FORT MYERS, FLA. – One equipment truck has departed for the Twin Cities. Another is being loaded as the Twins prepare to break camp and head for a regular season that will be better than the clunker of 2022.
How do I know? Well, I know a lot of things. And, after watching the Twins in exhibition games and examining how the roster was constructed, I know that the 2023 Twins will finish 91-71.
Laying out the reasons for such improvement usually requires listing a team's strengths. Evaluating this year's Twins begins with who is not here.
Chris Archer is a free agent. Dylan Bundy recently signed a minor league free-agent deal with the Cubs. Joe Smith is a free agent. Jharel Cotton is in Japan. Jhon Romero last week signed a minor league deal with Cleveland. Tyler Duffey, on a minor league deal with the Cubs, might make their club.
Gary Sanchez and Miguel Sano might play in other countries this year.
That means more than 30% of the Opening Day roster from last year is not in the majors — and five are not even playing.
The rotation will be better just because Bundy and Archer, who combined to make 30 starts of less than five innings last season, are gone. The nights in which Twins manager Rocco Baldelli asks the bullpen to cover 13 or more outs should be greatly reduced because they traded for a quality starter in Pablo Lopez and will have either a healthy Kenta Maeda or, if he falters, the promising Bailey Ober in the No. 5 spot.
Baldelli should lean more on his rotation this season — thank heavens — and Sonny Gray pretty much demanded it on Sunday when he said, "I don't think we're interested in going four innings and being happy."
Archer's ears shouldn't just be burning; they should be incinerated.
There are no reclamation projects in the rotation this year, and it should be one of the better ones in baseball.
Jhoan Duran is coming off a boffo year as a reliever. Four others averaged more than a strikeout an inning last season. Jorge Alcala is healthy. The bullpen has bite.
"It's probably the deepest pitching staff that we have had going into the season," said Baldelli, referring to when he first arrived in 2019.
The Twins scored 696 runs last season, two more than the league average. They didn't have a single hitter reach 30 homers — although Byron Buxton hit 28 in 92 games and Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Joey Gallo have hit 30 in the past. They didn't have a single player drive in 100 runs.
We will not know the full capabilities of this offense until Polanco and Alex Kirilloff join the team. Polanco battled knee issues last season and was progressing well early in camp before his knee flared up on him. He's fine now and will begin playing in minor league spring training games this week.
"Two weeks ago I was feeling good, hitting live [batting practice]," Polanco said Monday. "Just a little setback."
Kirilloff is working through a surgically repaired wrist and will join when he is comfortable swinging a bat. Buxton is being kept in the load-management zone after offseason knee surgery. He figures to be the designated hitter most of the first month.
Injuries from last season are lingering into Thursday's season opener at Kansas City and the first weeks of the season, making it difficult to project the offense. It has a better chance of scoring more than 700 runs the sooner Buxton, Polanco and Kirilloff get in the lineup.
Gallo is the wild card. He's going to bat .200. The Twins need that to include 35 home runs.
But a good pitching staff and defense can make up for an inconsistent offense. It's much harder to win the other way around. The Twins defense will be elite in the outfield and very good up the middle once everyone is in place.
Be prepared for around 50 games to be decided by one run, but pitching and defense will get this team to 90-plus wins.