With the 2012 baseball season just around the corner, if you don’t count that stupid two game series that the A’s and Mariners played and split in Japan, it is time for us here in Twins Trivia to look into the crystal ball and see what is in store for us this season. They say that baseball is a simple game, all you need to do is hit the ball, pitch the ball and pick-up the ball but I thought I would run it by Mr. Einstein just to be sure.
East1. Tampa Rays 2. New York Yankees 3. Toronto Blue Jays 4. Boston Red Sox 5. Baltimore Orioles
West1. Los Angeles Angels 2. Texas Rangers 3. Seattle Mariners 4. Oakland A’s
Central1. Detroit Tigers (91-71) 2. Cleveland Indians (82-80) 3. Minnesota Twins (78-84) 4. Kansas City Royals (76-86) 5. Chicago White Sox (70-92)
The Detroit Tigers are far and way the best team in the division and should be up by 10 games at the All-Star break and have a cake walk the rest of the way. However; having picked the Tigers to win the AL Central, the team is certainly not without its problems. The Tigers defense if they continue to pursue going down the Miguel Cabrera at 3B path will be atrocious but I see manager Jim Leyland changing that plan before he gets out of April. But even after Leyland addresses the 3B situation, the Bengals still have defense problems at 1B, 2B, SS, and LF. It will be fun to watch the Tigers hit but when they are in the field it will be a totally different story. The Tiger bullpen is solid although there is no way in the world that closer Jose Valverde has another year in 2012 like he had in 2011. The Tigers other major issue is starting pitching where they have a reigning Cy Young award winner in Justin Verlander followed by Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and the Tigers just announced that Drew Smyly won the last starting spot. Who is Drew Smyly? Fister, and Scherzer are workable starters on a pennant contender but Porcello and who ever the Tigers have slotted for number 5 will not cut the mustard and the Tigers are going to have to make some moves to fill those holes.
The Cleveland Indians continue to improve albeit very slowly and the team has worked hard to try to improve its starting rotation that includes Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jiminez, Derek Lowe, Jeanmar Gomez, and Josh Tomlin. Twins cast-off Kevin Slowey could not make this starting rotation. Not a great starting rotation, but I have seen a lot worse. The Indians offense lost Gardy Sizemore to injury once again but Sizemore’s best days are now behind him anyway so that is not as great a loss as some may think. On offense the Indians need outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to bounce back after an injury plagued 2011, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to continue to show improvement after a breakout season last year, 2B Jason Kipnis to show that he is for real, Michael Brantley needs to prove he is a legit lead-off hitter, Lonnie Chisenhall to hit to his potential and to earn his way back as the Indians starting 3B, and for 35-year-old Travis Hafner to stay healthy and hit like he can as the teams DH.
I like the Kansas City Royals a lot because of the nice young players they have like Eric Hosmer at 1B, former 3B and now outfielder Alex Gordon, Billy Butler as the DH, Alcides Escobar at SS, and 3B Mike Moustakas. The Royals took a serious blow to the gut when closer Jokaim Soria went down with an elbow issue and will require TJ surgery but maybe the Royals dodged a bullet if free agent signee Jonathan Broxton can bounce back and become a workable closer once again, a long shot to be sure but still, a chance. The Royals starting pitching is what really needs to take a step forward if this team is to become a contender. Luke Hochevar anchors the rotation but he still young and is slowly improving. Jonathan Sanchez who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants has some potential and could become their number 2 starter. Veteran Bruce Chen continues to get his 10-12 wins each year although I don’t know how and Felipe Paulino slides in as the fourth starter although he could miss the first part of the season. Paulino has control issues but he can also strikeout some hitters. The fifth spot is open and the Royals would like to see youngster Danny Duffy lock up that spot. The Royals need to find a way to improve their starting pitching before they can be considered a serious challenger.
I pick the Chicago White Sox to finish in the Central Division basement. The mighty whities are a high-priced team that has under performed and is old to boot. White Sox GM Ken Williams has shown over the last few years that he doesn’t have a clue on how to be a big league general manager and the sooner he is fired the sooner the White Sox can once again can become a contender. The White Sox let Ozzie Guillen go as manager and hired the totally inexperienced former 3B Robin Ventura to manage this motley crew. The Sox have some proven starting pitching in John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy but Peavy is always hurt and you can’t count on him to be a solid contributor. Former Twins pitcher Philip Humber was a pleasant surprise for the Sox last season but he remains unproven. The Sox have moved the young fireballing Chris Sale out of the pen and into a starters role so his transition will be closely watched. Since the whities traded their closer Sergio Santos to Toronto during the off-season they are in need of a closer and it appears that Matt Thornton will start the season in that role but indications are that Addison Reed will take over the closers role before the 2012 season comes to a merciful end for the Chicago White Sox.
That bring us to the Minnesota Twins who unfortunately will finish third in this weak AL Central with a 78-84 record. 78 wins does not sound like much but it is a nice 15 win improvement after last years dismal showing. The Twins fired GM Bill Smith and put former GM Terry Ryan back in the driver’s seat but Ryan is driving a Chevy and Twins management is selling it as a BMW and this past off-season instead of going into a rebuilding mode after losing Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and several others, the team decided to try to plug some leaks, drop their payroll by $15 million and see if they can regain their 2010 form. They signed 38 career utility player Jamey Carroll to be their starting shortstop, they signed Josh Willingham to provide some power as a corner outfielder and catcher Ryan Doumit to provide some pop as the back-up catcher. Last season catcher Joe Mauer had a horrible season hitting .287 and playing in just 82 games due to some mysterious injuries that still have not been explained but Mauer has worked hard this spring and you have to think he is back to being the All-Star catcher he should be. 1B Justin Morneau was even worse, hitting .227 with four home runs and playing in 69 games due to a variety of injuries but his major issue was the concussion he suffered in Toronto the previous season. Morneau started spring training playing 1B but midway through spring training he was hitting under .100 and the team decided that Morneau would be the primary DH this season although he would still see time at 1B but I would expect him playing first base less than 30 times this season. Morneau caught fire with his bat but still seldom makes an appearance at 1B in Florida. The Twins need Morneau to hit like he can and to stay healthy but that might be asking a lot based on what Justin has shown the past few years. The second baseman, often injured Alexi Casilla is in a make it or break it season and he has to prove he can play 150+ games, something he has never done. He has already missing games in spring training due to a sore knee. The leader of the Twins “fun bunch” is 3B Danny Valencia who is coming off a “sophomore slump” season in 2011 both with his bat and in the field. Valencia has to start to field at 3B like he cares and to hit more for average versus trying to be that dead pull hitter that he showed in 2011. A little humility by Valencia wouldn’t hurt either, Danny is not God’s gift to baseball even though he seems to think he is. Denard Span has to prove that he is over his own concussion and neck woes and that the Twins can count on him to play day in and day out in centerfield because he has a lot of ground to cover when Willingham is in left and Trevor Plouffe or Ryan Doumit is playing in right. Right field is probably a platoon between Plouffe, Doumit and maybe even Ben Revere who has a throwing arm like a pop gun. The Twins starting pitching is shaky at best and that is kind of funny because going back just a few years the Twins thought their starting pitching was a strength and some bloggers thought we had too much starting pitching but that was just before Kyle Gibson was deemed to need TJ surgery and Alex Wimmers had no clue where home plate was. Francisco Liriano has had a super spring and he is in his contract year but no Twins starter has shown as much “Jekyll and Hyde” personality as Francisco has. One day the man pitches a no-hitter and the next time out he can’t string two good innings together. Scott Baker can be really good but you can also count on Scott Baker to hit the DL at least once each season and this year he will start the season on the DL. I find Baker an interesting pitcher because he makes his living pitching high in the strike zone. What drives me crazy with Baker is that the man never shows any emotion. Get mad, slam your glove down, anything, just show me you are alive Scott. Carl Pavano is one of those guys that goes out and throws 200 innings and gives up 2225 hits but keeps his team in the game. This coming from a guy that had a huge contract with the Yankees between 2005-2008 and was hurt year after year while pitching in just 26 games. Nick Blackburn owns the Twins number 4 starting spot and the sinkerballing right hander is starting his fifth season in the Twins starting rotation. Blackburn, a pitch to contact guy has started at least 26 games each season although his innings pitched have decreased the last two years from a career high of 205 in 2009. Blackburn is one of those guys that gives hitters a comfortable collar but then there are other games when he gives up hit after hit. Blackburn has pitched a few big games for the Twins and has seems to rise to the occasion. The last spot in the starting rotation belongs to newly acquired Jason Marquis a 33-year-old right hander beginning his 13 big league season and is a lot like Pavano, gives up a lot of hits but keeps his team deep into games. Not a stellar rotation by any means but when they pitch well, the Twins have a chance as Gardy might tell you. How about the relievers? Who knows, the Twins resigned Matt Capps to be their closer after Joe Nathan hit the trail for Texas. Capps is not one of the elite closers in the league but does a team that is destined to finish under .500 need an elite closer? I don’t think so and I think Capps can be a good character on this team. Minnesota native lefty Glen Perkins had a breakout season both on the pitching front and out of Gardy’s doghouse. Perkins was outstanding last season and was the Twins best pitcher most of the year. Brian Duensing moves to the bullpen after a disappointing year in the starting rotation in 2011 and he should do a good job there based on what he has shown there previously. Matt Maloney and Jared Burton, both former Redlegs appear to have earned bullpen jobs. Anthony Swarzak is the long guy in the pen and sometimes starter and that role seems to fit him well. The final bullpen spot is still to be determined with Jeff Gray and Alex Burnett still battling it out as spring training winds down. Kyle Waldrop was in the running for the final spot too but he ended up taking a spot on the DL bench.
Ryan did what he could to get more offense on the field but in the process he sacrificed his defense, particularly in the outfield. The fact that the Twins will not have Justin Morneau at 1B will also hurt the other infielders who are used to having Morneau scoop their bad throws out of the dirt. The Twins have numerous holes but they do have some young players that are knocking on the door like Chris Parmelee at 1B, Brian Dozier at SS, Joe Benson in the outfield, Liam Hendriks as a starter and Carlos Gutierrez in the pen. It is starting pitching that the Twins crave but outside of Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers, their does not appear to be a lot there. If the youngsters do indeed turn out to be big leaguers, Ryan will have a core to build on. Deeper in the minors they have some players that could turn out to be stars in a few years. We as fans sometimes fall in love with our teams players and hate to see them go but baseball is like life, you have to keep moving forward and change is necessary, if you stand still, it means that someone is gaining on you. Change is good, we need to embrace change. Going into 2011 Gardy and Smith talked about the need to add speed, no one talks about speed this year….. I wrote all this and didn’t mention Tsuyoshi Nishioka until just now, see how easy it is to forget?
When the smoke clears, Twins fans should be dancing on Target Plaza if this team can somehow play .500 ball, I unfortunately don’t see it happening in 2012. I just hope that the Twins play some exciting baseball the way it should be played and hopefully fans will still keep coming to Target Field to watch them.
Division winners – Rays, Tigers, Angels
Wild Cards – Yankees, Rangers
Tampa Rays move on to represent the American League in the World Series