2010 and the chances for the Minnesota Twins

Published 8:40 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

It’s hard not to get caught up in the euphoria surrounding the Minnesota Twins, the blaze of expectations fanned to ever increasing heights by the press and electronic media.

The trade for J.J. Hardy, the rehabilitation of Kevin Slowey and Pat Neshak, the signing of Clay Condrey, Carl Pavano, Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, plus, and probably the best news of all, the signing of Joe Mauer, which assures us of perhaps the best player in the American League for nine more years. (That’s a lifetime contract, maybe not for Joe, but perhaps for some of us) All of this added to the stadium and 2.6 million tickets already sold; in addition the usual spring optimism that all things are possible and in the Twins case probably destined. We Minnesotans, encouraged by the media, are already making plans for an autumn victory parade down Hennepin Avenue.

However, if you look beyond our state, other folks are not quite so sure. One Las Vegas Internet site has the Twins at 30-1 to win the World Series. They also had the betting line at 84 wins for the season. If I was in Las Vegas, I’d be tempted to make those bets.

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My feeling at this moment is that there are four teams that look better on paper than the Twins. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. The team the Twins play first, the Los Angeles Angels are probably their equal and while it is way too early to call a series crucial, a good start against the Angels would be nice.

It’s easy to forget last year’s first five months with all of today’s drum beating. The team played .500 ball during that time and the outlook was grim. Then the “Miracles of Miracles” the team started playing inspired baseball without MVP Justin Morneau and just three major league starting pitchers. Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert hit like All-Stars and Michael Cuddyer like a Hall of Famer. That’s not going to happen again.

In addition the Twins were 49-33 at home and 38-43 on the road. They will no longer have the Dome confines and Teflon roof to rely on. Say what you will about the Dome, the Twins had a terrific home field advantage. All that changes.

Given the above what makes us still optimistic?

1. The starting pitching staff will be better. It can’t be much worse. They finished 26th in Major League ERA. With the signing of Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey’s recovery and the renewal of Francisco Liriano, the staff looks to be if not reborn; remade.

The relief corps looked great at least until the news about Joe Nathan’s arm. Make no mistake, that’s going to hurt and perhaps cost the Twins two or three victories this season. The pitching will be better, but how much better is the question.

How then will the Twins win the Division? (And I believe they will)

2. They will do it with their position player lineup. The addition of Hardy, Hudson, Thome and the hopes for a full season from Morneau and Mauer have made the Twins lineup one to be feared. They finished fourth last season in runs scored during league play and should do better this year with their strong lineup and a bench not composed of singles hitters.

There are a lot of questions. How will the starting pitching fare? Will General Manager Bill Smith get a replacement for Nathan? I believe he will, for this is the year of the stadium and many of the Twins have one-year contracts. I think Smith will continue to go for it all this year.

The Twins will be division winners and it remains to be seen how much more.