MILWAUKEE -- The last time Minnesota and Milwaukee met on Opening Day was in 1992, when the Twins were reigning World Series champions and the Brewers had high hopes entering what would prove to be their final season with franchise cornerstones Robin Yount and Paul Molitor as teammates.
Now the teams meet again, this time as Interleague foes aiming to continue a run of recent success. The Twins have won the American League Central each of the last two years and have made the postseason in three of the past four seasons. The Brewers are coming off three straight postseason appearances and are bidding to make it four in a row.
“I think everybody is ready to get back in front of the home fans because that’s something we haven’t had in a while,” Brewers Opening Day starter Brandon Woodruff said, echoing the thoughts of many around the club.
The Brewers were approved for 25 percent capacity at the ballpark now known as American Family Field, where there are typically a few Twins fans in attendance from over the border when these teams meet.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT on Thursday and will be available on MLB.TV. The game will be televised on both Bally Sports North (for Twins fans) and Bally Sports Wisconsin (for Brewers fans) and radio broadcasts will be provided by the Treasure Island Baseball Network and the Brewers Radio Network.
The starting lineups
Twins: With a right-hander on the mound for Milwaukee, it’s likely that either Jake Cave or Luis Arraez will earn the starting nod in left field, with Kyle Garlick on the bench. Arraez was the Opening Day starter at second base last season, but the Twins will have to work him in at second, third and left field this year to find him at-bats. Both Arraez and Max Kepler have led off at various points this spring, and there appears to be some question as to who will lead off when both are playing. Nelson Cruz would normally hit third, but the Twins have no interest in letting him play the field in a National League park, so he’ll be relegated to pinch-hitting duties only.
Brewers: Manager Craig Counsell has so many moving pieces that he might come up with 162 different lineup combinations in 2021. Kolten Wong at second base and Christian Yelich in left field are the only sure bets. Jackie Bradley Jr., Lorenzo Cain and Avisaíl García will share the rest of the outfield, though Bradley did not get the start in the opener. Daniel Vogelbach will get some starts alongside new first baseman Keston Hiura. Luis Urías, Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw will make up the left side of the infield. Omar Narváez and Manny Piña will each see significant time at catcher. There’s a lot of balance there for Counsell in terms of handedness and style.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Twins: Maeda made five Opening Day starts in Japan, but this will mark his first such honor in the United States following a surprising 2020 breakout campaign in which he finished with a 2.70 ERA, an MLB-best 0.75 WHIP and finished as the runner-up in American League Cy Young Award voting (to Cleveland's Shane Bieber). In Minnesota, Maeda has finally found the consistent starting opportunity that he always wanted during his time with the Dodgers, and an increased focus on his offspeed pitches led to the best results of his career following his trade to the Twins.
By the way, Maeda still hasn’t forgotten that his only home run as a big leaguer came in his Major League debut in 2016, and he’s been quite eager to get back in the batter’s box to add to that tally. He’s been taking lots of batting practice during Spring Training to prepare for this opportunity and intends to make the most of it.
Brewers: Woodruff will become the first Brewers pitcher to get the ball for consecutive openers since Yovani Gallardo started five straight Opening Day games from 2010-14 -- perhaps that will end talk of Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter “curse.” Woodruff avoided the sort of letdown in 2020 that befell many of his predecessors, tying for the Major League lead with 13 starts while ranking among National League leaders in average against (fourth, .204), hits per nine innings (fourth, 6.72), WHIP (fifth, 0.99), strikeouts-to-walks ratio (fifth, 5.06), strikeouts (seventh, 91), strikeouts per nine innings (seventh, 11.1) and ERA (ninth, 3.05).
It was even a positive year off the field, as Woodruff and his wife, Jonie, celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter named Kyler. It all sets up for a big year for the 28-year-old Mississippian, who, with Game 2 starter Corbin Burnes, gives the Brewers an impressive home-grown pair atop the starting rotation.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Twins: There has been a considerable amount of turnover in the Twins’ bullpen, with Hansel Robles and Alex Colomé enlisted to fill the void left by the departures of Sergio Romo, Trevor May, Tyler Clippard and Matt Wisler following the 2020 season. It’s a new-look back of the bullpen featuring Robles, Colomé, Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers, with the Twins likely to remain flexible with their usage late in games. Colomé and Rogers are in line to get most of the ninth-inning opportunities, but there’s no indication as to how they might be used.
Behind them, the Twins hope that this is the year in which young right-handers Cody Stashak and Jorge Alcala take the next step in their development, while left-hander Caleb Thielbar -- last season’s noteworthy comeback story -- rounds out the depth. Randy Dobnak, newly signed to a five-year extension, is on the roster for any long relief or piggyback start needs.
Brewers: Everything builds to 2020 NL Rookie of the Year Award and NL Reliever of the Year Award winner Devin Williams and 2018 and ‘19 NL Reliever of the Year Award winner Josh Hader at the end of the ‘pen. That dynamic righty-lefty duo is augmented by a variety of arms, from soft-tossing, quick-working lefty Brent Suter to side-arming righty Eric Yardley to well-traveled longman Josh Lindblom, who mostly pitched as a starter last season but will begin ‘21 in the bullpen. The idea is to get a late-inning lead to Williams, who struck out 53 of the 100 batters he faced last season thanks to baseball’s most unique changeup, and Hader, whose 46.4 percent strikeout rate is tops in baseball over the past three seasons among pitchers who have logged at least 35 innings.
Any injuries of note?
Twins: No. The Twins had a very clean camp on the injury front, and all of the minor ailments that arose with Polanco (left adductor tightness), Thielbar (back strain) and Garver (bruised left index finger) cleared up without significant issue.
Brewers: Cain (quadriceps) and Bradley (wrist) got healthy in time for Opening Day, so the Brewers’ primary position players and pitchers all made it through Spring Training in good health. Their biggest loss was bullpen candidate Justin Topa, who suffered a flexor tendon injury with only days to go in camp.
Who's hot and who's not?
Twins: Kepler had a very tough Spring Training and was mired in an 0-for-32 slump at one point before a bloop single snapped the skid. He finished camp 3-for-42 (.041) without an extra-base hit or a walk. Not only did Donaldson stay healthy throughout camp, but he also consistently hit the ball hard, while the best on-field results came from Willians Astudillo (four homers, 1.205 OPS) and Garlick (five homers, .987 OPS).
Brewers: The very best thing about Spring Training for the Brewers is that Yelich looked like Yelich again after a down year in 2020, hitting .400 with a 1.403 OPS during the Arizona portion of camp. Catchers Narváez and Piña combined to hit .333 as they enter bounce-back years, Narváez from a 2020 slump and Piña from knee surgery. On the other end of the spring spectrum were Orlando Arcia (8-for-43 in Arizona) and Travis Shaw (8-for-38), who enter the season in a timeshare at third base.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• This will mark the first time the Twins have fielded an Opening Day lineup without a designated hitter since the position was established in 1973. The last Twins pitcher to bat for himself on Opening Day was Bert Blyleven in Oakland on April 15, 1972.
• Maeda will be the Twins’ 12th different Opening Day starter in the last 15 years. Only Carl Pavano, Ervin Santana and José Berríos have earned multiple nods in that span. The starters in that stretch are, in order: Johan Santana, Liván Hernández, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Pavano (twice), Vance Worley, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana (twice), Jake Odorizzi, Berríos (twice) and now Maeda.
• Hiura will be the 10th different Opening Day first baseman for the Brewers in 10 years since Prince Fielder departed via free agency. If you could name all 10 players on this list, collect your prize: Mat Gamel (2012), Alex Gonzalez (2013), Lyle Overbay (2014), Adam Lind (2015), Chris Carter (2016), Eric Thames (2017), Ryan Braun (2018), Jesús Aguilar (2019), Juston Smoak (2020) and, now, Hiura.
• For fans attending the game, parking lots will open at 11:10 a.m. CT (2 hours prior to game time) and gates will open at 11:40 a.m. (1 1/2 hours prior to game time). Fans will note a designated entrance time and gate on their tickets. As previously announced, the City of Milwaukee Health Department is not permitting tailgating at this time.
• The Brewers will observe a pregame moment of silence to mark the passing of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Don Sutton as well as Audrey Kuenn, the wife of former manager Harvey Kuenn. Healthcare workers from Aurora will throw the ceremonial first pitches, and 12-year-old Liamani Segura will sing the National Anthem.