The team’s lineup is as set as it’s been in years and the bullpen appears to be as solid as ever, but with the retirement of Brad Radke and phenom Francisco Liriano on the shelf following Tommy John surgery, the Twins’ starting rotation has the potential to be a season-long game of musical chairs. Santana and Silva are the only likely locks, and Silva’s coming off a rough 2006. Who knows what to expect from off-season gambles Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz? Ponson had ERAs of 5.30 and 6.21 in his last two seasons with Baltimore, and last year was a total wipeout. Ortiz has had an eerily similar career trajectory: After a couple of solid seasons with Anaheim he started posting five-plus ERAs year after year. The glass-is-half-full crowd could point out that they’re both still relatively young, have a history of being able to eat innings, and will benefit immensely from the tutelage of Rick Anderson, Minnesota’s stellar pitching coach. Ortiz is almost certainly the better bet to nail down a spot in the middle of the rotation, but the reality is that a couple—and maybe a few—guys from the club’s stable of young arms (Boof Bonser, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and Scott “Last Chance” Baker) are going to have to trade potential for performance.
Never before has a Twins team entered a season with so much star power—or such a large payroll. Any team with a reigning batting champ (Joe Mauer), MVP (Justin Morneau), and Cy Young Award winner (Johan Santana) is going to generate excitement. Toss in one of the game’s premier closers (Joe Nathan), a right fielder (Michael Cuddyer) coming off a year in which he drove in and scored more than 100 runs, and one of the best bullpens in the league, and the Twins have some big expectations—not to mention a lot of marketing traction—going into the new season.
Not So Fast, or: One Game at a Time
Last year demonstrated that it’s a long season and anything can happen. The Twins are now playing in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division and probably can’t afford to stumble out of the gate the way they did in 2006. A big part of what made last year so dramatic was that the club had to overcome such a brutal start. The Twins went 9-15 with a 6.28 ERA and a .250 team batting average in April, and had to play catch-up the rest of the way. Remember, though, that that team started the season with Tony Batista at third base and Juan Castro at short. They’ll get tested right away in 2007; in the season’s first month, the Twins will host the Yankees for three games and face division rivals Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. The upshot: We’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of a year it’s going to be—and how good this team really is—by May.
As usual, the moves the Twins made in the off-season were more a fishing expedition than the budget busters we’ve come to expect from the competition. Every year Terry Ryan rolls the dice on guys exactly like this year’s crop of comeback candidates: Ponson, Ortiz, Jeff Cirillo, Ken Harvey, and—back from exile in Washington—Matthew LeCroy. The team’s got a little breathing room in the outfield, but doesn’t have a reliable backup at shortstop and will be shorthanded in the utility department. Nick Punto was an inspiring story last year, but the jury’s still out on his long-term viability (and durability) as an everyday third baseman. You also have to wonder whether Santana, Morneau, Mauer, and Cuddyer can actually play much better than they did last season.
Working the Nostalgia Angle
This season will mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1987 World Championship team, and the franchise will milk that for all it’s worth. Which is fine, really. For anybody old enough to remember that glorious season it’ll be nice to take the trip down memory lane, and the youngsters (and that includes, of course, a number of guys currently wearing Twins uniforms) will get an inspiring history lesson and an introduction to the team that finally brought a championship to Minnesota.
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