The baseball season has started, and I am tardy. I wanted to give a baseball preview, but I was a little behind, so this week, I plan on blogging like a madman. I'm going to go division by division, while throwing in a little tidbit on something else, here and there. We'll see how this goes.
But now, let's talk Twins.
As with any year, the Twins' strength lies in their pitching, so I'll start there. Johan Santana is unquestionably a brilliant pitcher, despite his early season troubles. Given a decent team, he won't be stoppable in the post season. Brad Radke is a man I worry about. He's getting older, losing some velocity, and historically has had a propensity for giving up the long ball. I fear this trend will only continue this year. Carlos Silva is another guy I worry about, but not as much. He relies on ground balls, instead of strike outs. He'll always give up too many hits, but he gets through it by allowing very few walks. The rest of the potential starters, currently labeled as Kyle Lohse and Scott Baker, still need to come into their own before they can be fully trusted. The starting pitching is still good, however there are more question marks here than any Twins fan wants to believe.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is set. No more J.C. Romero, no more Terry Mulholland. Instead, they have been replaced by the top prospect in the Twins system, Francisco Liriano, and for the moment, young Willie Eyre, who will only get better (instead of deteriorate, like Mulholland). The bullpen will be the pitching salvation if they are used correctly.
The highlights of the offense will be the top three, Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer, as one of those three will always be on base. Rondell White is a better cleanup hitting option than the Twins have had in years, although Tony Batista has the power they would like to put in the four spot, if he could only bat above the .230 mark. Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau will bat in between White and Batista, and both will bat at around .260 with 25 home runs, unless Morneau can maintain his current Team Canada/Spring Training stroke, in which case he could top 30 dingers with a .280 average. If thats the case, expect him to replace White as the cleanup hitter. Jason Kubel is a question mark batting 8th. Will he be healthy, and if so, will he live up to the hype? A lot remains to be seen. Juan Castro bats ninth, and is obviously in the lineup for his defense.
Speaking of defense (nice segue!), the Twins will be solid up the middle, and a little questionable on the corners. The team has good fielding pitchers, and Luis Castillo and Juan Castro in the middle infield should be formidble for bleeders trying to sneak through for singles. Not to mention Joe Mauer at the plate and the serviceable (note the understatement) Torii Hunter in the outfield, the heart of the Twins defense will be reliable. At the corners, though, there are question marks. Tony Batista's defense is best left unspoken of, and Shannon Stewart throws like a girl. And not one of those softball playing, good throwing girls either. Jason Kubel in right raises some questions too, as he missed all of last year after destroying his knee. Does he have the range to play out there? Justin Morneau is a pretty ok defensive player, but he still ranks number 5 in terms of defenders on this team.
The bench is pretty good, mostly for defensive purposes, which seems a waste to me since, as I have mentioned, the Twins have an above average defense. Lew Ford, Luis Rodriguez, Nick Punto and Mike Redmond are all predominantly defensive replacements. The only guy in the system who would be a good pinch hitter is Ruben Sierra, who is starting the season in Rochester.
I predict that some players, like Tony Batista, Justin Morneau and Kyle Lohse will exceed expectations. This will help the Twins gain one of the top two spots in the division, while the Indians get the title. I think the Twins are finally addressing their needs, which is a good sign for a mid season acquisition. I'll be back later with a completely unrelated post.