Thursday, March 30, 2017

Analyzing Minnesota's Early Season Schedule

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Baseball is finally back... well almost. Twins fans are eager to put memories of last year's 103-loss season behind them. Building off a young core, Minnesota hopes many players take the next step. There will be many factors that contribute to the team's 2017 campaign but a fast start could help the team avoid a repeat of last year's poor performance.

Most of the first month of the season is filled with battles against AL Central foes. In fact, the club only has three games outside of the division. These contests will be critical to understanding where Minnesota fits in the divisional pecking order.

Kansas City Royals 
Home Series: 4/3, 4/5-4/6: Road Series: 4/28-4/30
The Twins struggled against the Royals last season with a combined 4-15 record. Three of their four wins against Kansas City came at Target Field. Minnesota pitchers allowed 124 runs against the 2015 World Series Champions. Minnesota's 65 runs scored was also their lowest total against any inter-divisional opponent.

Minnesota will see the Royals top three starters (Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jason Hammel) in the first series. Ervin Santana gets the Opening Day nod as he posted a 4.55 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP against Kansas City last year. Hector Santiago fared even worse than Santana. He had a 10.93 ERA in three starts. Kyle Gibson faced the Royals three times and had a 6.75 ERA with a 1.85 WHIP.

Chicago White Sox
Road Series: 4/7-4/9: Home Series: 4/14-4/16
Minnesota's first road series of the year will come on the south-side of Chicago. The Twins went 7-12 against the White Sox last year including three road victories. Twins batters were outscored by 12 runs in those games (86 to 98) but that was the team's second highest run total in inter-divisional games.

Chicago went into rebuilding mode this off-season by trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for a boat full of prospects. Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada will be names to watch in the years to come. For now, the Twins will have to hope their young core can find a way to win against one of the team's biggest rivals.

Detroit Tigers
Road Series: 4/11-4/13: Home Series: 4/21-4/23
The Tigers held Minnesota a 4-15 record during the 2016 campaign. All four of Minnesota's wins came in Detroit so the Twins will need to find a way to beat the Tigers at Target Field. Detroit scored 107-runs against Twins pitchers and Minnesota only saw 69 runs scored. Six of the team's first 22 games come against Detroit so the Twins will need to solve Detroit's curse in a hurry.

Detroit saw a rebound year in 2016 from many players in their core. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Justin Verlander all looked like they were back to their old tricks. They finished in second place in the division and they have a chance to make a big step forward this year. It probably won't be enough to catch Cleveland but weirder things have happened in the baseball world.

Cleveland Indians
Home Series: 4/17-4/20
The defending AL Champions are the only divisional team the Twins play once in the season's first month. However, it is their longest series of the month (four games) and it does come at Target Field. Even with Cleveland running through the Central last season, Minnesota posted a 9-10 record against the Tribe while matching them in runs scored.

Cleveland rode tremendous pitching to being within a game of winning the World Series. This could result in a couple different directions for the coming season. The team could have a chip on their should and ride this momentum back to baseball's highest level. On the other hand, the team might not be able to overcome their October collapse and end up not living up to this year's lofty expectations.

Texas Rangers
Road Series: 4/24-4/26
Minnesota played two series against Texas in 2016 and won both of them. They finished with a 5-2 record and their .714 winning percentage, their highest total against any team. The Twins averaged almost nine runs per game while allowing less than 4.5 runs  per game. Minnesota had their two highest run producing games (17 and 15 runs) against Texas.

Even though the Rangers struggled against Minnesota, the club won 95 games and finished in first place in the AL West. Texas did this while struggling in multiple areas of the game. Only the Twins and Athletic allowed more runs. It seems likely for the Rangers to regress in 2017 and the Twins will need to take advantage this fall back to the back.

Minnesota finished 7-17 during last April. How will the club fare in the season's first month? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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