- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

BALTIMORE (AP) - There’s a vastly different vibe in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse heading into opening day.

A year ago, Minnesota was coming off a 59-103 season and just hoping to be good. Now, following their first playoff appearance in seven years, the Twins can’t wait to face the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.

“I can tell that the guys are excited to get going and see what lies ahead for us throughout the next six months,” manager Paul Molitor said Wednesday. “It’s think it would be awfully fun to be part of that clubhouse right now.”

Minnesota finished 85-77 last season before getting ousted by the New York Yankees in the wild-card game. Although the Twins accomplished plenty, they walked away wanting more.

“Ask anybody in here, and they’ll tell you that we thought we should have gone deeper into the postseason,” infielder Brian Dozier said. “I think that made us that much hungrier to get to opening day, to kind of keep going what we set out to do last year.”

Well aware of the Twins turnaround, the Orioles hope to pull off a similar last place-to-playoffs feat in 2018. Following a busy offseason that featured the late addition of starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, Baltimore will send Dylan Bundy to the mound in an effort to open on a positive note.

“This team is a lot better than it was at the start of spring training,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “I’ll put my team up against anybody, and it’s going to be put-up or shut-up time (Thursday).”

Minnesota also had a fruitful offseason, supplementing the roster with several established players, most notably first baseman/designated hitter Logan Morrison, closer Fernando Rodney and starters Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi.

“We have a great group of young guys mixed with some experienced veterans,” Dozier said. “The dynamic and the confidence level here - expecting to be one of the best teams in baseball - is great.

“We know we have to go out and play. We get all that. But expecting to be pretty dang good is really cool for us.”

Odorizzi, obtained in a trade with Tampa Bay, will make his debut with the Twins in the opener.

“He’s got a good arsenal of pitches. He’s a good guy to lean on for opening day,” teammate Max Kepler said. “I look forward to watching him dominate.”

Odorizzi is 3-3 with a 5.44 ERA lifetime at Camden Yards, a band-box of a ballpark. This will be his only appearance in Baltimore this season, and for that he is thankful.

“I’m used to pitching here three times a year. It’s great to get it out of the way,” the right-hander said. “They’re a dangerous team. Everyone can hit it out.”

The Orioles are not the kind of team that seeks to manufacture runs. They swing for the fences, and for that approach to be successful in 2018, Chris Davis will likely have to rebound from a season in which he batted .215, struck out 195 times and hit 26 homers - down from 38 in 2016 and 47 in 2015.

“As far as production is concerned, I expect a lot more from myself,” said Davis, the highest-paid player on the team. “I kept that in mind this offseason as I was going through workouts. I’m ready to get started.”

In most cases, the result of an opening day clash is almost irrelevant. After all, there are 161 games to follow. Yet, Molitor can’t help thinking back to the opener in 2016, when the Orioles launched the season with a three-game sweep of the Twins.

Baltimore went on to make the playoffs. Minnesota started 0-9 and never recovered.

“I’m mindful of the fact that we came in here two years ago and got swept,” Molitor said. “I think it was impactful, and some of our confidence was shaken.”

That’s probably not going to happen to this group of guys.

“It’s important to try to win every game,” Dozier said, “but with this group, what we learned more than ever last year is that we don’t let anything bother us.”

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For more AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball


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