Manager: Paul Molitor (second season)
Record: 83-79 (second in AL Central in 2015)
Last 10 games: Season opener
Who to watch: 2B Brian Dozier (28 HR, 77 RBIs), 3B Trevor Plouffe (22 HR, 86 RBIs), 1B Joe Mauer (.265/.338/.380), RHP Kyle Gibson (11-11, 3.84 ERA), LHP Glen Perkins (3.32 ERA, 32 saves)
Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (7-0 in 2015)
Inside the Twins:
The Twins come to Camden Yards to open their 2016 campaign looking to build upon a breakout season last year that resulted in a second-place finish in the American League Central. An 83-79 record might seem mediocre to some, but it's a 13-game improvement from a last-place finish in 2014. Granted, the Twins benefited from a down year by the Tigers and an average year from the Indians. But second place is a respectable finish, especially behind the eventual world champion Royals.
Paul Molitor comes into his second season the helm in Minnesota needing to manage some budding stars, a core group of veterans and hopefully a full rotation for the entire season. Expectations will be high for Molitor, who was named American League Manager of the Year by Sporting News, as voted on by his peers, and finished third in the AL Manager of the Year as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
The aforementioned budding stars will make up most of the outfield with center fielder Byron Buxton and right fielder Miguel Sano. The Twins expect big years from this pair of 22-year-olds, with Sano's potential to be at the top of the league in home runs and Buxton expected to contend for Rookie of the Year honors. Although, the young stars didn't wow much in spring training, combining for just two homers and 10 RBIs. The Twins are also hoping their four-year, $12 million gamble on Korean slugger Byung Ho Park pans out.
Meanwhile, the Twins have a strong core of veterans taking up their infield. Second baseman Brian Dozier is coming off his first All-Star season when he led the team with 28 home runs while driving in 77 RBIs. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe had a team-high 86 RBIs while smacking 22 longballs. And while shortstop Eduardo Escobar didn't drop any jaws with his offense, his defensive play solidifies the middle of that infield. However, the Twins would certainly like to see a resurgent year by six-time All-Star Joe Mauer. Since his last All-Star season in 2013, Mauer has been on a steady decline, only slashing .265/.338/.380 with 10 homers last season.
Right-hander Ervin Santana will be making his first opening day start today, and is part of the reason Molitor is hoping to have his full rotation for the entire season; Santana served an 80-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs in his first year of a four-year, $55 million deal with the Twins. Nerves and the emotions of his first opening day start might play a factor, as Santana is 2-3 with a 6.38 ERA at Camden Yards in his career. After the insurance off-day in case of rain, Kyle Gibson will take the mound against an Orioles lineup he seems comfortable facing: He is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA against the Birds. And a familiar face will finish the first series of the season for Minnesota as former Yankee Phil Hughes brings his 8-5 record and 4.57 ERA against to O's to Baltimore.
One of the toughest things in sports is following up a season in which you exceeded expectations because you can no longer sneak up on anyone. Park was Minnesota's biggest addition this offseason, and the rest of the division looked to improve to keep pace with Kansas City. Can the Twins make a statement by establishing themselves as a contender or will they fizzle out in 2016?