What you should be thinking about the 2021 Minnesota Twins, following their 13-4 victory over Kansas City on Sunday at Target Field:
1. Hitting is not going to be a problem. Four of the biggest questions entering the season were whether Byron Buxton was ready to break out (he has), Nelson Cruz would maintain bat speed at the age of 40 (he has), Alex Kirilloff was ready (he's hit four homers the past three games) and whether Mitch Garver would hit for power again (he has hit five home runs in 65 at-bats).
2. The notion that the Twins were buried entering May was absurd. They are 4½ games behind Chicago, their primary competition in the AL Central. There have five months and 136 games remaining, and the Twins and White Sox will play each other 19 times between May 11 and Aug. 11. The Twins have to pitch better, but the race has barely begun.
3. Matt Shoemaker might be the Twins' biggest problem. Alex Colome has pitched horribly, but he has a long track record as an effective reliever. One of the problems with Shoemaker is that he hasn't pitched more than 78 innings in a season since 2016, so the Twins have no idea whether he's having a bad stretch or whether he no longer can be an effective starting pitcher. This is a flaw in the Twins' philosophy about finding affordable reclamation projects and relying on their staff to help such pitchers rebound. When they "fixed" Martin Perez, he wound up reverting to his former, struggling self in the second half of 2019. Sometimes players are who they are.
4. If Shoemaker can't right himself quickly, the Twins should replace him with Randy Dobnak. Dobnak has proved himself a reliable starter the past two years and has not had a defined role this season. He's too valuable to be a mop-up reliever.
5. With Miguel Sano coming back, the Twins have 10 everyday players for nine positions. Do they send down Kirilloff, or take at-bats away from Luis Arraez or Jorge Polanco? I think there are enough at-bats for all 10, but only if manager Rocco Baldelli cuts back on playing time for his extra players. Extra players are extra players for a reason. Jake Cave isn't hitting for power or average and Willians Astudillo has a career OPS of .743, which is fine — for a bench player.
6. Jose Berrios screamed into his glove repeatedly after big outs on Sunday. He is an intense competitor. He has a 3.58 ERA this season. If that ERA sounds less than dominant, well, understand that it's better than any full-season ERA he's compiled in the big leagues.
7. While Colome tries to right himself, Jorge Alcala may emerge as the Twins' best ninth-inning option. Making Taylor Rogers the closer would rob the Twins of their best matchup reliever — someone who can face the opponent's best lefthanded hitter, or the heart of the opponent's order, or pitch more than an inning under pressure. Alcala has the stuff to dominate in the ninth.
8. Cruz is the Twins' best combo player/personality/leader since Justin Morneau was in his prime. When the Twins ran their Simba Cam on the scoreboard, which encourages parents to hold their children aloft as in "The Lion King," Cruz lifted Astudillo, then playfully grabbed his back. Signing Cruz might be the best move the Falvey front office has made.
9. Sano is not going to be the polished hitter he appeared to be when he first came to the big leagues. But if the rest of the Twins' lineup does its job, Sano can help as an all-or-nothing slugger near the bottom of the order.
10. Baldelli likes to alter his lineup every day, but I would bat Arraez leadoff against every righthanded starter the Twins face. His career OPS vs. righthanders is .868; vs. lefthanders it's .613.
11. Get vaccinated. Target Field isn't the same without the roar of the crowd.