Jim Souhan
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Before the 2019 season, the Twins decided to alter their philosophy to reflect baseball's new reality.

The analytical approach to scoring runs, in general, had favored a blend of patience and power. The Twins' brain trust decided to emphasize power, in part because they believed baseballs would be jumping out of ballparks as if fired from T-shirt cannons. Then they won 101 games while setting a big league record for home runs.

Before the 2023 season, the Twins again altered their philosophy to reflect baseball's newest reality.

As the game trends toward rewarding fielding, pitching depth and speed, they built their most impressive season-opening rotation in decades, assembled their deepest and most impressive bullpen since Johan Santana was a middle reliever and committed to a lineup of versatile and often spectacular fielders.

Seen in that light, their 2-0 victory over Kansas City on Opening Day of the 2023 season approached perfection.

With the exception of Carlos Correa's game-show-style free agency, the Twins' most important move this winter was trading batting champion Luis Arráez for starting pitcher Pablo López.

López earned the start on Opening Day and on Thursday pitched 5 ⅓ scoreless innings, striking out eight.

Byron Buxton, who as of February was complaining about performing as a designated hitter, went 2-for-5 with a triple that led to the go-ahead run.

Correa, Michael A. Taylor and first baseman Joey Gallo made important plays in the field and the bolstered bullpen produced 3 ⅔ scoreless innings, with Jhoan Duran earning the save.

The 2023 Twins are deep and talented, and they may need to win a lot of low-scoring games while they wait for two middle-of-the-order hitters — Jorge Polanco and Alex Kirilloff — to recover from injuries and join the big league team.

Thursday in Kansas City, they got just enough from their run producers, with Buxton getting two hits, and interim cleanup hitter Trevor Larnach producing the go-ahead RBI with a single.

But López was the story of the day, and could become the story of the season.

The last time the Twins had a true ace, that ace was a Venezuelan in his 20s who featured a devastating changeup.

Few pitchers in the history of the game could match Santana's changeup, and López has far to travel before justifying a comparison with a former Cy Young winner, but they do have this in common:

Pitch separation.

Santana threw a 94-mph fastball, an 87-mph slider and a 78-mph change. Then-Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson would say that while most pitchers tried to fool hitters by pitching up-and-down or outside-and-inside, Santana made the strike zone three-dimensional. A hitter couldn't prepare for one pitch and time either of the other two.

On Thursday, López featured a 96-mph fastball, an 89-mph changeup and an 83-mph slider. Although he throws his changeup harder than Santana did, he presents the same problem to hitters: They can't prepare for one pitch and handle the others.

"He's our ace for a reason," Buxton said of López, to Bally Sports North. "He went out there and did his thing and put us on our backs until we could get those runs across.

"Having him is pretty incredible."

Forgive this simplistic and possibly irrelevant observation: López looks like an ace. He's 6-4 and 225 pounds, with much of his mass in his upper legs.

He acts like an ace, too, with a blend of composure and confidence.

"What else do you want?" Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "[He's got a] competitive nature, and he executed really well. His stuff was excellent and he was composed and he did a really nice job."

At times last season with the Marlins, he pitched like an ace, and the Twins' brain trust looked at his body of work and pitch mix and believed that they could nudge him toward sustained excellence.

The game lasted 2:32. Considering the Twins' pitching, fielding and inexperienced sluggers, this team's games could move quickly, and the season could last quite a long time.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.