Expect the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to be the biggest storyline as April approaches.
With a 162-game schedule on the docket, it's hard to say that the first month of the season alone can mean the difference between a September run and a midsummer sell-off.
But coming off a disappointing 2011 campaign, the Minnesota Twins need to establish the tone early on if they plan on contending in the AL Central.
That certainly won't be an easy task given the tough schedule they face from the start:
April 6 – 8 at Baltimore Orioles: On paper, this is probably set to be the most winnable series for the Twins. The front of the rotation will be facing a Baltimore lineup that lacks offensive prowess and a rotation that has undergone a serious overhaul this offseason.
April 9 – 12 vs. Los Angeles Angels: After the weekend opener out east, the Twins will head home for a three-game series with Albert Pujols and the revamped Angels. It’s always nice to see Torii Hunter back in the mix, but with a pitching rotation as talented as the Angels’, the Halos could very well spoil the home opener.
April 13 – 15 vs. Texas Rangers: The first weekend series at Target Field does not lighten up, as the defending AL champion Rangers bring Joe Nathan back to town. With one of the most potent lineups in baseball, the Twins arms will need every inch of the pitcher friendly confines.
April 16 – 19 at New York Yankees: Once again the Twins find themselves playing an early season series in the Bronx. It was the Twins’ series in NY last April that knocked Tsuyoshi Nishioka out for the better part of the first half of the season and set the tone for the Twins' struggles.
April 20 – 22 at Tampa Bay Rays: Despite a payroll that pales in comparison to their AL East counterparts, the Rays always manage to contend, and while they’ll take on a different look after 2012 with the free agents they’re set to lose, for now they still have the makings of a team ready to contend for a wild-card spot.
April 23 – 25 vs. Boston Red Sox: The Boston Red Sox were one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2011, as they entered the season with much fanfare but fell from contention thanks to a historic late-season collapse. In an effort to prevent that from happening again, the Sawx will no doubt be looking to set the tone early.
April 27 – 29 vs. Kansas City Royals: As the doormat of the AL Central in recent years, the Royals used to be an easier win for the Twins. Things have certainly changed in K.C., as the team has been revitalized by a farm system that has boasted some of the game’s best prospects in recent years.
April 30 – May 2 at Los Angeles Angels: Less than a month after facing the Angels during the team’s home opener, the Twins head out west for the first time in 2012.
Facing a relatively similar April schedule in 2011, the Twins only managed nine wins in 26 games, and would actually fare even worse in May, winning only eight of 27.
The Twins have shown they’re capable of going on winning streaks, but with an improved division the team can’t afford to fall behind at the beginning as it will no doubt be harder to make up ground as the season progresses.