Nothing is better than Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Well, maybe if your team lifts the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season it isn’t, but I digress.
The smell of freshly cut and manicured grass, beer, and hot dogs all the way to the new guidelines for extended netting. It encapsulates what makes America’s pastime timeless.
It is a new year for the Minnesota Twins, and they are looking to build off their 101 win and AL Central championship campaign where they also hit an MLB record for home runs in a season.
Gone is the old regime, a bittersweet move, of Rocco Baldelli and Derek Falvey. All to make way for a simulated, corona-less season where a spry 24-year old to take the helm.
If you have not read the introduction to this series, it gives an outline of what to expect and some of the language to be used throughout as we mount our campaign to be World Series champions!
With MLB expanding their roster size from 25 to 26 beginning this year, I have taken advantage of it by using a 13/13 hitter/pitcher split. As was and is expected of the real-world Twins.
Thankfully, Byron Buxton (shoulder) and Marwin Gonzalez (knee) have both recovered from their surgeries in this game so we will be able to fully utilize their services allowing for outfield depth to be covered.
Bring in Willans Astudillo over Jake Cave, who will begin the season in Rochester, and the team’s overall depth is as good as it will get now with most of the production from 2019 returning.
As for the rotation, Randy Dobnak receives the final nod over the likes of Devin Smeltzer and Jhoulys Chacin. While it is likely to see Smeltzer at some point this season, Chacin may have difficulty cracking my style of aggressive play due to his right to refuse a demotion and being out of minor league options. Look for him to become a trade asset.
The biggest issue facing the pitching staff is lack of long-relief arms and only having one left-handed pitcher in closer Taylor Rogers on the starting staff. This shouldn’t be an issue early but may need to change if we hit some snags.
Below is the Opening Day roster. The first number is the player’s current overall and the second is their potential. (Remember, this is based off a 20/80 scale where 20 is abysmal and 80 is top of their position and they are subject to change)
As you can see, we have some quality players and some up and comers. But we will need to be on the lookout for additional and higher quality bench and bullpen help if we want to compete with the big dogs.
Style of Play
While some like to use OOTP to play as true to as their team would in real life, I put it on its head.
Aggressive tactics and trading along with progressing players into more natural positions and roles. Yes, I will take advantage of the Baldelli tactic of minimizing back-to-back usage of bullpen arms. But if this game has taught me anything, it’s that it may go by the wayside early.
First Trade Offer:
What do you know? Before the first game could even begin, I received my first trade offer. The St. Louis Cardinals offered 2B Tommy Edman for RF Max Kepler. While Edman would provide some nice depth for the infield, I quickly called Cardinals GM Michael Girsch back and laughed at the thought.
Kepler is one thicc bih and too valuable to let go.
Being introduced as a first time manager and GM is a lot of pressure, but it is nice to see that sources within the league have faith and I can only ask that loyal Twins fans have it too!
As for owner Jim Pohlad, his expectations are reasonable for the year. Make the playoffs, upgrade at left field (something that I already know needs to be accomplished), and sign Nelson Cruz to an extension. The last part may go by the wayside depending on his play as he is 40 years old, but his leadership in the clubhouse is unrivaled.
Game 1: Minnesota Twins (0-0) @ Oakland Athletics (0-0) A New Season Begins
With 34,908 2D specks in the stands, it was time for the 2020 MLB season to begin in Oakland!
Jose Berrios received the nod to start the season, as Baldelli had announced in the real world, going up against lefthander Jesus Luzardo.
The game started perfectly for Luzardo, who struck out three in 1.1 innings, but tweaked his back after striking out Miguel Sano to begin the second and would have to be taken out of the game and being replaced with righthander Brian Schlitter.
Eddie Rosario got the Twins’ first hit of the season in the top of the third after hitting a double to the gap in right and came into score when Arraez drove him in with a single two batters later for the early 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t long before things were tied up. Berrios, who had been rolling with four strikeouts gave up a meatball to 1B Matt Olson who smashed it to right for his first home run with one out in the bottom of the fourth.
After a Mark Cahna double, Khris Davis sent another Berrios ball over the fence, this time to left for a 3-1 lead.
It did not get better for Berrios. After getting two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Polanco botched a ball allowing the runner to make first safely and then Berrios surrendered back-to-back hits by Lureano and Olson to give the A’s a substantial 5-1 lead.
Things began to look up in the top of the sixth when Arraez, Polanco, and Cruz all hit bloop singles to load the bases with one out. With Sano up to bat, I told him to swing away and he delivered. Hitting a two-run double to left-center to inch the Twins to a 5-3 deficit.
Donaldson then created a productive out, driving in Cruz off a deep fielder’s choice. Now we were only down 5-4.
With Berrios at 90 pitches, I allowed him to try and get three more outs. While he got the first two, he ended up giving Piscotty a hard double.
Enter, Cody Stashak and an easy strikeout to end the sixth.
Yet after a passed ball and a single, it was time to bring in Zack Littell who promptly gave up a double to Chapman allowing Sean Murphy to score and increase the A’s lead to 6-4.
The bats fell silent after that for both sides as the A’s rode out the game to their first win on the year.
It wasn’t a bad start from Berrios or the team (Arrez went 2-3 with a walk, an RBI, and a run) but critical moments were lost.
Final Score: Athletics 6 – Twins 4
Twins Record: 0-1
Game 2: Minnesota Twins (0-1) @ Oakland Athletics (1-0) Late Inning Heroics
Another beautiful day in a dump of a stadium and the guys were in good spirits even after falling short in the opener.
Odorizzi struggled early, getting into a jam in the first and allowing four consecutive hits and allowing four runs in the second to dig the team into an early hole. It didn’t help that Donaldson left the bases loaded in the top of the third. But Odorizzi couldn’t find his rhythm as Khris Davis homered in his second straight game to push the A’s lead to 5-0 in the third.
The Twins’ offense continued to pose any threat with RISP as in the top of the fourth, Polanco left ducks on the pond in consecutive innings. It also didn’t get better in the fifth. After Odorizzi finally got a 1-2-3 inning, the offense left the bags loaded, coming up empty-handed despite out-hitting Oakland 7-6 through four and half.
The team’s fortunes got somewhat brighter in the top of the sixth after a double by Rosario and a Buxton infield single allowed Arraez to slap home a run on single with no outs. But the bats were not done finally coming through when needed as Polanco added to the parade with a single along with Sano and a couple of additional runs to make it 5-3.
At 84 pitches and rendering two consecutive scoreless innings, I decided to keep in Odo for the sixth while warming up Sergio Romo to see if he could push us into the final third of the game only down two.
And he immediately gives up a second bomb to Khris Davis. 6-3. Isn’t he supposed to be a perpetual .247 hitter? Apparently not for his early returns against the Twins as he has 3 homeruns, 4 RBI and is hitting .667 with an OPS of 2.881.
Nevertheless, I allowed Odorizzi to finish the inning with three outs and the seventh with a strikeout to come off the mound with a better taste in his mouth.
Cruz was able to knock in Arraez after his double to give the team one last chance at redemption on the day going into the ninth. But Romo didn’t help the cause allowing another two hits in the bottom of the eighth while Trevor May was warming to put the deficit back to three runs.
Then something clicked.
Donaldson snuck a single past an outstretched Marcus Semien, Kepler drew a walk, and then Mitch Garver found some of his magic Garv-sauce and tied the game with a dinger to left center! Tie game!
If that wasn’t enough, Buxton joined in the fun and had a homer himself to take the first lead of game. 8-7 Twins with only one out!
Taylor Rogers time. Two strikeouts and a fly out later and the Twins were victorious. It took 18 hits and late game heroics, but it got the job done.
Final Score: Twins 8 – Athletics 7
Twins Record: 1-1
Game 3: Minnesota Twins (1-1) @ Oakland Athletics (1-1) Extra Innings Slog
While my pitching management may have been less than desirable through the first two games, the offense is coming along nicely, racking up 12 runs and Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario each making some quality outs in the field. It is early, but there are positives to be noticed.
Kepler drove in the first run off a fielder’s choice in the second and Cruz scoring off another in the sixth.
For Kenta Maeda, he had the team’s best start in his first appearance with the team. He went six innings while allowing one run but got into trouble with no one out in the seventh when he gave up a single and triple to allow the Athletics to tie it at two.
Wisler and May kept it tied after a tidy end to the eighth and ninth to push the game to extras.
With two down in the top of the tenth, Arraez continued his hot streak and snuck a fastball down the first base line for a double and had Cruz, who has been equally as hot, drove him in for the go ahead run.
Then Taylor Rogers blew the save by allowing three straight singles to tie the game. At least he managed to leave it at that. However, this is what I was talking about when mentioning needing long relief help.
Thankfully that did not end up mattering as the bats remained awake with Polanco and Avila driving in additional support in the 11th and Tyler Duffey picking up the save.
Final Score: Twins 5 – Athletics 3
Twins Record: 2-1
Game 4: Minnesota Twins (2-1) @ Oakland Athletics (1-2) Bombas! Just for the wrong team.
The Twins got on the board early in this one. Going up 1-0 in the first after an Arrez single, Sano reaching on an infield error, and Rosario knocking one in.
Homer Bailey was working the lineup well too until a soft infield single and Mark Canha homer put the A’s in front 2-1 in the fourth. But that did not matter as Kepler hit one for two in the top of the fifth that travelled 409 feet to right and hopefully getting him out of a slump as he has only batted .083 (2-12) with a .646 OPS.
But again, the long ball bite Bailey in the bottom of the inning to draw Oakland even at three, but he was able to get out of the inning without any additional scars.
With the bullpen still recovering, I kept Bailey on the mound to start the seventh and appeared to be doing great in what was going to be his last inning. Then the pesky longball struck again when Laureano broke the tie and put the Bay area team up 5-3.
Sano got one back, muscling one out to the opposite field in the eigth to bring the Twins back to within one and after Tyler Clippard threw a scoreless bottom half, the team loaded the bases and allowed Sano to tie it up with a single in the ninth.
It wasn’t enough.
I left Clippard in due to an exhausted pen and with two outs and a man on second, he gave up the walk off bomb to Matt Olson.
Final Score: Athletics 7 – Twins 5
Twins Record: 2-2
First Series Review and Lookahead: The team is offensively sound, albeit without too many Bombas so far. It is the pitching, and my subsequent mismanagement, that is causing issues. It won’t be getting easier going up against and undefeated Mariners squad in Seattle next. As I continue to troll the waiver wire and trading block for additional pitching help, we may just have to out hit everyone we play.
After a series of play, we sit third in the AL Central behind the dreaded Indians and upstart Royals. But again, this is a 162-game season and a split is about as much of a win as you can get against an Athletics team that had consistently gone deep into the playoffs in my past 2020 sims.