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The FireRickReilly 2010 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins

March 1, 2010

Minnesota Twins (2009 Record, 87-67, 1st in AL Central) Manager: Ron Gardenhire

 The Twins played well in 2009 despite relying on a lot of young players and good. Although having Joe Mauer, reigning AL MVP, and Justin Morneau will certainly help keep the Twins in contention year in and year out. 2010 is not different as the Twins are firmly in the middle of what looks to be a closely contested AL Central.

 Pitching:

 Scott Baker will anchor the rotation, and he comes off a strong year. He went 15-9 last year with a 4.37 ERA, and 1.19. He also had 162 Ks to just 48 walks last year. Kevin Slowey figures to slide in behind Baker as the number two starter. He went 10-3 in sixteen 2009 starts, however, his season was cut short due to injury, and he’s admitted to feeling uncomfortable with two screws in his wrist. Slowey is somewhat of an enigma. His W-L record (in limited work) last years was sparkling, but his ERA was 4.86, his WHIP: 1.41, and his BABIP was an absurd 3.54. Further, he only average 4.68 runs of support a game. Slowey only walked 15 batters in 90 IP, so that may explain some things…but I still don’t quite understand his W-L record. Slowey is a decent pitcher, but what with his somewhat poor peripherals and coming off the injury, I see a bit of a letdown coming from Slowey. Carl Pavano is slated as the third starter. His 5.10 ERA was high, but his 147-39 K/BB ratio was very good. Pavano is injury-prone, but if he can stay off the DL, Pavano might surprise some people this year. The number four starter, Nick Blackbrun, had an ERA just a touch about four last year, but his K/9 rate was only 4.29, which is not good. Still, as a number four starter, he’s not bad. Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, and Brian Duensing will all vie for the fifth spot in the rotation. Liriano obviously has the biggest upside of the group, but until he shows he can get back to even a shadow his pre-Tommy John self, the Twins shouldn’t just hand him the spot.

 The Twins bullpen is certainly a strength. Closer Joe Nathan is one the best in the game. With Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares in front of him, Minnesota is set up nicely.

 Infield:

 At first base, Justin Morneau is certainly a great hitter. He missed the last three weeks of 2009 with a back fracture, but seems to be fully-recovered. There’s no reason to expect a down year from Morneau. The Twins brought in Orlando Hudson to play second base. He’s not a great fielder (he doesn’t make many errors, but his UZR has been consistently low), but does bring something to the plate, although his production dropped-off significantly in the second half last year. Minnesota also acquired SS J.J. Hardy over the off-season. He had an off year last year and the Brewers even sent him to the minors. But he has a history of good hitting and he’s a plus fielder. This could end up being a great addition for the Twins. At this point, Nick Punto seems like the frontrunner to win the third base job over Brendan Harris. He’s a serviceable player, but lacks pop and isn’t an outstanding fielder.

 Outfield:

 Jason Kubel, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer all played well last year, though Span battled some injuries and tailed off a bit as the season went on. But his .311/.392/.415 line was pretty good, especially for his first full season. Kubel and Cuddyer both flew under the radar a bit with very good seasons at the plate. Kubel had an OPS of .907 and Cuddyer had an OPS of .862. Neither of them are outstanding fielders (Kubel is a little better), but they’re not awful either, especially with what they bring at the plate. Delmon Young could also see time if Span falters or if Kubel and Cuddyer spell Jim Thome at DH. Young has shown flashes of his hype and potential, but last year’s .308 OBP just isn’t going to cut it, especially when the Twins already have three consistent performers in the outfield.

 Designated Hitter:

 Jim Thome was another big off-season pick-up for the Twins. Sure, he’s freaking old, but the guy can probably still hit a little, and if Young can perform well at the plate, Minnesota can get a nice rotation going with Kubel and Cuddyer taking some starts at DH.

 Catcher:

 Joe Mauer is the crown jewel of the Twins, the American League, and maybe even the Majors. He hits like a first-baseman, but plays catcher. Because of that, his value is through the roof. You gotta believe that the Twins will do everything possible to lock him long-term. Whether they do that now or not, there’s no reason to think Mauer won’t continue to excel.

 Bottom Line:

 The Twins have a pretty formidable lineup from top to bottom, with Mauer and Morneau providing a lot of pop, the underrated Kubel and Cuddyer, and steady performers in Span, Hardy, and Hudson. If Thome and Young play well, this could actually be one of the better lineups in the AL. Their bullpen is one of the best, but Minnesota’s starting rotation could be shaky. The combination of young guys who don’t strike a lot of batters out with Pavano and Liriano could backfire. But if the Twins can solid years out of Baker, Slowey, and Pavano (a big if), combined with their offense, they have a good chance of repeating as division champs. Still, it’s not the best division in baseball, but the AL Central is one of the tightest races. Nothing is a given here.

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