Thursday, March 31, 2005

Guerrier over Nitkowski?

From what I've read on the Twins' website, right-hander Matt Guerrier is out of options and his place on the roster may be just as heavy a debate as Michael Restovich's was. The Twins gave Guerrier a start yesterday against Pittsburgh in which he allowed two hits in three innings and surrendered a solo home-run to Pittsburgh's 2004 Rookie of the Year Jason Bay. The Twins appear to have only one bullpen spot available and it will come to down to a choice between Guerrier and veteran lefty C.J. Nitkowski. "He's definitely in the mix," Manager Ron Gardenhire said of Guerrier. "We're looking at him. If we don't keep him, we lose him. We'll wait and see what happens." This spring, Guerrier has been very impressive with a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings.

Personally, I'd like to see them keep Guerrier. In the end, he will have much better stuff then Nitkowski and the Twins already have two lefties in Terry Mulholland and J.C. Romero. Of course, that rests on the shaky chance that Mulholland and Romero have good seasons, which is by no means a guarantee. Nitkowski has been good this spring, but those are exhibition numbers and he has not come up terribly big in his previous Major League stints. Guerrier has the stuff of a younger Brad Radke if he learns to harvest his stuff, which of course requires time in the Major Leagues. I'd love to see him get that chance with the last spot. Or, hell, lose the whole Corky Miller idea and keep them both.

Other news:

- If you've paid attention, you've noticed that Luis Rivas has been heating and made an outstanding play in yesterday's game. This may decrease any chance of Nick Punto being the team's second baseman as Rivas has been 5 for 9 in his past three games.

-Also, after spending seemingly a decade in the Twins minor league system and being touted for years as a great outfield prospect who would some day take over left or right field for the Twins, hometown hero Michael Restovich has finally moved on. He was claimed off waivers today by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It Just Doesn't Make Sense

An article from the Star Tribune a couple days ago talks about how Ron Gardenhire is considering starting the season with four catchers on the 25-man roster. The first three - Joe Mauer, Mike Redmond, and Matthew LeCroy - are all locked in for roster spots. But his suggestion of bringing Corky Miller as well is absolutely baffling to me. He mentioned it as a possibility because the team is still worried about Mauer's knee... okay, fine, but you already have two guys who can play catcher. Perhaps I would understand the notion of bringing Miller north with the team if he was having a phenomenal spring, but he's hitting only .217. So basically, having Redmond and Miller both on the roster would give us nearly identical players: good defensive catchers who can't hit much and are both right-handed.

Furthermore, Miller would take away a valuable roster space that could be saved for a much more useful player. The team has five bench spaces, with three essentially locked down. Redmond, LeCroy, and Juan Castro are essentially assured of spots because they all fill particular needs. One has to imagine that Terry Tiffee will make the team, as he provides a backup third-basemen and a left-handed bat off the bench. Therefore, it comes down to Michael Restovich, Nick Punto, and (apparently) Miller. Restovich has had an outstanding spring and is out of options, meaning the team will likely lose him if they don't keep him on the Major League roster. Punto is a scrappy switch-hitter who can play various positions on the field and could some Major League experience as he seems like a potential heir to the starting second-base position. Miller is a 29 year-old catcher whose career batting average is .203. Who would you keep? Hmm...

I sincerely hope that Gardenhire is not actually considering this.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mays Struggles

Joe Mays, who was having such a good spring a week ago, is now struggling. Mays has had two straight bad starts, as he gave up four runs in four innings today against the Reds in a extra-innings victory. Mays, who looked poised to give Kyle Lohse a run for his money in terms of securing the fourth spot in the rotation, has fallen in that race rather abruptly.

Things have now turned in Lohse's favor as he is on a run himself lately after initially struggling in Spring Training. The problem is that Ron Gardenhire is likely going with a four-man rotation in the month of April due to all the bye days. That means Mays likely won't get a start until May. This means he could be sitting for a month, and thus he might prove to be less than effective this year. This could be bad news for the Twins, who would like to get help from Mays this year as a fifth starter. Hopefully, Mays can work out of the bullpen in April as an innings-eater and get his work in to prepare him for the rest of the year.

In other Twins News:

- Joe Mauer had a hell of a day at the plate, going 3 for 3 with two RBIs and a double. It was an important game for Mauer, as he successfully played behind the plate for consecutive games.

- Torii Hunter also had a good game, going 2 for 3 with his third home-run of Spring Training.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Two Goodbyes

Eric Munson, whom the Twins picked up from free agency in the offseason as a potential left-handed bench player and even a possible competitor for the starting third base spot, was released by the Twins on Sunday. Munson has had a dismal spring, hitting .184 with a .237 slugging percentage. The team hoped that Munson could turn around his hitting and provide some power off the bench, but he just hasn't been able to put things together. As a result, it appears that the switch-hitting Terry Tiffee will make the team as a backup third-baseman. Tiffee has had a nice spring, and played well in a short stint in the Majors last season, so it should be interesting to see how he does.

On a sadder note, Twins PA announcer Bob Casey passed away Sunday at the age of 79. Going to games at the Metrodome will never be the same. Despite the fact that he frequently mis-pronounced players' names (which I always got a kick out of), I think it's safe to say that every Twins fan had a special place in their heart for Bob and that he will be dearly missed. Never hearing his signature "Nooooo smoking in the Metrodome" again is a very sad thought, and I'm sure everyone else out there had some great memories of him as well. All of our best wishes to the Casey family, and thank you Bob for so many years of loyal service to this ballclub. Hopefully soon we will get a stadium so you can watch the team play from up there in heaven.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

What's new on Easter Sunday

Surprisingly, there are a few things going on in the Twins world on Easter Sunday. For one, left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith, a Rule V pick from Seattle, was cut and thus sent back to Seattle yesterday. Rowland-Smith would be a plus in the future, as he's a left-hander who throws in the mid-90's. However, he's not ready and the Twins simply have no room for him. Hopefully, Glen Perkins will be that future left-hander, as he has plus stuff that will be available a few years down the line. For now, however, C.J. Nitkowski has taken the lead for a spot in the bullpen. The journeyman left-hander hadn't allowed in run in spring training until yesterday. He'll likely round up the bullpen with fellow lefties J.C. Romero and Terry Mulholland.

Nitkowski made an interesting post yesterday on his website concerning steroids. He wrote that he considered using them in 2001 while struggling, noting its widespread use at the time.

In other news, several Twins players, including Joe Mauer and Shannon Stewart, were tested for steroids. Of course, it seems preposterous that any Twins would use steroids, as we haven't had a 30 HR hitter since 1987. People should be happy, though, as recent events have deterred further steroid use and use is down from 7 percent to 2 percent last year. That's significant improvement.

Lastly, in a sad bit of news, Twins PA Bob Casey is gravely ill with liver cancer and pneumonia. Casey, who has been with the Twins for all 44 years of their existence in Minnesota, likely will not return this year. I'd like to wish him and his family the best, as he is obviously a very nice, classy individual who has been always been the voice of the Twins.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Schilling Rocked!

The Twins were in the news today and it's actually pretty good news. They had a pretty impressive game this afternoon against Curt Schilling of the Red Sox. Schilling pitched only a few innings and got hit hard, including consecutive homers to Jacque Jones and Michael Restovich. That's big for Restovich, who is desperately trying to make the club despite a dissapointing spring so far.

Overall, the Twins finally hit the .500 mark in their spring record. They have a few straight wins and look like they have a good run going into the regular season. It would be nice to have some momentum to start of such an important season for this club.

The game was also very impressive pitching-wise. To begin, starter Brad Radke pitched six solid innings while striking out five and walking none. Those are great numbers for Radke, who hasn't looked his sharpest in spring training. Also, Joe Nathan struck out a side and Glen Perkins, the Twins' top draft pick from last year (a former Gopher), struck out the only two batters he faced. That's all excellent news and good to see for a team that relies so much on its pitching.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Middle Infield

The Twins situation at second and shortstop on April 4th may be drastically different from what we were expecting coming into spring training. While the initial favorites were Luis Rivas and Juan Castro, a couple of very weak offensive players who get the job done in the field, it could be the case that neither of them will be starting.

While Ron Gardenhire seems reluctant to confirm it, it is hard to believe that Jason Bartlett will not be the starting shortstop for this team. He is hitting .389 this spring, has been at least as good as any of the other SS candidates with his glove, and he has been consistent and showed good discipline at the plate. So much, in fact, that it is now starting to look like he might bat second in the order, behind Shannon Stewart and before Joe Mauer. Juan Castro has hit well this spring, but he has committed seven errors already, and when your lifetime batting average is .226, that is simply unacceptable.

More interesting is the developing situation at second base. Rivas has had a terrible spring, batting a paltry .125. Gardenhire hinted yesterday that Nick Punto is a serious candidate for the starting job at second. The Twins seem determined to see what Punto can do when playing regularly, and Rivas just can't seem to put it together, so this does indeed seem like a pretty realistic possibility.

The downside to an infield made up of Justin Morneau, Punto, Bartlett, and Michael Cuddyer would be the lack of Major League experience for any of these players at their respective positions, which could lead to a lot of errors. Also, in taking Rivas out of the equation, you lose one of the better second basemen in the league in terms of turning the double play. That could be bad news for a pitcher like Carlos Silva who lives by the twin killing. Nonetheless, it would almost certainly be the best offensive infield this team is capable of putting out there, so it would definitely be a fun group to watch.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Twins News for Wednesday

Good news for Twins fans today. Joe Mauer caught today's game against the Blue Jays, which the Twins won 2-0. At the plate, Mauer went 2 for 3 with an RBI. It seems everytime he plays, Mauer shows his importance and his impact on the Twins' lineup. Granted, as my associate has pointed out, these are just exhibition games, but Mauer's presence cannot be overstated. I see this is another positive sign for the Twins, as it would be the best possible scenario to have Mauer's defense as well.

Other notes:

- Kyle Lohse was very impressive in his start today. Lohse pitched five scoreless innings, giving up four hits while striking out three and walking one. In a spring where the Twins' starters have been pretty impressive, Lohse's success is most important. He needs to build up his confidence and achieve this year what he should have in 2004.

- Terry Mulholland made his spring debut today. He pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout in relief of Kyle Lohse. Mulholland remains a likely bullpen candidate, but as mentioned, C.J. Nitkowski and Ryan Rowland-Smith are still good possibilities as left-handers as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Scott Baker

The Twins young right-handed starter has been lighting it up in spring training so far, with an ERA under 1.00 in 11 innings pitched. On the Twins message board, people have been speculating about the possibility of the Twins trading Kyle Lohse and inserting Baker into the rotation. I wouldn't say that is very likely in the first place, since I doubt Lohse is at his maximum trade value right now after a poor 2004 campaign, but I also don't think it would be a good idea, and the ridiculous amount of hype that Baker is receiving is surprising and a little appalling to me. Now, I like the guy. He knows how to pitch, has good stuff, and is exceptionally mature for a 23 year-old. But for anyone to claim that he deserves a spot in the Twins' rotation on Opening Day is, in my opinion, going a little too far, even if he continues with the excellent performances he has had this spring thus far. He did quite well in the minors last year, shooting up to Triple-A Rochester, but once he got there he posted a 1-3 record with a 4.97 ERA. He's never pitched in the Majors, and I don't think you can put too much stock into 11 innings of spring exhibition play. The bullpen sounds like more of a realistic possibility if he is to be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day, but let's not go nuts just yet with talk of giving one of our current starters the boot.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Cuts, Cuddyer, and other notes

Top pitching prospect J.D. Durbin was cut this weekend from Twins camp following his frustrating performance thus far. Durbin, who has walked 10 batters in 8 innings, has been wild and erratic all spring. This dissapointment is similar to that of his call-up last fall to the majors. Durbin's inconsistency is problem, but the good news is that Scott Baker is standing out himself this spring.

Baker, who pitched three mediocre innings against the Phillies today, has had an impressive spring. He has been moving his fastball, changing speeds, and utilizing his good curve. Unlike Durbin, who seems to overthrow far too often, Baker is doing a good job pitching instead of throwing. If Baker can keep this up, he definitely deserve consideration as a set-up man or a possible mid-season replacement.

Other News:

- Michael Cuddyer went 3 for 3 Sunday, including his second homer of the spring. Cuddyer has been good at the plate this spring and even better with the glove. This is great news for the Twins, who were unsure of their stability in the infield following Koskie's departure. If Cuddyer can continue down this path, it would be great news for the Twins

- Jesse Crain pitched two scoreless innings in today's game. Its a positive note for Crain, who hasnt had a great spring so far. Hopefully, this is sign of Crain getting his game together. The Twins need him to produce the numbers he did after his August call-up last year.

- Torii Hunter stole two bases in today's game as well. Hunter continues to impress and improve his skills as a baseball player, which is amazing feat considering his resume. It would be wonderful to see Hunter finally break-out with a 30/30 season this year.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Mays Factor

I was very pleased yesterday when I watched the Twins play the Reds in spring training. Although they ended up losing the game, it was very encouraging to watch Joe Mays pitch five scoreless innings. This continues a spring in which he looks to rebound from Tommy John surgery and numerous setbacks that have kept him from being able to pitch for the past year and a half. Joe claims he is ready to return to his All-Star form of 2001, and judging by his performance this spring, it is difficult to argue that. He leads the team in innings pitched with 14, has allowed only 9 hits while striking out six, and holds a terrific 1.29 ERA. I don't want to give too much significance to exhibition performances, but this has to be seen as a very encouraging sign. If Mays can pick up where he left off before all his injury trouble and throw 200 innings, he provides a very solid number three starter, which they will need in order to progress in the playoffs.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Position Analysis: Relief Pitching

This year, the Twins may have the best bullpen in the AL. They have made some very smart moves by resigning the keys to last year's bullpen success, closer Joe Nathan and set-up man Juan Rincon. They have many young up-and-coming power arms available as well, so let's look at the likely make-up of the bullpen.

Closer: Joe Nathan, 2004 Stats: 1.62 ERA, 44 SVs, 89 K's, .187 BAA

Nathan relies mainly on his fastball, which he can get up to 98-99 MPH, to get hitters out in the 9th. Since his fastball is fairly straight, Nathan's other main weapon, his slider, becomes very important. That slider comes in around 88 MPH and gives Nathan a nasty combination. In addition, Nathan also throws a cutter and a change-up occasionally to keep hitters honest. He had great success last year and has shown himself completely capable of the closer's role. He enters this year as one of the best in the AL. If the Twins bullpen can consistantly get him the ball, he should have no problem closing out game after game for the Twins. I expect Nathan to have even more saves this year, if not a better year all-around. He's a very exciting, very proffesional, and very talented pitcher.

Set-up Men: Juan Rincon, 2004 Stats: 2.63 ERA, 11-6, 106 K's, .181 BAA

Overall, Rincon had a great year last year despite his playoff failures. He lead all AL relievers in wins with 11, had over 100 strikeouts, and continued to be reliable throughout the season for the Twins. Rincon's major downfall is his inability to always trust his cut fastball. Its not quite Rivera's, but who's is? If he uses it to his ability, he can dominate lefties and righties with no problem since most hitters can't catch up with his fastball anyways. He still tries to trick hitters with his slider, which is good, but should be used a lot less. Proof of this came in Game 4 of the playoffs when aging slugger Ruben Sierra creamed a Rincon slider for a home-run. Rincon should know not to use that pitch in intense situations and learn to rely on his cutter, which Sierra couldn't touch. If he does, there's no telling how successful he can be as Nathan's set-up man.

Jesse Crain, 2004 Stats: 2.00 ERA, 3-0, 14 K's, .179 BAA

Crain pitched for only the last two months of the season last year, so his stats don't show his potential. Crain has a fastball he can get up to 100 MPH, though it usually sits from 95-98. He mixes that fastball up with a big curve and a good slider. When he has his command, Crain can be unhittable with his mix of pitches. Expect Crain to move into a set-up role with Rincon and to have a successful year. Likely a sub-2.00 ERA, 80 K's can be expected with the kind of stuff Crain possesses.

Grant Balfour, 2004 Stats: 4.35 ERA, 4-1, 42 K's, .238 BAA

Balfour spent much of the 2004 season hurt, so he has yet to have a full season at the major league level. When he was around, he was as dominant as any Twins pitcher while showing his ability to be dominant with his 95-97 MPH fastball and slider. He stranded 23 of 30 inherited runners (76.7 percent), and first batters hit just .100 against him. Those are both great numbers that show his potential as a reliever or set-up man. Balfour, like Crain, is one of the Twin's many young power arms. And, like Crain, the ceiling for his talent goes pretty high. If he's healthy, expect a good year pitching in the 6th or 7th inning.

J.C. Romero, 2004 Stats: 3.51 ERA, 7-4, 69 K's, .224 BAA

Romero certainly had an up-and-down year in 2004. He was so bad early on that he was sent down to AAA in order to get himself together. When he returned, he went on an incredible strech of 36 2/3 scoreless innings, setting a Twins record. However, just as he did that, he began to break down in September, and he barely pitched against the Yankees. His inconsistancy has always been a problem and he has never been able to trust his stuff, which many say is the best on the staff. Romero has a 93-95 sinking fastball, a big breaking slider, and a change-up. When he locates his fastball and mixes his pitches up, he can be amazing, as he showed in 2002 with his 1.89 ERA. The hope is that Romero can put it together and been the dominant reliever he could be again, though he'll likely remain inconsistent this year. He's been unimpressive so far in Spring Training with a 9.00 ERA.

Other possibilites:

Ryan Rowland-Smith, 2004: In Seattle Organization

Smith is a Rule-5 draft pick from the Seattle Organization the Twins picked up over the winter. He's a Australian left-hander who has pitched fairly well this spring, with a 3.00 ERA. He's a possibility to be the bullpen's left-hander over 42-year old Terry Mulholland. It would likely be better to have a young pitcher then one twice as old in the bullpen when we really need it.

C.J. Nitkowski, 2004: 5.73 ERA, 2-1 with Yankees and Braves

Nitkowski hasn't had a great track record in his time in the Majors, as he is already 32 years old. However, he is making quite a bid this spring. So far, he hasn't allowed a run in nine innings while striking out three and walking two.
Once a four-pitch pitcher, Nitkowski decided to scrap his cut fastball and plans on sticking with three pitches: a fastball, curveball and changeup. Nitkowski's smart pitching could be a factor down the line, as his heavy reliance on locating his fastball is a neccessity J.C. Romero doesn't seem to catch. That's important, as the Twins will need a guy who can come in, pound the strike zone, and get outs. Plus, he's a lefty. With Mulholland and Balfour hurt, Nitkowski seems a likely candidate to start in the bullpen this year and he could be a surprise.

Scott Baker, 2004: In Double-A, Triple-A

Baker has been very impressive this spring, pitching eight scoreless innings so far. Baker has a good moving fastball in the 90's to go along with an impressive curve. Baker is a starter by trade, but his numbers certainly have earned him consideration in the bullpen, as Balfour will be injured at the beginning of the season.

Matt Guerrier, 2004: 5.68 ERA, 0-1. 19 K's,

Guerrier has been impressive so far this spring training, allowing only a run in eight innings so far. As with Baker, Balfour's injury opens up the possibility of Guerrier in the bullpen. Guerrier was not terribly successful in the majors last year as a starter, but he has plenty of potential. He is much more of the control-style of pitcher, throwing the four-pitch package of a fastball, slider, curve, and change. He may yet impress if he is given the chance again at the majors in 2005.

J.D. Durbin, 2004: In Triple-A

Durbin, or the "Real Deal," has not been impressive at all spring training games or his major league call-up last fall. Durbin's fastball reaches triple digits, but he has yet to find an impressive and consistent second pitch to make him a successful pitcher at the major league level. This is the only step he really needs to take before the Twins see him have the kind of success he should have with a fastball like that. Expect Durbin to start in Triple-A this year, but he should be in the majors by the end of the year.

Terry Mulholland, 2004 Stats: 5.18 ERA, 5-9, 60 K's, .327 BAA

Mulholland was resigned this year by the Twins after a so-so last year. Its only so-so because Mulholland is a veteran who can help this young pitching staff and because he managed to pitch a lot of the "bad" games as an inning-eater. Beyond that, Mulholland isnt too reliable. He has no dominant fastball and instead relies on "soft" stuff on the inside part of the plate. The Twins can't rely on that when they need to get all they can from their pitching this year and when their defense has been downgraded by offseason loses. Mulholland is good as a pitching coach, but beyond that, he has no place on a team headed for the playoffs.

In other Twins News:

- Joe Mays pitched five scoreless innings today against the Reds, continuing a great spring training in which he has given up a mere two runs in 14 innings pitched. If Mays continues down this path, this could be the best news the Twins get this spring, as Mays can make or break this year's starting rotation.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Continuing with our preseason analysis of the Twins on a position-by-position basis, we will now delve into what is a very intruguing starting rotation. There is little question that the Twins feature one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, but after that there are some serious questions.

Brad Radke
2004 Stats: 219.2 IP, 11-8, 3.48 ERA, 143 K, 26 BB
Last year wasn't the first time Brad has suffered from poor run support... in 1999 he went 12-14 despite a 3.75 ERA. Still, I don't see it happening again this year. There's no way a guy can be that unlucky. You have to figure that if Radke can keep his ERA under 4 he will win at least 15 games. During the offseason, rated him as the best control pitcher in the Majors, and it's not hard to see why. Last year he only walked about 1 batter per 9 innings, and we should certainly expect to see the same thing this year. Despite the fact that he is clearly the second-best pitcher in the rotation, I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that Brad deserves to be the Opening Day starter. He has been a cornerstone for this franchise over the past decade, and he showed his loyalty this offseason by making a strong effort to stay here rather than go to Boston for more money.

Johan Santana
2004 Stats: 228.0 IP, 20-6, 2.61 ERA, 265 K, 54 BB
Well, what else is there to say? The former Rule V draftee is coming off one of the most prolific seasons ever by a left-handed pitcher; one in which he won 20 games, struck out over 250 batters, and had an ERA below 3. And he's only 26. Santana has looked very good in spring training so far, and he comes into the season free of injuries. The only reason I can't predict that he will repeat the same numbers as he did last year is because they were just too damn good... it's hard to imagine anyone being able to consistently produce at that level for another full season. But then again, if anyone can, it's Johan. He has tremendous presence on the mound, and features one of the most deceptive changeups in baseball. Hitters fear him, and Twins fans love him. He should be very fun to watch this year.

Carlos Silva
2004 Stats: 203.0 IP, 14-8, 4.21 ERA, 76 K, 35 BB
I hesitate to put Silva's name third on this list simply because I don't believe he is the third-best starter in the rotation... he's probably the fifth-best, if that. Now, granted, his 14-8 record last year is not to shabby, but I think the real Carlos Silva is the one we saw get absolutely slaughtered by the Yankees in the playoffs. Notice the low strikeout and walk totals. Silva lets batters put the ball in play, and then depends on his defense to make outs, especially double plays. Unfortunately, the Twins infield lost a lot of its defense in the offseason, so it could be a long year for Silva. If he let's batters hit .310 off him again this year like he did in 2004, his ERA will shoot up over 5 and his record will look more like 8-14.

Kyle Lohse
2004 Stats: 194.0 IP, 9-13, 5.34 ERA, 111 K, 76 BB
Kyle is an interesting case indeed. Many say he has the best stuff out of any starter on the team, but his lack of ability to change speeds and fool hitters has kept him from reaching his potential. He showed signs in 2002 and 2003, winning a total of 27 games, but then in 2004 he fell apart in almost every stat. His walks shot up from 45 to 76, his strikeouts dropped by 19, his ERA inflated from 4.76 to 5.34. I don't know what to say about Lohse other than that, if he were able to pull it together and pitch the way he is capable of, he is a solid number three starter. But will he pull it together this year? Sadly, there is little reason to believe so.

Joe Mays
2004 Stats: Did not pitch
It's been a long time since Joe last pitched in a Major League game, but now it looks like he is finally back and ready to go. It is said that when guys undergo Tommy John surgery, they come back even stronger than before. That would be nice, because we really need him to come back and show form somewhat similar to that of his 2001 performance when he was an All-Star, winning 17 games with a 3.16 ERA. He definitely has the right attitude, feeling like he can define himself as the third starter on this club by the time the season starts. He has looked good in the spring thus far, but who knows what to expect.

And should Mays, or Lohse or Silva for that matter, falter or become injured, it is necessary to take quick look at some of the other top contenders for a spot in the Twins rotation.

Scott Baker
Baker's stats over 54 innings pitched in AAA last year were not overly impressive, posting an ERA of nearly 5, but he certainly did dominate in AA New Britain, going 5-3 with a 2.43 ERA and striking out 72 in 70.1 IP. This spring he has been terrific, yet to allow a run in 8 innings while striking out 7.

JD Durbin
We're still waiting for "The Real Deal" to arrive. Durbin has great stuff and throws hard, but has been wild this spring, pushing himself away from a spot on the Twins roster. It's only a matter of time before Durbin reaches the Majors, and he's going to be good someday, but he's just not there yet.

Terry Mulholland
Good ol' rubber-arm Mulholland is back for another stint with the Twins. Last year Terry provided 123 all-purpose innings for the Twins, posting an ERA of 5.18. At age 42, don't expect much improvement. The Twins might throw him into the starting rotation as a last resort, but I think it is more likely we will see one of the stronger, younger arms come in if another guy is needed in the rotation, leaving Mulholland strictly on long-relief duty.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Sad Day for Baseball

Well, the Congressional hearings happened and yep, they were a complete waste of time and tax money. What was the result? Denial, denial, denial. Even Canseco didn't have the guts to say much of anything. It was really sad to see Big Mac step up and say something ridiculous like, "I'm not here to speak about the past." What? Then why else would you be called to the hearing, McGwire? I'm pretty sure you've spent the last three years in seclusion, so there isn't much to talk about when it comes to present life, other than, say, this looming steroids problem.

Of course, I am one to believe he did it at some point anyway. But, wow, he can sure pour out sympathy to the steroid-using kid who killed himself and his family. Lots of tears there. But nope... not going to talk about 1998 or address why these hearings were held. Just say it, Mac. If you're clean, you would have said it. Now, any good grace you had is gone. You're almost as bad as Canseco. And at least he admits it, but you won't.

And Sammy? I know you did some 'roids. Its not hard to tell, Big Fella. So, when you're under oath, don't lie to everyone. You have no reputation to protect anymore after your famous walk-out last season. Tsk tsk, Sosa.

Schilling? You're just another Republican hack, so watch your mouth. I wouldn't be surprised if you juiced a little bit. You try to come off as a great hero, and after all, it's worked for you. But who says you're perfect? You did nothing but point fingers all day.

Thomas? Palmeiro? Same deal. Palmeiro probably didn't do steroids and maybe the Big Hurt didn't either, so we can leave them out of it for now. But my real question to the Congressmen in all this (other than its obvious failures), is where is Bonds? The one guy that matters so much to this issue isn't to be seen. Of course, if he was there, he'd be just as big-headed as McGwire or Sosa. It's not as if he'd admit it, why would he?

That's what is really sad. Peter Gammons said it best a few days ago when he wrote that we should promote new, young stars in the aftermath of steroids. I agree. Hell, promote the whole Twins team. How could they be near steroids?? They haven't had 30 HRs since Wall Street! Promote Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Pierre, Johan Santana, Albert Pujols and the other loads of young talent and let's leave Bonds, Sosa, and the others in the dust. If they can't admit it, what does it matter anyways??

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Predictions Around the National League

With my associate's preview of the AL, I'm giving a preview of the NL for this year. Should be exciting in many different ways and expect some surprises.

1. San Fransisco Giants 93-69
This offseason was a big one for the Giants. They made a few impact signings, but from the looks of it, it's this year or no year. They signed Armando Benitez to replace Robb Nen, as he had a great year with the Marlins last year. It still remains to be seen if Benitez can handle intense games, as he has always broken down in the post-season. I see another good regular season, but a breakdown once again in the playoffs. They also signed Felipe Alou's son, Moises, away from the Cubs. Moises will help protect Bonds in the line-up much the way he protected Sosa in Chicago. It will give the Giants another threat in the offense, but Alou is 39, so don't have sky-high expectations. Bonds is still the leader and, for the most part, the line-up. He'll probably walk 200 times again, mostly intentionally, and hit around 40 HRs if the lack of steroids doens't become an issue. Pitching-wise, they have Jason Schmidt, an outstanding starter who should pick up a Cy Young one of these years. He should, if healthy, win 20 games, strike out 250, and have a sub-3.00 ERA. Beyond Schmidt, they have Brett Tomko, who ended last year with an amazing run, and prospect Noah Lowry, who looks great. Veterans Kirk Reuter and Jerome Robertson round out the rotation, but they aren't anything special. The bullpen is still a mess before Benitez gets to the mound, so that could also be a problem down the line for Felipe Alou and the Giants.

2. San Diego Padres 87-75
Beyond the Giants, I don't see the NL West being a hot-spot for great teams this year. The Padres should take over the West by 2006, but they still have a ways to go. They have a wonderful young pitching staff, lead by Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy, and Adam Eaton. Peavy had a great year in 2004, with a league-leading 2.27 ERA. They round out their rotation with veteran Woody Williams returning after years with the Cardinals, and Royals cast-off Darrell May. They also have a good bullpen, with two of the game's best set-up men in Scott Linebrink and Akinori Otsuka, and signed veteran Chris Hammond in the offseason. That should give them a great bullpen to lead to the always reliable Trevor Hoffman in the 9th. Though Hoffman is 37, he still has that wonderful change-up that has made him one of baseball's best all-time closers. Offense-wise, they need to improve on last year. Mark Loretta had a break-out year last year and he needs to follow that up with consistency this year. Brian Giles, Phil Nevil, and Ryan Klesko all had sub-par seasons in 2004, so that will have to change. They need to have the type of seasons they are compable of for the Padres to do anything this year.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers 84-78
The Dodgers had an active offseason, but not the kind they had for. They lost sensational All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre to Seattle after his break-out year. They traded fading Shawn Green to the Arizona Diamondbacks. They signed J.D. Drew and Derek Lowe to huge contracts they never deserved by the numbers they put up (Scott Boras anyone??). Though they have the pitching, the Dodgers still won't see the playoffs this year. Drew has never had an outstanding season. Sure last year he was healthy all year, but was he really that great? He didn't cream 40 HRs or have 100 RBI or hit .330, so he didn't deserve a 5 year, $55 million contract. Same with Lowe, whose ERA was above 5.00, and granted he did good in the playoffs, but he's always been inconsistent. This will plague the Dodgers, who will lack an offense this year again. They did sign Jeff Kent, but he's getting older, and Milton Bradley has always been troublesome. Pitching-wise, they have a good rotation with Odalis Perez, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Kazushi Ishii, and Jeff Weaver. But all these guys are still inconsistent. Perez and Penny should do well, but its hard to expect greatness from Lowe or Weaver and Ishii had a terrible year last year. The Dodgers bullpen is still great, with Gagne leading the way.

4. Colorado Rockies 72-90
The Rockies have the same problems coming into this year they always have. Plenty of hitting, not enough pitching. They are seemingly cursed by the ultimate batter's park that is Coors Field. Once again, like Jason Jennings before him, outstanding pitching prospect Jeff Francis is here to save the day. But as last year showed, a good season will be one were Francis holds onto a sub-5.00 ERA. That seems the most the Rockies can hope for. Beyond Francis, Jennings has been terrible since his Rookie of the Year season in 2002 and the Rockies need his great sinker again in the thin Colorado air. Joe Kennedy was a much needed surprise last year as a starter, so he'll need to repeat that success. The Rockies' other prized pitcher, Chin-Huo Tsao, also needs to step up for the Rockies to do anything. Their bullpen is still in shambles, led by closer Shawn Chacon, who's 7.11 ERA and 9 blown saves are a testament to how bad things are in Colorado. Offensively, they still have plenty of weapons, but like with the Rangers, without good pitching it doesn't matter. Todd Helton will continue to put up Hall of Fame numbers with no one to watch. Let's hope he gets traded so he can finally show his talent to America, much the same way Vladmir Guerrero did in 2004.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks 62-100
Expect some improvement from the Diamondbacks, but despite all the money they spent this offseason, they are still one of the worst teams in baseball. They traded the best left-hander of all time to the New York Yankees for Javier Vazquez, whose second half last year was hard to watch. They signed Russ Ortiz and Troy Glaus to huge-contracts that were big mistakes like the Dodger's Drew and Lowe signings. Ortiz is a decent starter, but he's no ace and he walks far too many to have success in Arizona without the great leadership of Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Glaus' long series of injuries lately point to the possibility of steroids use and he's never been a great hitter. The Diamondbacks would have been better off with Richie Sexson. They can't expect much more than a .240/30/100 season, which won't do much for their winning chances. Other than Ortiz and Vazquez, the Diamondbacks do have the sensational Brandon Webb, who should continue to be solid. Beyond him, they have Shawn Estes and no real 5th starter. Their bullpen is shattered and Jose Valverde should be only decent as their closer. Their offense is nothing special either. Lead by aging sluggers Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, you can't expect much from this team. Gonzalez may have a comeback year, but Green has been going downhill since 2002 and he's never been a consistent hitter. Otherwise, expect small improvements for this team from last year's 51-111 record, but not much more. Just a lot of money spent unwisely.

1. St. Louis Cardinals 101-61
Many believe that St. Louis lost a lot of their power this off-season, but I believe they'll be just as strong this year. Their line-up is not as all-around crushing as Boston's, but their 3-4-5 hitters are the best in baseball. Albert Pujols is going to go down as one of the best hitters of all time when all is said and done. He has set so many records in the four years he's been around that the only people he can be compared to have the names Williams, Mays, and Gehrig. Beyond him, they still have amazing Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Pitching-wise, they have to rely on many intangibles that may or may not go their way. Will Mark Mulder recover and pitch the way when have seen in the past and will Chris Carpenter finally be healthy? If so, a rotation with Mulder, Carpenter, and Marquis should be good with St. Louis' line-up. Their bullpen won't be as good, as they lost Steve Kline to free-agency and Jason Isringhausen is still a questionable closer as shown in the playoffs.

2. Chicago Cubs 95-67
The Chicago Cubs still have the best rotation in the National League and possibly the majors. With Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Greg Maddux healthy, they have an extremely intimadating starting rotation. However, that could be a problem this year, as Wood and Prior are already having troubles with injuries. Without them, the Cubs are vulnerable. Maddux has won over 300 games and has struck out nearly 3,000 hitters and serves as a de facto ace. Wood once struck out 20 hitters in a game. Prior has such a high ceiling he seems like the next Roger Clemens in the coming, with a great combination of control and phenomenal hard stuff. If they are healthy this year, that could mean 10-15 more wins for the Cubs. And then there's Zambrano, who last year finished with a 2.76 ERA to lead the club. Their bullpen is their question mark. They finally jetisoned Kyle Farnsworth and their closer situation is just ugly. Whether it's LaTroy Hawkins or Joe Borowski, it's unstable. Hitting-wise, they have many good young hitters. The Cubs need Aramis Ramariz to take the reins left by Moises Alou and take the next step as a hitter. Corey Patterson and Nomar Garciappara should have good comeback seasons and expect Derrek Lee to do better than last year as well.

3. Houston Astros 77-85
Houston is a big question mark this year. They lost many good players, from the incredible 5-tool Carlos Beltran to Lance Berkman's injuries, many problems lie ahead for Houston. First off, Houston has an even weaker bullpen to back up Brad Lidge this year. How long can the great Lidge hold out? However, if the starting rotation can get the ball to Lidge, the game is over. Lidge's 1.90 ERA and record 157 strikeouts along with a Rivera-like October showed what an incredible talent he is. That means the season rests on the starting rotation. Clemens will have to repeat his 7th Cy-Young season again and Roy Oswalt needs to finally come out as the ace we have long known him to be. From Clemens and Oswalt, expect 35-40 wins. Pettite has lingering injuries from last year that are continuing to be problem. Pettite's return could turn the tide of Houston's season. Beyond that, Houston will be starving for wins. Brandon Backe will have to repeat last October's success for Houston to go anywhere. Don't expect much offense, as Berkman will be out til' May and with Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell nearing the end of their careers.

4. Cincinnati Reds 75-87
Cincinnati looks foward also to another season of questions. Adam Dunn looks like he is finally putting it all together with his 46 HRs and 102 RBI last year, and thats a great thing. They need Austin Kearns to do the same thing, and they need Ken Griffey Jr. healthy. Hopefully for the Reds as well as for baseball, Griffey will finally be healthy and have another great season. Sean Casey balances out a pretty good lineup, but once again, the Reds are lacking good pitching. At closer, Danny Graves should be reliable, but he still gives up way too many home runs for him to be a great closer. They did sign help in the form of David Weathers and Ben Weber, but both are getting older and are no longer quite as effective. Resigning Paul Wilson was a good move, but I doubt that Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz will be effective in a hitter's park when they give up far too many home runs the way it is.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates 74-88
Pittsburg is a team much like the Padres who should be good in a few years. With such outstanding players as Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, they have a bright future. Perez showed last year just how good he can pitch, with a great fastball and slider. This year could be better than last year's Santana-like numbers of 239 strikeouts with a 2.98 ERA. The 2004 Rookie of the Year, Bay also should continue to improve and provide the offense with veterans Jack and Craig Wilson. However, beyond that, Pittsburg isn't ready to contend. Last year's trade with the Mets will show up as very smart within a few years, as now Pittsburg has a great up-and-coming prospect. Beyond that, Kip Wells needs to continue to improve, but its more than likely that Pittsburg won't be great for another few years.

6. Milwaukee Brewers 67-95
Milwaukee made a good move over the winter, trading with the White Sox for Carlos Lee. Lee will provided a good, established hitter. However, beyond Lee, Milwaukee still has an anemic line-up. They do have last year's star, Lyle Overbay, but Overbay was not consistent all of last year. He cannot carry with Lee a line-up made up of names like Helms, Spivey, and Branyan. The pitching is much better. Yes, they have Ben Sheets, who was amazing last year and who should only be better. Doug Davis was good last year, but its hard to expect such a year again. Other than that, they lack a full rotation, their bullpen is still a question and they have no closer, as they traded Dan Kolb to Atlanta this offseason.

1. Florida Marlins 94-68
This offseason was a great one for Florida. Sure, they lost Carl Pavano to New York, but thats a minor loss. Pavano had one great season and thats mainly due to Pro Player Stadium being a pitcher's park. They replaced him with Al Leiter, a great pitching veteran who was a member of the 1997 Florida World Series Team. Then they signed Carlos Delgado. Delgado's 32 HRs in 128 games last year is more than all Florida left-handers last year. With Delgado in the line-up hitting cleanup, Florida will have a 1-6 of Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, Miguel Cabrera, Delgado, Mike Lowell, Paul Lo Duca... rivaling St. Louis. Pierre is a flat-out amazing player who sets the stage along with Castillo for Florida's potent offense. Cabrera should be even better this year and project a .300/40/120 season for him and maybe Delgado. Pitching-wise, they still have Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. When healthy, these guys can be unstoppable. They are supported by Leiter and Dontrelle Willis, who should bounce back this year after a disappointing sophomore effort in 2004. At closer, Florida lost Armando Benitez, but Guillermo Mota should be good with his incredible stuff.

2. Atlanta Braves 90-72
I believe that this year, Atlanta's long reign of pennants will end. Bobby Cox is amazing and Atlanta has been winning for so long, so how could they stop? Simple: Florida is a superior team this year. Cox will get Atlanta to play well, as they still have good veterans like Chipper and Andruw Jones around, but they just aren't playing as well as they once did. Both Jones' number were down last year. They lost J.D. Drew, who may have been last year's Sheffield for Atlanta. Marcus Giles will be great and Cox could get Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan to do well again, but it's unlikely. Atlanta will have to rely on pitching. They have Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Jon Thomson, and Mike Hampton to lead their rotation and Horacio Ramirez will be back after missing last year with elbow problems. Thomson and Hampton both did fairly well last year and Hudson and Smoltz should be capable of winning 30-35 games for Atlanta. Their bullpen is still good, as it has veterans Chris Reitsma, Tom Martin, and Kevin Gryboski setting up new closer Danny Kolb.

3. Philadelphia Phillies 83-79
Philadelphia failed to make any great moves this offseason, and for that reason, its unlikely that this year is their year. Yes, they signed Jon Lieber, but Lieber may not be as good in the hitter-friendly Citizen Bank ballpark. Other than Lieber, they have Randy Wolf, who has yet to be as consistent and great as he should be. Same with Brett Myers and Cory Lidle. Both have inflated ERAs above 5.00 when they shouldn't with their stuff. The only guarantee to me is Vicente Padilla who has shown himself to be a good pitcher and consistent, but likely not an ace. Offensively, Philadelphia can be pretty intimidating. Their 3-4-5 hitters are Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, and Pat Burrell. Those are some pretty powerful hitters, but are no guarantees like St. Louis' Pujols-Rolen-Edmonds. Burrell has been terribly inconsistent much the way Richard Hildago has been since his .314, 44 HR season of 2000. The young Chase Utley will someday be great, but he's not there yet. The Phillies should be right around .500 at the end of the season, but dont expect more. This team is filled with inconsistent players and lacks good leadership.

4. New York Mets 80-82
Some of this year's biggest signings this offeseason were by the Mets and GM Omar Minaya. However, those big signings will not be enough to take them to the playoffs. Pedro Martinez is 33 years old. His fastball isn't hitting 95 with the consistency it used to. It's hard to predict whether or not Martinez can become an ace again. Carlos Beltran is a bona fide superstar, but don't expect a huge impact. He's never been on the big stage of New York and his average is never consistent. Like Piazza years ago, he'll have great seasons, but it won't be enough. Otherwise, New York will have an overall good rotation of Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Kris Benson, and Victor Zambrano. Benson was given far too much money on his contract and I doubt he'll ever be great. Zambrano has potential, but his control is erratic much of the time, almost like a young Randy Johnson was. Trachsel and Glavine should be solid and Pedro should have a good season, but most likely not a great one. Otherwise, their offense and defense are still weak. Piazza is not a great first baseman by any means, Matusui hasn't lived up to his potential, and they've replaced Cameron's excellent defense with Beltran, who is only a step down. If they are to do well, they need Pedro to step up and they need good seasons from guys like rookie David Wright, who is filled with potential.

5. Washington Nationals 69-93
Don't get too excited about their move to DC. They are still the Expos in my mind, and that means despite Frank Robinson's good managing, they won't go too far. Just look at some of their signings for proof. Take Vinny Castilla for instance. Castilla went .271 with 35 HRs and a league-leading 131 RBI. However, don't let that throw you. Most of that was caused by the thin-air of Coors Field. Outside of Coors, he was hitting with the same kinda weak numbers shown in Atlanta and other stops in the last years outside of Colorado. Outside of Castilla, the Nationals don't have much. They have veteran Jose Vidro, who is usually a good hitter, and prospering Tremmel Sledge. Defensively, they haven't improved much either. Just look at signings like that of former Twin Christian Guzman, who should be no less lackadaisical in the field then he was in Minnesota. Pitching-wise, they are led by Livan Hernandez. Livan is a good pitcher who shovels on the innings more than any other pitcher now. His nine complete games and 255 innings last year show that, but he can't hold the Nationals together himself. Beyond him lie scrapped pitchers like Esteban Loiza and Jon Rauch, guys who couldn't hold anything together for a very long time. Their bullpen is nothing great and they lack a true closer. Don't expect too much in the National's first season, as they have many inconsistent players and lack true leaders.

In Twins News:

- Johan Santana pitched four scoreless innings in a win against the Blue Jays today. He struck out two and gave up two hits while facing off against Roy Halladay.

- Yesterday, Jason Bartlett went 3 for 3, continuing his great spring at the plate

- Twins starters have an amazing 1.35 ERA through spring training and that's before Santana's performance today. Things continue to look good for the pitching staff and for the coming year.

- Scott Baker pitched two scoreless innings in relief today with three strikeouts, continuing his great spring as well.

-Nick M.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Predictions Around the American League

As we approach the beginning of the season, I've decided to take a look around each of the three American League divisions and give my predictions on how I think things will shake out and why. This is how I see each team finishing in their division, and what record I project they will finish the year with.

1. Los Angeles Angels 92-70
In a division loaded with hitting and not much pitching, the thing that might end up putting the Angels on top is the fact that they are the only team with a completely reliable closer. It's hard to pick against 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, and he is surrounded with a nice mixture of power and speed from guys like Garret Anderson and Chone Figgins. Rookie of the Year candidate Dallas McPherson must step up and produce at third base in replacement of Troy Glaus. The pitching rotation is not particularly good, led by underachievers Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn, but the bullpen should be good enough for them to close out games against the worse pitching elsewhere in the West.

2. Seattle Mariners 79-83
The additions of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson should considerably improve last year's anemic offense. If Sexson rebounds and stays healthy all year and Beltre reproduces some semblance of the season he put together in 2004, the Mariners are downright deadly 1-5 in the order. Unfortunately, the bottom part of the order could potentially be very weak. The pitching rotation is depending far too much on Jamie Moyer to continue to get batters out at age 70 and Joel Pineiro to finally develop into the dominant righty it once seemed he would be. The bullpen is terrible, with a big mess at closer.

3. Texas Rangers 75-87
With their pitching, it's miraculous that they managed to stay in the playoff picture as late as they did last season. The offense remains excellent, featuring one of the most powerful infields in Major League history with Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Alfonso Soriano, and Mark Teixera all capable of hitting over 30 home runs. Unfortunately, the pitching staff is just plain ugly. Closer Francisco Cordero throws hard but don't be surprised to see him lose the job midway through the season. The team still feature Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler", as their ace. Playoffs? Don't bet on it.

4. Oakland Athletics 60-102
The A's lost their top two pitchers in the offseason, sending Tim Hudson to Atlanta and losing Mark Mulder to St. Louis. That leaves curveballer Barry Zito and youngster Rich Harden to carry the load, and a bunch of young and unproven guys behind them. There's not much on offense outside of third baseman Eric Chavez, though Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher should develop into excellent players down the line.

1. Minnesota Twins 96-66
This is the easiest pick in the Major Leagues. Barring some sort of major breakdown, the Twins should have no trouble locking up the AL Central for a fourth straight year. This Twins team should be better than any of the any of those from the past three years, and the rest of the division is not pulling it together very quickly. Brad Radke and Johan Santana should combine for at least 35 wins, and then the Twins will just need adequate production from Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and Joe Mays. Their bullpen is second to none in the AL. If Morneau and Mauer are healthy all year and someone can rise as a legitimate third starter behind Radke and Santana, this team should have finally have what it takes to surpass the Yankees in October.

2. Cleveland Indians 88-74
The Indians should hang around with the Twins for most of the season, but I think they will fall behind in the last month or two. They have an excellent offense led by DH Travis Hafner and young catcher Victor Martinez, and the pickup of Kevin Millwood in the offseason should steady the talented young rotation. Jake Westbrook and CC Sabathia may wear down towards the end, since they will need to pitch late into games because the bullpen is questionable. Bob Wickman probably isn't going to be a very effective closer, and there is no clear-cut replacement.

3. Detroit Tigers 79-83
The Tigers continue to improve their offense but still need pitching. If Magglio Ordonez bounces back from his injury and Carlos Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez can step up and put up big numbers, this team shouldn't have much trouble producing runs. It's keeping the other team off the board that will cause problems. Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman have a lot to prove, and Jason Johnson isn't exactly a veteran ace. Troy Percival was once a great closer, but that arm doesn't have much left in it... Ugueth Urbina might be the most important piece to this bullpen. The Tigers aren't a great team, but they will finish near .500 because they will beat up on the lesser teams in the Central

4. Chicago White Sox 72-90
I am not at all big on the moves the Sox made in the off-season. The team gave up a lot of power in Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, and Frank Thomas has health issues. As such, they will rely on speed from guys like Scott Podsednik and Juan Uribe, but that just won't get it done. The pitching rotation is made up of a bunch of disappointing guys who should be great but just aren't, like Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, and Freddy Garcia.

5. Kansas City Royals 51-111
Ick. Maybe the worst team in the league. After eyeing the playoffs for much of the 2003 season, the Royals fell back into their usual slum in 2004 and there is no reason to think they will be any better this year. There are some nice young players on the offense that provide a glimmer of hope for the future, and Zach Greinke could develop into a terrific pitcher, but the rest of the rotation and the bullpen won't do much this year. Mike Sweeney could be in Anaheim or New York by the end of July.

1. Boston Red Sox 115-47
The Red Sox caught fire late last season, and with the moves they've made in the off-season, it's hard to imagine them not repeating as World Series champs. While they lost Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe from their pitching staff, they picked up strikeout master Matt Clement and David Wells and have retained their true ace in Curt Schilling. If Wade Miller can come in at some point in the season and be a factor that will be a huge bonus for them, and might end up being one of the biggest free agent signings from the off-season. The magnificient offense from last year returns almost completely intact, except for that they've actually upgraded at shortstop with Edgar Renteria. Look out.

2. New York Yankees 98-64
Randy Johnson might win the Cy Young, but the Yankees just don't look as majestic as they have in springs past. Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada are aging, Jason Giambi is coming off of serious steroid controversy in the off-season (as is Gary Sheffield, to a lesser extent), and Alex Rodriguez had a disappointing year in his first stint with the team. The Yankees have been unable to find a suitable replacement for Alfonso Soriano, and I somehow don't think that Tony Womack is the answer. They have a terrific bullpen, and Rivera is likely good for 45 saves, but the starting rotation is iffy. Johnson and Mike Mussina will be great, but can Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright produce like they did last year? In this division? Probably not.

3. Baltimore Orioles 83-81
Would probably be a playoff contender in any other division, expect their pitching staff isn't very good. The addition of Sammy Sosa to complement Miguel Tejada, the best shortstop in the Majors, and Melvin Mora, a very underrated third-baseman, should help boost this team's offense is Sosa can at least have a decent year. If Sidney Ponson can at least pitch respectably, and a couple of the guys behind him in the rotation can step up and win more than 10 games, this team should slug its way to .500.

4. Toronto Blue Jays 77-85
They're right behind the Orioles, and may surpass them next year after they spend some of the loads of money they've got. For right now, they're not quite there yet. They're outfield looks pretty solid, featuring Vernon Wells and complemented by Frank Catalanotto and Alexis Rios. The infield is less impressive, but if Shea Hillenbrand can return to form then he and Corey Koskie might make for one of the better corner infield packages in the league. Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, and David Bush should form an excellent top of the rotation, but the bullpen is pathetic. No one here can close.

5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays 59-103
Same sad story. All things considered, their team really isn't that bad this year... Carl Crawford is a stud, and Aubrey Huff can really hit. Roberto Alomar might have one decent season left in him. In terms of pitching, they are really hoping that the hot prospect Scott Kazmir can step up and perform at a Major League level, because they need him badly. Dewon Brazelton should have a pretty good year. The bullpen is nothing special, but it's actually probably more well-rounded than Baltimore's or Toronto's.

-Nick N.

The Nicks' Picks

Hello. There is a blogger competition this year for picks from MVP, Cy Youngs, to the World Series winners. Here are our picks for 2005.

Nick Mosvick
NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt
AL Cy Young: Johan Santana
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero
Central: St. Louis
West: San Fransisco
East: Florida
Wild Card: Chicago
Central: Twins
West: Los Angeles Angels
East: Boston
Wild Card: New York
St. Louis over San Francisco; Florida over Chicago
Florida over St. Louis
New York over Twins; Boston over Los Angeles
Boston over New York
Florida over Boston

Nick Nelson
NL Cy Young: Ben Sheets
AL Cy Young: Randy Johnson
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero
Central: St. Louis
West: Los Angeles Dodgers
East: Florida
Wild Card: Atlanta
Central: Minnesota
West: Los Angeles Angels
East: Boston
Wild Card: New York
St. Louis over Atlanta; Florida over Los Angeles
Florida over St. Louis
Boston over Los Angeles; Minnesota over New York
Boston over Minnesota
Boston over Florida

Monday, March 14, 2005

Position Analysis: Right Field

Many felt that last year would be Jacque Jones' last as a Minnesota Twin. Jason Kubel, widely viewed as the best hitting prospect of any minor league organization, seemed ready for a regular Major League gig, but plans fell apart when he shredded his knee in the fall league. Kubel will not be available until 2006, so Jones was given a one-year extension, and now it appears that 2005 will likely be his last season with the Twins.

Much like his buddy Torii Hunter, Jones is a free swinger. He gets up there and hacks at a lot of bad pitches that are out of the strike zone, and as a result, he strikes out a lot. That said, he has a nice swing and when he connects, he hits the ball hard. He has good power to the opposite field. He put up some nice power numbers last year with 24 home runs and 80 RBI, but also had a career low with only 22 doubles. He is a decent base-stealer, as he has stolen 13 bases in each of the last two years. The difference is that two years ago it was on 14 attempts (meaning he was only caught once) and last year it was on 23 attempts (meaning he was caught ten times).

The Twins could really use a year out Jones like he had in 2002, when he hit .300 with an OPS of .852. We know he's got it in him, but he is going to need to work on becoming more selective at the plate and hitting left-handed pitchers more effectively. See the position analysis for left field for information on backups, as they are essentially the same at this position.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Position Analysis: Center Field

Since he came up five years ago, Torii Hunter has amazed me more and more every year. He is a gifted, athletic center-fielder whose skills don't seize to throw me in awe. He is often compared to Kirby Puckett, but defensively, I think he may be better.

Torii Hunter is the best defensive outfielder in the major leagues. He never gives up on a ball. He throws all his energy and his body into every hit he goes after. He has a great arm. And he has made some of the most spectacular catches ever. Andruw Jones? Great, but not Torii. Same with Mike Cameron. I see him perfecting the art yearly and he's almost a guaranteed Gold Glove winner again this year.

At the plate, Hunter is inconsistent. Like many Twins hitters, he gets impatient and swings at some terrible pitches. But he's strong and has plenty of power to both sides of the field if he relaxes and uses it. If he can put it together, Torii is perfectly capable of .280, 30 HR, 100 RBI season. Oh, and he's also a great base runner. He does make mistakes, yes, but like with his defense, he never gives up and he puts all his energy into his running game as well. White Sox, last July anyone? I believe Manager Guillen said he wished he had that energy in his guys.

And thats what Hunter really does. He leads. And he has been evolving into a leader over the years and he's perfect for the role. He comes to the field every day and plays his heart out, and for that, he's one of the most respectable baseball players out there. Sure, he talks smack sometimes, but he backs it up. He wants the Twins to win, and with another healthy, good season from Hunter, the Twins should do just that.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Position Analysis: Left Field

One of the quietest great hitters in the league is Shannon Stewart. He might be the best lead-off hitter in the AL outside of Ichiro. At the All-Star break in 2003, the Twins were underachieving and in need of some kind of boost to get them past the White Sox and back into first place. The trade for Shannon Stewart at first seemed puzzling... why trade a young switch-hitter with great potential like Bobby Kielty for an older veteran like Stew? The move paid off, as Stewart's .322 batting average after coming to the Twins was widely hailed as the key factor in their hot second half and their capture of a second straight AL Central title, even garnering him some MVP consideration. Last year, Stewart hit .304 with 11 homers and 47 RBI while being limited to 92 games thanks to a nagging plantar fascitis problem in his foot.

While he's never going to steal 51 bases in a season again like he did in 1998, Stewart is a good, smart baserunner. And his expertise at the plate goes beyond the outstanding .380 on-base percentage he posted last year. He is a patient hitter who sees a lot of pitches, which is a tremendously important quality in a lead-off man, especially when he's hitting in front of young, inexperienced players like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Last season, for the first time in his career, Stewart walked more than he struck out.

Shannon is not going to amaze anyone with his power or speed, but he is one of the better natural hitters in baseball, and a very important piece to the Twins lineup. If he is healthy all year, expect something in the range of .315/15/60. If his foot is back to normal, there is no reason to believe he can't be perfectly effective in the field. But if he has really lost a step and can't field the position a little better than he did last year, the Twins might want to consider putting Lew Ford in left field and batting Stewart at DH. Other options in left, should an injury occur, include Michael Cuddyer if he's not at third, Nick Punto if he's not at short, and Mike Ryan/Michael Restovich/whoever makes the team as a backup outfielder.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Position Analysis: Third Base

When Michael Cuddyer was drafted in 1997, he was taken ahead of some hefty names. Like Lance Berkman. The Twins have long hoped to see him become the prospect they drafted eight years ago. I believe when he wins the third base job this year, we should see that fulfilled.

There are, of course, other possibilites for third base. Eric Munson is one. He has a powerful bat, but he hasn't quite developed into a consistent hitter and his defense isn't an upgrade by any means to Cuddyer's. Munson should end up on the bench this year and he should be a vast improvement over Jose Offerman from last year (whose defense was embarrasing). And as we've mentioned, there is the possibility of having Rivas at short, Cuddyer at second, and Munson at third. But its not likely to happen.

Cuddyer should have a good year and should be a fine replacement for Corey Koskie. Koskie was a streaky hitter with a long swing much like Shawn Green's. Sure, like Green, he would get into grooves and slam HRs left and right. But usually, it wasn't great. And he couldn't handle lefties. Cuddyer should be consistent. He's a great overall athlete with an excellent swing. I see .280-.300 average, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs. Those are good numbers, and they could be even better. Defensively, Cuddyer may seem a little unfit now, but he'll adjust quickly. He's an outstanding athelete who should have no problem at third after getting adjusted.

Overall, I expect Michael Cuddyer to be this year's everyday third baseman. I think, out of the expected infield, Cuddyer and Morneau will have good years, while Rivas and Castro or whomever plays short are big question marks.


And in other Twins news, Johan Santana pitched three scoreless innings today in a 2-3 loss to the Devil Rays. Joe Mauer had two hits as a DH. Yesterday, Joe Mays and Brad Radke both had bad outings. This could be a bad sign, as Mays needs to be a counted on as a stable 5th starter.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Position Analysis: Shortstop

Shortstop is the most unstable position on the Twins coming into this spring. With the loss of underachiever Cristian Guzman, there is no clear replacement. Nothing is sure at this point, so I will just go through the four candidates, in order of who is most likely to grab the starting spot.

1. Juan Castro
I have trouble putting Castro at the top of this list now. The Twins picked him up in the off-season from Cincinatti. He is a career backup who can't hit much but has historically played good defense, and that seems to be what Ron Gardenhire is looking for at the shortstop position this season. However, his defense this spring has been shaky at best. For his sake, I hope it is just some winter rust that needs to be shaken off, but if he doesn't start to reduce his errors, he is going to slide down this list.

2. Jason Bartlett
Bartlett is the young stud. After batting .331 with a whopping seven triples in 269 at-bats in AAA Rochester last season, he reminds some of a certain bearded shortstop who had a penchant for the triple a few years ago. While his minor league success would indicate that Bartlett is a mortal lock for the starting spot, the Twins just don't seem to feel that he quite ready yet for a full-time Major League gig. His defense isn't quite where they want it to be yet. Nonetheless, unless Castro can clean up his act, Bartlett (who is hitting .385 this spring) might find himself the victor in this competition regardless of whether the Twins feel he is ready.

3. Nick Punto
Before players reported to camp, you would've found Punto at the top of this list. The scrubby switch-hitter who came over in the Eric Milton trade with Philadelphia hussles and plays good defense, and swings a decent stick, but his injury problems have gotten to the point where the team is just fed up with him. This year he has reported problems with his lower back, and he is being limited greatly in practice and exhibition play. Since the news isn't really that this is getting better, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Punto will be ready to go on Opening Day, much less be the starting shortstop.

4. Augie Ojeda
Ojeda is a nice defensive player who doesn't hit much, making him a younger and less experienced version of Castro. Last year, in limited Major League play with the Twins, Ojeda batted .339 and in 59 at-bats and showed some patience in drawing ten walks, so it's hard to completely discount him; but in the most Major League action he's seen, back in 2001 with the Cubs when he put in 144 at-bats, he hit just .201. In 2002 and 2003, he hit below .200 in his Major League stints. He's a nice player, but I just don't see Augie getting a regular gig this year.

Now, another possibility that has been hinted at is that the Twins will simply have a platoon set up at shortstop where they rotate different players through the spot regularly. This is a last option, because Gardenhire would certainly rather send one guy out there on a regular basis, but if no one stands out enough to win the job this spring, it is a very realistic possibility. In the event of a platoon, Bartlett would not be included so that he could get regular at-bats down at the AAA level. Even if he gets healthy, Punto might be more valuable to the Twins as a backup, since he can play most positions on the field and provides a speedy pinch-runner or switch-hitter off the bench.

Look for Castro to be standing on the left side of second base on Opening Day, but don't be surprised to see somebody else.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Position Analysis: Second Base

Luis Rivas should have been out of the Twins organization three years ago when it became clear he couldn't perform as well as many had thought. Rivas is not as careless as Cristian Guzman, but he is not a natural second baseman and his hitting has always been sub-par. When will he ever learn how to relax and slap the ball, like say Luis Castillo? He is not a power hitter, and when he realizes this and stops swinging at terrible pitches, perhaps he will stop being a rally-killer. This is why second base could be problematic this year from the Twins.

However, as my associate Nick Nelson has pointed out, Rivas could be moved to shortstop, his natural position. Rivas has a strong arm and that can cause him to make mistakes at second he may not make at shortstop. Also, if he is at shortstop, then we may not have to live a season with the mediocre play of someone like Juan Castro. That would allow the Twins to play Michael Cuddyer in his more natural position at second. Since Cuddyer hasnt played many games, its hard to judge his defense. Last year, he looked a little sloppy, but I'd say give it time. If he moves from third, we can have Eric Munson or Terry Tiffee play third. Munson gives the Twins some pop at the end of their lineup, unlike Castro, who would be a rally-killer. If not Munson or Tiffee, there is Joe Mauer, who doesn't appear to have a long future catching at this time.

The hope is that if everyone plays their natural positions, they relax and thus, their offensive numbers improve. If we can have successful season from Cuddyer, Munson, and Rivas in the bottom of the order, that should make the Twins a fairly potent offensive team.

However, such a move is unlikely and I assume that Gardenhire will keep Rivas at second base. In that case, don't expect much. Rivas' defense is brilliant at times, but is usually mediocre. At the plate, he always tries too hard, swinging at pitches in the dirt like he's Vladimir Guerrero. That style of play needs to stop if Twins hope to get anything out of Rivas this year. Rivas needs to help the team now and start playing like the player he was supposed to be three years ago.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Position Analysis: First Base

Starting at first base for his first full season in the Majors will be the most exciting player in the Twins lineup, Justin Morneau, and all signs are pointing to a huge season. Morneau has shown great power at every level, and hit 19 home runs in just 74 games at the Major League level last season, and his combined total of 41 dingers between AAA and the Majors last year was the most in the Twins organization since Tom Brunansky in 1984. At age 23, he can only get better from here. Not only does Morneau have a penchant for hitting a lot of homers, he really POUNDS the ball. Last year, he regularly put the ball several rows back into the upper deck of the Metrodome, and many will remember the ball he clubbed in Milwaukee that set a record for the longest home run in Miller Park's (admittedly short) history. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Justin is that, unlike most power-hitters who come up quickly through the minors and are known for just slamming the baseball, he doesn't strike out too much. Morneau showed much better plate discipline last year than he did in his Major League stint in 2003. 54 strikeouts in 280 at bats is definitely not too shabby. There aren't too terribly many question surrounding him this year, although he will need to improve his hitting against left-handed pitchers. His defense, while certainly a step down from Doug Mientkiewicz, is better than a lot of people give it credit for. While he won't save a ton of errors for Michael Cuddyer and whoever starts at short, he won't commit too many on his own. In 567 total chances last year, Morneau had only 3 errors.

It is imperative that Morneau remain healthy all season, because there isn't much depth at first base. Matt LeCroy will likely spell him frequently throughout the course of the year, and Cuddyer can also play first if needed. If Eric Munson makes the team, he provides another backup first baseman.

Although he doesn't carry major injury concerns into the season, Morneau did collect just about every type of sickness known to man in the offseason. Therefore, he might get off to a bit of a slow start as he tries to regain his strength. If he remains healthy all year, there is no reason to think that he won't hit 40 home runs and 100+ RBI, providing the Twins with their first real power-hitter in decades.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Position Analysis: Catcher

Alright all, beginning today we are starting position anaylsis for the pre-season. To begin, I am starting with catchers. The Twins seemingly have three options: Joe Mauer, Mike Redmond, and (hold your breath) Matthew LeCroy.

LeCroy is obviously a bad option, seeing as his defense and throwing skills are non-existent. His role as a DH seems secure, though I dont know how good of a DH he is and I believe Shannon Stewart is the best DH option we have.

Redmond is this year's Blanco. He is a solid defensive catcher with a good arm, but naturally his bat is his downside. But thats not what he is here for. There are two reasons for Mike Redmond's presence. Besides obviously being a defensive backup, he needs to be a quick second-option in the case that Joe Mauer's knee doesnt hold up. Secondly, he's a veteran and thats key because he can hold our pitching staff together. With a team like the Twins that relies sooo much on its pitching, its very important to have a veteran presence who can call games and be a leader, especially if Mauer goes down injured again.

That leads us into Mr. Mauer. Mauer is an extremely gifted athelete who combines maturity, good defense, and phenomenal bat control. His presence in the line-up, if consistent, can change the course of the year for the Twins. If Stewart is our number 1, then Mauer is our number 2 in the batting order. That gives us two great hitters with great bat control at the top of the lineup. Its not quite as good as Florida's Pierre-Castillo combo, but its close. If he can make through the year healthy, that gives the Twins a well-needed offensive boost. And its not as if Mauer hurts with the glove. If the knee holds up, he'll be comfortable and skillful behind the plate. As fellow analysist Nick Nelson says, Mauer is considered the best defensive catcher in the league. If healthy, there is not objective measure of his importance to the team.

So best-case senario is Mauer is healthy and gives us the season we hoped for last year. Worst-case is we end up with a situation similar to last years, platooning catching between Redmond and LeCroy.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The 8th and 9th Inning- Protected Through 2007

My associate Mr. Mosvick touched on this in his post yesterday, but I thought I would dedicate a little more time to a move the Twins made this weekend that I find very intriguing. The Twins gave two-year extensions to setup man Juan Rincon as well as All-Star closer Joe Nathan. The two-year, $1.4 million deal for Rincon does not surprise me nearly as much as the deal that will keep Nathan in a Twins uniform through 2007 with a club option for 2008. Judging by the team's history, I was almost sure the Twins would try to get one more great season out of Nathan, who is now widely considered to be one of the top 5 or 6 closers in baseball, and then let him go grab the big bucks in free agency. It would make sense, since they have a replacement in the form of Jesse Crain waiting in the wings. But by giving Nathan this two-year, $10 million extension, the team has really shown me something. They are not content to stop with just locking up their best starters like Johan Santana and Brad Radke for the next few years, they want to keep this whole pitching staff together. Moves like that are what will give this team a serious chance to win a championship within the next couple years.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

First Preseason Win!

Hey all-

The Twins won their first two preseason games today. Brad Radke pitched two solid innings, as did Juan Rincon. Bad sign however: Juan Castro made three errors! If Castro is supposed to be a good defensive player, but a vacant offensive force, three-error games will not cut it, spring training or not. Otherwise, bench hopeful Jason Tyner had a home run and three RBIs while Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, and Matt LeCroy all saw action and got hits as the Twins beat the Red Sox 12-7.

In another game against the Pirates, other regulars also saw action. Jacques Jones had two hits, Jason Bartlett had two hits, and Eric Munson and Michael Cuddyer each had one. Up-and-coming pitching prospect Scott Baker pitched two perfect innings. Baker, along with J.D. Durbin, are both great pitching prospects who are competiting for the fifth spot in the rotation. A good spring should mean a spot on the team later in the year and likely next year.

However, the best Twins news has to be the signing of Joe Nathan to a two-year extension. Like with Santana, the Twins stepped up and gave well-earned money to a core playing for a team that relies on its pitching and defense. This is great news and gives more hope and exciting to the coming season.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Another Possible Combination

It seems the leading candidate for the Twins starting shortstop spot this season is Juan Castro. Gardenhire has stated that he would rather have more defense at the expense of offense, and Castro falls right into this mold with his reliable glove and .226 career batting average. In my opinion, starting Castro is not a good idea, because with him and second baseman Luis Rivas in the 8 and 9 spots, the bottom of the order becomes far too weak. If Michael Cuddyer doesn't pull it together offensively this year, you could potentially have automatic outs 7-9 in the order, which, needless to say, would kill a lot of rallies and prevent this offense from having much success. There is no clear solution for the problem, because none of the other options at shortstop have shown the clear ability to produce at the Major League level. But here's an idea that I haven't seen yet:

Move Rivas back to his natural position of shortstop, and put Cuddyer at second. Then insert Eric Munson at third base. Of course, this idea hinges Munson having a good spring and showing that he can hit better than his lousy .212 average from last year, but the guys got some real power. People talk about how many dingers Justin Morneau can hit with a full season's worth of at-bats, but in just 41 more at bats last year, Munson hit the same number of homers as Morneau. Granted, he also struck out 32 more times, but if the guy could find some discipline at the plate I think he could be a solid regular player. Another option in this situation would be Terry Tiffee, who had some success at the Major League level late last season. I don't personally believe Tiffee is ready to be a regular in the Majors, but he is at least an option that could be looked at if he has a good spring.

In any event, I realize this idea will probably not even be considered, but it's just a thought. I really don't think that you lose much defensively going from Cuddyer to Munson at third, as Cuddyer is more comfortable at second base anyway. Rivas has the range and arm strength to be as effective a shortstop as any of the candidates currently trying for the position.

On another note, when is JC Romero going to put it together? The success of our bullpen depends very much on him this season, as we need him to be the guy who can come in and get left-handed hitters out. He's certainly got the skill, but he just can't seem to get there mentally. In today's 5-2 spring training loss to the Blue Jays, Romero walked three batters and hit another all in one inning, allowing three runs in.

-Nick N.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

First Game of Spring

I must say I was very excited at 6 o'clock this evening when I turned on the 'CCO on my radio and heard the voice of John Gordon pronouncing "Twins baseball on the air". The game itself, a 4-3 loss against the Red Sox, was not particularly interesting outside of being the first Twins game of 2005. Not a single projected starter played in the game (except for probable DH Lew Ford). The Twins fielded Matthew LeCroy, Luis Rodriguez, Eric Munson, and Bartlett in the infield; with Mike Ryan, Armando Ríos and Ford in the outfield and Mike Redmond at catcher. A few speculations below...

*Bartlett, a contender for the starting job at shortstop this season, batted lead-off and start the game with a base hit. He ended up scoring on a wild pitch.

*Kyle Lohse started the game, and pitched two innings, allowing a run. JD Durbin pitched the next two. He looked good in his first inning of work, but ran into some trouble in his second, walking a couple guys and loading up the bases with no outs, then allowing a run to score on a base hit. He ended up working out of the jam though.

*The mid-inning subs included 2B Brent Abernathy, 3B Andy Fox, and CF Jason Tyner. All are offseason pickups, none of whom are expected to make the Major League club, but I recognized them because they have all started for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays within the past few years. Guess that says something for the D-Rays.

The Twins play again tomorrow against Toronto, and the game actually should feature some starters.

-Nick N.

Hello all! Spring Training Preview

Hey! Welcome to Nick and Nick's Twins Blog. To get this site off the ground, I'd like to begin with a Spring Training Preview.

Starting Pitching: Johan Santana was signed this off-season to a 4 year, $40 million deal. Now that he is not in a contract year, Santana may slide a little, but I believe his work-ethic and natural talent will persevere. Expect around a 3.00 ERA, 15-20 wins and 250 k's. Brad Radke makes for a good 1-2 punch, as he is always reliable. He'll need to lock in and win 15-20 games as well this year to help the Twins to the playoffs. After that, there are a lot of questions marks that need to go right if the Twins want to get past the first round of the playoffs. Like the Timberwolves, they have a very talented core, but they dont have all the X-factors going their way in the playoffs. That means Kyle Lohse needs to step up and have the year he has always been capable of. Carlos Silva needs to step up and repeat last year's success and avoid a breakdown at the end of the year, which was a problem in the playoffs. And lastly, either Joe Mays or J.D. Durbin needs to fill out the rotation. If Mays can pitch as he did in 2001, that would be a huge plus for the Twins.

Bullpen: The Twins bullpen is one of the better ones in the AL. It is filled with good, strong young arms. It all starts with Joe Nathan, who proved throughout last year just what a strong, smart pitcher he is. If he can have a 40-45 SV season, that would nearly assure the Twins the AL Central. Beyond Nathan is Juan Rincon. Rincon was a problem during the playoffs, as he did not step up and help support Joe Nathan when the team needed it most and of course, he threw a horrible curve that allowed aging slugger Ruben Sierra to homer the Yankees past the Twins. From there, the Twins have many young arms lining up. Grant Balfour has the talent to be a good setup pitcher, as does Jesse Crain, the possible future closer. If these pitchers can live up to their talent, expect great things for the Twins this year.

Infield: The big question mark. No regulars from last year return except Luis Rivas and that's a bad thing. Rivas has never lived up to his potential and I am starting to believe he may not have the potential everyone has long advertised. Justin Morneau showed last year what a force he can be in the lineup and he proved to be stable at 1B. If he's healthy, I'd expect the first 30-40 HR, 100 RBI from a Twin since 1987. At third, it is likely Michael Cuddyer's turn to step up. Cuddyer is a good, natural hitter with a sweet swing. Finally having full playing time should help him achieve the numbers he is capable of. At short, there is a competition between four mediocre candidates. The best, Jason Bartlett, isn't ready for the Majors quite yet. He's a great hitter with lots of potential, but his defense and confidence need more work. Other than that, our best bet is probably Nick Punto if he remains healthy. Punto is an energetic player who will work well within the existing team chemistry.

Outfield: Pretty much the same as last year. Sandwiched between Morneau and Jacque Jones (or Mauer), Torii Hunter should have a great season. Expect the usually incredible defense with a .270 average, 30 HRs and maybe 100 RBI. Jones should be a lock for another reliable season, as should Shannon Stewart. However, Stewart's best use is DH. The Twins will likely run out Lew Ford instead, whose breakout year in 2004 showed his bursting potential. Expect a good season from a strong Twins outfield.

Overall: The Twins should win the AL Central again, but it's the playoffs that have always been the problem. They haven't had the X-factors and leaders to take them to the next level. That means Santana, Radke, Nathan, Hunter, and Morneau need to all take it to the next level.

Cheers to another great looking Twins season!

~ Nick M.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

About This Blog

UPDATED: 2/24/11
Nick's Twins Blog is an independent and unofficial journal featuring regular updates and analysis on the Minnesota Twins. It is operated by Nick Nelson, a 25-year-old Minneapolis resident and lifelong baseball fan. Entries on this blog discuss player performance, game strategy, team moves, prospect analysis and a wide range of other topics relating to the Twins as well as the rest of Major League Baseball.

The site launched in March of 2005 as Nick & Nick's Twins Blog, a joint venture between Nelson and fellow fan Nick Mosvick. In August of 2007, Mosvick moved to Virginia to pursue a law school degree and ceased to be a regular contributor to the site. Ultimately, this prompted a change in the blog's name, although Mosvick remains an occasional contributor. In total, this blog has published over 1,500 articles in its six-plus years of operation.

The mission of this blog is to provide a balanced look at the team without being overly positive or negative. There are blogs and media publications out there that come off as overly pessimistic, while others have the opposite problem. The goal here is to inject a healthy dose of objectivity and criticism into baseball analysis while combining that with a passion for the Twins and a desire for the team and its players to succeed.

Nick Nelson graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a Journalism degree. Aside from this blog, he has written for,, Heater Magazine, GameDay Magazine and other publications.  You can contact him at [email protected]

Nick's Twins Blog is a proud affiliate of's SweetSpot Network