Minnesota Twins Last Year: 88-75 2nd in AL Central This Year: 1st in AL Central
Last year the expectations were low. They had lost Johan Santana and Torii Hunter. The pitching rotation had limited experience and the lineup had a lot of youth with Carlos Gomez leading off. They surprised a lot of people by playing well all summer. They just missed out on the playoffs by losing a coin flip and then losing the tiebreaker 1-0 to Chicago. They had a very quiet winter until they signed Joe Crede in February to shore up the hole at 3rd base. This team has the youth, speed and ability to take the next step and win the division for the 5th time in 8 years.
Opening Day Lineup w/Projections RF Denard Span .286 7 HR 54 RBI 27 SB 2B Alexi Casilla .274 7 HR 61 RBI 17 SB DH Jason Kubel .276 24 HR 86 RBI 1B Justin Morneau .308 32 HR 134 RBI 3B Joe Crede .254 24 HR 79 RBI LF Delmon Young .296 17 HR 77 RBI C Mike Redmond .280 0 HR 27 RBI SS Nick Punto .272 2 HR 34 RBI CF Carlos Gomez .267 11 HR 66 RBI 41 SB
Other Players RF Michael Cuddyer .271 15 HR 73 RBI C Joe Mauer .317 9 HR 72 RBI
Rotation RHP Scott Baker 13-6 3.67 ERA 148 K LHP Francisco Liriano 15-7 2.93 ERA 171 K RHP Kevin Slowey 11-8 3.92 ERA 132 K LHP Glen Perkins 12-9 4.24 ERA 98 K RHP Nick Blackburn 12-10 4.15 ERA 104 K
CP RHP Joe Nathan 1.40 ERA 41 SV 77 K
Best Case Scenario: Joe Crede stays healthy and is an All-Star Third Baseman. Joe Mauer get healthy and stays healthy contending for a third batting title. Span and Casilla don't regress off of surprise success last year. Young and Gomez continue to mature and develop. Liriano builds off his second half success last year and returns to the dominant starter he was in 2006. The bullpen becomes the typical Twins bullpen again instead of the mess it was down the stretch last year. The team cruises to an AL Central title and gets to the ALCS.
Worst Case Scenario: Span and Casilla regress becoming .240 hitters, Joe Mauer never gets fully healthy and Redmond gets 300 at-bats. Crede's back flares up leaving the Twins to need Buscher to play every day. Gomez still can't settle down and swings at anything thrown to him. Liriano's arm troubles spark up again. The bullpen is a mess and can't get the lead to Joe Nathan. This team finishes around .500 and 3rd in the AL Central.
Player Most Important to Success: Francisco Liriano. Liriano was absolutely dominant in 2006 outpitching Johan Santana who won the Cy Young that year. He then went down with Tommy John surgery and missed 2007. He was rushed back before he was ready in 2008 and was crushed. It is often forgotten that when he came back from AAA in July he went 5-1 with an ERA of 3.02 in his last 10 starts. It is typically said that you don't get fully back from Tommy John until the second year. He has pitched very well this spring and looks to be ready to claim back his crown as The Franchise. The Twins rotation is full of good pitchers who give you a chance to win but Liriano is the one pitcher who can win a game for you. That is something you need especially if you hope to do something in October. Other players: Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, and Denard Span.
Outlook: Before the signing of Joe Crede there was little hype surrounding this team which I did not get. This was a very young team that was returning everyone from a team that won 88 games. If Mauer comes back and Crede stays healthy this should be the best Twins lineup they have had since 1991. They have 5 pitchers who are all capable of giving the team a quality start. One thing they need to do this year is pitch deeper into the game so the bullpen doesn't get as taxed as it did last year. They have some possible issues. Span and Casilla were pleasant surprises last year that might turn out to be one year wonders ala Lew Ford and Luis Rivas. This team can hold up for a little while without Mauer but they won't be able to go for an extended amount of time. This team also still has bullpen issues that were not addressed especially if Jose Mijares doesn't do anything this year. This team should definitely contend for the division title and win it but the question is whether this team can compete with the AL East and be more than a sweep in the ALDS. This still should a fun year for Twins fans and it is a shame it still has to be spent in the Metrodome.