Thankfully, America’s pastime is finally coming back at the end of this month. It’ll be a shortened, 60-game season, which changes everything and opens doors for anomalies we wouldn’t usually see. With a team as talented as the Minnesota Twins… who knows what could happen. I mean, could they have gotten a more favorable schedule?
Baseball is the thinking man’s game. No other sport has as in-depth statistics or analysis, nor do they provide the ability to talk and break down what is happening in real time, the way baseball does.
So lets deep dive some lofty (but realistic) milestones the Twins and its players could reach in a 60-game sprint. Again, some of these numbers might look weird but we’re only playing 60 games.
ARRAEZ HITTING .400
I argue this is the most likely record that could fall in 2020. If it isn’t Luis Arraez, then someone else in the league can accomplish it. We have seen it done over 60-game stretches before. From Chipper Jones in 2008 (.409) to Tony Gwynn in 1997 (.403), it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The biggest question is whether Arraez, a relative unknown outside of Minnesota, can do it.
He has mentioned it is his goal this year. And it would be a MAJOR accomplishment if he does even with an asterisk. No player has hit over .400 in a full season since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. The closest was Gwynn back in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
Arraez burst onto the scene in 2019, as a rookie. He hit .334 in 92 games for the Twins. While .334 is a long way from .400, he did hit .405 through his first 25 games in 2019. He did “struggle” from games 25 to 60, where he saw his average dip to .346. It isn’t hard to imagine the crafty middle-infielder pushing that number for a little longer in 2020. Having 90+ games vs MLB pitching under his belt, will help too.
Luis Arraez wasn’t supposed to have this kind of power. His plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills plus the ability to turn on a ball like this could be scary. pic.twitter.com/ThhTTQhy6t— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) July 6, 2019
Throw in a 93.3% contact rate (highest among 273 players with at least 300 pate appearances), and the stars are aligning. He rarely strikes out too. He’s essentially a rich-man’s Willians Astudillo. Arraez is also a candidate to lead the league in hits, but that isn’t as fun as average, is it?
Obviously, he will have to stay healthy.
CAN ANYONE HIT 25+ HOME RUNS?
For the Twins, I do not see this occurring in 2020. Yes, the team broke the record for home runs in a season with 307 in 2019. But those were spread out fairly evenly.
If I was a betting man, I would be putting my money on Nelson Cruz. Even at 40 years old, the man still rakes. He crushed 41 bombs in 2019 to lead the Twins and he doesn’t seem to have missed a step in Summer Camp.
Through the first 60 games in 2019, Cruz hit 18 homers which is not too bad. Considering he hit exactly 25 in the back-half of the year in only 58 games, he has the best chance of doing it again. The question that remains, is what does he has left in the tank. Will he need to get on a roll before unloading balls over the fence? Or if he can do it from the jump? Maybe the warmer weather to start will help.
An additional aspect to consider, with Cruz, is his success in 2019, vs the Twins’ 2020 opponents. He tagged 25 big flys against the AL Central alone, last year (62 games). Expect him to continue that against the NL Central too, now that there is a universal designated hitter this year.
FIRST OR SECOND HALF JOSE BERRIOS?
This one is a bit tricky, at least in my eyes. Berrios has been the team’s projected ace for years now, but he lacks the season-long consistency. He’s becoming notorious for beginning seasons like an All-Star, then trailing off after the break.
Which will we see in 2020?
It will be interesting to how he handles a 60-game season. You’d think he’d be better, right?
Well… hopefully, especially with the majority of his starts coming completely against central teams. Berrios went 8-2 with a 3.70 ERA vs division opponents last year. Hell, how about a sub-3.00 ERA and a chance at the Cy Young this year? LFG.
WHAT WILL THE ROTATION LOOK LIKE?
While this isn’t a statistical point to touch on, it is still interesting to dissect and discuss. With 60 games and the additional access to players in the “taxi squad”/40-man roster, you could see a much different approach from the coaches.
Initially, the 2020 season was going to begin with a rotation of Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, and Homer Bailey. The fifth starting spot would have been kept warm by a mix of Rich Hill, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, and Randy Dobnak until Michael Pineda finished his 27 game suspension.
#Twins pitchers Rich Hill, Taylor Rogers and Jake Odorizzi among the players working out right now at Target Field.— KSTPSports (@KSTPSports) July 3, 2020
Coverage of Twins Summer Camp coming up tonight at 5pm & 6pm on @KSTP. pic.twitter.com/O3fD9j0wBU
But with 27 games counting for almost half the season and with Rich Hill now nearly fully recovered from elbow surgery, we may not see Pineda at all.
That also brings us to the question of usage rate for the starters. As The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman discussed, the team could utilize a four-man rotation and keep them limited to 3-4 innings. They could then put in a reliever, such as the fifth rotation starters above, to pitch the next 2-3 innings. This is why the expanded roster is so beneficial for the Twins. They have the players who are both seasoned vets and MLB-ready young guys to eat up those innings.
It is especially important to remember that three weeks of Summer Camp is not a massive amount of time for starters to get up to 80-100 pitches. So expect to see more calls to the bullpen throughout the games this year. Even if Odorizzi has mentioned he is already throwing 60 pitches, he isn’t known for going deep into games.
Jake Odorizzi said he’s already built up to throwing 60 pitches. Played catch six days a week at home, including weekly bullpen sessions and sim games. Worked out with new teammate Tyler Clippard and a trainer.— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) July 5, 2020
“I had TrackMan data and all the stuff I use during the offseason.”
I personally love the idea of utilizing a strong bullpen with starter-like relievers. Unless they stink, I can only see it as a positive.
JOSH DONALDSON — BRINGER OF RAIN?
Another interesting and exciting storyline for 2020 is what newly-acquired Josh Donaldson will bring to the table. After inking a four-year, $90 million contract in the offseason, optimism of what he can produce is high.
But with a season cut short due to COVID-19 and labor disputes, age always plays a factor. Especially when he is already 34 years old.
Meet the #BombaSquad!— Twins Dingers (@TwinsDingers) June 25, 2020
Name: Josh Donaldson
Career Dingers: 219
2019 Dingers: 37
Career High: 41 (2015)
Dinger Fact: Donaldson has hit five home runs agaisnt new teammate Jake Odorizzi, his most against any pitcher. pic.twitter.com/leCKJjwNIi
He played amazingly well in a bounce-back year for the Atlanta Braves in 2019, hitting .259 with 37 home runs and 94 RBI in 155 games. But a new team, environment, and only one solid year since 2017 does have worry in the back of some minds.
As a fan, I like to ignore those fears until they actually manifest themselves on the field. But it is something to discuss. Could he hit over .260 with 20 Bombas and 60 RBI? Absolutely! But I could also see him struggle at times and not achieve the high expectations we have for him right off the bat.
THE WAITING GAME
In the end, we will have to be patient. Even if we are beyond excited and ready for live MLB baseball to come back into our lives with fans or without.
As we have mentioned before, this team has been building towards a deep postseason run for the last few seasons. So it is time they put it all together in this quick 60-game season and bring home even more optimism and maybe even a trophy to end the drought.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan