Baseball is back, and it will hopefully feel more baseball-y than last year, which felt more like a series of scrimmages than actual games with stakes and emotion.
The Twins are coming off back-to-back AL Central titles, having completely retooled from a half-decade of mediocrity in the first half of the 2010s while entirely changing their way of thinking. After being one of the more traditionally-thinking franchises for years (contact! singles! stolen bases! American League bunts!), they’re now one of the more forward-thinking franchises in the Other League.
Of course, you don’t need analytics to tell you if you hit the everloving crap out of the baseball, you’ll win a lot of games, and that’s what the Twins have done in recent years.
Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sano can all hit bunches of home runs. Unfortunately for the Twins, Cruz is now 40 (he, incredibly, turns 41 in July), Donaldson is 35 (with a body that probably feels like it’ll be 41 in July) and Sano is 28 but also often injured. Throw in Byron Buxton, and that’s a significant portion of their lineup that is pretty injury-prone, as our friends at Twinkie Town noted in our Q&A.
There is still Max Kepler, though, who is the 5th Twin in that group of guys projected to hit 29+ home runs this year if everything goes right, and if Buxton or anyone else in the outfield goes down again, the Twins also have top prospect Alex Kirilloff ready to step in after he actually made his MLB debut during last year’s playoffs (although as always with the Twins, the less said about the playoffs, the better).
Overall, this is a starting lineup that looks dangerous for Opening Day and the rest of this weekend. Whether it’s the same lineup the Twins have in the middle of July is a different story.
If there’s good news for Brewers pitchers this weekend, it’s that this is an extremely righty-heavy lineup, with Kepler being the only true left-handed threat. That probably bodes well for Adrian Houser, projected to start in the series finale.
The Probable Pitchers
Kenta Maeda will get the ball on Opening Day for Minnesota after finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting last year. He, of course, nearly no-hit the Brewers last year in one of his 11 starts in 2020, on his way to an MLB-best 0.750 WHIP and a career-low 5.4 hits per 9 innings. He also struck out 80 batters while walking only 10 in 66.2 innings. An Opening Day matchup against Brandon Woodruff means we may be in for a low-scoring afternoon at American Family Field.
Jose Berrios was the Twins’ Opening Day starter the last two years, but gets bumped back to Day 2 this year against Corbin Burnes. The 26-year-old righty faced the Brewers once in 2020, limiting them to 1 hit over 6 shutout innings while striking out 9. It was one of just two starts in 2020 in which Berrios did not give up a run.
Michael Pineda will take the ball for the Twins in the series finale on Sunday afternoon. The former Mariners and Yankees phenom is now entering his age-32 season after starting 5 games in 2020, putting up a 126 ERA+ and 2.22 FIP in 26.2 innings. He missed the first 36 games last season after testing positive for a banned diuretic that’s frequently used as a masking agent in September 2019. He was able to get the suspension dropped from 80 games to 60 games after proving he wasn’t using it for that use, and served the first part of the suspension at the end of the 2019 season.