FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After making a surprise run to the American League Wild Card Game last season, the Twins are aiming to make the postseason for a second straight year, and they made several notable additions to strengthen the roster.Minnesota fortified its bullpen in the offseason with the signings
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After making a surprise run to the American League Wild Card Game last season, the Twins are aiming to make the postseason for a second straight year, and they made several notable additions to strengthen the roster.
Minnesota fortified its bullpen in the offseason with the signings of closer Fernando Rodney and fellow relievers Addison Reed and Zach Duke. The club then traded for right-hander Jake Odorizzi and signed designated hitter Logan Morrison and right-hander Lance Lynn during Spring Training.
The Twins, though, will be without right-hander Ervin Santana for roughly the first month of the season after finger surgery, and shortstop Jorge Polanco was suspended for 80 games for the use of a performance-enhancing drug.
But the Twins have more depth than in recent years, and they are looking to make the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the fifth time in Minnesota history, and for the first time since 2009-10.
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What's the goal?
The Indians are the strong favorites to repeat as AL Central champions, but the Twins believe they can compete with Cleveland in a division that has the Royals, Tigers and White Sox rebuilding. It'll be a tough task, however, especially after Polanco's suspension, and being without Santana until late April or early May.
Reaching the AL Wild Card Game for a second straight year is a more realistic goal, but this time Minnesota is looking to advance into a series instead of a win-or-go-home situation like last year, when it couldn't hold an early lead against the Yankees, who ended up one win away from reaching the World Series. The Twins have a playoff-caliber rotation with the additions of Odorizzi and Lynn to join Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson, which would make them a tough opponent in a postseason series.
What's the plan?
The Twins scored the second-most runs in the Majors after the All-Star break last year, and they added Morrison to serve as their everyday DH after he had a breakout season that saw him hit 38 homers with the Rays last season. Minnesota figures to score plenty of runs, but it also has an athletic team that's solid on the bases and in the field. The outfield defense is particularly a strength with the trio of center fielder Byron Buxton, left fielder Eddie Rosario and right fielder Max Kepler.
Buxton is the club's most important player, because of his ability to impact the game in so many facets, and how he performs offensively will be key. Miguel Sano has to show he can stay healthy for an entire season after being named an All-Star for the first time in 2017, only to miss more than a month late in the season with a shin injury that led to offseason surgery.
What could go wrong?
Health can often make or break a season, and the Twins need their key players to stay on the field if they're to remain a postseason contender. Their infield depth is already being tested by Polanco's suspension, as he's not eligible to return until June 30, so an injury to second baseman James Dozier or Sano would be especially costly.
The Twins also need their young core to continue to make progress, as they can't afford for players such as Buxton, Sano or Berrios to take a step back after strong seasons in 2017.
Rodney had a shaky April with the D-backs, only to turn it around and finish with 39 saves last season, and the 41-year-old must prove he still has plenty left in the tank or else Reed could become closer.
Who might surprise?
Escobar filled in capably for Sano down the stretch at third base last year, and he finished with a career-high 21 homers. Escobar figures to be the regular at shortstop in the absence of Polanco, while Ehire Adrianza is expected to get plenty of playing time at short as well. No. 4 prospectNick Gordon also could make his debut earlier than expected depending on how he fares at Triple-A Rochester.
Gibson is the fifth starter, and he posted identical 5.07 ERAs in 2016 and '17, but he is coming off a strong second half that saw him use his slider and four-seam fastball more, and with better results. Gibson had a 3.76 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings after the All-Star break, and if he continues that kind of production, it would round out what projects to be a much better rotation than in recent years.
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.