Minnesota Twins: Why 2021 may end up as the Same Old Song

Alex Kirilloff of the Minnesota Twins bats in his major league debut during game two of the Wild Card Series. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
Alex Kirilloff of the Minnesota Twins bats in his major league debut during game two of the Wild Card Series. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Twins have so many reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming 2021 season. First, with three different COVID-19 vaccines being distributed around the country, there is every reason to believe that there will be fewer work stoppages this season. To add onto that, the curtailing of the pandemic will hopefully bring fans back to the stands.

The second reason for optimism is their association with their new Triple-A affiliate, the Saint Paul Saints. There now will be fewer delays in bringing players up to the majors. Scouting trips will be shorter as front office staff can simply drive across town to see some of the Twins’ top prospects. Big league staff will also have a much easier time monitoring injured players on rehab.

The third and biggest reason for optimism is the arrival of some talented newcomers to the team.  Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons will strengthen the infield defense and allow Jorge Polanco to move to second base, where his arm strength will be less of an issue. The bullpen is also bolstered by Hansel Robles and Alex Colome.

The Minnesota Twins also added two back-end starters in free agents J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker. All of this, coupled with a return to health of Josh Donaldson and the expected emergence of rookie Alex Kirilloff  mean that perhaps this is the year the team will make a longer playoff run. I don’t think so though.

The Minnesota Twins are optimistic their additions will result in a deeper playoff run, but it may be more of the same.

My prediction for the Twins’ season includes a lot of the same as usual, which is a good news/bad news prediction. While we’ve gone over some issues that could derail the season, I still think he good news is that the Twins will hold off the surging Chicago White Sox and again win another AL Central Division crown.

Just like last year (minus Cleveland) the season-long drama will center around the close division race between the Twins and the White Sox. I don’t think either team will lead the other by more than 3 games during the season and the Twins will not clinch the division until a come from behind victory in Kansas City on the final day of the season.

On the bad news side, I really don’t see the Twins’ new additions doing enough to change the playoff outcome. I expect the Twins will meet the dreaded Yankees in the first round of the playoffs and once again be unceremoniously swept from the playoffs.

I think success for individual Minnesota Twins players will be a mix of good and bad too.

Up the middle, Simmons will be a defensive whiz as always, but he will struggle to hit above .240 all year and Polanco will find his stroke again, hitting a solid .297 while providing solid defense at second base.

On the corners, Josh Donaldson starts the season off with a bang and the hot streak will continue through mid-June, before the MVP chatter will stop after he suffers another calf injury that keeps him out until late July. When in the line-up, Miguel Sano will provide plenty of pop, but two trips to the Injured List (IL) hurt his overall production.

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Behind the dish, Mitch Garver will make a nice comeback, hitting 20 homers and driving in 67 runs, while Ryan Jeffers has an excellent year defensively, showcased by throwing out 31% of the runners who tried to steal a base on him.

Byron Buxton plays 135 games and only spends two weeks on the IL, recording 20 homers and 25 steals while earning his second Gold Glove in centerfield, and Max Kepler has a rebound year. I think he’ll hit about 25 home runs and driving in 71 runs. I don’t know that he’ll get any better against lefties though.

Kirilloff will start the year in left field, but I don’t think he’s successful right away, struggling enough to earn a mid-May demotion to St. Paul. He is replaced by Brent Rooker first, then Jake Cave, but returns to have a solid last month and a half of the season giving hope for the future.

For depth, Luis Arraez hits .301 and competently fills in everywhere, consistently getting playing time and making Marwin Gonzalez look bad. Nick Gordon finally gets his shot and provides needed additional infield depth.

The pitching staff overall should have a solid season led by Kenta Maeda who once again finishes second in the Cy Young voting. Jose Berrios fails once again to become the Minnesota Twins’ ace but has a season worth a No. 2 starter, albeit a streaky one.

Michael Pineda pitches phenomenally when healthy, but he’ll visit the IL twice, limiting his effectiveness. J.A. Happ turns in a 10-10 season starting out slow but finishing very effectively. Shoemaker starts out like a Comeback Player of the Year candidate but goes to the IL with a shoulder injury and never returns to the rotation.

Randy Dobnak fills in, but proves ineffective and is returned to the bullpen once more. Lewis Thorpe is called up and gets lit up early, but a change to his mechanics by Wes Johnson turns him into a bulldog down the stretch.

The bullpen is once again solid with Colome eventually becoming the full-time closer. Taylor Rogers, back to his comfort zone as a set-up man finishes the year with a 1.17 ERA. Tyler Duffey is once again lights out, and Jorge Acala shines in an expanded role. Dobnak and Caleb Thielbar fill in nicely, but Robles implodes and Cody Stashak suffers a season-ending arm injury in June.

Overall, Rocco Baldelli’s team provides a summer full of entertaining baseball for their fans. But unfortunately, their playoff loss streak is extended to 21 games. The Minnesota Twins once again find themselves on the outside looking in as other teams advance in the playoffs.

I just don’t think this team did enough to really get better. I think we’re looking at a repeat of last year. But hope springs eternal in the world of baseball. We’ll get ‘em next year.