(WCCO) -- The Minnesota Twins won't surprise MLB this season. After a sub-.500 showing in 2018, the Twins won 101 games last year, en route to the single-season home run record and the American League Central title. The New York Yankees then swept them out of the playoffs.
This season, even with only 60 games on the regular-season schedule, everyone knows what to expect from this veteran lineup. "They come in with a group that really has an identity and knows who they are," says WCCO sports director Mike Max. "There's no question what they try to do. They try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And they have enough pitching that they think if they can hold you under five runs, they can beat you. They have an identity. They know who's going to bat in what spot in the order. They know exactly what's expected of each player. So I think it's a huge advantage for the Twins going in. That being said, they have to get off to a good start. But they don't have any question marks about who's going to play where and who in the pitching rotation will be starters and relief, who's going to pitch where. I think that's a tremendous advantage going in."
Pitching was a weakness for the Twins last season. But the team improved their depth in the offseason without giving up much of anything. And the four-month delay of opening day gave starter Rich Hill, acquired last December, enough time to recover from elbow surgery too. "They knew he couldn't pitch for the first half of the season, but he'd be available for the second half," says Max. "Well, the second half is the first half now. So they actually picked up a starting pitcher for what will be the duration of the season, given that there are 60 games."
Michael Pineda will return from suspension after 36 games as well. So, assuming the Twins remain in contention, the pitching staff will receive another boost in September and for the playoffs.
With the state of the AL Central, and 40 games against the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, there's no reason to believe the Twins can't extend their season. "Kansas City's not there, Detroit is a mess right now," says Max. "The White Sox are young and getting better. And Cleveland contended last year, and they still have a lot of good players. They traded Corey Kluber away, down to Texas. They're a different look and makeup. They'd probably still be considered the number-one contender to the Minnesota Twins."
The Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers should be the class of the National League Central. "It's a nice-looking schedule for the Twins, minimizing travel," says Max. "It also keeps them in the same time zone as you know. It's very consistent for what they're trying to do. But that schedule wraps up pretty nicely for them, just because some of these teams in the Central don't look like they're quite ready to contend yet."
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