Despite tough competition from the Chicago White Sox, the Twins are looking to be threepeat champs of the AL Central here in 2021. Minnesota's 101-win campaign in 2019 was their best since their AL pennant-winning effort in 1965 and their 36 victories in last year's funky short schedule was enough for second-best in the American League. This year's crop of Twinkies is a little different from those last two versions, but just a little; the core group of bashers remains intact.
Led by former Mariner Nelson Cruz, the Minnesota lineup was third in the AL in homers last season, averaging just over 1½ per game. Nice, but that was actually down from 2019, when they averaged 1.9 per game and clubbed an astonishing 307 longballs to break the Major League record—a record once held by Your Seattle Mariners, who hit 264 home runs in 1997, only to see it fall in 2018 to the Yankees (267), who held it for just one year as four teams surpassed the mark in ’19—and became known around the Twin Cities as "the Bomba Squad." They were the first team in history to feature eight, count ’em, eight players with 20+ home runs. Cruz, Miguel Sanó, Byron Buxton, and Josh Donaldson are back for more (though Donaldson hit the injured list after hurting his hamstring on Opening Day and will not play in this series), while outfielder Eddie Rosario is not (left as a free agent). They're joined this year by shortstop Andrelton Simmons, not a home-run guy, but a whiz with the glove and a terrific on-base batter while with the Angels last season. Simmons, Cruz, Buxton, and infielder Luis Arraez are off to torrid starts in ’21, combining for a .406 average, six homers, and 16 RBI in the first week.
On the mound, the Mariners will miss Japanese ace Kenta Maeda this time ’round and face José Berrios, ex-Mariner Michael Pineda, and Matt Shoemaker in the series. Berrios had a stellar first start, pitching six no-hit innings against the Brewers that saw him allow just one baserunner (a hit batter) and strike out 12. Pineda also has yet to surrender a run, shutting out Milwaukee over five frames in his first start; Shoemaker beat Detroit in his season debut with six solid innings of one-run ball. The Twins' bullpen is strong, anchored by sophomore right-hander Randy Dobnak and another ex-M, veteran Alex Colomé.
Seattle will counter with Marco Gonzales against Barrios, Yusei Kikuchi against Pineda, and Chris Flexen in the finale vs. Shoemaker. Gonzales had an off night in the season opener against the Giants, but looks to get back to his winning ways; Kikuchi was fantastic in his first start, a 10-strikeout no-decision; and Flexen was unexpectedly solid in his Mariner debut with five scoreless frames last Saturday.
|vs. AL West||0-0|
Who’s Hot & Not
.357/.438/1.143, 3 HR, 4 RBI
.471/.444/1.059, 3 HR, 7 RBI
.389/.500/.444, 2 RBI
.115/.179/.154, 6 Ks
.087/.222/.217, 12 Ks
.182/.280/.227, 8 Ks
Last 3 series vs. Seattle
|6/13/19||MIN 10, SEA 5|
|6/12/19||SEA 9, MIN 6|
|6/11/19||MIN 6, SEA 5|
|5/19/19||SEA 7, MIN 4|
|5/18/19||MIN 18, SEA 4|
|5/17/19||MIN 7, SEA 1|
|5/16/19||MIN 11, SEA 6|
|5/27/18||SEA 3, MIN 1|
|5/26/18||SEA 4, MIN 3|
|5/25/18||SEA 2, MIN 1|
Rocco Baldelli: The onetime Tampa Bay Devil Rays standout had an abbreviated playing career thanks to a series of injuries and illness that was eventually sourced to mitochondrial channelopathy exacerbated by a childhood bout with Lyme disease; a treatment of medications and dietary proscriptions helped some, but he still had to retire as a player at age 29. Since then he's worked for the Rays as a special assistant, roving instructor, first-base coach, and finally as Major League Field Coordinator. The Twins hired him after letting former manager Paul Molitor go following the 2018 season. Like Alex Cora with the Red Sox and Aaron Boone with the Yankees, Baldelli assumed the reins of a big-league club without any previous managerial experience. That hasn't been a problem, clearly, as he won the Manager of the Year award in his first season and the Twins are 141-87 under his stewardship as this series begins. Oh, and he's not even 40 yet. Fans roasted him for pulling José Barrios in the midst of a no-hitter last Saturday, but Baldelli always takes the long view and wanted his pitcher ready for his next game and the rest of the year. "Rocco understands the bigger picture as well as anyone I've seen in the game," said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations. "He recognizes the importance of rest over the long term. Getting a guy a day off here, while it may slightly reduce your chances of winning today, could impact days 2, 3, and 4. … And it's pretty impressive to see him think through it."
Nelson Cruz: At age 40, you might think Nellie would be showing signs of reduced ability. You'd be wrong, though. A fan-favorite in his four years with the M's (2015-2018), Cruz has been even better as a Twin. Cruz has hit .313/.396/.640 thus far with Minnesota and isn't slowing down. The 16-year Major League veteran has 420 career homers and still has an outside shot at reaching the 500-HR milestone despite his advanced years. How does he do it? Well, in addition to a strict workout routine, he sleeps a lot. 10 hours most nights, plus the Twins set up a dedicated "nap room" for Cruz at Target Field for daily "power naps." Said Derek Falvey, Minnesota's president of baseball operations, Cruz “really does take exceptional care of himself, whether it’s the food he eats or the work he puts in in the weight room, how he keeps his mobility and flexibility, and then the naps. I know [his naps are treated as] a joke, but it’s very real in terms of how he recharges his body and how he makes sure he keeps himself in a good place.” And at 40—41 on July 1st—recharging is no laughing matter. “You need to recover,” Cruz said. “Especially when you play baseball, you play every day. You need to rest. You need to get your recovery. That’s one of the most important things I do is make sure I recover every day.”
|Minnesota Twins||(1961 - present)|
|World Champions:||1924, 1987, 1991|
|League Champions:||1925, 1933, 1965|
|Division Titles:||1969, 1970|
Luis Arraez: Holds Minnesota’s best batting average in a single month when he hit .571 in September 2020, breaking the mark set by Sal Butera in August 1980 (.524).
Ian Hamilton: In 2019, this Twins farmhand paired up with teammate Ryan Burr to recreate the infamous 1804 duel between their namesakes, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, in full period costume.
Andrelton Simmons: A native of Curacau, Simmons speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, and is “conversational” in French.