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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins

Today marks a big day for us here at We're In This Thing. No, it's not our one year anniversary. No, we didn't just sell the blog to ESPN. And no, Eric and I didn't get in a major spat over who invented WITT and are now counter-suing one other for $300 million.

We look forward to those days, but for now, we're satisfied celebrating the true beginning of our 30 for 30 MLB Countdown. Our first 13 entries have been fun, but baring some sort of miracle, none of those teams are going to be serious contenders for the World Series in 2011.

From here on out, every team we highlight has a legitimate chance of winning their division and making a deep playoff run. Now you may be saying, "Hey, wait a minute. What about the Pirates? " To which I say, "You're right." They're my second favorite team so I picked them second in our draft. Baring some sort of divine intervention or natural disaster in which locusts attack every MLB city besides Pittsburgh, it is unlikely the Pirates will make the playoffs in 2011.

Our upper echelon begins with perhaps the most unassuming defending division champ in all of baseball -- the Minnesota Twins.

Without making much noise, the Minnesota Twins have put together a remarkably consistent run of success over the last decade. They've won the AL Central six of the past nine seasons. But the reason we never seem to remember these Twins teams? Of their 6 trips to the playoffs since 2002, 5 have been first round exists. And 4 of those to the Yankees!

It's hard to tell identical twins apart. They look exactly the same. The same could be said for these Twins. They're almost always good. They almost always make the playoffs. And they almost always lose in the first round to the Yankees. It's hard to tell them apart.

With a fresh new haircut, a tattoo and body piercings, these 2011 Twins are going to try hard to distinguish themselves from their identical counterparts of the past. And while they won't glitz or glamour their way to a championship, they just may end up being the team that finally gets remembered

When you think of the Twins, you think of Joe Mauer. He is their demi-god -- half man, half machine. A local boy sent from the angels (St. Paul), Mauer has led the Twins team to their three most recent AL Central Crowns. He is by far the biggest star on this Twins team will be its most important piece in repeating as division champions. Over his 7 year career he's averaged 16HR, 91 RBI and a .327 batting average. As Mauer goes, so go the Twins.

 A notch below Mauer on the star scale is the currently concussed Justin Morneau. While Morneau lost most of his 2010 season after suffering a concussion, he is one of the best power hitters in the game when healthy. Even with a half season of stats in 2010, Morneau has averaged 31HR and 116RBI in his 8 year career. Morneau still isn't completely healthy, but if he can get right in 2011, he will be a force in the Twins lineup.

The Twins' outfield epitomizes the team's identity as an unassuming but surprisingly solid bunch. Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer (Left to Right) won't make many headlines, but this trio emerged as one of the league's more balanced outfields in 2010. Young and Cuddyer combined for 193 RBI while Span in CF swiped 26 bags.

With the exception of Morneau at 1st, the Twins infield is largely a new outfit. At 3B will be 26 year old Danny Valencia in his first full big league season. He hit .311 in 300 at bats last year. Longtime middle infielders Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy are gone, giving way to youngster Alexi Casilla at shortstop and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second base. Casilla will look to impress in his first season as a starter while Nishioka is hoping his .346 batting average from Japan makes it through customs.

The Twins' Achilles heel appears to be their starting pitching. While they were able to win the Central in 2010 with largely the same staff, their collective success depends on the success of Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, neither of whom are exactly Ace's in the hole. That said, both 14+ games with a sub-4.00 ERA in 2010 and have shown Ace potential during their careers. Behind these two will be converted reliever Brian Duensing and longtime Twins starters Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker. Blackburn and Baker are both serviceable #4 and #5 guys, but Duensing will be something of an X-factor. The difference between a above and below average season for Duensing could be the difference in the Twins chances in what looks to be a very competitive AL Central.

In the bullpen, the Twins are solid. Closer Joe Nathan, back from a season long injury in 2010, hopes to regain his top form from 2009. Setting him up with be former Pirate legend Matt "Mad Capper" Capps. If there is a man in this world with a thicker neck, I'd like to see it.

So that's your 2011 Minnes -- oh yeah, I almost forgot. In the junior circuit, they have something called a "designated hitter," also known as the void where American League pitchers' testicles are kept. Ageless wonder Jim Thome and Jason Kubel (combined 46 HR and 151 RBI in 2010) will likely split time in this pointless and decrepit position.

Gee, your 2011 Minnesota Twins:
 C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B:  Tsuyoshi Nishioka
SS:  Alexi Casilla
3B: Danny Valencia 
LF: Delmon Young
CF: Denard Span
RF: Micheal Cuddyer
DH: Jim Thome/Jason Kubel
P: Carl Pavano
P: Francisco Liriano
P: Brian Duensing
P: Nick Blackburn
P: Scott Baker
CL: Joe Nathan

Best Case Scenario:
The Twins enter 2011 under the radar, just like they like it. With most people's attention on the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, the Twins quietly put together the second best record in the AL through the first half. Completely free of any concussion-like symptoms, Justin Morneau returns to his post at first base and puts up MVP numbers in the first half of the season. The outfield picks up where it left off last season, getting power from the corners and speed from Span in center. The pitching rotation is solid, getting Ace like performances from both Liriano and Pavano. Just before the trade deadline, the Twins send prospects to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Barry Zito. After putting together a respectable first half, Zito finds himself back in his native AL waters and pitches with poise foreign to fans in San Francisco.

The Tigers and ChiSox sputter down the stretch as the Twins charge into the postseason. With a healthy lineup and surging starters, the Twins unseat the heavily favored Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. In the ALCS, they square off against, wouldn't you know it, the New York Yankees. Exercising a decade's worth of demons, the Twins beat the Yankees in 7 games with a game 7 victory coming in New York on a 2-run HR by Joe Mauer in the top of the 9th.

In the World Series the Twins meet the upstart Milwaukee Brewers. After withstanding months of Packers smack talk, Minnesota shoves a proverbial brat in Wisconsin's mouth after the Twins sweep the Brewers in 4 games.

Worst Case Scenario:
Having still not quite recovered from his concussion, Justin Morneau begins the 2011 season on the DL. Much to Twins' fans dismay, May comes and goes with no word on Morneau's status. In a seeming Sid Crosby situation, no one is sure when or it Morenau will play again.

Meanwhile, the Twins enter the All-Star breaking only one game over .500. Despite making several catches in which he climbs the outfield call and stand atop a fence (yes, from second base) Japanese phenom Tsuyoshi Nishioka's unconventional batting stance fails to translate to American baseball. The Twin's outfield fails to reproduce 2010's incredible production, leaving a gaping hole in the offense. Joe Mauer, meanwhile, continues to hit .320 and build schools, hospitals and food banks on his off days.

The pitching falters as none of the Twins' five starters are capable to lead the staff. Justin Morneau finally returns to the team on August 25th, but the Twins' five game deficit is too large to overcome. Behind a new ad campaign featuring a soundtrack from Eminem, the Detroit Tigers take the AL Central and end the Twins recent division reign.

The Yankees win the AL only to be shocked in the World Series by the Milwaukee Brewers. With the Super Bowl and World Series in hands of Wisconsinites, the state of Minnesota spirals into chaos and anarchy. With the help of Premier Joe Mauer, order is temporarily restored until Target Field partially collapses due to the weight from snowfall.


  1. TO be fair... I think both the Brewers and Rays do have a legit shot at the series, and we did them.

  2. I'd buy the Brewers as having a chance over the Rays. I think losing Crawford, Garza and Soriano might be too much for them to overcome.

    What makes it difficult for both of those teams are the divisional opponents they have to get through to have a shot at the playoffs. They have to be better than at least one of the big two in their division (Cards/Reds and Yanks/Sox).

    But yes, they do have a shot. And it's likely a better shot than the Pirates and Cubs.