In 2019, when the Minnesota Twins broke a single-season record with 307 home runs, they became the “Bomba Squad.” Last year they trotted out an Opening Day lineup with seven players who hit 20 or more home runs the previous season. This raised expectations, but the Twins came up short, ranking sixth in home runs but only 19th in runs scored.
This raises a question heading into next year. Should the Twins keep trying to be the Bomba Squad? Or do they need to adjust to their new reality, which includes players reaching their ceiling, deadened baseballs, and several players in the twilight of their careers?
Consider that several players had career years in 2019. Five posted a career-high OPS, which means it’s very likely they’ll regress the following season. In 2020, five of them regressed to their career OPS.
Some players got injured. Mitch Garver battled a right intercostal strain, while Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez dealt with ankle injuries. Miguel Sano tested positive for COVID before the season, and Byron Buxton improved but only played in 39 games.
Max Kepler was the only player who made it out of last season unscathed. Kepler smashed a home run on the first pitch of the season but otherwise looked like the player who posted a .233/.313/.417 line before his breakout 2019.
The Twins are also relying on two players over 35 to be anchors of their lineup, and both are liable to regress in their late 30s. Donaldson wasn’t able to stay on the field in his first season in Minnesota and has had stints on the disabled list in three of the past four years. And Father Time will eventually catch up to Nelson Cruz. Last year he hit .340/.429/.699 with 11 HR and 27 RBI in his first 28 games but slashed .256/.354/.488 with 6 HR and 7 RBI in his final 25 games.
Like Donaldson, there’s a chance that Cruz would have straightened himself out and put up his normal numbers had this been a 162-game season. But at age 41, can he continue producing as the hitter who averaged 40 home runs over the six seasons before last year?
Keep in mind that the league is planning to deaden the balls in 2021. The New York Yankees hit 267 home runs in 2018, but four teams, including the Twins, topped that number in 2019. This led to speculation that the balls are juiced. If the composition of the baseball returns to its early 2010s form, there’s a chance the Twins could be in for an even steeper decline.
The Twins also look like they’re not building their lineup for power. Andrelton Simmons has registered a .317 on-base percentage and .696 OPS in nine major league seasons. Although his elite fielding will help, it’s a spot in the lineup where they emphasized their defense rather than adding another bat.
However, the Twins could receive a boost from Alex Kirilloff this year. The top-10 prospect is expected to replace Eddie Rosario in left field, who only produced a .788 OPS in six seasons in Minnesota. It’s possible that Kirilloff can replace that production this season, but it’s not guaranteed given the volatility of prospects.
Despite the concerns about regression, there is a reason to believe the Twins will rebound next year. If they can play a full season, some of those injury-related slumps could be worked out over the summer months. But there’s also a chance that the Bomba Squad was an outlier, never to be replicated.
This would be a major issue for a team that relies on its offense to be elite. Although their pitching rotation is solid, the Twins could be bound for the same fate — being swept in the playoffs again. If they want to avoid that, the offense will have to prove that 2019 was not a fluke.