Royals, Twins look to erase 2016 disappointments

MINNEAPOLIS — The Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins carried plenty of optimism heading into last season, only to fall far short in disappointing seasons.

Kansas City was the defending World Series champions but slipped to third in the American League Central. Minnesota’s surprise 83-win campaign in manager Paul Molitor’s first year was followed by a 103-loss season in 2016.

With the Cleveland Indians’ emergence as the reigning AL champion and the Detroit Tigers still hanging strong, the Royals and Twins enter this season quietly.

“Don’t really care,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost told MLB.com. “Don’t really think about it. I think we’ll match up against anybody. I like our team. I like our depth. We’ve had guys show up in camp ready to go. We have tremendous depth in the outfield, tremendous depth in the pitching department. We have great infield depth. We feel like our core guys are here and healthy and hungry. We feel very good how we match up against anyone.”

Minnesota hosts the Royals on Monday afternoon to open the season. The teams know each other well, and there are few changes to the starting lineups to begin the season.

The Twins’ lone change is Jason Castro replacing Kurt Suzuki at catcher. Kansas City has young infielder Raul Mondesi taking over at second base, while Brandon Moss has joined the team as a designated hitter and outfielder.

With few changes on the field, many wonder what improvement is in store for the two teams.

“I think some guys will carry big chips,” Molitor told MLB.com. “It’s on some guys’ minds. I think to have it in there is not a bad thing. Everyone talks about turning the page and a new season, but some guys are motivated by it. It could be a huge motivation for some guys.”

The Twins did have important offseason changes. Derek Falvey was named the chief baseball officer to lead the front office, and Thad Levine is the new general manager.

Falvey and Levine withheld major changes to a young roster that features former top prospects like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano along with outfielders Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco, who are all 25 or younger.

“I don’t think our group as a whole was reflective of 103 losses last year,” Falvey told MLB.com. “No one is running from that. There is talent on the field that we believe will take a meaningful step forward this year. I think our club will be better and a lot of guys in that clubhouse feel that way, too. We’ll take that next step toward the team we’re trying to build long term.”

Minnesota was 16th in the majors in runs scored in 2016. However, the pitching staff allowed the second-most earned runs.

Right-hander Ervin Santana was the one consistent starter, and he will start Monday against the Royals. Santana was 7-11 with a 3.38 ERA last season.

“If we expect to compete on a higher level, the largest component that can make a difference over a long season is your pitching,” Molitor told MLB.com. “I think it’s pretty common knowledge that we need to pitch better.”

Kansas City will counter with left-hander Danny Duffy, who will be making his first Opening Day start. Duffy was 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA last season.

“He’s earned it with what he did last year,” Yost told MLB.com. “He has emerged as one of the elite left-handers in the league.”

Minnesota, which hasn’t won its season opener since 2008, lost its first nine games last year and never recovered.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure, like we can’t lose on Opening Day, but the fact of the matter is that we can’t put ourselves in ruts we’re incapable of getting ourselves out of,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier told MLB.com. “We did that last year, and you saw how that ended up. We have to get off, I’m not going to say to a great start, but we have to find things that are going to make us successful.”