With the start of the baseball season only 2 days away i feel that it is time to take a look at the Twins and what we can expect from them this upcoming season.
A few quick highlights.
1. Joe Nathan is coming back from Tommy John surgery
2. Justin Morneau is coming back from a concussion
3. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the prized off season signing, coming in from
Japan, he’s an immediate upgrade at the plate and in the field.
That being said lets start with the pitching rotation. Carl Pavano is the staff’s ace, after last years 17 win 3.75 ERA campaign look for him to bring it again, with Morneau returning to the lineup he should get more run support so look for him to push to 20 wins, and a sub 4 ERA. He is the poor mans Brad Radke, you know what your going to get with Pavano.
Francisco Liriano is the number two in the rotation and he’s looking to continue to improve from last season where he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, so far this spring he has struggled with his control having 9 walks in 18 innings pitched, and he has a 4.82 ERA, Liriano usually takes awhile to settle down so his control and dominance will come to him during the season, but he should have another good year improving on his win total and ERA from last year as he looks to return to the pitching elite.
The one pitcher i would keep an eye on is Brian Duensing, he went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA last year in 130 innings of work, and this year he should get up to around 180 maybe even 200 if he stays healthy. So if his stellar spring training, where he is 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA and 17 strikeouts, is any indication on how his year will go then the Twins will be looking at a solid 3 man rotation with Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker rounding out the 4 and 5 spots. Blackburn and Baker will be interesting to watch throughout the season, they struggled last year, and both have been pretty inconsistent throughout their Twins careers, but so far this spring they are looking good, Blackburn is 3-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 11 strike outs, while Baker is 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA. Any falter with these two however and Kevin Slowey could bump them from the rotation.
The bullpen is on the rebound with the loss of Guerrier, Crain, Fuentes, and Rauch. But if Joe Nathan can return to form than the Twins will be sitting pretty with Matt Capps pitching the 8th and Nathan coming in for the 9th. Jose Mirajes is said to have been losing weight and keeping it off, and it seems to be showing, this spring he has a 1.93 ERA, so if he can continue that into the season the Twins may have their 7-8-9 inning pitchers set. With others like Jeff Manship, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey filling in the Twins could have a more complete bullpen than last years merry go round, with players constantly in and out.
The infield seems to be complete, the Twins found their 3rd baseman last year in Danny Valencia, he played in only 85 games last year hitting .311 with 7 home runs and 40 RBI, but he made many stellar defensive plays and with the power he showed, he’s here to stay, he’s been on a tear this spring training hitting .311 so far, and it should continue into the season and if his slick fielding continues the sky is the limit for him.
As mentioned above Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the new face of the infield and he brings speed and a good bat. He’s hit over .300 5 out of 7 years in the Japanese leagues, and he’s had at least 18 stolen bases in his 7 years. So if he can get on base it will be good for hitters like Mauer who continually put the ball in play. So far this spring Nishioka is as advertised hitting .345 with 2 stolen bases which are encouraging signs, his shortstop is Alexi Casilla, and Casilla will finally get another shot at playing everyday, and so far he has been disappointing hitting only .227 this spring, he does have 4 stolen bases and with him in the line up it gives the Twins more speed. He is good in the field and seems to already be comfortable with Nishioka. If he can improve his numbers at the plate he could become the everyday shortstop, if not the Twins will be searching the market for one.
At first base is the recovering Justin Morneau, he is slowly making his way back from a concussion and has only played in 7 games this spring, and has showed he still has some rust, batting a dismal .167. If he can return to his MVP form from back in 2006 then everyone will benefit, but he will have to stay healthy first. Eventually he will put it all together, i dont expect him to have an exceptional year but anything near .280 with 20 homers will be welcomed with open arms as it will give Jim Thome more days in between games as DH, as Thome looked to have fatigued down the stretch.
The outfield is looking to have an outstanding year, Delmon Young had a break out year last year when he hit .298 with 112 RBI’s and 21 home runs. He is hitting .391 so far this spring so it looks like his hot streak has continued over to this year, he should have another break out year. The better he plays the better the Matt Garza trade looks. Center Fielder Denard Span had a down year last year hitting only .264 with 3 homers and 58 RBI’s, he has said that he wants to turn it around, and this year is going to be the year he does it. He his hitting .339 this spring with 6 stolen bases. Span is the Twins lead off hitter so the fact that he is having a good spring is encouraging because we will need his speed on the base pads. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer has only played in 7 games this spring after having a wart removed from his foot, but he is working his way back into the line up and should be back within the first week of the season. After hitting 32 home runs in 2009 and only
14 in 2010 he is looking to return to his power form, if Morneau stays healthy and Cuddyer can stay in the outfield look for him to have 20-25 homes runs. Having Kubel will also be a big plus, Kubel can step in and play in right field and give Cuddyer much needed days off.
and then there is Joe Mauer. The Twins All-Star, MVP, All World, All everything catcher. He is slowly working his way back from injuries as well, he has only played 7 games this spring, but is batting .300. Joe is a very consistent player regardless of being injured or not, so the batting average will be there, but if he can get healthy and stay healthy it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another power year, even in the pitchers park that is Target Field.
With all that said, if the Twins stay healthy and the rotation stays consistent the Twins should would their Division.
I like the Red Sox out in the East, they have a powerful and speedy line up throughout and with Josh Beckett healthy i like their rotation more than the Yankees.
I also like Oakland out west, they have a powerful rotation, and they should do just enough offensively to squeak by the Rangers into the playoffs.
For the AL wild card i think it will be a horse race between the Yankees and the Tigers, the yankees rotation is a work in progress, but their offense can make the softest pitchers look good, the Tigers on the other hand have a rounded offensive and a complete rotation. It’s going to be close.
The Red Sox are my pick for the AL in the World Series, you just cant argue with their rotation, bullpen, and offensive. If Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have big years and if Beckett and Pedroia stay healthy they will be tough to beat.
In the NL i like Philly in the east, their offense is weak with Chase Utley injured, but their pitching staff is loaded with Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, Hamels, and Joe Blanton, and their closer Brad Lidge. It’s going to be tough to score runs on the Phillies.
In the NL central i like the Brewers, they finally have a solid rotation once Greinke returns from being injured. Until then they have Gallardo and Marcum leading the way, and with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder on the roster you know they will have the offense.
Out west i like the San Francisco Giants, they have also have a good pitching staff with Lincecum, Zito, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and youngster Madison Bumgarner, and closer Brian Wilson, they will have a strong rotation backed with young talent like Buster Posey.
For the NL wild card i like the Cincinnati Reds, they are out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, and if their rotation, anchored by Johnny Cueto, can stay healthy they should be a solid all around team.
I like the Phillies to represent the NL in the World Series.
So Boston and Philly in the World Series. At the present moment i like Boston in 6. Just because Philly doesn’t have the offense to match the Red Sox. Yeah Philly has that great rotation, but Boston will find a way to score runs, the great teams always do.
btw follow me on twitter @rmontesano