The success of the 2012 season depends on two men: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
When the Twins won three of the previous five American Central League titles, Mauer and Morneau were at the heart of why Minnesota was successful. During that stretch, Mauer averaged 13 home runs, 80 RBI, posted a .334 batting average and never posted a slugging percentage below .426 or an on-base percentage beneath .382.
Morneau was even better.
He averaged over 105 RBI, over 27 home runs, posted a .298 batting average and never had an on-base percentage beneath .343 or a slugging percentage below .492. And that's after Morneau missed 81 games in 2010 because of his lingering effects of a concussion.
But last year, the two were not on the field often—combining to play 151 games—and they were not overly productive when they were.
Mauer’s .287 batting average, three home runs, 30 RBI, .360 on-base percentage and .368 slugging percentage were all career-lows—in a season when Mauer played more than 81 games.
The Canadian-born Morneau was right with Mauer. His .227 batting average, four home runs, 30 RBI, .285 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage were all career lows—in a season when Morneau plays 69 or more games.
Part of the reason both struggled was that neither was healthy for extended periods of time. Morneau had lingering concussion problems, and Mauer had bilateral leg weakness.
Where will the Twins finish in the AL Central with the 2011 versions of Mauer and Morneau?
Morneau’s concussion problems, which began in 2010, have his career spiraling in the wrong direction and were the source of him missing so much time in 2011. The 2012 campaign will either get him back on track or continue him down his regressive path.
Mauer has never played over 146 games in his career, which is (in part) why the Twins have toyed with moving Mauer to first base—and should explore third base too. He’s injury prone.
But this year has to be different. It has to be different for both.
The Twins have far too many uncertainties as they enter 2012. Mauer and Morneau cannot be part of that group. Those two need to revert back to the 2006-2010 form.
Without the two for much of the season, the 2011 season spiraled out of control very quickly and ended in the worst Minnesota team under Ron Gardenhire’s watch (63-99). One more loss and Minnesota would have had its first 100-loss season since 1982.
In 2012, the Twins have $23 million invested in Mauer and $14 million in Morneau. For that type of dough, the Twins need better return on their investment than they received in 2011. Mauer and Morneau earned the same figures last year.
Without Michael Cuddyer and without Delmon Young—albeit an inconsistent Delmon Young—the Twins have no other proven threats in the middle of a MLB lineup. And without Cuddyer, the Twins need their top two earners to play larger leadership roles—something neither has excelled at during their careers.
2012 must be different if Minnesota has any chance to be successful. The M&M boys are the key to what happens in Minnesota from April through September. If they regain their form, then Minnesota can compete for an AL Central crown. If not, look out for six more months of terrible baseball.