Observations from first week of 2020 Twins season

The Twins lineup is crazy good

We’ll get this one out of the way early. Led by 40-year-old Nelson Cruz, the Twins’ lethal lineup of sluggers has taken the league by storm. Minnesota has scored double-digit runs in two of five games and ranks second in run differential (+16), fourth in runs (36), fourth in homers (10) and fifth in slugging percentage (.453). Max Kepler, who could very well be among the leaders for dingers in the AL when all is said and done, bats eighth in the lineup against left-handers. And Luis Arraez, a legitimate contender for the AL batting crown, has batted ninth once and seventh twice. This lineup is scary.

And that’s without Josh Donaldson doing much of anything

The Bringer of Rain has been more like the Bringer of Sleet over his first five games in a Twins uniform. While batting second in manager Rocco Baldelli’s lineup, Donaldson is batting .176/.318/.421 with one homer, two RBI, four walks and four strikeouts. Just wait until he gets that bat going.

 

A sophomore slump for Arraez doesn’t look likely

Arraez became a fan favorite in 2019 when he debuted at second base and quickly stole the full-time starting position away from Jonathan Schoop, logging a rookie slash line of .334/.399/.439 in 92 games and finishing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting. With more in-depth footage and scouting reports of Arraez in the hands of pitchers, it’s almost expected for the second baseman to see regression from a .355 BABIP in 2019. However, in his four games, that’s not the case. Bringing his animated antics with him to the plate, Arraez has collected six hits in 15 at-bats (.400) with one walk and one strikeout. It’s just a bit too early to hand Arraez the AL batting crown, but all signs point to a successful encore at the plate for the infielder.

 

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Baldelli is easing his starting pitchers into the 2020 season

Minnesota’s starting pitchers have all been effective while all pitching five innings or less — Jose Berrios (4 IP), Randy Dobnak (4 IP), Kenta Maeda (5 IP), Homer Bailey (5 IP) and Rich Hill (5 IP). Whenever right-hander Jake Odorizzi gets back on the mound from the 10-day injured list, he’ll return to a starting staff in great shape.

 

So far, so good on the Hill experiment

You never know what to expect from a pitcher coming off of elbow surgery, much less a 40-year-old pitcher. But Hill dazzled St. Louis on Wednesday night, allowing no runs on two hits in five innings while fanning two hitters. If Hill can keep this up, the Twins have – for the first time since the days of Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano — a deep, steady and talented rotation.

 

Sure, the lineup is great. But so is the bullpen

The offseason acquisition of Tyler Clippard is looking brilliant so far, as he’s pitched three scoreless innings. But how about youngsters like Cody Stashak and Lewis Thorpe? The pair of relievers yielded a total of zero runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings. Really, the only two Twins pitchers to run into any sort of trouble are Devin Smeltzer and Zack Littell, who allowed a combined nine runs during Saturday’s 10-3 loss to Chicago. We mentioned the depth of the Twins’ starting rotation, but this bullpen might be even deeper.

Winning 40 games is looking more and more realistic

The opening five games of 2020 have been free of any stress or anxiety for fans. The Twins’ pitching staff has taken care of business and the lineup has been striking fear into opposing ball clubs. Looking at the remainder of the schedule, winning 40 games seems doable for the Twins. Cleveland and Chicago (even though the latter has started 2-4) will be tough. But the rest of Minnesota’s opponents? We’re sorry, Ron Gardenhire, but unless former Twins prospect Niko Goodrum wins league MVP, Detroit (4-2) isn’t going to win two-thirds of its games the rest of the way. The Tigers are bad. So is Kansas City. And no one in the NL Central — Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or St. Louis — has shown much of anything to cause for much concern. 40-20? It could happen. Not that home-field advantage will mean much during the 2020 postseason, but Minnesota playing meaningful games at Target Field would be fun to watch from afar.

 

And finally, the powder blue jerseys are fantastic

As a nod to the Twins teams of the 1970s and ‘80s, Minnesota brought back the powder blue uniforms it wore at Metropolitan Stadium. They are incredible.