Jerome Miron

Minnesota Twins Schedule Could Help Playoff Aspirations

The Minnesota Twins' second-half schedule is division-heavy, and this could work in their favor

A couple of weeks ago I went to Las Vegas for the first time to celebrate a family member's birthday. Walking around all of the casinos, I tended to notice the Sportsbook area and was interested in what the World Series odds were for the upcoming baseball season. The Giants (even year magic), Cubs, Astros and Red Sox were among those with the best odds of hoisting the World Series trophy at the end of the season, but with payouts of 4:1, or even 9:1, I just wasn't interested. Instead, it was Minnesota's 50:1 odds that drew me in. They are a young team with a few holes, but if some things go their way this season, they should at least be able to make it to the dance. Here are some of the variables I pondered before placing a friendly wager. 

The entire American League appears primed to compete in 2016, and a case can be made for just about every team reaching the playoffs one way or another. For the Twins, their hope lays with their youth movement. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will receive most of the media attention, and while their output will have a large role in Minnesota's final spot in the standings, they'll need help from the rest of the roster if they hope to be playing meaningful baseball in October. 

On paper the Twins have two areas of weakness: their starting rotation, as one publication put it, is filled with a slew of number three starters, while their bullpen isn't necessarily up to snuff with some of the others in the AL. This is where their schedule for the 2016 season comes into play and could work in their favor. In April, their only divisional games are a three-game set over four days against the Chicago White Sox at home, another three gamer at home against Cleveland, and the first two games of a series with Detroit to end the month, again at Target Field. 

May sees the final game of that series with Detroit to begin the month, and then road series against each of those three teams before finally welcoming the reigning World Series champs into their dojo May 23-25. If you're keeping count, that's one-third of their games for the season against the White Sox, Indians and Tigers, and three games against the Royals. It isn't until the end of June that they play a divisional foe (Chicago) again, and it's their last such series before the All-Star break which begins July 11. 

This means there will be a lot of big series for the Twins in the second half of the season. This is significant because reinforcements from the Minor Leagues should be on their way as early as May, but the team's schedule allows for some extra time on the farm if Minnesota is holding their own.

Jose Berrios is a potential call up that could make a significant impact in the rotation. In limited action this spring (4.1 innings) he didn't allow a run, and just two hits. The reason he won't be in their rotation to begin the season (aside from financial reasons down the line) is that the team is still worried about his control, which feels a bit nitpick-y considering his 1.7 walks per nine rate over 75.2 Triple-A innings last season, but he did walk three in Florida before being reassigned. When he is called up, the 21-year-old right-hander will have heaps of expectations thrust upon him, not the least of which will be leading the rotation at some point in the near future. 

In the bullpen Nick Burdi has a chance to make his big league debut right around when the games against the AL Central start coming in droves. Burdi can touch triple digits, which has lead to an astounding 13.0 strikeouts per nine in two Minor League seasons, but his walk rate has been a bit high. If he can work on his command, MLB Pipeline projects Burdi to be a closer in the big leagues down the road. 

These are just a couple of the pitchers on the farm that could have an impact in 2016, but they will certainly carry the most excitement among the fans if and when they get the call. Add in offseason addition Byung Ho Park who could end up pairing nicely with Sano in the middle of the order, and the Twins offense may be able to compensate for their lack of pitching over the first couple of months of the season. Park is batting .283 with 3 homers and 13 driven in this spring, and has hit 50+ home runs in each of the past two seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. How much that power translates, how much Buxton and Sano develop, and how soon some of their top pitching prospects are ready to contribute could determine whether or not the Twins will be playing playoff baseball in 2016.

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