This weekend, the Chicago White Sox return home to Minnesota for a big four-game series against the Twinkies.
Home? Why, yes — the White Sox were Minnesota’s team 61 years before the former Washington Senators came to town!
We’re going back a bit, but the legendary Charles Comiskey bought the Western League’s Sioux City franchise in 1894 and moved them to St. Paul, becoming the St. Paul Apostles. In 1900, when the league announced its intentions to become the American League, officials decided they didn’t want teams in St. Paul, Buffalo or Kansas City, so Comiskey pulled up the carpet tacks and moved the squad to the South Side, becoming our beloved—and currently rebuilding—White Sox. (Be sure to thank him next time you see his statue in the outfield at the G’Rate.)
The Minnesota Twins see themselves as a team of the present, expecting to compete for a playoff spot with a mix of young talent and plug-in pieces. Most likely scenario: they parlay their 57-game schedule against the Sox/Kansas City Royals/Detroit Tigers — three teams that may compete for the worst record in baseball in 2018 — into enough wins to propel them into that final wild card position. They’ll be doing it with their largest payroll in history (almost $132 million), and counting on a few ex-Sox in key positions — shortstop Eduardo Escobar and relievers Addison Reed and Zach Duke — to bolster their success.
Two teams, two approaches to 2018
Despite a fairly young squad, the Twins are definitely taking a different approach to this season than the Sox. For evidence, let’s look at how the teams played two similar scenarios in this season’s opening week:
1. The Twins opened at Baltimore, and went into the ninth trailing the Orioles, 2-0. They loaded the bases with two outs, with Byron Buxton, recently baseball’s top prospect and starting to show off his major league promise, coming up to bat. Manager Paul Molitor opted for a pinch-hitter, veteran Robbie Grossman, the closest thing the Twins have to the piranhas that Ozzie Guillen so loved on this team. (Grossman came through with a duck snort to center to tie the game, which the Twins then lost in extra innings.)
2. Exactly one week later, in the White Sox home opener, we watched the Good Guys’s bullpen fall apart and blow a four-run lead that the Sox built on that snowy Thursday afternoon. Then, after Detroit scored two in the top of the 10th, the Sox managed a Omar Narvaez walk and a Nicky Delmonico HBP to bring Yoan Moncada up as the potential winning run.
Ignore the fact that Moncada promptly struck out to end the game. What’s important is how each manager played similar scenarios:
Twins/Molitor: Inserted veteran for future star, and went for the win now.
White Sox/Ricky Renteria: Gave the kid big-league experience batting with the game on the line.
Offense is a strength
This Twins squad scored over 800 runs last year. They had some serious minor league talents, who have developed into major leaguers. Eddie Rosario, Brian Buxton and Max Kepler go left-to-right in the outfield, oozing with potential. Meanwhile, on the left side of the infield, Miguel Sano will hold down third base, and the recently-suspended Jorge Polanco is being counted on at short (though one wonders whether his second-half surge in 2017 could possibly be related to his testing positive for Stanozolol).
The right side of the infield has former all-stars Brian Dozier at second and Joe Mauer at first, though perhaps not for long; both are scheduled to become free agents this fall. The Twins also added DH Logan Morrison (LoMo), who broke through for 38 dingers last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, on a one-year deal.
Sano’s future is particularly important to the Twins organization. Originally signed as a 15-year-old from the Dominican Republic, his hitting is not a question mark. But he needs to stay healthy, keep his weight down, and keep his hands to himself (he was accused of harassment by a female photographer who worked with the Twins, but baseball officials found insufficient evidence to take disciplinary action). Though his weight is listed at 260 pounds, I heard Twins beat writer Lavelle E. Neal III say on the radio that he heard Sano reported to Florida this spring weighing 293. In other words, the Twins are starting a third baseman the size of Fred Flintstone!
Which brings us to Escobar, once considered the finest fielder in the White Sox system, who the Twins acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade back in 2012. Last year, the Twins counted on him to hold down third base when Sano got hurt, and he responded with 21 homers and 73 RBI in 129 games. This year, he’ll play shortstop while Polanco serves his suspension. Escobar reportedly cried on the day he was traded away from the Sox six years ago, so he always fills a warm spot in my heart.
Pitching could be a problem
The Twins’s question mark remains pitching. They have done a historically poor job developing a pitching staff. Only Jose Berrios, a good-looking young starter still seeking consistency, and Kyle Gibson, still being counted on despite four-plus years of mediocrity, came up through the Twins system as starters. Ervin Santana starts the season on the DL after finger surgery, and the Twins went out and acquired half a rotation and half a bullpen, trading a prospect for Jake Odorizzi and signing free agent Lance Lynn to a one-year deal (though Yu Darvish was their real target). For the bullpen, Minnesota brought in 41-year old Fernando Rodney to close, and added the aforementioned ex-Sox duo of Reed and Duke to shore up the back end of the relieving corps. There may be some prospects in the minors, but (I write this with pride) none named Kopech, Cease, Hansen or Dunning.
Twins fans seem excited about the possibility of Molitor leading them to another season with a win total in the low 80s. He was one of the best hitters I have ever seen, and I love that he’s a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, but he still needs to demonstrate that he can handle a pitching staff.
The Twins may beat out the Chisox in this year’s series and in the standings, but I like our chances in the 2020s!
Thursday, April 12: Lucas Giolito (0-1, 6.17 ERA) vs. Jose Berrios (1-1, 3.29 ERA)
Friday, April 13: Reynaldo “Boo” López (0-1, 0.69 ERA) vs. “Headless” TBD (0-0, ∞ ERA)
Saturday, April 14: Miguel González (0-2, 8.68 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.00 ERA)
Sunday, April 15: Carson Fulmer (0-1, 5.59 ERA) vs. Jake Odorizzi (1-0, 2.20 ERA)