2010 Preview: Minnesota Twins

  • Thursday, March 25, 2010 4:39 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 87-66, 1st in AL Central. Pythagorean record of 86-77.
Key Additions: 2B Orlando Hudson, SS JJ Hardy, DH Jim Thome, RP Clay Condrey
Key Losses: CF Carlos Gomez, SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede, C Mike Redmond
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 81-81, 1st in AL Central. CHONE – 85-77, 1st. CAIRO – 83.2-78.8, 1st.

Pitching: 2009 – 4.39 FIP (19th in MLB), 4.42 for starters, 4.32 for relievers
2010 – Obviously, losing closer Joe Nathan for the year will hurt, although likely not as much as you would think. The rotation has some solid arms but nothing spectacular, and the Twins will have to hope Carl Pavano's resurgence holds up. A return of the old Francisco Liriano, or even something like him, would be a tremendous boost.
Hitting: 2009 – .338 wOBA (7th in MLB)
2010 – Word has it the Twins have a catcher who can hit the ball a little bit and now might be sticking around for a while. Of course, Joe Mauer has plenty of help with Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Co. If the signings of Hardy and Hudson take at-bats away from Nick Punto, all the better.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -37.3 (28th in MLB)
2010 – Hardy will help defensively, although as good as Hudson still looks at second base, the numbers don't back it up. Delmon Young has put up UZRs of -16.4 two straight seasons, although he supposedly came to camp in better shape this year.

Reasons to Watch
1. Joe Mauer: Without getting too much into whether the Twins signing Mauer to a huge eight-year contract was good for them and/or the game in the long run, the deal certainly puts a lot of pressure on Mauer. Not just pressure to perform, which likely won't bother him, but pressure to stay healthy, which he has less control over. Of course, even during his terrific 2009, he missed the first month of the season. Mauer is one of the best players in the game, and Twins fans are obviously thrilled to have him around for the long term, but it bears watching what sort of effect the contract could have.
2. JJ Hardy: There is no doubt Hardy can pick it at shortstop, as he's averaged nearly 10 UZR over the past three years. The question is with his bat, which took a dive last year and even led to him getting sent down to Triple-A for a while (although the Brewers had an ulterior motive involving Hardy's free agency clock). Yet as recently as 2008, Hardy put up a .355 wOBA, and he's probably due for a bit of a BABIP correction this year. Hardy's glove gives him value even if he hits poorly, but if his bat regains some of its effectiveness, the Twins will have gotten a steal in their offseason trade.
3. The closer situation: The Twins essentially haven't had to worry about the ninth inning the past six years as Nathan established himself as one of baseball's few consistently reliable closers. Now it will interesting to see how manager Ron Gardenhire handles a situation he hasn't had to face for a while. Of course, Minnesota could always end up trading for help. But barring that, or until it happens, will Gardenhire hand the job to one guy (such as Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier) and hope for the best, or go with a matchup-based system? This will be worth following, especially if the Twins start having trouble at the end of games.

Paint By Numbers: It's pretty remarkable that Nick Blackurn managed a 4.03 ERA last season, considering that in 205 2/3 innings, he gave up 240 hits (second in MLB) and had a K/9 rate of 4.29 (second-lowest in MLB). Of course, Blackburn also had the seventh-best walk rate and induced a lot of ground balls. ... Of players with 300 plate appearances last season, Delmon Young had the fourth-lowest walk rate at 2.9% and swung at 59.3% of pitches he saw, which was third-highest. ... Last season, the Twins ranked 29th in wOBA at second base, with the fearsome trio of Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla contributing most to a line of .208/.299/.266.

Blog Jog: With Nathan opting for surgery, Aaaron Gleeman brings a heavy dose of rationality to the discussion of how the Twins should fill the void. ... And here is Gleeman's take on the Mauer deal. ... Over the Baggy has a nice in-depth interview with Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony. ... Nick Nelson provides a comprehensive preview of the Twins' bullpen (and check out the other positions, too).

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2 Things I Want To Happen In '10

  • Monday, February 15, 2010 7:00 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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We're getting close.

Teams officially start reporting to Spring Training on Wednesday, so with two days left before then, I give you "2 Things I Want to Happen In '10."

Just two? Well, I certainly could think of a lot more. But hey, I'm not greedy.

1. I want the Rays to recapture the AL East championship.

You see, there are these two teams, the New York Somethings and the Boston, uh, I forget. Something to do with footwear, I think? It's so hard to remember, given their obscurity and utter lack of coverage in the media (What's with that West Coast bias, ESPN?).

In all seriousness though, the Rays winning the 2008 AL East title was so refreshing, I find myself wanting more. Sure, Yankees and Red Sox fans and the TV networks don't want it to happen, but I think a lot of others do. The fact is, the Yankees are probably too good not to win, and if they don't, the Sox probably will. Yet the (Not Devil) Rays have compiled a fantastic group of talent, and with a few breaks, you never know. In fact, the PECOTA projected standings for this season see the AL East as essentially a dead heat for the top three spots.

It's a fact that for the foreseeable future, New York and Boston are bound to win the vast majority of division crowns. Yes, they have a huge monetary advantage, but both teams also are spending their fortunes more wisely than ever before. Can't stop me from hoping, though.

2. I want another one-game playoff.

Incredibly, for three straight years, 162 games have not been sufficient to decide one of the pennant races. In 2007, it was the NL Wildcard, and for the past two seasons, it has been the AL Central. I say, let's keep it going.

For one thing, there is no such as too much baseball, so an extra game is never unwelcome, especially when the stakes are so high. And that's what makes these games so riveting: Each one is like a Game 7. What's more, all three play-in games have been incredible. Three years ago, the Rockies beat the Padres, 9-8 in 13 innings; two years ago, the White Sox outlasted the Twins 1-0 on Jim Thome's seventh-inning homer; last year, the Twins beat the Tigers 6-5 in one of the greatest games I've ever seen, finally pulling it out in the 12th inning.

On one hand, it seems unlikely this could happen for a fourth consecutive season. On the other hand, there figure to be several tight races in 2010 -- including in the AL Central, of course -- so don't count out the possibility. I know I'll be wishing for it.

4 Series to Mark on Your Calendar

  • Saturday, February 13, 2010 5:43 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Four more days until the first pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Therefore, it seems like a good time to look ahead to four potentially interesting series on the schedule for this season.

I didn’t include matchups between division rivals here, since those are pretty obvious and provide intrigue every year.

April 12, 14-15, Red Sox @ Twins – On the 12th, outdoor baseball will return to Minneapolis for the first time since 1981, the last year of old Metropolitan Stadium. Ever since, the Twins have been safely tucked away in the ugly but warm confines of the Metrodome. Until this season, that is. Target Field is opening its doors for this prime series against the Red Sox. These two teams figure to put on a good show, as long as they’re not frozen solid. The average temperature in Minneapolis in April is a high of 57 and a low of 36, with the record low being a balmy 2 degrees. At least all three games in this series are day games, with the first night contest taking place to start the following series against the Royals. For the sake of Twins fans, let’s hope Target Field has hot chocolate dispensers in the backs of every seat.

June 22-24, Cubs @ Mariners – This interleague series is certainly interesting on its own merits. These two teams figure to be playoff contenders, and the Cubs have visited Seattle only once before, in 2002. But these three games have another storyline as well: Milton Bradley’s first appearance against his last team. Bradley’s brief tenure in Chicago ended with him getting suspended late in the season. The veteran outfielder might have gotten some undeservedly rough treatment from fans and the media – his on-field performance wasn’t as bad as many perceived – but he never fit in a clubhouse that generally got along well. Even Ryan Dempster, a first-class act, said after Bradley’s suspension, “It became one of those things where you see him putting the blame on everybody else, and sometimes you have to look in the mirror and realize that maybe the biggest part of the problem is yourself and wanting to be there and wanting to play every day and wanting to have some fun. It didn't seem like he wanted to have very much fun, even from Spring Training.” There could be some serious tension here, assuming Bradley is still on the active roster at that point.

June 25-27, Yankees @ Dodgers – This will be the Bronx Bombers’ first trip to Chavez Ravine since 2004. These are two franchise with a ton of history between them, including 11 clashes in the World Series (four since the Dodgers left Brooklyn). And this series figures to come with both squads near or at the top of their respective divisions. A lot will be made of Joe Torre managing against his old club, but what’s really more interesting is what happens on the field, and this series could feature some exciting matchups. Personally I’m eager to see LA’s 22-year-old lefty strikeout machine Clayton Kershaw test his stuff against New York’s nightmare-inducing lineup, or closer Jonathan Broxton try to finish off a close game against A-Rod. Not to mention that Manny Ramirez against the Yankees tends to be entertaining.

Sept. 17-19, Angels @ Rays – Most of the series at the very end of the season are divisional matchups, as they should be, but this is one late-season interdivisional series that could have huge playoff implications. The Rays seem to be in position to stand up to the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East again, while the Angels likely will have their supremacy in the AL West challenged by at least two division competitors. Depending on how things shake out, this could even turn into a crucial battle for a wildcard berth. Plus, you have a showdown of the minds between Mike Scioscia and former bench coach Joe Maddon, now managing Tampa, and Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir potentially squaring off against his old team for the first time.

Tomorrow: 3 teams to keep an eye on