 202 strikeouts in his 192.1 innings of work last season. And Kyle Gibson, my fellow Missouri Tiger, had himself an under-the-radar season in 2018, too, with a 3.62 ERA and 179 strikeouts. Jake Odorizzi wasn't quite as good, with a 4.49 ERA, but all three of those guys made 32 starts. The other two parts of the Twins' rotation? Michael Pineda, who hasn't pitched since July of 2017, and Martin Perez, who had a 6.22 ERA with the Texas Rangers last season.
In other words, that's not bad but nothing that comes close to what the Indians have, a loaded rotation that might be baseball's finest from top to bottom.
The busy Twins also added a new closer in former Cub and Los Angeles Angel Blake Parker, who had a 2.90 ERA in his two seasons in Anaheim.
It's a lengthy list of changes that have come to the Twin Cities - and it's without even mentioning new manager Rocco Baldelli, better known to Rhode Islanders as the Woonsocket Rocket - but even in a division where three teams are going through the growing pains of rebuilding processes, is it enough to get the Twins back to the postseason? Plenty of observers seem to think so, and it's not an outlandish opinion. But their pitching staff doesn't boast the same crop of All-Star talent as the Indians' does. They don't have the big bats the Indians' lineup has.
Now, winning the AL Central isn't the only path to the playoffs, but with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees locks to gobble up the AL East crown and the top AL wild card spot, there's only one other option and more competition. Certainly the Twins are among the contenders for that spot, but they'll have to hit on many if not all of their offseason adds.
2018 record: 78-84, second place in AL Central
Offseason departures: Joe Mauer, Ervin Santana, Logan Morrison, Logan Forsythe, Robbie Grossman
X-factor: Gonzalez really is the definition of an X-factor, and it's shocking he didn't generate greater interest during the offseason. His ability to play every position on the field would figure to be a mighty valuable thing to all 30 teams. The Twins are the ones who landed him, and he can be their Swiss Army Knife all season long. But will he hit? A dynamite 2017 that saw him land in the top 20 in AL MVP voting segued to a disappointing 2018, during which he slashed just .247/.324/.409 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs, numbers down from .303/.377/.530, 23 and 90 the year prior despite an increase in plate appearances.
1. Jorge Polanco, SS
2. C.J. Cron, 1B
3. Eddie Rosario, LF
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Max Kepler, RF
6. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
7. Marwin Gonzalez, 3B
8. Jason Castro, C
9. Byron Buxton, CF
1. Jose Berrios
2. Kyle Gibson
3. Jake Odorizzi
4. Michael Pineda
5. Martin Perez
Prediction: Second place in AL Central, no playoffs