Bombs gone, the Twins will rely on defense and pitching to win this season

Bombs gone, the Twins will rely on defense and pitching to win this season

La Velle’s 3-2 launch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

. . .

The 2019 season wasn’t long ago, but the Twins have changed tremendously since the Bomba Squad.

This was the season they hit a Major League Baseball record 307 home runs. It spawned bobbleheads, t-shirts and juice ball conspiracies.

That 101-win season was Rocco Baldelli’s first as a Twins manager. His fifth season now rolls around after TwinsFest weekend, and Baldelli is talking about his roster again, just in different ways.

In addition to retaining Carlos Correa, the Twins have lengthened the starting rotation, solidified the catcher position and have arms and reach all over the field. If the Twins can avoid the rash of injuries they suffered last season, they will be a playoff threat.

If they find success this season, it will be for very different reasons than a long string of long balls: improved defense and pitching.

The defense will be strong in center with the return of Correa and the additions of catcher Christian Vasquez and outfielders Joey Gallo and Michael A. Taylor. I’m not a fan of Gallo’s points, but he’s a good outfielder, and a trio of Gallo, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler will do everything.

“With the guys we have right now, it’s hard not to look at that and say we think we have one of the best defenses on the field in baseball,” Baldelli said. “No matter who’s on the mound, they’re going to be pretty confident that if the ball is put in play down the field, we’re going to catch the vast majority of those balls. That leads to winning.”

The overhaul of the pitching staff began at last season’s trade deadline with the signing of Jorge Lopez. A healthy Jorge AlcalĂ  will also help this summer. For those of you still having nightmares about pitches being made, note that Joe Smith, Jharel Cotton, Danny Coulombe, Tyler Duffey and Jhoan Romero were part of the opening day bullpen. This year’s group should improve. Yes, Emilio Pagan is back. But so is Griffin Jax. And Jhoan Duran was an elite closer last season.

There isn’t an ace-type top-end starter, but the rotation is deeper after the addition of Pablo Lopez. Now Josh Winder and Bailey Ober can develop in Class AAA St. Paul or as relievers.

What does the addition of Pablo Lopez – 15-15 in 52 starts the last two seasons with Miami – do for this rotation?

“It’s been a long time,” Baldelli said.

The Twins held the No. 1 spot for 108 days last season. His trips to the injured list and first-half bullpen slumps were hard to watch, but it wasn’t a disastrous season.

Their roster heading into spring training is better than it was a year ago, and reveals a team that will rely on pitching and defense, not Bombs, as ways to win.

A lane to Lance?

Should Vikings fans go to Brock Purdy on Sunday?

Purdy has come out of nowhere to keep the 49ers on track to reach the Super Bowl. And if he does enough to lead San Francisco over Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, his legend will only grow. And Purdy will be one step closer to becoming The Guy in San Francisco.

That could make Trey Lance, the 49ers’ starting quarterback earlier in the season before suffering a broken fibula on Sept. 18, expendable. The Vikings will need a succession plan for Kirk Cousins, and Lance would be a good fit as the quarterback of the future. San Francisco traded three first-round picks and a third-round pick to Miami in order to move up in the draft and get Lance. So they won’t just give it away. But Purdy’s surprising play could cause the 49ers to consider moving on from Lance.

Weak moments for Wild

You’d think getting Dean Evason’s death stare would be enough to keep you on his good side. But as the Wild battle their recent slump, they’ve had to make healthy scratches. It will happen over the course of a season, but it’s still surprising when Matt Dumba and Ryan Hartman are the ones getting scratched.

Dumba, who has formed a solid defensive pairing with Jonas Brodin, sat out two games before returning Tuesday against Tampa Bay. With 12 points in 45 games, Dumba is having one of his worst offensive seasons. This is evident in the number of times the disc spins. And a rash of untimely penalties left Ryan Hartman scratched Thursday. He has five goals in 25 games after scoring 34 last season. The Wild need more of both if they want to rise in the Western Conference.


Annoying Super Bowl Sunday

The Gophers men’s basketball team will win its next game on Feb. 12 when it hosts Iowa. Before that, things will be tough as they face three of the top five teams in the conference.

And the Super Bowl selections

Cincinnati has allowed more than 18 points just once in its last six games. The defense will carry the Bengals over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. They will face Philadelphia in the Super Bowl after the Eagles knocked off San Francisco for the NFC Championship.

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