Thursday, March 01, 2007

Preseason Preview: Twins

(Frickin' dammit. Netscape had to go and freeze just as I was putting the finishing touches on a pinnacle of incisive, brilliant baseball analysis, aka my Twins preview. If this is not witty, insightful, or even coherent, it's not my fault. It was undoubtedly all in the other post).

So it's Thursday night and you know what I'm not doing. Instead, I've moved on to the Central, and it's time to check out who I personally believe will be the division champs - the Twins. They swiped every major award this year - they sport a Cy Young winner (Santana) an MVP (Morneau) and a batting champion (Mauer). Not to mention perennial Gold Glover Torii Hunter, even if he only got it this year in recognition of his amazing leaps at the wall to steal homers away from a number of disgruntled sluggers. There is a lot of talent on this team and I think it will pay off. Despite the Tigers' fairy-tale transformation from 43-119 pathetic punchline in 2003 to AL Champs in 2006, I can't help but feel that they overachieved just a bit and not even tobacco-chewing crusty curmudgeon Jim Leyland can steer them to two crowns in a row. The White Sox still have a potent offense, but their pitching has declined since their "If the Red Sox can do it, we can too!" world championship in 2005. Even without Francisco Liriano, lost for the entirety of the 2007 season due to that pernicious Tommy John surgery, this Twins team is very good and very scary. Although I am an amateur baseblogger with emphasis on the amateur, and could very easily be mistaken, I still feel as if this is the team to beat. With that said, let's take a look.

The Minnesota Twins

1. Johan Santana, LHP
2. Boof Bonser, RHP
3. Carlos Silva, RHP
4. Ramon Ortiz, RHP
5. Matt Garza, RHP

1. Joe Nathan, RHP
2. Jesse Crain, RHP
3. Dennys Reyes, RHP
4. Juan Rincon, RHP
5. Matt Guerrier, RHP
6. Glen Perkins, LHP
7. Pat Neshek, RHP

1B Justin Morneau
2B Luis Castillo
SS Jason Bartlett
3B Nick Punto
RF Michael Cuddyer
CF Torii Hunter
LF Lew Ford
C Joe Mauer
DH Jason Kubel

The 500 Word Rundown
As I've stated above, I do believe that the Twins are the team to beat in the Central. That rotation isn't as good as it could be with Liriano so conspicuously absent, but there aren't a whole lot of teams that wouldn't be better with a 23-year-old left-handed Santana clone in there, who went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA. Yeah. Good. You can still see why Giants fans are still kicking themselves in agony over the trade that sent Liriano, closer extraordinaire Joe Nathan, and young starter Boof Bonser (yes, Boof, born John, apparently) to the Twins in exchange for serial troublemaker A.J. Pierzynski. Despite that, the Twins still have the best pitcher in baseball, one Johan Santana, and the AL MVP, emerging masher Justin Morneau.

All this
in addition to a Gold Glove-winning center fielder (Hunter) who clubbed 31 HR and 98 RBI last year, a 23-year-old catcher (Mauer) who won the batting title with a full-season mark of .347, and a right fielder (Cuddyer) who hit .284 with 24 HR and 109 RBI. This is not a team to underestimate and take lightly. They started off slowly last year, but roared to a second-half rocket finish with a 96-66 record after the Tigers couldn't clinch the Central - they lost three straight games to the Kansas City Royals, and this is one of the reasons, albeit a very minor one, that I'm picking against the Motor City Kitties. They subsequently recovered and dispatched of the Yankees and A's en route to their first AL pennant since 1984, but put on a horror show to tumble in five to the Cardinals in the Fall Classic. (Not that I'm not happy about this, mind you, but I just have a feeling, which of course could be entirely mistaken, that the Tigers aren't going to get quite so high for a second consecutive year).

The Tigers also mainly feasted on their own division, posting a 45-30 mark against Central foes, but weren't quite so fearsome against the rest of the league, going 16-17 against the East and 19-17 against the West. By contrast, the Twins went 41-35 against the Central, but 22-13 against the East and 17-16 against the West. They still do have all those award-winners, and even if they don't have Liriano this year, they have his return to anticipate in '08, in which they should be the clear-cut favorites. And of course, they still have Johan Santana. A man who may be a machine, or an escaped military-level cyborg, Santana went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 245 K to (justly) claim his second Cy in three seasons after a brief lapse to lose it to Bartolo Colon in 2005. (Oh, the heresy. Talk to me about Fatolo later).

In short, I'm not picking against the Twins. They have the pieces to put it together again in Minneapolis, and if they do so, they're going to be quite a force in the AL, in the regular season and beyond. It's like with the Yankees. Aside from Santana, their rotation isn't fearsome, but with those hitters, and with Nathan closing things out, they're going to win a damn lot of games anyway.

Projected Finish: 94-68, AL Central Champions

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