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Twins' 2020 sights set on World Series

@dohyoungpark
July 22, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli addressed his team at the start of Summer Camp, he didn't explicitly mention the World Series as a goal. He didn't have to. Everybody knows it already. There's a keen awareness that this is one of the most talented Twins teams ever assembled

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli addressed his team at the start of Summer Camp, he didn't explicitly mention the World Series as a goal.

He didn't have to. Everybody knows it already.

There's a keen awareness that this is one of the most talented Twins teams ever assembled in Minnesota, and nobody's hesitating to set expectations accordingly. What other goal could possibly make sense for a team that won 101 games last season and clubbed the most home runs in Major League history -- and then went out and added Josh Donaldson, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Alex Avila and Homer Bailey for good measure?

"I would say I absolutely think this is a World Series team," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "We felt that before, and we don’t feel any different about that today. I think these guys are hungry for that. You've heard from a number of players and Rocco. No one’s shying away from that goal, so that's never changed."

This wasn't the 2020 campaign that Falvey, general manager Thad Levine and Baldelli imagined when they assembled a deep roster fit for a 162-game war of attrition, but they'll hope the talent will still reign supreme in a sprint instead of a marathon. Come Opening Day on Friday, all those questions will finally be answered with real game results. Here's what Twins fans should expect heading into the season.

What needs to go right?
The bullpen needs to show that its 2019 success wasn't a fluke.

For all the attention that the offense received for its historic feats (and rightfully so), no other team in the Majors came close to Minnesota relievers' 4.8 WAR in the second half, when the bullpen fully took shape. That success was driven by Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey -- two of the best relievers in baseball down the stretch -- and marked improvement from Trevor May, along with the deadline acquisition of Sergio Romo.

Duffey and May in particular have less extensive track records of success but will still be counted on for important, high-leverage innings throughout the season. Zack Littell and Cody Stashak were very pleasant surprises as rookies. It's not inconceivable that one or more of those players could regress a bit. The 37-year-old Romo and 35-year-old Clippard aren't getting any younger, either. The offense will be more than fine, and the rotation is deep. Can the bullpen keep holding the leads?

Big question: Can Byron Buxton stay healthy?
Low-hanging fruit? Sure. A tired point? Perhaps. Doesn't make it any less important.

Buxton is just that meaningful to this team. The Twins got a glimpse of what a simplified, confident Buxton with swagger could look like in 2019, when he posted a career-best .827 OPS with some pop while playing his customary elite defense in center field. He ranked among the league leaders with a career-high 30 doubles for much of the season, but he was again derailed by four stints on the injured list. Despite playing in only 87 games, Baseball-Reference still saw Buxton as the club's fifth-most valuable position player with 3.1 WAR.

Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr are very capable backups, but Buxton uniquely completes this team on both offense and defense. A healthy Buxton routinely makes game-changing plays in center field that could swing the outcomes of close games. He makes Eddie Rosario better in left field and Max Kepler more effective in right. Buxton's speed and line-drive ability at the bottom of the lineup set up the sluggers to come when things flip over.

The Twins were 62-25 when Buxton played last year and 39-36 when he didn't. The former is the championship pace this team will need.

Prospect to watch: Lewis Thorpe
It almost feels like cheating to pick Thorpe here because he already appeared in 12 games last season for the Twins, but there really isn't much room for prospects elsewhere on the roster to make guaranteed contributions throughout the 2020 season. Thorpe, 24, will either be on the Opening Day roster or the first man out, as starting depth and a potential long-relief option. Either way, it's a certainty that he'll have a meaningful impact on the Twins' destiny this year.

Thorpe struggled with a 6.18 ERA in his 12 appearances last season, but there's still plenty to like about the No. 10 prospect in the organization, per MLB Pipeline. He flashed his potential with 31 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 27 2/3 innings last season thanks to a well-balanced arsenal featuring a curveball, changeup and improving slider that help his fastball play up. With some refinement and added experience under his belt, the Australian left-hander will be an important young piece on the pitching staff alongside the already-successful Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer.

(Others considered: Ryan Jeffers, Brent Rooker, Travis Blankenhorn)

On the schedule: A grueling August
The Twins get one day off in August. That's it. Once they return home from their season-opening three-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field, they will play 16 consecutive games, starting with their home opener on July 28 against St. Louis, before a needed respite on Aug. 13. That precedes an even longer stretch of 20 consecutive games leading into the next off-day on Sept. 3.

Tally it up: 36 games in 37 days. That includes seven games against the Indians, six against the Brewers, three against the White Sox and two against the Cardinals, meaning half of those 36 games will be against teams projected for some level of success in 2020. One way in which this does help is that the Twins will have four off-days in September that could help them stay (relatively) rested ahead of a potential postseason berth. But they'll first need to survive that August gauntlet for any of that to matter.

Team MVP will be: Buxton
Let's say that this will be the year.

Buxton has been working with the coaching staff on adjustments to his defense that will help him mitigate the effects of collisions with the outfield wall, including playing slightly deeper in the field. He arrived in Summer Camp with the willingness to adjust his style of play to be smarter with injury risk. Once he returns from his left mid-foot sprain to man center field, he'll be there to stay. The line-drive ability will continue to produce a steady stream of doubles, and his defensive prowess will swing the outcome of several close games as he finally plays a full season.

Team Cy Young will be: José Berríos
First-half Berríos had a 3.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP last season. Second-half Berríos had a 4.64 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. The 26-year-old right-hander has been open about his desire to improve his endurance to better sustain his success through a 162-game season. That won't be a problem in 2020. The shortened 60-game regular season will play in Berríos' favor, and he won't need to pace himself as he'll stay fresh into September -- and potentially October -- and his improving changeup will complement the rest of his arsenal to continue his steady improvement into true ace status.

Bold prediction: Miguel Sanó will lead MLB in homers
The full list of qualified hitters with a better barrel rate than Sanó in 2019 is as follows: Nelson Cruz, Gary Sánchez, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.

The list of qualified hitters with higher average exit velocity than Sanó in 2019 is as follows: Judge. That's it.

Sanó set a career high with 34 homers despite playing in just 105 games last year due to a right heel injury that sidelined him for all of Spring Training and nearly two months of the regular season. He endured a brutal slump upon his return and actually did most of his damage from July on. Spurred by the continued good influence and example of Cruz, Sanó will build on that power show and take the nation by surprise with his brigade of bombas.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.