It’s Friday and that means, as we finish up the week (and watch Marquette take on Utah State), we finish up yet another division in our guide preview trip through baseball. Today that means that we finish up the American League Central by looking at the Minnesota Twins. Last year, they were predicted to finish at the bottom of the division, but again beat expectations, only losing the division crown in game #163. I took a look at this a couple of months ago, but the Twins have been an interesting team. For years, experts have been predicting poor seasons for the Twins, but for years they’ve been beating those expectations. Last year is just the most recent example. Of course, this year the experts are predicting a first-place finish for Minnesota – it’ll be interesting to see if they can actually live up to the high expectations.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
Last Year: 88 – 75, 2nd Place, AL Central
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
Minnesota entered the season last year with lower than usual expectations after trading ace pitcher Johan Santana to the Mets. They played beyond expectations, though, holding up a slow and steady pace while the rest of the Central floundered around them.
“The Twins were not supposed to be good in 2008. They traded away Johan Santana, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. They lost the effervescent Torii Hunter and veteran starter Carlos Silva through free agency. Then they took a young rotation on a tour of unfriendly American League ballparks. They were also without run-producing rightfielder Michael Cuddyer and set-up man Pat Neshek for much of the season due to injuries.
Yet the Twins found a way. They usually do. Picked by many pundits to finish a distant third in the division, Minnesota remained in the American League Central race until the final pitch of the regular season. The Twins lost to the Chicago White Sox, 1-0, in the one-game playoff that determined baseball’s last October invitation. (Lindy’s)”
The biggest reason the Twins were able to do what they did last year was, of course, the twin guns of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. As Athlon points out, of all American League catchers who played 1500 or more innings by age 25, Mauer has the highest career OPS+. His 127 OPS+ beats that of Yogi Berra (123 OPS+), Bill Dickey (119), Mickey Cochrane (115) and Thurman Munson (114). Morneau is no slouch either.
“Justin Morneau spent the winter kicking himself over last season’s final two weeks. After winning AL MVP honors in 2006, Morneau had a great chance to win the award again last season, as he carried the team for the first five-plus months. Morneau was batting .314 with 23 home runs and 124 RBIs on Sept. 13, but over the last 15 games, he went 10-for-59 with three extra base hits, all doubles, and five RBIs. The Twins need the reigning Home Run Derby champ to forget that slump altogether, and Gardenhire probably needs to give him more rest. (Athlon)”
Minnesota’s pitching staff may not be as proven as their infield, but there’s still a lot of reason for hope there. With Francisco Liriano expected back healthy for the full season, and with the young arms of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn gaining more experience, the Twins rotation should be one to respect.
“Pitching is strong for Minnesota, and the arms are in place to continue that trend.
Francisco Liriano should be ready to go after being limited last year. The 25-year-old lefty, expected to take Santana’s spot at the top of the starting rotation, missed the entire 2007 season after having Tommy John surgery.
Liriano made only 14 starts last year, going 6-4 with a 3.91 ERA. Now that he’s healthy, the Dominican is expected to pitch like he did in 2006, taking the AL by storm while going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA.
If Liriano is unable to get back to that lofty level, the Twins have a host of good-looking young starters ready to pick up the slack.
Not only did Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkin all perform well in 2008, they should benefit now after pitching in the pressure of a pennant race. (TSN)”
TSN points out the danger the Twins face when they move into Target Field next year:
“For the past eight seasons, the Twins have taken advantage of their home park – the loud, quirky Metrodome.
Assembling scrappy teams that have thrived under the roof and on the artificial turf, Minnesota has put up a gaudy 391-257 home record since 2001.
It remains to be seen if the Twins can maintain the impressive pace when they move to Target Field and the great outdoors next year, but history suggests they’ll close the dome in style.”
I have a lot of respect for the Twins. It seems like they are always grooming another top-notch prospect, and that they’re always in the thick of things even when you have no reason to expect it. They traded Johan Santana, possibly the best pitcher in baseball, before the start of last season and still ended up in a one-game playoff to decide the winner of the AL Central. They do have two outstanding players in All-Star catcher Joe Mauer and former-MVP Justin Morneau, which is a luxury a lot of teams can’t claim.
I don’t know what more to say about Minnesota. They’re a quality team with some great players and some younger guys who are expected to do great things. In a division like the Central, that should be all that’s needed to claim another crown. And with experienced players and management, it seems even more likely. I fully expect the Twins to make full use of those strengths on their way to the division title.
(I do find it interesting that, when talking about how the Twins were predicted to finish low last year, the Lindy’s guide said that “many pundits” predicted them to finish “a distant third” and TSN said that they were dismissed as a “third- or fourth-place team”. In reality, as you can see above, the Lindy’s guide actually predicted them to place fourth and TSN predicted them to finish fifth. That seems a little funny to me.)