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A Quick Look at the Twins

Published 6:49pm Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Twins start their regular season on Friday night and it can’t come too soon for this Minnesota fan. This fall and winter haven’t been all that good for Minnesota sports fans so we hold out hope that the Twins can bring our Minnesota Mojo back.

I think the Central Division which the Twins are in will be a three team race to the end. The winner is the team who has the best pitching, which it always comes down too, and who can fend off any major injuries. The three teams are our Twins, the White Sox and Tigers. I think these teams are so close that it will come down to the pitching and injuries.

I will now look at how the Twins will win and then I will look at how the Twins could lose.

How they will win.

Starting Pitching-The Twins have a veteran with Carl Pavano and like I said last year, the other starters on the staff should follow this guy around a lot and take notes. Is he a dominating pitcher? No, but he is a pitcher and how he goes about his business is something the other guys should be replicating. Francisco Liriano, as we all know, has the potential to be a big time number one in the rotation pitcher. He has shown some signs of that this spring so if that can carry over he will have a big year. Blackburn, Duensing, and Baker are good 3, 4 and 5 rotation pitchers. Blackburn seems healthy and has pitched some big games for the Twins. Baker also seems healthy and when he is he has won a lot of big games. Duensing has pitched well whether from the bullpen or a starter. He does deserve to be in the rotation from the start.

Bullpen-Joe Nathan will be the big key to the pen and except for a couple of outings he looked like he usually looks in spring training, which isn’t all that great. So from that if he can keep the closer job that makes the whole pen better. Matt Capps has been a very dependable reliever and made the All Star team in the National League last year so he will be the crutch in the bullpen. Jose Mijares has kept his weight down and seems to have matured so that will be a good thing. If Dusty Hughes can do to the rest of the league what he has done to the Twins we have a winner hear. Glen Perkins has also seemed to have matured and has proven to be a Duensing type pitcher who can relieve and start. Jeff Manship has had some good games and is good filler. The other key will be Kevin Slowey. I talked about his potential in my last blog so he could anchor a good bullpen.

Defense-I think Denard Span will have a good year. He seems to have to have a chip on his shoulder to play well and after last years disappointing season I think he has it. Casilla and Nishioka bring speed to the infield and Nishi has Gold Glove experience. Valencia was more than adequate at third and Morneau should be winning a Gold Glove.

Offense-Everyone appears healthy so that is a good thing. Span will have a better year; Kubel seems to have rededicated himself and could have a big year. Cuddyer also seems reading to go and this is a contract year I believe so I look for good things from him. A healthy Morneau and Mauer are very key to this team’s success and so far they seem ready to go. Delmon Young had a great year last year and I see an even better year for him this season.

Bench-You couldn’t have gotten much better than Jim Thome last year and if he gets at bats I see no reason he can’t do it again. Buetera is a very good defensive catcher and Repko a good defensive outfielder. Tolbert is a fill in.

Intangible-Scott Ullger is not the 3rd base coach. That has to help. Kyle Gibson may be called up.

How they could lose.

Starting pitching-The staff seems to have talent but sometimes they can be head cases. I said they should watch Pavano pitch but they don’t. Pavano himself is getting older and has had injury problems in the past so if he goes down yikes. Liriano has the potential to be outstanding but he also has the potential to implode. Baker and Blackburn are coming off arm injuries, can they make through the season? Duensing is still an unknown for a full season in the rotation. If Slowey needs to come out of the pen to replace these guys it                               hurts the pen.

Bullpen-I’m not sure what to make of Nathan. He is a hard man to listen too because he is so positive but he has been hit hard here in the spring. Maybe he shouldn’t be put into tough situations right away just to see how he does. If he can’t pitch that changes the whole look of the pen. Capps could close but then he isn’t the setup guy anymore and then everyone will have to change and that isn’t always good. If Slowey has to leave the pen, like I said, that may not be good either.

Defense-If Casilla can’t hit his weight, which has done before, how long to you keep him in the lineup and who do you replace him with, Tolbert? Will Nishioka’s lack of communication skills hurt the Twins in games? I have seen and heard of a couple of times with him converging on a ball with someone else and had it messed up.

Offense-Can the Twins stay healthy. If either Mauer or Morneau are out for any extended periods of time they will not be able to beat the Sox or Tigers. Can Valencia hit enough or will he succumb to the old sophomore jinx? The Twins have very little backup here. If last year was the real Span and Kubel the Twins will not win either.

Bench-Jim Thome is 40 years old and will he be able to produce with fewer at bats? Tolbert will be the new whipping boy now that Punto is gone. Buetera in the lineup usually means 4 outs. Repko can’t hit. Not much in the minors that can help especially in the infield. Luke Hughes did have a great spring early on but faded and he is the best down on the farm right now.

Gardy-I am not sure Gardy is capable of getting enough at bats necessary for the Twins hitters to stay sharp, for example, Jim Thome. Gardy is also so loyal, which should be commended, but will he stay too loyal to Nathan if he isn’t pitching all that well.

It’s hard to go out on a limb and predict whether the Twins will win or not. There are just too many intangibles like the injury thing. But if they stay healthy I am confident that they will win, whether it is enough to beat the Sox and Tigers I don’t know. They have to stay healthy and all that too so we will see. The one thing I will guarantee is that the Twins will be competitive and be very entertaining to watch and that is saying a lot, just ask a Pittsburgh fan.

  • Dean

    Tom, good assessment. Baseball is here!!

    Starting Pitching – As a starting five, the Twins have a group that is as good as any. We know this will translate to regular season success again. However, to win in the playoffs, it has been proven that you need that one guy, that one Cy Young-type that can dominate a lineup. Unfortunately, there are not many around, and the Twins are going to have to hope that Liriano can be THAT guy. Maybe this will be the year for him.

    Bullpen – I think it looks pretty good, and unless the starters come down with some injuries, the bullpen should be less of a factor than it might be with other teams. As far as Nathan closing, I don’t think it’s fair to him or the team to throw him right back in that role right away. I’m not so sure about his mental state sometimes anyway… could be too much pressure. I said last year that I doubted that he would make it back to where he was… we’ll see, I guess. I look for him to not pitch in consecutive games, and share the save ops with Capps.

    Morneau – Yikes. I hope that it goes alright, but I think we’ll all be holding our breath for the first few weeks (or months). I wrote before that I thought he might play a couple of months, and be done. Hopefully, you all can tell me that I was so wrong.

    Mauer – Just plain good… all of the time. We are spoiled.

    New Infield – No sophomore jinx for Valencia… he’s a solid player. Looking forward to seeing the new guy at 2B. Casilla is going to suprise a lot of people this year.

    Bench – So glad that Thome signed again. I know aside from Thome, there doesn’t look like there is much offense on the bench… but I really think this is a good group, and a good fit for what they are going to be asked to do. Good defense, decent speed, and good attitudes.

    Barring injuries, and in spite of Gardy’s hapless managerial skills, we should win another Central Division. Going deep into the playoffs will ride on Liriano’s success, and/or whether or not Morneau is wearing a uniform in Sept.

    IMHO ;-)

  • Tracy Mitchell

    I don’t think its realistic to think Thome will duplicate last year’s performance. I’m not sure he even gets ½ the at-bats he had last year.

    Nathan looks to disappoint everyone that thinks he’ll ever be the fastball/slider guy again that blows people away. Even before his injury 2 years ago he was becoming a finesse guy. His new pitch this year? A change up. Doesn’t mean that he can’t be effective.

    Still should be a great year. The team has an excellent regular season rotation, and what I think will prove to be a quality bull pen. Improved seasons from Cuddyer, Kubel, and Span, coupled with reasonably injury free seasons from M & M will translate to a very productive offense. Nishioka looks to be a major contributor. The team can easily weather a normal spate of injuries and still win the division and I don’t foresee the high level of injuries that occurred last season. Moreover, the team has trade bait and a GM willing take a risk for when/if Casilla wobbles.

    ==
    Dean – not sure about your “Ace for the Playoffs” theory. Twins didn’t get too far when they had perennial Cy Young candidate Johan Santana. Last year the Yankees had Sabathia, the Rays had Price, the Phillies had Halliday.

    • Dean

      It’s not 100%.. ;-) Santana had three really good years, but there were parts missing.

      Twins history… ’87 Viola. ’91… Morris.

      Yeah, last year Sabathia and Halladay came up short… but they were in the final four. And the final two??? Lee and Lincecum.

  • Tracy Mitchell

    Dean – I’m still not sold on your theory. To win in the playoffs you have to out score the other team in more games than they out score you – which means a total team effort, pitching, hitting, defense. Obviously having Cy Young enhances the chances, but Cy Young himself only got one World Series ring. And from any World Series winning roster you can pick a pitcher and say he’s the “ace”, but that misses the point.

    The Yankees had Sabathia last year but he only pitched 16 innings of the 79 innings that the Yankees played in the post-season. The Yankees hit well, but their post-season team ERA last year was a whopping 5.88! So having Sabathia was rather irrelevant and the Yankees didn’t lose because Sabathia came up short. Against that Yankee staff the Twins batted .216, and I fail to see how having an “ace” would change that.

    Cliff Lee? He didn’t have a Cy Young kind of season last year – he sure didn’t pitch them to the pennant. In the playoffs he pitched 35 of 141 innings for Texas, the rest of the Texas staff pitched 106 innings. Colby Lewis pitched better than Lee in the post-season. Texas was successful because as they were the best hitting team in the playoffs, and had middle of the pack pitching.

    Lincecum? He pitched 13 of the Giants 44 World Series innings and gave up 5 runs. The rest of the Giants staff gave up 7 runs in the other 31 innings. Cain actually had the better post-season. Fact — the Giants were the best hitting team in the post-season last year in the National League, believe it or not. And in the WS the Giants out-hit Texas by a wide margin.

    Halladay? The Phillies staff had a team 2.26 post-season ERA, in part because of their lights-out bullpen. Halladay pitched well, and even had the second highest BA on the team. The Phils didn’t lose because Halladay came up short. They just got out-hit by the Giants.

    Twins History? The magical 1987 post-season run was NOT the story of Frank Viola blowing away the competition, although he pitched well. Blyleven, Reardon, and Buerenguer contributed just as much. The real story was the bunch of young hitters coming up big in the big games, a defense that wouldn’t break, and a pitching staff that had just enough. Similarly in 1991. Jack Morris had a game 7 for the ages and the Twins would not have won without that performance. But there would not have been a game 7 without Kirby’s game 6, which was also a game for the ages.

    The fact of the matter is that how well the whole staff pitches is more important than having an ace. And how well the team hits and fields is at least as important as how well the staff pitches. I’m not discounting the value of a true ace, and I really wish the Twins had one, which they don’t. But at best, an ace only pitches 25 % of a team’s post-season innings. The whole staff needs to pitch well. And none it means too much if the hitters don’t hit, like the Twins abysmal showing v. the Yankees.

    And for every game decided by a gargantuan pitching effort by the ace, there are 50 games decided by Bucky Dent, Gene Larkin, Bill Mazeroski, Greg Gagne, Coby Ross, Tom Brookins. . . .

    • Dean

      Yep, good points all… it is just a theory/opinion/observation. :-)

  • Tom Grout

    Great discussion Tracy and Dean but I think you are both right. Tracy is right because it does take a team to win a playoff or to get there. The one thing I like about the playoffs and World Series is that you can throw out all those sabermetric stats because the team that wins is usually the one who gets hot. And as Tracy said it isn’t always the big studs who become the heros or perform the best I mean I think Steve Lombardozi led the Twins in hitting in the 87 Series and had the Braves won in 91 Mark Lemke would have been the MVP. This is what makes the Series and Playoffs so much fun. Dean is right because having that one big ace is a big advantage especially if he pitches like one. Not only does he help the team pyhsically but mentally too.Having “that guy” makes his teammates more confident and helps them play better. Anyway great comments!

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