The Twins finished off an up and down year on the wrong side of a memorable playoff game. After becoming buyers in mid-July on the trade market, acquiring players like Jaime Garcia and Anthony Recker, the franchise turned around and started to sell off some of those players, Garcia is one of them. This odd buyer to seller switch created a bizarre narrative for Minnesota when they ended up securing the second wild card in late September, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion the New York Yankees in said Wild Card Game. The Twins don’t seem content with their late-season success and are making moves to extend their October excursion in 2018, adding impact players in the pitching staff and the lineup.

Even with those moves, the recent news surrounding the organization is not as optimistic as it could be, as starting shortstop Jorge Polanco received an 80-game suspension for PED this week. Teammates have shown support for the infielder, but some had a more candid take on the suspension. Second baseman Brian Dozier had this to say to the media at the Twins spring training complex:

“I don’t know about experience with dealing with this, but I do know this: I do know that we as players want performance-enhancing drugs out of the equation for everybody,” Dozier said. “We don’t want it in our game — no part of it. We want a clean game. With that being said, people make mistakes. That’s the world we live in. I know more than ever Polanco needs a little love right now. That’s my brother. That comes first. That’s our brother. We’ve got his back. He needs a little love right now. He’ll get it from us.”

Dozier showed plenty of support for the 24-year-old infielder, and in the full interview profusely talked about the relationship he has with Jorge, but he apparently exhibits his disdain for his teammate’s mistake. Polanco took over the shortstop position last year and batted .256/.313/.410 with 30 doubles and 13 home runs in his first full season as the starter, and with an even more impressive second-half slash line of .293/.359/.511 with ten home runs after the All-Star Break, his production will be tough to replace. Recently, the Twins signed Erick Aybar to a minor league contract, and will likely factor in as Polanco’s replacement for the 80 games.

There’s a lot of new faces in the Twins pitching staff, in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios will love the additions of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi to the starting rotation, as they are immediate upgrades in the rotation that sported four ERAs over 4.50 and three over 5.00. Former Yankee Michael Pineda also joins the Twins on a two-year deal and could be an impactful starter early in the season if he bounces back from his Tommy John surgery in July of 2017. The bullpen underwent a massive makeover with the additions of Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, and Zach Duke; the first two will likely fill the closer and set up man’s spot in 2018, with Duke as a weapon against lefties. In the lineup, the Twins employed a patient approach like many in free agency this winter and signed Tampa Bay Slugger Logan Morrison to a two year $13.5 million deal. The lefty slugger looks poised to flourish in the DH spot before cashing in on a more lucrative deal shortly.

As mentioned before, the starting rotation is getting significant upgrades, even if some of it is by default. Santana is expected to have another great season in 2018 as the 34-year-old finished off 2017 with a 16-8 record 3.28 ERA with five complete games and three shutouts. On the opposite side of the spectrum, 23 year old Jose Berrios looks to improve on his impressive 2017 where the only other bright spot in the Twins rotation sported a 14-8 record 3.89 ERA with 8.6 K/9 ratios as well From here you expect Lynn, Odorizzi, and Pineda to fill out the rest of the rotation. Lynn is coming off a good season in St. Louis (11-8 3.43 ERA 7.4 K/9), Odorizzi had a more mediocre season in Tampa Bay (10-8 4.14 ERA 7.9 K/9), and Pineda is coming off an up and down first half of 2017 but is an unknown with his surgery. At worst the Twins gave themselves an improved starting rotation to go along with their explosive offense that scored the most runs in the MLB after July 31st.

The rich get richer if you Minnesota as Morrison joins an elite offense with plenty of depth from 1-9. Here is what the 2018 lineup could look like:

Player Position 2017 BA/OPS/RBI/HR
Jason Castro C .242/.720/47/10
Joe Mauer 1B .305/.801/71/7
Brian Dozier 2B .271/.856/93/34
Jorge Polanco SS .256/.723/74/13
Miguel Sano 3B .264/.859/77/28
Eddie Rosario LF .290/.836/78/27
Bryon Buxton CF .253/.728/51/16
Max Kepler RF .243/.737/69/19
Logan Morrison DH .246/.868/85/38

No matter how you want to order this, this lineup has some serious pop, and Morrison only makes that more lethal. As for some improvements on this lineup, look to Buxton in centerfield. The 24-year-old spent his first season in the MLB and is an annual pick for a breakout player, but has never seemed to get into a groove. Although he may not have the production expected out of him, the league’s fastest player shows plenty of promise, successfully stealing 29 bases on 30 attempts, and that same speed shows up on defense as well with an MLB leading runs saved among centerfielders, helping him sport a +5.1 WAR in 2017. If Buxton can improve at the plate, the outfielder has all the tools to become a star.

Team Award Winners

Michael Pineda will end up as the team’s best starter by the end of the season. The Yankees were in love with the starters talent, with a devastating breaking ball to go along with a dominant fastball made Pineda one of the more dangerous pitchers in the MLB when he was on, but inconsistency and his most recent injury drove New York to let Pineda walk in free agency. Look for a rebound from the starter by seasons end that could make him a force to be reckoned with in October.

Buxton will finally have his year at the plate rounding out his game at the major league level. The center fielder has too much talent to not figure it out at some point, and after a full year at the major league club, Buxton should be able to know what he needs to improve on enough to finally achieve the star status he deserves.

Record Projection: 85-77

Bovada has the Twins over/under for 2018 at 83.5, which shows they see the late season surge in 2017 to be an anomaly, but this should be a safe over bet in 2018. The Twins added too much talent for it not to work out to at least repeat their 2017 record if everyone is healthy enough. The AL Central doesn’t look as imposing as in years past with Detroit and Chicago rebuilding and the Royals likely middling again in 2018. Unless some unforeseen injuries or multiple players underwhelming in 2018, there is no reason that the Twins don’t see some October action.

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