The Week Ahead: Twins move into new home

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target-field-100407.jpgFor the first time since 1981, the Minnesota Twins will be playing a regular season home game outdoors when they host the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

The special occasion is the opening of Target Field, a sparkling new venue that opens its doors just nine years after folks were seriously considering contracting the Twins. Not a bad turnaround for a franchise that until recently was considered small market. (Don’t tell anyone, but the Twins’ payroll is at more than $97 million this season – that’s 10th in the league and just ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

And while not everyone is thinking happy thoughts about the new ballpark (yes the Twins will have to keep winning for attendance to hold. Sheesh, can’t they enjoy the moment?)  it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of a good team playing in a nice stadium. I’m sure you Rays fans out there salivate at the idea.

The real question, though, is whether or not the Twins can build a home-field edge similar to that of the Metrodome, where fly balls routinely became invisible against the Teflon roof, and a hitter’s concentration would turn to mush under the frenzied roar of the Twins faithful.

From listening to those who should know, this is no small thing. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, termed the “Metrodome mystique” as “half the battle.”

And former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter had even more to say:

“If we lost a ball [in the roof], we knew how to pick it up,” said the Angels’ Torii Hunter, who played a decade in the Metrodome.

Hunter laughed at the long-held suspicion that the Twins would turn on an air conditioner late in the game, with the home team at bat, the better to carry balls over the fence.

“We knew, when they opened the doors, all the pressure went out to right-center field, so we would swing for right-center field,” he said. “They thought it was an air conditioner. But the doors were let open in the seventh inning to let everybody leave.”

The changing air pressure never seemed to have any effect on Joe Nathan, but who knows, maybe they shut the doors in the top half of the ninth inning. What fan would want to leave at that point anyway?

Of course there will be no issues with air conditioning or air pressure at Target Field, only good, old-fashioned weather issues. But if you’re thinking the Twins will gain an edge playing outside in the Minnesota cold, remember these wise words of Joe Mauer: “We’ve got to play in it, too.”

Besides, it’s not going to matter, at least not on Monday. They’re expecting a high of 74. Our own Aaron Gleeman will be there covering the festivities. Follow him here, and on Twitter.

Red Sox at Twins, April 12, 14-15:
In addition to opening Target Field, these happen to be two pretty darn good baseball teams mixing it up this week. We get Jon Lester vs. Carl Pavano, John Lackey vs. Kevin Slowey, and Tim Wakefield vs. Francisco Liriano.

Athletics at Mariners, April 12-14: Oakland enters the week with a 1 1/2-game lead atop the AL West. Seattle is tied with the Angels at the bottom. What’s next? Dogs and cats living together? Mass hysteria?

Giants at Dodgers, April 16-18: When former New York teams move to California, they take their rivalry with them, and this is nothing if not a crazy, intense rivalry. Plus, you have this.

Mets at Cardinals, April 16-18: Always fun when you get a big city team playing against the game’s best player. Plus, there’s the added bonus of a likely Chris Carpenter-Johan Santana matchup on Saturday.

Rays at Red Sox, April 16-19: Big week for Boston, as after the trip to Minnesota they come home for four games against the Rays. Wonder if the Tampa Bay players will complain about the stadium.

Monday, 4:10 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Twins (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:15 p.m.: Astros at Cardinals (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: White Sox at Indians (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mets at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Rays at Red Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Mets at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Who will be the 2016 World Series’ breakout star?

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Javier Baez #9 of the Chicago Cubs looks on prior to game six of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Watching baseball most every day between April and October is a lot of fun, but it also can be a bit desensitizing. People like me and like many of you see some of baseball’s biggest stars every night and some of those same stars multiple times a week. We appreciate them but, after a little while, we tend to take them a little bit for granted.

The World Series, however, is a time when a lot of people who only watch their own team on a regular basis start watching other teams. It’s also when a lot of people who don’t watch a lot of baseball in general pay closer attention to a sport that may only be their second or third love. These people are getting a first glimpse, in many cases, of some truly special players performing on baseball’s biggest stage for the first time. They’re seeing stars break out. Their very act of paying attention to them now contributes to the breakout. It’s a cliche, but October is when stars are born.  It’s like relativity or something: they’re born because so many people are looking on, seeing their light for the first time.

The Indians have a handful of exciting young players who have not fully captured national attention as of yet. Sure, Francisco Lindor has been on the radar of baseball obsessives for a few years now, but he’s just completing his second big league season and is, for all practical purposes, entering the national spotlight for the first time this postseason. Jason Kipnis has played for six seasons and, for many of those seasons, was one of baseball’s most underrated and overlooked stars. Eventually, as happens with a lot of players like that, hardcore baseball fans came to truly appreciate him . . . but is he that well known to casual fans and those who have not seen much of the Indians over the past few years? Could his playing this World Series with a sprained ankle turn him into something bigger than he already is in the public consciousness?

The Cubs have a bit more of a national following and have had players in advertising campaigns and the like. As a result, even casual fans know who Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are. But have they seen them play as much as they’ve seen their images in TV commercials? Even if they have, there are still some generally overlooked and relatively unknown players on that Cubs roster. Catcher Willson Contreras didn’t come up until the middle of June. If you’re a Cubs fan or a fan of one of the many teams the Cubs have vanquished on their way to the World Series you know and love (or, possibly, loathe) Contreras well, but most people haven’t had a chance to see him much. Now he’s poised to play in the Fall Classic. Second baseman Javier Baez has been up and down in his brief major league career, but he’s been electric down the stretch and in the postseason, having drastically cut down on his strikeouts and having flashed some serious leather of late. There’s something about him that just screams “superstar,” and he now has the chance to show that to the world.

The idea of a “breakout star” is a bit amorphous. It could be someone young who shows himself and his talents to the world for the first time, like a Lindor or a Baez. It could, on the other hand, be someone who has been around for a long time — say, a David Ross or a Rajai Davis — who creates a signature moment for himself in the Fall Classic with one big swing of the bat. Heck, Edgar Renteria did both of those things in two different World Series, announcing his presence on the national stage with a big hit in the 1997 Series and bowing out gracefully with a big hit in the 2010 Series. Someone could create a prologue or an epilogue to a wonderful career, starting tonight.

Ultimately the question in the headline above is a rhetorical one, not a predictive one. We don’t know who will make the 2016 World Series his own and who will, in turn, make himself into a household name. But a short series, laden with drama like the World Series, all but guarantees that we’ll have one. A player who, after the next five to nine days, will forever be known by both the baseball obsessives and the casual fans. Watching that star being born will be just as enjoyable as watching the overall content at hand.

World Series Game 1 Lineup: Schwarber and Coghlan in, Heyward out

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Chris Coghlan #8 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after lining out to end the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Cubs and Indians have released their lineups for Game 1 of the World Series.

Joe Maddon makes two notable changes: Kyle Schwarber as the DH and Chris Coghlan in right, with Jason Heyward on the bench.

Heyward has been close to a lost cause at the plate all season for the Cubs and is 2-for-24 in the playoffs this year. While his defense is a plus, Maddon has decided that he’d rather have the lefty Coghlan facing Corey Kluber.

1. Dexter Fowler (S) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Ben Zobrist (S) LF
5. Kyle Schwarber (L) DH
6. Javier Baez (R) 2B
7. Chris Coghlan (L) RF
8. Addison Russell (R) SS
9. David Ross (R) C

For the Indians:

1. Rajai Davis (R) CF
2. Jason Kipnis (L) 2B
3. Francisco Lindor (S) SS
4. Mike Napoli (R) 1B
5. Carlos Santana (S) DH
6. Jose Ramirez (S) 3B
7. Brandon Guyer (R) LF
8. Lonnie Chisenhall (L) RF
9. Roberto Perez (R) C