April 6, 2009

Opening Day -- Twins should be better all-around

The Twins open the 2009 season tonight against the Seattle Mariners. Although the 2008 season was a great success, they still in my mind have improved in nearly every aspect of their team. Here are my comparisons from last year to this year:

Starting Rotation

2008: Last years rotation exceeded everyone's expectations. Despite the losses of Johan Santana and Carlos Silva before the season, the Twins rotation still had five different pitchers win at least 10 games and as a whole (as a rotation) they won 64 games. That of course was including 23 starts given to veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez and 12 disappointing starts given to Boof Bonser.

2009: This year, the Twins will have their five best starters in the rotation. Last year, the team was without Francisco Liriano for a large part of the season. This year, he's healthy and ready to start reminding people why his nickname is "Franchise." Kevin Slowey is one guy many people will be familiar with by the end of the season. He had a fantastic Spring Training but even before that was considered by many to be a breakout candidate this season. Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn both should get better with experience and will be good back-of-the-rotation starters for the Twins. Scott Baker will start the season on the D.L. but he's expected to be back within the next couple of weeks. He was the ace of this young staff this year and could benefit from knowing he has four other capable starters to help him carry the load.

Edge?: 2009. I honestly think the Twins rotation is like a fine wine, it only gets better with age. As cliché as that may sound, I honestly think it's true. I see them taking a step forward and not a step backwards in 2009.


2008: The 2008 bullpen had extremely high expectations that carried on from both the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Pat Neshek went down with an elbow injury in May, Matt Guerrier struggled all season, while guys like Brian Bass and Juan Rincon really had no business being on the roster at all. The bullpen blew 23 saves in route to a 27-loss season to overshadow an acceptable 3.92 ERA. The bright spots in the bullpen had to be Craig Breslow and Jesse Crain. Although Crain didn't have a phenomenal season number-wise, the fact that he was productive at all was a positive after he had missed nearly all of the 2007 season after undergoing rotator cuff/labrum surgery. The insufficient bullpen proved to be the Achilles Heal of the 2008 Minnesota Twins.

2009: Heading into the off-season, the Twins had upgrading their bullpen high on their list. Unfortunately, all that amounted to was the acquisition of Luis Ayala. The 8th-inning bridge between the starter and closer Joe Nathan was the biggest area of concern last season and will still be an area of concern this season. Luckily, the Twins have guys that should have better seasons than they had in 2008 including Guerrier and Crain. Also, Philip Humber and Brian Duensing will join the rotation and both had solid Spring Trainings and both have the arms to be reliable arms. Also, they have better options waiting in the fold if one of these guys fail. Jose Mijares, Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama all figure to be ready for the Majors by the end of the season and all three could very well find their ways into the Twins' 2010 plans for their bullpen.

Edge?: 2009. I actually don't think this is a very hard decision. We have a great group of relievers who as a whole had a disappointing 2008 season. They should rebound to some extent.


2008: The 2008 lineup scored the fourth most runs in the Majors last season (829), despite finishing second to last in home runs (111). The team benefited from hitting .305 with runners in scoring position, which lead the Major Leagues by .28 points. Six different batters had an OPS+ of 100 or higher (Five if you include Brendan Harris instead of Brian Buscher) and eight of them had an OPS+ of 94 or higher. Even with it being an impressive season, they did it all without much production from Michael Cuddyer and having to compensate for Mike Lamb's departure. It certainly helped that the club had MVP caliber seasons from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau along with impressive seasons by Alexi Casilla, Denard Span and Jason Kubel.

2009: I know some may disagree, and I will assure you that I am not drinking Kool-Aide, but I honestly think that the 2009 lineup will be even better than that in 2008, and honestly I don't see why anyone wouldn't agree. Sure I don't see them hitting .305 with RISP, but I don't see a drastic dropoff in that department and see them near the top of the league in that area. There are a few things I'm really excited about when I think of the Twins' 2009 lineup. Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young will probably have better seasons in 2009 after being disappointments (at least Gomez was) in 2008. Also, Cuddyer returns to the lineup while Kubel will probably have his best season yet. And have I mentioned that the club has signed Joe Crede?

Edge?: 2009. I know many don't see the Twins repeating their offensive production from a year ago, but as the theme of this post has been, they were younger a year ago than they are now and with that should show some improvement. Even with Mauer starting the season on the D.L. and expecting to miss most of April, I still see this offense putting enough runs on the board to satisfy.


2008: Last year, the team committed 108 errors, which was tied for 7th most in the Majors. Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Joe Mauer were all great defensively while Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher were all pretty awful. In Young's defense (and I've mentioned this before and feel as if I'm beating a dead horse), he had no business being in left field when Cuddyer was hurt and Span was in right field. The Metrodome is much more spacious in left field than it is in right field and the slower Young would have been better suited being in right. Adam Everett was counted on to provide stellar defense at shortstop and disappointed greatly.

2009: Joe Crede and Nick Punto will man the left-side of the infield and will give the Twins probably their best defensive 3rd Base/Shortstop combination since Corey Koskie and Cristian Guzman. Alexi Casilla and Justin Morneau will man the right-side of the infield and shouldn't be a problem. Young is by all means not a great defender in the outfield and could be the biggest liability on defense the Twins have out there frequently. That is of course if they place him in left field, which looks most likely. Gomez could make a run at a Gold Glove this season with his stellar range, outstanding arm and improved route running.

Edge?: 2009. The addition of Crede is really the only big addition, but when you add one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, that will ultimately have great effects.


Edge?: 2009.

Obviously, if you cannot tell, I am extremely optimistic about the 2009 season. Is it because Spring is just around the corner (for Minnesotans at least)? Maybe. Is it because baseball season is upon us? Could be. Am I delirious? We won't go there. Or is it because I honestly think that we are better now than we were last year? You betcha!

The Twins made a minimal amount of moves this off-season. It could have been an effect of the economy, but in my opinion it had more to do with the fact that there wasn't a ton to be done. The only regret I'm sure the Twins have is not finding a more stable bullpen option other than Luis Ayala. There were a lot of options out there, but for some reason the Twins passed on many (even those who didn't require compensation). That is still an area of concern, but the Twins could make a deal at any time and as I mentioned, they have players waiting in the fold that should be ready to step up sometime in the not-too-distant future.

The 2009 season is finally upon us everyone! Share the enthusiasm.