Twins

What Issues Could Derail the 2020 Twins?

Please Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

“If you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans.” 

The quote above is frequently attributed to Woody Allen, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t lie on the internet. But no matter who said the phrase in question, it remains a good cautionary tale to take with us in life, too.

The overwhelming consensus is that the 2020 Minnesota Twins are going to be good. Like really good. Like really, really (redacted) good.

We’ve said as much in this space, and there’s really no reason to doubt it. They have power but should still hit for average, have some relievers who can throw hard but still throw strikes and they also possess enough starting pitching depth to make it all work.

But what if it….doesn’t? Or at least what if it doesn’t, enough to the point where the Twins are in a dogfight for first late in the season with the Chicago White Sox or Cleveland Indians — or both? 

The 2018 season wasn’t that long ago. That Twins team was well-appointed, too — and wound up losing 84 games and their manager in the process.

And while that team wasn’t destined for the same types of heights this team seems to be headed for, it’s a good lesson in humility. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

So what kinds of things could theoretically hamstring the 2020 Twins?

Injuries

This is the big one for myriad reasons. First of all, injuries can’t be predicted. And even if they could, you’d have to be a monster to want to do that.

But nonetheless, these things happen. And to some members of the Twins, they’ve happened more frequently in recent seasons. Like…a large portion of the players who are expected to play key roles this season have dealt with something fairly serious in the not-too-distant past.

Nelson Cruz – The 39-year-old Cruz did not require surgery, but missed time on separate occasions last year with a wrist issue that culminated in a rupture of the extensor carpi ulnaris last August. Wrists are especially tricky for hitters, but Cruz returned to hit .351/.412/.611 over the final 33 games of the season. And while the wrist never required surgery — even over the winter — he missed TwinsFest this winter to continue rehabbing it.

Aug 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) bends over after getting hurt while at bat during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. Please Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Byron Buxton – Buxton had a labrum tear in his left shoulder from colliding with the wall in Miami last August, and it was the latest in a line of injuries that have cost him time in recent seasons. He won’t be playing in spring training games for at least a couple more weeks, and he’s played more than 100 big-league games just once in his career.

Aug 1, 2019; Miami, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) hits a two run RBI double in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Please Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Donaldson – Donaldson has experienced calf strains on both sides which limited him to just 165 games between 2017-18, but he was able to stay on the field for 155 games in 2019 with the Atlanta Braves.

Miguel Sano – It’s easy to forget that Sano’s 2019 season got off to a slow start because he was hobbled by an unusual heel laceration suffered while celebrating his Dominican Winter League title over the winter.

Eddie Rosario – Tom Froemming of Twins Daily does a good job summing it up here, but Rosario was significantly hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered in late June. Rosario was hitting .282/.312/.529 when he suffered the injury, and hit .268/.286/.465 the rest of the way (62 games) after returning from a three-week absence.

Luis Arraez – I remember it vividly because I was there to see it, but Arraez suffered a sprained ankle around the mound area at Kauffman Stadium during the final regular-season series last season. He collided with Willians Astudillo, and there was a significant question of if he’d be able to suit up for the American League Division Series. Fortunately he was able to, and went 5-for-11 with four doubles. He was significantly hobbled in the field, however.

Max Kepler – Kepler was 0-for-10 in the ALDS and only played one regular-season game after Sept. 15 last season due to mysterious shoulder issues. It seems those have cleared up, but he’s been dealing with a minor upper-back issue this spring.

Jorge Polanco – The shortstop underwent surgery for a right ankle impingement and spent a large portion of the offseason in a protective boot before beginning rehab exercises. He made his spring debut over the weekend.

Mitch Garver – Garver missed a little over two weeks with a high-ankle sprain last May — a miraculous amount of recovery time considering not only the injury but the position he plays.

Ehire Adrianza – Adrianza has dealt with some core issues (oblique/abdomen) over his time with the Twins. He also had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder after the 2018 season.

Marwin Gonzalez – Gonzalez only played in six September games last season as he dealt with oblique issues.

…and this is just hitters. Pitchers get injured all the time. It just happens. Now again, the Twins are much more well insulated against such a thing this year depth-wise, but all it takes is a few injuries occurring in the same proximity of time to send the team on a brief slide.

With the 2018 team, it was a confluence of things that went wrong all at once. Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison had two of the worst years they’ve ever had. Brian Dozier‘s numbers took a nosedive. Ervin Santana missed most of the season with an issue with his middle finger and only made five starts. Polanco was suspended. Sano played so poorly he was sent back to the minors. Buxton went from migraines to fouling a ball off his foot to batting a wrist issue to not even being recalled as a September call-up.

Yeah, it was that year. And again…this year’s team is better than that one — and markedly so. But it’s not out of the realm of possible.

Age

This one is less of an issue than the first one, but it’s definitely not unrelated. Father Time is undefeated and immortal; Cruz is only  going to be 40 in July. But with any player on the wrong side of 30, decline is only an eyelash away in the form of a slower bat, slower reflexes or deflated wheels. Alex Avila, Donaldson, Gonzalez and Cruz are all on the wrong side of 30 on the offensive side, as are Rich Hill, Homer Bailey, Tyler Clippard, Sergio Romo and Kenta Maeda on the pitching side.

Jake Odorizzi joins the over-30 fraternity on March 27 — likely when he makes his season debut in Game 2 of the season against the Oakland A’s.

Other Teams

The Twins played this role against the Indians last year — could the White Sox do it to them in 2020? I’m on record as saying I don’t believe so, but it also feels to me like the White Sox are the most volatile team in terms of what they’re capable of this season.

Could the White Sox win 75 games? I think so.

Could the White Sox win 95 games? I also think so.

Would any outcome in between those surprise me? No way.

Feb 13, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Chicago White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal throws during spring training at Camelback Ranch. Please Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The path to contention is fraught with bumps along the way. The Kansas City Royals hit a bunch of them on the way to back-to-back AL pennants a half-decade ago. Hell, the Twins have hit quite a few on their way to this point as well. Why do you think they have as much payroll flexibility now as they do? Because they haven’t had to pay Buxton and Sano like the players they’d hoped they’d have become by now.

So it might be trendy to label the White Sox as winners of the offseason, and it might be easy to write them off as just that when the games start to count later this month. But don’t write them off just because they don’t appear to be as talented as the Twins on paper — and for that matter, don’t do it with the Indians, either.

Make no mistake; I still expect great things out of the 2020 Twins. But I’ve also seen way too many Twins fans this offseason crowing at opponents’ supporters treating their teams like they’re second-rate afterthoughts in the 2020 AL Central race.

It’s not like that at all. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it — and one only need to look back one year in the AL Central to see proof.

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