The Minnesota Twins host the Kansas City Royals at Target Field to open the 2017 season.
The Twins look to put a dismal, record-setting season behind them as they host Opening Day at Target Field for just the second time since moving outside to Target Field in 2010.
Yes, Major League Baseball is aware that oftentimes the Twin Cities has snow on the ground this time of the year. But, luckily, this year is different. Temps are forecasted to be in the upper 50’s, possibly even hit the 60 degree mark sometime during the three game series.
Both teams are hoping for turnaround seasons. The Twins are coming off a 103-loss season – the most in franchise history since moving to Minnesota.
The Royals were a surprise disappointment in 2016, after two straight years in the World Series – including winning it all in 2015.
They started off well until they became a team of streaks from May through June. They won six straight entering June to climb to eight games over .500 – only to drop all eight games in the win column immediately after.
That was followed by wins in eight of their next nine games. Two more four game losing streaks before the All-Star Game left them just one game over going into the break.
After bottoming out in early August at 51-58, the defending champs made one last valiant attempt to reach the post-season by winning 14 of 16. It wasn’t meant to be for the Royals, as their bullpen finally cracked under the pressure of an offense that couldn’t score runs.
After cobbling together offense through the first two-thirds of 2016, their inability to hit home runs (finished 27th in MLB) for quick, easy runs proved their undoing.
Kansas City: The Royals ceded the A.L. Central to the Cleveland Indians last year, as the Indians helped secure the A.L. pennant for the division for the third consecutive year. This year, they are expected to finish among the flotsam and jetsam in the junior circuit – battling the Twins and White Sox for a possible third place finish in the Central.
If Kansas City does not get off to a fast start, look for them to be sellers come trade deadline time. They have four cornerstones of their two World Series appearances (Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, & Mike Moustakas) up for free agency after the season. Look for them to kick-start the rebuild with that trade bait.
Offense: K.C. had three players crack 20 or more home runs, and their leader, Kendrys Morales (30), now plays for the Toronto Blue Jays. All-Star, and three-time Golden Glove-winner, Eric Hosmer had his best statistical season last year, hitting 25 homers and for the first time drove in over 100 runs (104). He was injured in the WBC, but is expected to start.
Player to Watch: Mike Moustakas. After an injury-riddled 2016 campaign, “Moose” looks to get back on track. He’s always been a fast starter, collecting 18 home runs in April for his career, the most of any month.
Against the Twins, he’s a lifetime .279 hitter, but his past three seasons Moustakas has hit .324 at Target Field. Luckily for Minnesota, all three games are daytime games. In a weird statistical quirk, Moustakas is only a .234 hitter in the sunshine.
We might see a roster change for Game Two, as Moustakas is hitless in 14 career at-bats against Hector Santiago, with only one walk and two strikeouts.
Pitching: Jason Hammel is a Royals’ free agent pickup over the off-season. He collected 15 wins for the champion Chicago Cubs last year before an elbow injury shelved him during the Cubs’ run to their first title since 1908.
The Royals’ starting staff suffered a blow this past January, as promising fireballer, Yordano Ventura, was killed in an auto accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic.
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The strength of the Royals has been their bullpen. But injuries, trades, and losses in free agency have taken their toll. No more Wade Davis or Greg Holland, but Kelvin Herrera remains. He will be their closer after assuming the role last season.
Pitcher to Watch: Danny Duffy. A starter in his previous five seasons in Kansas City with stellar results, Duffy started 2016 in the Royals’ remade bullpen.
After injuries forced Kansas City’s hand at the end of May, Duffy tore up the League, winning ten straight decisions – including five straight starts – to finish at 12-3.
He also had his best K/9 of his career (9.42) despite the biggest workload in a season. Included in that was a franchise-record 16-strikeout game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Twins: Minnesota finished up Grapefruit League play at 16-11 (with some ties), a respectable showing given their disastrous 2016 season. Key free agent signing was catcher Jason Castro from the Houston Astros.
Castro has some pop in his bat, but the Twins’ brass is hoping his reputation as a first-class pitch framer will pay big dividends on turning around their pitching staff. With their high-powered offense, if Castro can save a run or two per series, it could show up in the standings almost immediately.
And getting off to a good start is paramount for the Twins. After a franchise-worst 0-9 out of the gate last year, some wins in early April could propel the club to higher expectations in the division. Their first six series of 2017 are against A.L. Central foes. Win early, and confidence grows.
Notes: Former Twins minor league catcher, Stuart Turner, a Rule 5 pick of the Cincinnati Reds, made the Reds’ Opening Day roster. Former Twins pitcher, Ricky Nolasco, will be the Los Angeles Angels Opening Day pitcher. That Ricky Nolasco.