Sid Hartman moved to No. 1 on the seniority list of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 2020. He advanced to that place after the death of the great statistician and historian Seymour Siwoff from the New York chapter last November.
Sid turned 100 in March and, thanks to long practice, he has no difficulty in making a forecast on Minnesota sports teams that draw his interest: Provide him a hint of optimism and Sid will envision rainbows and parades in the offing.
I moved up to No. 7 on the BBWAA list. There are two factors unsettling over this: A) Single digits in seniority on any list; and B) someone of such longevity should be more firm in his opinion on the Twins as they close in on Friday’s opener to a shrunken season.
The optimistic view — win the division and finally a playoff series — has a strong basis, starting with the lineup of extraordinary potential. There are several ways to bat ’em, and this would be mine:
Max Kepler, RF; Josh Donaldson, 3B; Nelson Cruz, DH; Eddie Rosario, LF; Miguel Sano, 1B; Jorge Polanco, SS; Mitch Garver, C; Byron Buxton, CF; and Luis Arraez, 2B.
There’s the familiar problem, of course. Buxton has a sprained foot, and Jake Cave or Lamont Wade is likely to be in center field against the White Sox in Chicago on Friday night. Note: Wade will make fewer mistakes in the outfield and can get on base to start a rally.
Troubling for a team built on power and batches of runs is this:
The exhibition schedule is usually overdone in Florida and Arizona, but those weeks do allow hitters to find timing. There’s little chance the hitters will have that after a few intrasquad games and one exhibition before taking on White Sox righthander Lucas Giolito on Friday.
You need to be up to speed with your timing to hit big-league pitching. Period.
And the exclamation mark is this: Teams are going to start the schedule with 30-player rosters, and some will have as many as 16 pitchers. Then the rosters are cut to 28 for a time, and there still will be 14-15 pitchers and endless relievers.
Yes, there’s a wonderful new rule that a reliever must face three batters, but I expect rival managers to look ahead with enough wisdom so that neither Kepler nor Rosario will be facing a righthanded pitcher in a big situation after the fifth inning.
Opinion: Pitching teams will have a greater advantage than normal over hitting teams in this mini-season. And the 2019 Twins won 101 games as a hitting team.
We can follow that with a 180-degree turn and point to a Twins bullpen with a chance to be outstanding, led by the A+ trio of Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey and Trevor May.
Right now, the rotation depends on Jake Odorizzi’s back (stiff this week) and Kenta Maeda being a true asset. Maeda pitched five innings in an intrasquad game Monday and was unimpressive.
A popular theory in these parts is the Twins will benefit from an “easy schedule.” They were 14-5 against both Kansas City and Detroit in 2019, and must look at 14 wins out of a total of 20 against those two clubs as the minimum.
The 2019 Twins also were 13-6 against the White Sox. It would be a shock here if that domination was repeated. Chicago is the team of the future of the AL Central, and that future could come over the next 10 weeks.
Eloy Jimenez was baseball’s No. 3-rated prospect entering 2019, and Cuban center fielder Luis Robert is No. 3 now. He was tremendous in Arizona spring training. Throw in the additions of designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, catcher Yasmani Grandal and starter Dallas Keuchel and the weak clubs in the Central have been reduced to a pair.
Plus, the idea the Twins get a break playing their other 20 games against the NL Central is preposterous. St. Louis, Milwaukee and the Cubs are all strong, and the Cincinnati Reds are the White Sox of the National League — a losing team in 2019 now on the rise.
This is a mini-season that will be dominated by pitching. There are two good clubs to beat out in Cleveland (starting pitching and Francisco Lindor) and the White Sox to win the division.
Conclusion: Down here at BBWAA No. 7, it’s impossible to share the optimistic certainty of BBWAA No. 1 on what fate awaits these Twins.