The Minnesota Twins finished 2011 with a miserable 63-99 record which was worse than every team in baseball not named the Houston Astros. They were derailed by injuries and down seasons from players like Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, and Matt Capps. They got next to nothing from Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who appeared to be in over his head against big league pitching.
I think the real crushing blow to the Twins was losing the extreme home field advantage they had at the Metrodome. Moving into the luxurious and more conventional Target Field has neutralized what was once the best home field advantage in baseball. The Twins were just 33-48 at home last year.
No sooner did spring training kick off and there were already reports that slugger Justin Morneau is still not fully recovered from post concussion syndrome. He is considering retirement as an option if things don’t make a turn for the better. If he can’t go at first then look for Ryan Doumit or rookie Chris Parmelee to share the duties.
[2012 MLB Preview Central]
The Twins lost a lot in free agency, mainstays like Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel have all moved on to greener pastures. They’ve been replaced by Josh Willingham, Doumit, Jamey Carroll, and Jason Marquis. Which is a solid group of big league players, but not a crew that can put the slumping Twins over the top.
Best case scenario for 2012: If they can somehow keep Mauer and Morneau healthy and get production from what is a light-hitting line up then they might be able to push for 3rd place in the division and finish at or just under .500. The playoffs aren’t a realistic option for this club.
Most important Twins: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The oft-injured duo holds the key to any chance of success that the Twins have. Unfortunately, Morneau has already hinted at retirement if he can’t get past his post-concussion symptoms once and for all. Mauer has battled injuries throughout his career and perhaps it’s time to contemplate moving him to first base, especially if they end up losing Morneau.
Potential breakout players in 2012: Third baseman Danny Valencia is entering his 3rd season with the Twins and is on the cusp of a breakout season. Last year he received the bulk of the starts at the hot corner and responded with 15 homers, 72 RBI, and a .246 average. If he can bump his average up to at least the .270 range and swat around 20 homers that would be a good step forward for the youngster. I’m not sure that classifies as a breakout campaign though.
Worst case scenario for 2012: Any nightmare season for the Twins involves Morneau and Mauer missing significant playing time. If that happens this team could sink to the absolute bottom of the MLB. Losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to free agency was a potentially devastating blow. Cuddyer in particular was a heart and soul guy for Minnesota and he won’t be easily replaced. The pitching staff is no longer a feared commodity and they could get roughed up more often than not. It’s a very real possibility that the Twins will finish in last place in the AL Central and they could be the dregs of baseball.
Areas of concern: The Twins lost Joe Nathan in free agency and will once again turn to Matt Capps to fill the closer role. He owned that job to open the 2011 season, but imploded and was eventually replaced by the healthy Nathan. If Capps struggles again the bullpen is in trouble. Minnesota already lost flamthrower Joel Zumaya for the season due to another injury for the beleaguered former Tiger. Former starter Glen Perkins will now be the primary set up man and it gets a bit thin beyond him. The middle of the infield is going to be primarily manned by the trio of Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carrol and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Last year they combined for 2 homer and 47 RBI and won’t exactly be striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2011: Matt Capps started 2011 as the Twins full-time closer and quickly unraveled. By the end of the season his ERA was hefty 4.25, he had blown 9 saves, and lost his closer’s role to Joe Nathan. With Nathan now closing for Texas, the Twins have once again turned to Capps and need him to be a stabilizing force in the bullpen. A bounce back season from Francisco Liriano, who was 9-10 last year with a 5.09 ERA, would do wonders for the Twins. He’ll probably never be the guy he was in 2006 when he was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA, but if he can get back to 2010 form (14-10, 3.62 ERA) the Twins would be very thankful.