Because there wasn't really much else to write about during spring training, I made a number of predictions about the upcoming Twins' season. I outlined what I thought would be some of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the roster this year, and while I didn't put an exact number on wins and losses, overall I figured this team would be pretty average. And I was right about that part: the Twins did hover around .500 for most of the season before beating up on the Royals and White Sox (while the Tigers were in the midst of an epic collapse) to win the division. Now is as good a time as any to go over those predictions and see just how smart I am. I am a pessimist by nature, so let's start with the bad. I will go over the things I thought would go well in the next post.
- The rotation doesn't have much depth: Hey, I got something right! Of course, it doesn't take a particularly sharp baseball mind to figure out that five starting pitchers isn't enough to carry a team through the season. Starters are probably the most injury-prone players on the roster, and sure enough, three of the original five spent significant portions of the season on the DL. Luckily, nobody blew out a rotator cuff or anything, and the Twins did get solid contributions from Brian Duensing and trade deadline acquisition Carl Pavano. However, waiting until it was too late to address the issue forced the Twins to throw untested rookies Anthony Swarzak and Armando Gabino in the rotation before they were ready (and to keep sending Swarzak out there even though it was obvious he wasn't ready), and it nearly cost them the division.
- Joe Mauer might struggle to stay healthy this year: Heh. Well, he did miss the first month of the season with what is best described as pain in his butt. Then he went on to win his third batting title and set career highs in home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and general awesomeness. Man Muscles was a key contributor in the late-season push to win the division, something that didn't escape the attention of his peers. He also starred in what has to be my favorite Twins commercial thus far:
- The lineup still doesn't have much power: Well, that's mostly true. The Twins had four players hit 20 or more home runs in a season for the first time in franchise history, but the rest of the lineup is pretty pathetic. The 7-8-9 hitters are about as easy of outs as it gets, and Gardy's insistence on batting a (s)crappy middle infielder in the two-hole usually means the bases are empty when the batting champ steps up to the plate.
- The front office failed to address the bullpen issue: Actually, the bullpen ended up being one of the organization's strengths. The relief corps did get off to an unimpressive start, but after cutting dead weight in the form of Luis Ayala and Sean Henn, and with the additions of Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay, it became a pretty solid group. The Mayor was as reliable as ever, Jose Mijares had a good rookie season, and Joe Nathan was his usual amazing self (I never really realized how good Twitchy has been for the Twins until I saw this). It was quite awhile ago, but Twitchy also starred in my other all-time favorite Twins commercial:
"That's how you win Cy Youngs, baby" Oh man, I miss Johan.
- The infield and outfield defense will be mediocre at best: Hey, I was right again! Although, it doesn't take much prescience to see that great position players will probably continue to be great (barring injury or the inevitable age-related decline) and crappy ones will continue to be crappy (unless, of course, they realize that they suck and decide to do something about it). I know I harp on the defense a lot, but it's important for an organization that favors pitching to contact to field the best defensive team possible. The problem, however, isn't so much that the defense was bad, it's that the worst culprits didn't even make up for it at the plate. The worst defenders on the team, with the exception of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, are also among the worst hitters in the league. It's no wonder then, that this team floundered for most of the season and got swept out of the ALDS.