For the Twins and their loyal fans, the postseason has been bittersweet, not being able to get past the ALDS or more specifically the New York Yankees. The Evil Empire has the Twins number, sweeping the series both in 2009 and 2010.
So, the Twins enter this season with a monkey on their backs, in a division that got a lot tougher during the off-season.
Can the Twins defy odds, win another AL best 94 games and not get hung out to dry in the playoffs…again?
Is three times really a charm?
Let’s take a look at the Minnesota Twins heading into the 2011 season.
Catcher Joe Mauer and 1B Justin Morneau, Minnesota’s M & M boys are two of the best players in baseball, that is when they are not on the DL. If these two can stay healthy that will be a big step forward in Minnesota.
Morneau, the 2006 MVP just has to be able to play, as this guy has produce, as he hit 18 home-runs and 56 RBIs in 2010 playing in just 81 games. So, imagine double those numbers as Morneau’s career full season norm. Concussions have not allowed for Morneau to even touch a field until about two weeks ago when he got cleared to go.
Getting closer Joe Nathan back, after losing him for the entire 2010 season to Tommy John surgery is something the whole city of Minneapolis is happy about. Nathan has not looked like his normal ace-like self in Spring Training, but this is expected with any pitcher just coming off Tommy John.
Even though the Twins lost key bullpen guys in Joe Rauch and Jesse Crain, they still have Matt Capps who is a solid set-up man. Capps can close if need be, but with the rest of the bullpen being young and inexperienced; Nathan’s return will be the difference maker.
The Twins skipper has proven he can tweak a team to win. Ron Gardenhire took a severely damaged 2010 Twins team, led them to the playoffs with the most wins in the AL. Gardenhire was without question the 2010 Manager of the Year, for making the impossible, possible.
The Twins rotation is not without questions, but is good enough to have a winning year, as the bats have been the problem. The starters are not going to make or break the team, as they will just go with the flow.
Led by ace Francisco Liriano and a solid #2 Carl Pavano provide a solid punch atop the rotation and three reliable youngsters to finish out the back-end follow them. This is a nice group that can eat innings. The starters posted the fourth best ERA in the AL last season with a 3.95, throwing nine complete games and three shout-outs.
Are Nathan, Mauer and Morneau going to be able to stay off the DL in 2011? If history dictates anything this would be a miracle.
Nathan is coming back from Tommy John surgery, so expect some road bumps. That means everyone in the bullpen is bumped up a spot to adjust and makes the team’s strength a lot weaker.
Morneau’s concussion caused dizziness and blurred vision for that last eight months. He was rumored to be able to play last October and only just got cleared. This is a life-impacting situation for Morneau, as he was out for so long with no activity allowed. This is a reason for concern and mainly that you don’t want to see the slugger do any more damage to his brain.
Mauer’s health has already held him out of some Spring Training games, but his production when active is not even close to what Morneau can do with the bat. Mauer’s 2009 MVP year looks like a fluke as he only hit 18 home-runs total in 2008 and 2010, also drove in 10+ less runs too. Mauer only hit double digit home-runs in 2006 with just 13 over his seven pro-seasons, making the 28 in 2009 seem lucky. This year he will bank $23 million, a fair price for the 2009-Mauer type season but is that the real Joe?
Players To Watch:
C Joe Mauer has to prove himself worthy of being the face of the Twins franchise. As I said previously, Mauer has posted one MVP season and the rest are not even comparable. He now struggles against lefty pitching and his stats clearly prove this, as well as all of the above. Point is he did have major pop for an entire season, so it is there whether he can find it again is the question. Mauer is on the Twins for a reason, to provide a monster bat. He is considered to be one of the best in baseball, and it is about time Mauer played like it.
2011 AL Central Prediction:
Too many questions, questions and more questions will be looming around the Twins entering the 2011 season for them to handle.
Unlike the past, the Tigers and the White Sox both got much better so the Twin will not be able to slip by in an easy division like they did in 2010.
Mauer’s overall production is a big question, along with his usual nagging shoulder injuries that I just don’t see going away while he is a full time catcher.
Morneau can carry a line-up, but whether his head can hold up is another issues all together. If Morneau plays he could easily win the MVP again. Problem is that concussions need to be heavily monitored, which means any allowance to play through any type of hiccup has to be minimal.
I just don’t have faith that the Twins will be able to pull a fast one again in 2011 because the competition will not allow for it. My bet is that Minnesota will finish in third place in the AL Central winning 88-89 games.
- Twins: Mijares, Morneau, Mauer (thebaseballblog10.wordpress.com)
- 2011 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins (bleacherreport.com)
- 2011 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins (thebaseballblog10.wordpress.com)
- Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer to start Wednesday (mlb.mlb.com)
- With Morneau back, Twins’ focus turns to Mauer (aol.sportingnews.com)
- Bats: Mauer Has Advice for Yankees’ Montero (bats.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Twins’ Morneau gets a hit in spring finale (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Twins’ Morneau gets a hit in spring finale (boston.com)