The sour taste of a disappointing playoff finish lingered longer than usual for Minnesota Twins reliever Taylor Rogers. He noticed it on his drive back home to Colorado. Something just wasn’t right.
There was unfinished business after watching the Houston Astros celebrate at Target Field.
It was so abrupt — it was less than 30 hours from the buzz and excitement of beginning the Wild Card Series to the point where the Twins were eliminated by the Astros. The Twins were the first team to bow out of the playoffs last year.
“I definitely think this group has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder to try to move on. And now you’re hearing all of this stuff,” Rogers said at the beginning of spring training. “For me personally, I’m 0-6 in the playoffs, and that’s definitely a problem. Definitely need to get that changed.”
The Twins begin their 2021 season at 1:10 p.m. Thursday at American Family Field in Milwaukee against the Brewers. They harbor the same World Series aspirations as the previous year. Coming off two straight division titles with no playoff wins to show for it, they’re ready for more.
The Twins’ 2019 season was defined by its offense, smashing so many home runs that they became better known as the “Bomba Squad.” Last year, they were carried by their pitching. This year?
It’s time to find out.
“Obviously we still have a great lineup with great hitters. But also, we have a great pitching staff, and we got new people to help us and build on what we’ve got already,” starter Jose Berrios said. “We’re a great team overall. If we do this on both sides, hitting and pitching and also defense, we’re going to earn and complete our goal, to make it through to the World Series.”
Offseason additions have helped the Twins shore up their defense, which they believe will play a significant role in run prevention and helping their pitchers. New shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner and one of the best defensive players in the game, will captain the infield, and the Twins believe sliding Jorge Polanco over to second base will prove a good defensive fit for the former shortstop.
Nelson Cruz is back to lead the offense. Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson are healthy — as is everyone else, for that matter. The Twins added veterans J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker to their rotation and Alex Colome and Hansel Robles to the back of their bullpen. And they’re betting on bounce-back performances from a number hitters after a difficult, disruptive, truncated 2020 season.
All that amounts to much optimism as the Twins prepare to play a 162-game season — this one in front of fans instead of cardboard cutouts, with real crowd noise instead of piped-in fan sounds, with protocols that are now familiar and easier to adhere to — and wipe the disappointing memories from last year’s postseason away.
“On paper definitely we look better. We need some key pieces on the offensive side, but pitching-wise, we look more solid, especially the starters and the new guys in the bullpen. Definitely they give you a better balance,” Cruz said. “And as a team, you want that leverage, especially late in the games, have different tools to bring into key situations. So definitely teams that go and win the World Series have that solid, especially solid bullpen. And now we have one of the best.”