From 2011-2019, the question going into the season regarding the Twins was essentially, “Are they good?” (For a few years in the earlier part of last decade, you probably had to dial that back to, “Are the Twins decent?”)
What makes 2020 particularly interesting is that we are starting from a different place and asking a different question. After a 101-win season and several notable offseason acquisitions, we know the Twins are good. The question instead is this: “How good are they?”
The baseline expectation is that the Twins will win the AL Central as prohibitive favorites — even factoring in Cleveland still being relevant and the White Sox theoretically being on the rise. Over-under wagering numbers have the Twins sitting at 92.5 wins — with Cleveland at seven fewer and the White Sox at eight fewer. The Royals and Tigers should once again be terrible.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections tell a similar story: 93.3 wins for the Twins, 86.6 for Cleveland and 82.8 for the White Sox — putting Minnesota at a healthy 75% likelihood to repeat as AL Central champs for the first time since 2009-10.
Relative to the rest of MLB, though, the question of “how good are the Twins” becomes more interesting in the context of PECOTA.
At 93.3 wins, they have the fourth-highest projected total behind the usual suspects: Yankees (98.8), Astros (98.4) and the overall front-runner Dodgers in the NL (102.4).
The closest team below the Twins? Tampa Bay at 87.4 — with seven other teams clustered closely with at least 84 projected wins.
That means the Twins are kind of in a class of their own, at least according to the projections, with no team within five games of them in either direction.
The 93.3 projection already represents a regression from last year’s 101-win team, but more importantly it sets up the story of 2020:
Are the Twins even a few losses worse than that, which would put them in danger of losing the division while still being a good team?
Are they properly pegged as a low-to-mid-90 win team — very good, but not quite among the best?
Or are they going to surge again toward 100 wins, cementing a place alongside the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers as the prohibitive favorites to reach and/or win the World Series?
The confidence exuded in Fort Myers, which Phil Miller and I discussed Wednesday on a new Twins Insider podcast, indicates the Twins think they are legit World Series contenders and aren’t shy about uttering those words.
But should you get your hopes up? I’ll say this: It’s plausible for the Twins to win the World Series — more so than it’s been, at least at the start of a season, for a decade or more. The Yankees have starting pitching issues beyond the top of their rotation and just lost Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery. The Astros could be motivated by everyone’s hate, or they could have a really weird and unsatisfying season.
It’s more fun to hope for the best than to expect the worst. The difference this year is that even a relatively bad Twins season still has the chance to be pretty good.