The Twins were scheduled to begin defense of their American League Central title on Thursday in Oakland with Jose Berrios on the mound, Josh Donaldson in the lineup fo the first time and an expectation (or hope, at least) that this season might not end with a playoff loss to the Yankees.
That isn’t going to happen — at least the start of the season part. The coronavirus has put baseball, and basically everything else, on hold with no idea when life will return to normal. So as we continue to self-isolate, here are a few things that we can continue to look forward to seeing when the season eventually (and hopefully) gets underway.
MIGUEL AT FIRST
Having been in Fort Myers the week that baseball suspended play, I can confirm that Miguel Sano was in fantastic condition and appeared to be embracing the move to first base. Sano’s transition from third to first was going to be a work in progress, and it remained to be seen how he did in picking throws out of the dirt, or knowing when to try to stretch for an errant throw or come off the bag to make sure the ball didn’t get past him.
But in talking to Sano and those who were working with him, including infield coach Tony Diaz, it seemed as if the 26-year-old had matured and was ready for the challenge. Remember, Sano was unable to play last season until the middle of May because of an injury and he still hit 34 home runs in 105 games. Sano’s defensive issues at third base made him a liability in the field and the move to first a wise decision.
With Sano having signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Twins in January the expectation is that he could be a powerful part of this lineup for years to come. The question is whether that will be at first base or designated hitter, once Nelson Cruz retires. Thursday was to have been the first day of Sano proving he has found a home in the field.
Watching Josh Donaldson go about his work at third base, it wasn’t hard to pick up on the fact that the 34-year-old takes his craft very seriously and had the ability to have a positive impact on a team that already has a veteran leader in Cruz.
Many were excited when Donaldson signed a $92 million, four-year contract with the Twins in January because of the power he possesses (he hit 37 home runs with Atlanta last season) but what should have been considered equally as important was the fact that Donaldson provides a large upgrade (pun intended) from Sano at third base.
That figured to provide a big boost for the Twins’ pitching staff, and if Byron Buxton can stay healthy in center field, the Twins’ defense could be much improved from 2019.
WHO’S AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ROTATION?
Berrios was going to start the opener and be followed by Jake Odorizzi and the newly acquired Kenta Maeda in the rotation. Those were givens. What we were waiting to find out was who would open the season as the Twins’ fourth and fifth starters.
Even when the season gets underway, Michael Pineda still will have 39 games remaining on the 60-game PED suspension he received last season. It was expected he would be back in May but that won’t be the case.
Rich Hill, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Twins during the offseason, is continuing to rehab from the “primary repair” procedure he had performed last October on the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. Hill, 40, was expected to be back in June or July but that means there’s a chance now he will be ready to open the season.
The expected early-season options at the back end of the rotation included Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and newcomer Homer Bailey. Bailey was likely the favorite to open the season as the Twins’ fourth starter. He went 13-9 with a 4.57 ERA during a 2019 season split between Kansas City and Oakland, but went 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his final eight starts. Bailey as the third starter to begin the season was less than ideal but having him behind Maeda in the rotation seemed like a workable plan.
If the season is delayed long enough, there is a chance the Opening Day rotation will look like this: Berrios, Odorizzi, Maeda, Hill and Bailey/Dobnak or Smeltzer.