April 4, 2005
Well, here we are. Finally. The Minnesota Twins' quest for a fourth straight American League Central title begins today, but not without plenty of questions.
Four-fifths of the infield -- Joe Mauer (32), Justin Morneau (61), Jason Bartlett (5), and Michael Cuddyer (62) -- have a combined total of 160 career games played at the positions where they currently hold starting jobs. The elder statesman of the group, Luis Rivas, has 500 career games at his position, several of them good ones.
The two best hitters on the team, batting back-to-back in the third and fourth spots in the lineup, have a grand total of 133 career hits, 29 career home runs, and 91 career runs batted in. They also have three healthy knees between them and have yet to play a single inning together in the major leagues.
The third starter, Carlos Silva, struck out 76 batters in 203 innings and let opponents hit .310 against him last year. The fourth starter, Kyle Lohse, had a 5.34 ERA. The fifth starter, Joe Mays, last had an ERA under 5.00 in 2001, which also happens to be his only season with an ERA under 4.00. The sixth starter, Terry Mulholland, is 42 years old, had a 5.18 ERA last season, and last had an ERA under 4.00 back before I had a driver's license.
Lew Ford is the team's third-best defensive outfielder, behind two Gold Glove-caliber guys, yet he starts at designated hitter while the worst outfielder, Shannon Stewart, starts in left field. Ford also led the team with a .381 on-base percentage in 2004 and has a career on-base percentage of .383, yet bats seventh in the lineup.
The five-man bench consists of two utility infielders and three catchers, one of whom is versatile enough to occasionally DH. They have career slugging percentages of .448, .362, .332, .331, and .294, and career on-base percentages of .348, .318, .305, .301, and .269.
And yet despite all that and a lot more, I really think this Twins team will be the best one since 1991. If they can catch some breaks, or at least not get hit with bad luck, they have a chance to be a very special team and the first one of this era with a real chance to go deep into October.
While I anxiously count down the seconds until Jamie Moyer delivers the first pitch to Shannon Stewart, here are some things I hope to see in 2005 ...
... 80-90 games behind the plate and another 30-40 at designated hitter for Mauer, because the rest will take care of itself.
... Morneau finally giving the Twins their first 30-homer guy since 1987.
... Ford getting consistent playing time from Ron Gardenhire.
... A new second baseman by the All-Star break.
... A repeat performance from Johan Santana.
... At least 50 healthy innings from Grant Balfour.
... The late-season emergence of either Scott Baker or J.D. Durbin.
... A shortstop who actually dives for grounders up the middle.
... 500 at-bats from Cuddyer.
... Mike Redmond on the bench. A lot.
... A right fielder capable of hitting left-handed pitching like a right fielder should.
... Matthew LeCroy throwing someone out at second base from behind the plate.
... The Lohse of 2003.
... The Mays of 2001, or at least 1999.
... Torii Hunter taking the air out of U.S. Cellular Field and Jacobs Field when he does his Spiderman routine on a deep blast to center field.
... The smoke that comes from the bullpen when Balfour turns it over to Jesse Crain, who turns it over to Juan Rincon, who turns it over to Joe Nathan, who slams the door.
... Jason Kubel pinch hitting in September.
... Someone other than the Yankees in the first round.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Smiles Are Returning to the Faces (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Five Questions: Houston Astros (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Five Questions: Los Angeles Dodgers (by Jon Weisman)
- Five Questions: Boston Red Sox (by Ben Jacobs)
- Five Questions: New York Yankees (by Larry Mahnken)
- THT Staff Predictions (by THT Staff)
Today's Picks (0-0, $0):
New York (Martinez) -150 over Cincinnati (Wilson)
Chicago (Zambrano) -125 over Arizona (Vazquez)
Oakland (Zito) -100 over Baltimore (Lopez)
Toronto (Halladay) -125 over Tampa Bay (Brazelton)