Results tagged ‘ Minnesota Twins ’
In the first 9 seasons of Ron Gardenhire’s reign as manager of the Minnesota Twins the franchise won 6 division titles and finished with a winning record in every season but 2007. Gardenhire’s teams have never made much noise in the playoffs but that has as much to do with the vagaries of the playoffs system as it does with the success of the organization. Six division titles and five 90-win seasons is in nine years is a remarkable stretch of success for a team that has never ranked near the top of the league in payroll, and it stands in stark contrast to the failures of the past 2 seasons. Many of those division title-winning teams were led by a solid offenses that worked like crazy to get on base and pitching staffs heavy on guys with great control and light on players with big strikeout ability. That organizational philosophy blew up in Minnesota’s face during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, as the Twins ranked 2nd to last in run prevention both seasons. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see the organization attack its weakest point by acquiring a trio of young pitchers to rehabilitate a wounded staff.
For the past couple of seasons, Sports Illustrated’s excellent Tom Verducci has written a pre-season article concerning the “Year-After Effect”, which has since been named the Verducci Effect. This link, contains the 2012 version of Verducci’s list, which was published all the way back in mid-January. This type of thinking is especially important when we consider innings caps for young pitchers, as evidenced by the recent shut downs of Stephen Strasburg, Jeff Samardzija, and others.
Basically Verducci tries to highlight young pitchers who have seen a considerable increase in their workloads from one season to the next. It’s interesting research mostly because it attempts to spotlight at-risk pitchers, ones who may see a substantial increase in ERA at best, and ones who may become injured at worst.
One of the toughest things to quantify in all of sports is a catcher’s value on defense. Their are so many responsibilities and subtle nuances that go into being a quality Major League backstop. The best of the best are able to deftly juggle the responsibilities of managing a pitching staff, framing borderline pitches, blocking pitches, holding base runners, throwing said runners out when they attempt to steal, and much, much more. Recently I’ve been doing some research into catching defense and I have been somewhat unsatisfied by both the traditional statistics (caught stealing %, passed balls, and so on) and by the advanced metrics (URZ and defensive runs saved). A few excellent studies in particular have been done to analyze a catcher’s ability to frame pitches, but otherwise most analysis is left to judgment. I’ve been compiling some of my own numbers relating to catchers controlling the base running game in order to gain a better understanding of who the best backstops in baseball really are, and I’d like to share some of my findings today.
We’ve already talked about the Ichiro trade, the early sales from South Beach, a pair of deals made by the Phillies to improve NL West contenders, and the Zach Greinke deal was covered perfectly by Jonah Keri, so now it’s time to take a look at the rest of the deals around the major leagues during this busy last week, beginning with a trade that has flown completely under the radar thus far.
Before the 2012 season, nearly every baseball analyst, including yours truly, picked the Detroit Tigers to absolutely dominate what looked to be a weak division. Well half of that prediction has come true thus far, because the AL Central has indeed been the weakest division in baseball. In fact its been so bad its time to dust off the old nickname, the Comedy Central. Currently the slumping White Sox hold a slim half game lead over the win-a-game-lose-a-game Indians, and a 2.5 game lead over the struggling Tigers. If baseball abolished divisions and moved all teams into one league, no AL Central team would rank among the top 5 in the American League. So does anyone really want to win this thing? Let’s take a look to see which team has the best chance, starting with those White Sox.
Its been an ugly season so far in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, as the Twins are already out of contention, fighting with the lowly Cubs, losers of 12 straight, for the unceremonious title of worst team in baseball. There are plenty of reasons for the Twins terrible 15-32 record so far. Chief among them is the fact that the pitching staff has given up 264 runs this seasons. That’s 60 more runs than a league average staff and a whopping average of 5.62 runs allowed a game. But as I was perusing the interwebs, I stumbled upon this post by Nick Nelson, on good ‘ole ESPN.com, and was given another reason for Minnesota’s struggles: Joe Mauer.
- Mother’s Day Walk-Off Grand Slams. Both Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto made their mother’s happy yesterday, hitting game-winning grand slams. Stanton leveled the baseball he hit, blasting a no-doubt homer to left-center field, off the catwalk, over 430 feet away. Very few players have the power to hit a ball where Stanton hit his blast, and it caps off an impressive week for the young slugger. Stanton has 2 homers, 4 doubles, 10 RBI and is batting .381 over the last 10 games. The Marlins are going as Stanton goes, and it’s no coincidence that his hot streak has led to a 10 win-2 loss stretch for the team. Votto’s grand slam was a bit more dramatic, coming with 2 outs and 2 strikes, the Reds trailing by a lone run. He got a good pitch to handle from Henry Rodriguez and stayed on the ball to drive it to deep centerfield for a homer. Votto single-handedly won the game for Cincinnati, going 4-5 with 3 homers, a double, 4 runs scored, and 6 RBI. He bumped his batting average up to .319, and already leads the NL in walks and doubles. If Votto can keep it up he stands a good chance of winning his 2nd MVP award.
- Atlanta’s balanced attack. The most impressive series victory of the entire season in the National League occurred over the weekend when the Braves completed their sweep of the previously red-hot St. Louis Cardinals with a 7-4 victory on Sunday. Atlanta also passed St. Louis as the top-scoring team in the National League, with a total of 189 runs scored, good for 2nd in baseball. The Braves have been getting good contributions throughout the lineup, with 6 of their 9 hitters checking in with an OPS+ above the league average of 97. Freddy Freeman is really beginning to blossom into an All-Star caliber 1st baseman, showing a great ability to get on base and hit for power His OPS+ of 130 ranks 2nd on the Braves and he leads the team in homeruns, 6, and RBIs, 28. Michael Bourne has been terrific since coming over from Houston at last year’s trade deadline, and is hitting .336 with 11 steals. Jason Heyward’s back problems look like a thing of the past and he is showing a new aggressiveness on the base paths, with 9 steals already, 2 shy of his career high. With Dan Uggla and Brian McCann starting to heat up, Chipper Jones bombing the ball like he did a decade earlier as well as a deep pitching staff, the Braves have all the pieces to win the NL East title this year, even with all the depth in the division.
- Shine on you crazy Diamond. Scott Diamond posted his 2nd consecutive start of 7 innings without allowing a run for the Twins on Sunday, providing the Twins some sorely needed quality innings. Minnesota has allowed the 2nd most runs in baseball this season, and despite only making 2 starts, an argument can be made that Diamond has been the team’s most effective pitcher. It’s not terribly difficult to be the best when your competition is between Carl Pavano of the 5.02 ERA in 43 innings, or Jeff Gray, the middle reliever. In Diamond’s 14 innings he has yet to allow a run, while walking just 1 batter, allowing 9 hits, and striking out 10. Diamond primarily throws a high-80s to low-90s fastball, mixing in a solid curve and change-up. Minnesota’s offense has also been terrible as well, ranking last in the American League, but at least they have found a little magic out of the former Rule-5 draft pick from the Atlanta Braves.
- Los Angeles Dodgers Schedule. Wanna know the biggest reason for the Dodgers hot start this season? Yes Matt Kemp is amazing but the Dodger’s creampuff schedule also might have something to do with it. Jonah Keri discussed their schedule earlier in the season, and things haven’t really gotten any more difficult. The Dodgers have played 25 games against teams below .500, most in the entire league. They are 17-8 in those games, feasting on the likes of San Diego 7 times, Colorado 6 times, and NL Central weaklings Houston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh 3 times apiece. The Dodgers are a solid 6-3 in games against teams above .500, but with Matt Kemp sustaining a potential hamstring injury, and the Cardinals coming to town this week, expect the Dodgers to drop off.
- 2nd base in Detroit. This position has been comically bad for the Tigers so far this season. Detroit has tried 4 different players at the position so far, a group made up of Ryan Rayburn, Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, and current Oakland A’s 3rd baseman Brandon Inge. The group’s combined numbers: a .155 batting average with 1 homer, 3 doubles, and 5 RBI. Rayburn has received the most playing time at the position, and has been the worst of the entire group, hitting .135 on the season with only 6 walks, 5 doubles, and no homers in 99 at-bats. Rayburn could find himself cut from the team if he continues to remain this ineffective at the plate. No team that expects to be competitive can have a black hole on their roster the size of the one currently in Detroit at 2nd. The Tigers plan of Verlander, Fielder, Cabrera, and not much else was a risky one, and they seem to be paying the price in the early going, particularly at 2nd base.
- Bryce Harper’s Hype. Yes he’s 19 and a very, very explosive ball player. But Harper is only hitting .231 right now in his first 60 plate appearances and looks to be overwhelmed at the plate. He also has a bit of temper problem, and gave himself 10 stitches after a temper tantrum in the dugout where Harper tried to hit his bat on the clubhouse wall, only to have it rebound back in his face. The kid is only 19 and doesn’t have a single homerun at the Major League level yet so maybe the hype about him being the next Mickey Mantle (MLB Network) or Ken Griffey Jr. (ESPN) needs to stop. Let’s have some perspective please people. Both of those players had long, very successful careers and put in the hard work to become Hall of Famers. Harper may get there some day, but for now he’s a .231 hitter, with great speed, who is a little unsure in the outfield, which is why he is late getting to the ball and needs to dive so much. Let’s actually make him do the work, and become even an average Major League hitter before anointing him as the greatest player in history.
- Extensions for Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler. Both of these talented 2nd basemen will now play for their respective teams until 2017. Kinsler is getting $82 million from Texas and has an option for 2018 as well. He has been a plus defender, possessing a strong arm and excellent range. Kinsler also has excellent power and speed, especially for a 2nd baseman, twice hitting more than 30 homers and stealing more than 30 bases. Phillips is getting $72.5 million from Cincinnati, and like Kinsler, he is also good with the bat and the glove. He’s a 3-time Gold Glove winner, with 20 homer power and a .272/.322/.433 career slash. Phillips will be 36 when his contract finishes, so it may run past his prime, but he is still an excellent 2-way player. Both of these players are in the top-5 at 2nd base, and their contracts should play out nicely for Texas and Cincinnati.
- Cardinal’s offense sans Pujols. Quick name the highest scoring team in baseball? Could it be Detroit, with their fearsome heart-of-the-order. Nah, the best offense so far resides down by the river in St. Louis. (Although Detroit is 1st in average runs per game, St. Louis has played 2 more games.) 6 regulars are hitting over .300, led by the impressive David Freese. Freese has continued his hot hitting from the 2011 playoffs, currently leading baseball in RBIs and is hitting .444/.464/.778 with 3 dingers. Yadier Molina, Lance Berkman, and the newly acquired Carlos Beltran have been excellent around Freese, combining for 5 doubles, a triple, and 5 homers. This offense hasn’t missed Pujols one bit and is easing the burden on a rotation that is missing Chris Carpenter.
- Fun Around the League. Houston pulled out some fantastic looking Colt .45 throwback jerseys yesterday against Atlanta. I think they should scratch the Astros name and go back to Colt .45’s, with these jerseys, when they move to the AL in 2013. They are the sharpest-looking throwbacks in baseball. Elsewhere, the Kansas City Royal’s Jeff Francoeur had some fun with the fans out in Oakland during a rain delay last night. It was the 2nd Annual Bacon Tuesday in Oakland, and Francoeur, being a lover of bacon, took action. He tossed a ball, wrapped with a C-note, to some A’s fans and instructed them to get him some bacon. They came back with said bacon, gave him a t-shirt, and dedicated the celebration to him. Francoeur is a fun player, who really enjoys baseball, and always keeps things lively.
- Mark Trumbo’s Transition to 3rd Base. With the signing of Albert Pujols and the return of Kendry Morales, many wondered what the Angels would do to get the talented Trumbo playing time. He was the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up last year, and has solid homerun power, so it is important to get his bat in the lineup. In Spring Training, LA worked Trout at 3rd and has given him 2 starts at the position so far. Trumbo has looked horribly out of sorts, making 3 errors in 18 innings of playing time. Most of Trumbo’s talent is tied up in his ability to drive the ball, because he doesn’t hit for a high average, draw a good number of walks, or play good defense. He may find himself stuck on the bench, because the Angels have Alberto Callaspo, who is an above-average defender with a league-average bat.
- Minnesota’s offense. On the opposite end of the spectrum from St. Louis, we have the Minnesota Twins. The offense has been completely anemic, preventing the team from winning even one of their 1st four games. The team is hitting a collective .165/.252/.240 which all rank in the bottom 3 in baseball. Six regular players, including Joe Mauer, are hitting under .200 and the team has scored 6 total runs in 4 games. Minnesota does not have a strong enough pitching staff to support such an anemic offense, and if things continue along this path, it will be a long season in the Twin Cities. One positive in the lineup is Justin Morneau, who doesn’t appear to be having any ill-effects from his concussion syndrome, hitting .308/.400/.462. Hopefully he can keep that production up, because Morneau is an MVP candidate if healthy.
- Ozzie Guillen’s Mouth. When the Marlins hired Guillen in the offseason, it wasn’t a question of if he would say something stupid, but when. Well, one week into his 1st season in South Beach he has already been suspended for 5 games for comments about respecting Fidel Castro. Well I don’t think he should have been fired, the suspension seems just a little too light. The Marlins should have expected this kind of nonsense when they made the hire. Guillen has always said anything and everything when talking to the media, and he has finally topped himself with his latest idiotic comments.
The 2012 American League Central should be a one-horse race, won by the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers enter 2012 as the heaviest division favorite in all of baseball. The middle of the division should be better than in 2011, with every team having a chance to improve upon last year’s record as well. Let’s take a look beginning with the defending Central champion Tigers.
The 2012 Tigers will be the owners of one of the most star-studded rosters in all of baseball. With Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and the newly-acquired Prince Fielder, the Motor City has no shortage of MVP candidates. Detroit has all of the pieces needed to make a World Series run and should be considered one of the favorites. Their offense is elite, finishing 4th in baseball in runs scored a year ago, and should have even more firepower in 2012. They have plenty of pitching, with both starters and relievers to spare. Defense is the only major liability however, because Detroit will be below average at 3rd, short, and 1st.
The offense will have plenty of power, provided by middle-of-the-order combo Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Each player has power, a good batting eye, and hits for a solid average. Fielder has bombed 30+ homers each of the last 5 seasons, and has posted an elite OPS+ as well. With a career .929 OPS he is a great on-base/power combination from the left side of the plate. Miguel Cabrera has been a model of consistency as well, hitting at least .300 in every season but one since 2005. The past two years Cabrera has turned into a monster, leading the American League in OBP. Planting these two sluggers will allow Detroit to challenge Boston and New York for the title of league’s best offense.
The rest of the lineup provides plenty of power as well. Delmon Young, Alex Avila, and Brennan Boesch are all power threats who could hit 20+ dingers. Avila had a career year in 2011, winning the Silver Slugger award while hitting .295/.389/.506. He provided excellent pop, going for 56 extra-base hits. His catching skills were on par as well, throwing out 32% of all base stealers.
If Detroit has any vulnerability it will be defense, where they dot the field with subpar defenders at five positions. Cabrera and Fielder in particular will be a troublesome duo, who could be particularly easy to bunt on. Both of the sluggers rated as bottom-5 1st basemen a year ago, and Cabrera will find 3rd base even less forgiving. The Tigers would be well served to use Brandon Inge’s above average glove and arm at 3rd despite his mediocre bat, if only to save some runs. Cabrera could easily be moved to DH, which could add a few wins in the standings.
Detroit had a surprisingly mediocre pitching staff in 2011, ranking 18th in baseball despite the heroics of Justin Verlander. His Cy Young/MVP double has been well documented for good reason. Verlander was just plain filthy in 2011, leading the league in wins, ERA, ERA+, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. These numbers will be tough to duplicate, but the dominant righty can be penciled in for 20 wins easily.
The 2012 Tigers will get the added benefit of a full season of Doug Fister as well. Fister destroyed hitters after he was traded to Detroit, posting a 1.79 ERA in 70 innings, while walking less than a batter per 9 and striking out over 7. While last year’s walk rate is unsustainable he should still post a solid ERA between 3 and 4. The rest of the rotation will be manned by high strikeout pitcher Max Scherzer and the very average Rick Porcello.
The bullpen has plenty of solid arms as well, led by 49/49 man Jose Valverde. Joaquin Benoit is an above average setup man and Al Albuquerque, despite his poor performance down the stretch, still posted a 1.87 ERA in 43 big league innings.
This team is spending big bucks, especially in the notoriously penny-pinching AL Central. Detroit should win the division and have its sights set on bigger goals after losing to Texas in the ALCS.
The Indians have been hyped plenty this preseason by the likes of Jonah Keri as a potential sleeper in the American League. That may be a slight over-evaluation of the team’s talent level however, because the Tribe only ranked 16th in offense and 24th in pitching a year ago. This team outplayed their pythagorean, or expected record, by 5 wins a year ago, and may not do the same again.
The roster does have a few bright spots however, in the forms of Asdrubal Cabrera and Ubaldo Jimenez. Cabrera had his coming out party in 2011, hitting .273/.332/.460 with 25 hrs while playing excellent defense. He is a bit strikeout prone but provides more pop than any shortstop this side of Tulowitzski. His middle infield partner will be youngster Jason Kipnis, who showed considerable promise hitting for an .841 OPS in 150 at-bats.
Each other lineup spot is manned by a player who can provide some offensive value, led by left-fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo struggled in 2011 after hitting at least .300 in each of the previous 3 seasons. He also is an above average fielder, possessing good instincts, quick reactions of the bat, and a very strong arm, worthy of the position. Travis Hafner is also back to reprise his free-swingning power act.
The rotation has to improve in 2012 if the Indians want to emerge as contenders, because no teams ranking as low as 24th make the playoffs. Hope is provided in 2011 trade deadline acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez relies on an arsenal of power pitches including a fastball that mysteriously lost velocity last season. It was the leagues fastest average pitching in 2010, but was down a couple miles an hour last year, which could be cause for concern. When Jimenez is on he is one of the true 10-12 aces in baseball as evidenced by his fantastic 2010, when he posted an elite 161 ERA+.
Justin Masterson, the potential #2 starter, has the ability and could be in for a strong season. He upped his K rate while also dropping his walk rate, leading to a mid-3.00 ERA. Derek Lowe, the sinkerballer, has been brought in from Atlanta to provide a steady mid-rotation presence. Josh Tomlin and Kevin Slowey are a pair of pitchers who’s ceilings are league average at best. They will probably start in the rotation to begin the season.
The bullpen will be a grab-bag and the expected closer is the mediocre Chris Perez. He has a poor 5.9 K’s/9 and walks nearly 4 batters per 9 innings as well. The rest of the ‘pen has its strengths and weaknesses, an if managed properly, it can be an asset.
This team has the potential to surprise for the 2nd year in a row, or they could bust and win 70-75 games. If Ubaldo and Masterson pitch up to their potential, Cleveland will have a 1-2 punch to compete in the American League.
Chicago White Sox
2012 will be a chance for a fresh start for the boys on the South Side of Chicago. A very green Robin Ventura will be replacing the temperamental Ozzie Guillen as manager. Departing with Guillen to South Florida is rotation mainstay and fan favorite Mark Buehrle. the 2012 Sox will be relying on plenty of players to bounce back from disappointing or injury-plagued seasons as well. The offense was a meager 19th in baseball and the starting pitching was only slightly better, ranking 17th.
The offense’s biggest problem in 2011 was an inability to get on base and a complete lack of baserunning prowess. Only Paul Konerko got on base at a rate above average and the lineup was riddled with black holes in 2011. Adam Dunn was probably the worst player ever to get 496 at-bats in baseball history a year ago. He hit .159/.292/.277 and failed to crack 35 homers for the 1st time since 2004, hitting a measly 11. If Dunn can’t get straightened out this season he could find himself released with $44 million remaining on his contract.
Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham all had down years for the White Sox as well. Rios was the worst of the 2, hitting for a 65 OPS+, ranking just above Adam Dunn as the worst hitter in baseball. Rios is on the wrong side of 30 now, and has seen his power and speed numbers decline steadily. This is not a good sign for the White Sox. Beckham is now going into his 4th major league season and has regressed each year since his first. He now has nearly 1500 career at-bats with a .249/.318/.386 slash, poor speed, and a big of a strikeout problem. If he doesn’t improve the White Sox would be wise to try someone else.
Even roster mainstays Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski will probably see some decline in their production this season. Both players are on the wrong side of 35, although each defied age a season ago to put up solid numbers. Konerko in particular had an impressive 2011, hitting .300/.388/.517 with 31 homers.
The pitching rotation offers a little more hope for improvement for Chicago. The Sox just named John Danks the Opening Day starter, but Danks was only mediocre a year ago seeing his hits per 9 inn. jump to nearly 10. He’s a good candidate to improve however, seeing as he cut his walks and raised his strikeouts, which is always a good indicator of improvement. He is also 26 and entering his prime so look for a borderline All-Star season from Danks.
Jake Peavy will also be tempting to resurrect his career after a truly gruesome arm injury in 2009. He has pitched just over 200 innings in the past 2 seasons, with middling results. His fastball is missing velocity, his curveball bite, and it has led to a career low K’s/9 rate. A healthy, strong Jake Peavy is a Cy Young candidate, but one wonders if injury has robbed Peavy and the White Sox of a truly great career. As recently as 2 weeks ago Peavy discussed the possibility of a future as a closer. This may give credence to the idea that is arm may not be able to handle 200 innings in a season, and bullpen duty may not be far away.
The rest of the rotation is composed of Gavin Floyd, Chris Sale, and Phil Humber. Sale was a strikeout machine as a reliever in 2011 and is now being moved to the rotation. The bullpen looks somewhat shallow, and with closer Matt Thorton it will probably rank in the middle of the league.
This White Sox team seems destined to struggle, with an unproven manager, an aging roster, and very little pitching depth. Expect the loses to pile up in 2012.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals enter 2012 with higher expectations than at any point in the past 5 years. The offense was the 10th best in baseball last year and should be dynamic again this season. If the abysmal pitching staff can make a sizable improvement on last year’s 26th ranking, this team could be a dark horse for the 2nd Wild Card. For a more in depth look at the Royals’ offense click here.
The offense is led by young standout Eric Hosmer. The 22 year-old, former 1st round pick, showed major promise with his bat in 2011, posting similar numbers to other slugging lefties like Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez. If Hosmer avoids the dreaded sophomore slump, he could easily hit around .300 with 25+ homeruns. Combined with a productive Alex Gordon, who hit .303/.376/.502 with 45 doubles in 2011, and Billy Butler, Kansas City has the makings of a frightening lineup.
The Royals also have the makings of a solid defense, having above average glovesman across the outfield and at shortstop. This team will probably have one of the 10 best defenses in baseball. The corner outfielders, Jeff Francouer and Alex Gordon, led baseball in outfield assists a year ago and could do it again in 2012. This will be an interesting trend to keep an eye on, because many runner may not attempt to take the extra base as often.
If Kansas City really wants to morph into a contender, it will take a massive improvement out of the rotation. Jonathan Sanchez was acquired for Melky Cabrera in the offseason, but he probably won’t be the answer the Royals are looking for. In the poor-hitting NL West, Sanchez routinely sported excellent K rates but struggled mightily with his command, posing 5.9 walks per 9. Faced with better AL offenses, Sanchez may struggle to post an ERA under 4.50. So if he isn’t the answer, than who is?
Aaron Crow, a former 2009 1st round pick out of the University of Missouri, could be. Crow was an All-Star in 2011 out of the bullpen, posting a 2.76 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 62 innings. The Royals will be looking to get about 150 innings out of Crow, and if he can post a sub-4.00 ERA, he will be the de facto ace. His fastball averages 90-93, with the ability to hit the upper 90s and he has a slider and curveball as well. Crow was a fastball-slider pitcher out of the ‘pen and will have to mix it up more as a starter.
The rest of the rotation will be Opening Day starter Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, and Danny Duffy. Duffy is a hard-throwing lefty, hitting the upper 90s on the radar with his fastball, but his secondary pitches, particularly his curve, need work. He posted a 5.64 ERA, so he’s raw, but he has a lot of potential.
The Royals are probably a year or two away, but 2012 could be a big step forward for the franchise, while providing more seasoning for the youngsters.
No team had a more disappointing 2011 season than the Twins did. They were abysmal at all aspects of baseball, finishing 25th in runs scored (2nd to last in the AL, where runs are more prevalent) and 29th in runs allowed. They were on par with Houston and Baltimore in the race for the worst team in the league. There is some cause for optimism in the Twin Cities however, and it comes in the forms of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
The Twins offense is difficult to predict going into the 2012 season, because of the injury histories of their two biggest contributors. If the M&M Boys are healthy Minnesota score 700-750 runs and be a contender. If both players struggle with injury again, Minnesota will have a bottom-5 offense and will struggle to top 70 wins. Mauer is one of the true threats in baseball to bat .400. He is the only catcher in history to win the American League batting title, and he’s done it twice! I hope he can keep his legs healthy this season, because he is one of the 5 most entertaining at-bats in baseball, provided he’s healthy.
The rest of the lineup includes 38 year-old Jamey Carroll, who was imported from the Dodgers to play shortstop. In Carroll’s long career as a utility player, he has played only 200 games at short, and this is where he rates lowest defensively. He is an adequate 3rd baseman and a good 2nd baseman, so the Twins should look to play him at either of those positions instead. Provided health is good, the Twins have plus defenders at 1st, center, and catcher, where Mauer is one of the best in baseball. Denard Span, the centerfielder, has oodles of range to track down any flies in Minnesota’s spacious 3 year-old confines.
The Twins pitching staff has plenty of feast-or-famine players who could have All-Star campaigns just as easily as 5.00 ERA seasons. Carl Pavano is a league average pitcher (98 ERA+ over his career), and will probably finish with an ERA north of 4.00. Scott BAker and Nick Blackburn are soft tossers, who get by with guile, keeping hitters off balance. Each will probably give up more than the league average in hits.
The potential standout on the pitching staff is Francisco Liriano, who’s performance tends to differ based on his control. He has one of the hardest-bitting sliders in baseball, so much so that Liriano struggles to keep it in the strike zone. In his best seasons his walk rate has fallen under 3, and when he struggles he tends to finish with a rate above 5, like he did in 2011. He strikes out plenty of hitters and he has no-hit potential, so keep an eye on his walks. If they are down he will be an ace, if not he will struggle and be run out of games early, due to a high pitch count.
Ron Gardenhire, AL manager of the year in 2010, finds himself on the hot seat entering 2012. If the Twins struggle out of the gate, he could find himself looking for a job. This team has the talent to finish around .500, although it doesn’t have the depth to do much more than that.
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
AL Central MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
AL Central Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
There is a massive gap between the talent of the Detroit Tigers and the talent of the rest of the division. I don’t believe much of the hype surrounding the Indians, and if Ubaldo Jimenez struggles, that team will be sunk. I think the Twins will bounce back nicely this season, seeing strong seasons from both Mauer and Morneau. If those 2 are productive 2nd place isn’t out of the question. Kansas City continues its steady improvement to 3rd and will truly look to compete in 2013 and beyond. The White Sox will be a tough team to watch this year, with little depth, and lots of high strikeout players.