Making predictions for mid-market baseball teams built on a suspect foundation is a preposterous undertaking.
One year ago, as the Twins prepared to open the 2022 season, my official prediction on a SKOR North (AM-1500) podcast was for a 78-84 finish.
After running in first place for weeks, the Twins lost players and finished 78-84 and in third place in the mostly feeble American League Central.
There have been many other times when the prediction was far removed from the outcome — none more so than in 2016.
The Twins had ended the streak of 90-plus losses at four seasons in 2015 with an 83-79 record. Even after watching the absurdity of Miguel Sano trying to play right field, my send-off essay from Florida the following spring had the punchline: "What's not to like?''
Everything but Brian Dozier's 42 home runs, as it turned out.
Glen Perkins' arm was gone, the rotation was a disaster and the Twins finished 59-103, the most losses in their time in Minnesota.
Evidence there that several weeks in the sun can bake the good sense out of a ballwriter's brain.
My first trip to spring training was to Orlando as a Twins beat writer for the St. Paul newspapers in 1974. I missed once through 2021.
"Greatest invention in the history of American sports writing'' has been my accolade for spring training.
It's tough to build up the needed cynicism toward a ballclub when you're watching leisurely contests that don't count and you're also warm.
That's why I don't blame distinguished colleague La Velle E. Neal III for his optimistic piece in Tuesday's newspaper, in which he guaranteed these Twins will win 90 games — largely based on the players discarded since last season.
He did not include Luis Arraez on his list of missing deficits, nor did he mention that Emilio Pagan remains in the bullpen (although not to close).
Ten, 12 days in Florida, even a veteran baseball guy such as LEN-3 can get giddy.
When we're stuck up here, and we're just hoping most of the snow is melted before our baseball season starts, we're left to deal with that dang realism.
Entering the 2023 calendar year, the optimistic look at the top of the Twins order went like this:
- Luis Arraez, dh/1b
- Carlos Correa, ss
- Jorge Polanco, 2b
- Byron Buxton, cf/DH
- Alex Kirilloff, 1b/lf
- Jose Miranda, 3b
Now, there's speculation a lineup against righthanded pitching often will lead off with Joey Gallo, and have this look (Note: Max Kepler will lead off Thursday.):
- Gallo, 1b
- Buxton, DH-only
- Kepler, rf
- Trevor Larnach, lf
To start with, Arraez batted .316 (best in AL), .375 on-base and struck out 43 times in 603 plate appearances. Gallo batted .160, .280 on-base and struck out 163 times in 410 at-bats.
Gallo is not a replacement for Arraez in the Twins' lineup. He could be more of a replacement for Miguel Sano.
Correa? Twins followers are required to believe agent Scott Boras knows more about long-term ankle health than a few bone doctors.
Buxton's value is reduced by 50% when he's not playing center field — and the Twins bringing in weak-hitting Michael A. Taylor told us immediately Byron wasn't going to be there often in 2023. Buxton also went Sano-like as a hitter before being shut down with a chronic knee problem: long ball or grab some bench.
Polanco? He's tough. He'll try to play sooner than later. But we should've known the Twins had real concerns when they signed second baseman Donovan Solano for no apparent reason on Feb. 23.
Kirilloff's ongoing wrist injury is the baseball version of a tragedy. That swing was going to make him a 3-4-5 hitter in the bigs for eight years, minimum. And now … it's anyone's guess, including the Twins'.
The rest of the top six: no sophomore drop-off allowed for Miranda, and Larnach must start making contact to go with that power, or this lineup has a chance to be feeble.
The starting rotation, all righthanders, will be competitive, although not deserving of handstands (unless Pablo Lopez proves worthy of surrendering Arraez). The bullpen will be good, as long as we see Emilio in the sixth and not the ninth.
Add it up. Weak lineup, improved pitching, 24 fewer games vs. the AL Central teams in 2023 …
Eighty-two losses, but these won't take as long and our boys will be wearing new hats.