MINNEAPOLIS - Originally published on TwinsDaily.com
The schedule is out. What should you expect from the Twins' foes this summer?
Games: 10 - July 30, 31, August 1, 2, 24, 25, 26, September 11, 12, 13
The Indians’ strength is in the top of their roster. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger offer both consistency and upside in the rotation, and Carlos Carrasco, while a wild card, was once an ace, too.
He wasn’t as great last year as he was in 2018, but Francisco Lindor is a superstar entering his true prime.
Only Alex Bregman and Nelson Cruz had a higher wRC+ in the A.L. than José Ramírez after the break in 2019.
Since 2016, Carlos Santana ranks 19th in on-base percentage (min. 500 games). In that span, he hit 115 homers, tied with Josh Donaldson for 21st in all of baseball. He’s underrated and quite a force at the plate.
The Indians should be good. They have too many stars not to be. Will their lack of depth and clearly inept outfield pull them down like it did in 2019?
Chicago White Sox
Games: 10 - July 24, 25, 26, August 31, September 1, 2, 14, 15, 16, 17
The talk of the offseason, the White Sox feel poised to break through at some point. The question is: when?
Their lineup is led by Yoán Moncada, who hit .315/.367/.548 with 25 homers in 2019. The former top prospect is a special talent, but probably not as good as White Sox fans will tell you he is.
Yasmani Grandal was a big pick up for a few reasons, but mainly, he actually walks. The White Sox ranked dead last in walk rate in 2019 (6.3%) and return a similar core. Grandal walked in 17.2% of his plate appearances last year, second to only Mike Trout.
The pitching staff has loads of question marks. Promising flame-throwers Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López had ERAs well above 5 in 2019. Dallas Keuchel remains effective, but benefitted from pitching in front of a strong infield defense in Atlanta. All-Star Lucas Giolito broke out with a nasty changeup and looked like an ace at times.
There aren’t enough certainties on this roster to draw conclusions. They could win 40 games, they could win 25. That, in itself, makes the Sox fascinating.
Kansas City Royals
Games: 10 - August 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23
The Royals, unlike the Tigers, have a major league core to build around. Hunter Dozier had more bWAR than Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas, and Gleyber Torres in 2019, yet no one talks about him. Dozier hit 25 homers, 10 triples, and 29 doubles in 139 games.
Jorge Soler led baseball with 70 barrels and the American League with 48 homers last summer. Whit Merrifield has 398 hits since 2018, the most in MLB. In fact, the difference in hits between Merrifield and the 2nd-placed Freddie Freeman (31) is more than that of Freeman and the 18th-ranked Starlin Castro and Anthony Rendon.
The Royals’ top two starters, Danny Duffy and Brad Keller, had ERAs firmly below league average in 2019. The problems reside in the back of the rotation. Jakob Junis, Glenn Sparkman, and Jorge López were mostly abysmal on the hill last year.
However, in a shortened campaign, a team built like the Royals could surprise. The Twins will need to show up and play them tough in August.
Games: 10 - August 27, 28, 29, 30, September 4, 5, 6, 7, 22, 23
The Tigers have to pay Jordan Zimmermann $25 million for only one more season. The right-hander gave up 19 homers in 112 innings and finished with a 6.91 ERA in 2019. Promising left-hander Matthew Boyd struck out 30.2% of the team-leading 788 batters he faced a year ago.
The Tigers’ lineup is presumably spearheaded by Victor Reyes, who hit .304/.336/.431 in 69 games last year. However, their two best hitters by OPS+ in 2019 are old friends Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron. The offense should produce more than the *one* above-average hitter they had last summer, but not much more than that.
The upside is in Tigers’ young arms. Casey Mize is one of the more talented pitchers in Minor League Baseball. Tarik Skubal struck out 17.4 per nine innings in Double-A in 2019. Matt Manning had a 2.56 ERA and 10 strikeouts per nine there, too. If they pitch in Detroit in 2020, they could spoil a few “cupcake” games for the contenders.
Games: 6 - August 10, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20
The Brewers surprisingly have every form of star. They have a true superstar in 2018 MVP Christian Yelich, a future star in second baseman Keston Hiura, and an underrated star in starter Brandon Woodruff. Milwaukee had a fascinating offseason. They lost Grandal to the Sox and Moustakas to the Reds, but added an intriguing piece. Catcher Omar Narváez was quietly great in Seattle in 2019. Only Willson Contreras had a higher OPS+ (120) among 24 catchers who started at least 100 games. The Brewers traded for Narváez in early December.
Woodruff, on average, throws his fastball 96.3 MPH. He struck out 143 in 121 ⅔ innings before suffering an oblique injury in July. He’s reportedly ready to go for 2020. If you faced closer Josh Hader in 2019, there was a 53% chance you either homered or struck out, displaying both his dominance and volatility.
The Brewers have some really strong players and a lot of average-ish contributors as well. Yelich and Woodruff raise their floor, and Hiura and Hader push the ceiling. Milwaukee won’t be a necessarily easy opponent for Minnesota.
St. Louis Cardinals
Games: 4 - July 28, 29, September 8, 9
The Cardinals’ way revolves around phenomenal defense and utilizing the pitcher-friendly confines of Busch Stadium. They went 50-31 at home last year and that’s no accident. Kolten Wong was solid at the plate with a 106 OPS+, but his gold glove defense at second is the headline. Power-hitting shortstop Paul DeJong has just a .316 OBP since 2018. Paul Goldschmidt is coming off the worst offensive season of his career.
Jack Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA after the break in 2019. He works with a phenomenal fastball-slider combo and emerged as a true ace down the stretch. The rest of the rotation is less-than-stellar. Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright were just average last year, and Dakota Hudson’s inefficiencies were masked by a tremendous defense behind him.
Giovanny Gallegos has a devastating slider that helped him to a 2.31 ERA out of the bullpen last year. The Cardinals ‘pen produced the 7th most fWAR (4.7) in baseball and hopes to get former-superstar Andrew Miller back to form in 2020.
The Cardinals are stingy. They don’t really mash at the plate, ranking 24th in homers (210) and 21st OPS (.737) in 2019. They don’t strike out the world either, finishing 17th in K/9 (8.72). What they will do is display tough, gritty defense and play to their strengths. That’s dangerous in itself.
Games: 3 - September 18, 19, 20
Anthony Rizzo has hit .284/.388/.513 with 179 homers and 199 doubles in 911 games since 2014. He still has an elite bat. Kris Bryant is a premier on-base threat with serious pop, even without great defense at third. The swag monster that is Javier Báez is Eddie Rosario-esque in his aura and aggressiveness and also carries big-boy power and a winning mantra.
The rotation will now be without José Quintana initially after he cut his thumb washing dishes. Yu Darvish utilized his outstanding cutter and nearly sliced his ERA in half after the break in 2019. The soft-tossing Kyle Hendricks ranked 20th among 61 qualified starters in ERA (3.46) last summer. Darvish and Hendricks are a solid 1-2 punch, in either order. Jon Lester was just average with an ERA+ of 100 in 2019.
The bullpen was agonizing for much of last summer. The group ranked 22nd in Win Probability Added (-1.74) and 20th in fWAR (1.3). Craig Kimbrel had a 6.53 ERA in 20 ⅔ innings and blew three saves, including a crucial loss to the Cardinals at Wrigley on September 21st. He needs to be better.
The Cubs have tons of talent. There’s no doubt they could put it all together in a 60-game stretch. Will they?
The Reds snatched away both Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos from their divisional foes. Castellanos was a menace at the plate in Chicago, hitting .321 with a 1.002 OPS in 51 games. He’ll go to a ballpark that ranked 8th in home run factor in 2019. Moustakas hasn’t been overly great with just 6.9 combined bWAR in 443 games since 2017, but he adds more power.
Eugenio Suárez slugged a career high .572 with 49 homers a year ago. He returns to the heart of the lineup with future Hall-of-Famer Joey Votto, who is coming off a season in which he posted a .357 OBP. That broke a four season streak of a .400 or better OBP for the first baseman.
The Reds have three potential aces in Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer. Castillo works with a fastball in the 91st percentile for velocity and a truly disgusting changeup. Gray resurged in 2019, pitching to a 2.87 ERA and 5.6 bWAR in 175 ⅓ innings. Bauer allowed 40 runs in his first 56 ⅓ innings for the Reds, but is only two years removed from being an ace in 2018.
The Reds’ bullpen ranked 12th in fWAR last year even with a poor campaign from closer Raisel Iglesias, who posted an ERA of 4.16 in 68 games. Two-way phenom Michael Lorenzen was outstanding with a 2.92 ERA and high 90s stuff in 83 ⅓ innings.
The Reds have some legitimate weapons. If Bauer can return to form and Castellanos and the newly acquired Shogo Akiyama hit out of the gate, they can run away with the N.L. Central.
Games: 4 - August 3, 4, 5, 6
The Pirates’ lineup isn’t bad on paper. Josh Bell emerged as an All-Star last year with 37 home runs. Bryan Reynolds hit the ball hard and slashed an incredible .314/.377/.503 with 37 doubles in 134 games. Utility infielder Kevin Newman hit .308 with Luis Arraez-like patience and not much else. When healthy, and he is now, Gregory Polanco can do serious damage at the dish. This lineup is much better than Detroit’s.
Not a single Pirates starter was average or better in 2019. Joe Musgrove, who moved to Pittsburgh in the Gerrit Cole trade, has a 4.28 ERA since joining the Bucs.
The Pirates have more major league talent than the Tigers but reside in a much tougher division. The N.L. Central has had four competitive teams, compared to two (now three) in the A.L. Central. The Pirates aren’t good, don’t get me wrong, but if the Twins have trouble with their lineup in early August, don’t be surprised.