Major League Baseball’s decision to play a 60-game schedule is an interesting coincidence as it relates to Minnesota’s record after the same span in 2019.
The Twins were 40-20 after 60 games last year: the same number of games the team will play against the American League Central and the National League Central, respectively, this season. That could bode well for a team that was expected to return to form after a 101-61 record in 2019.
The boys of summer are finally back after months of proposals and subsequent rejections, posing a unique opportunity for the Twins to take advantage of a shorter season in ‘win-now’ mode.
The teams Minnesota will play should be exciting to those who enjoy regional battles in the Midwest. The Twins will play 40 games against the existing American League Central and another 20 games against the National League Central, according to the release from MLB.
That means Minnesota gets to see the likes of last season’s playoff contenders in the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. While the Twins play the Brewers in a home-and-home series every season, they haven’t faced the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds or the Cardinals since 2018. That means Minnesota’s interleague play for 2020, that was originally scheduled to be against the N.L. West, will be postponed.
Minnesota is a team built to overcome the ebbs and flows of the normally exhaustive MLB season of 162 games. Now, it will need to encapsulate the magic from last season’s run to a division title into a much smaller window.
Even though the Twins are built to last a sustained schedule, they also are in a fortunate position for the season to begin this late.
Minnesota poured money into its defense and bats again this offseason, doubling down on the success the team generated last year with an MLB home run record. Some were still dubious of the pitching staff, which didn’t add one of the flashy arms like Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu or Madison Bumgarner in free-agency but made smaller moves.
While Kenta Maeda was the biggest outside get for the club, Rich Hill, who needed time to rehab from elbow surgery, will be a veteran presence still looking to make an impact on the team. While the timetable for him to return in a normal season was slated to be halfway through, the adjusted season’s start is about when the normal halfway point of the MLB season would be, according to the Star Tribune.
While retaining the services of Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, along with Homer Bailey, Maeda, Hill and one of the younger pitchers that debuted last season in Randy Dobnak or Devin Smeltzer, Minnesota suddenly has more than four-to-five options for starters, given that some turn out more ready than others right away.
Michael Pineda, who was suspended last season for 60 games when he failed a drug test, will have 39 games left to sit out before he could come back towards the end of the 2020 season.
This also works well for the top-end starters in Berrios and Odorizzi. Berrios pitched more than 200 innings last season and in August and September raised his ERA nearly one full run, showing signs of fatigue down the stretch. With the shorter season, that is less of a factor for both pitchers.
A benefit of finally having a relatively established roster for the first time since the beginning of the previous decade, Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of experimenting to do through the batting order and in the field. The addition of Josh Donaldson further entrenches this, that every position player is virtually solidified.
That also means Byron Buxton will be almost entirely healed from his shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2019 season. The timetable was initially roughly six months from when he had the surgery in September, so by now that recovery should be adequate for an immediate return. His speed and defensive ability were missed in the field and his swing at the plate improved before his injury.
Baseball is weird. Teams can get hot, but they can also have a 27-33 record through 60 games and win the World Series in a normal season, like the Washington Nationals did in 2019.
If the Twins go into a slump while the Cleveland Indians — or potentially the Chicago White Sox — went on winning streaks, that would have a greater effect on Minnesota in the standings than under normal circumstances. Every series is heightened that much more in such a compressed campaign.
As a sort of practice squad, Minnesota will have a pool of players to select from to supplement the roster in case of injury or any other inability to play. After having 60 players for training camp, the active roster will start at 30 players and slowly shrink to 28 and then 26 as the season goes on, per the June 24 MLB release.
The taxi squad has the opportunity to give players better looks from major league talent evaluators. Players like Lewis Thorpe, who was cut early in spring training, and even top prospects like Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis would make sense to keep on the taxi squad to get valuable time with the experienced and most qualified coaches in the organization.
For a year where much of the minor league component is lost, the Twins might like to keep some of their top talent under a close eye, still working on their game with the organization.
Essentially, Minnesota could get an extended look at fringe players on the 40-man roster, while also keeping some of the prized talent working with the team through this odd circumstance.