One team up, one team down, which is the beauty of something like this. A team to be high on, a team to be low on, but there is still optimism at this time of the year, even for a team like Pittsburgh. Minnesota however, has a reason to be optimistic.
ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, 4, 5
ALC: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
ALW: 1, 2, Texas, 4
NLE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
NLC: 1, 2, Cincinnati, 4, 5, 6
NLW: 1, 2, 3, 4, San Diego
* Wild Card
Minnesota Twins – AL Central
Last Year: Finished Second in AL Central
Notable Additions: IF, Joe Crede, RP Luis Ayala
Notable Subtractions: RP Dennys Reyes, SS Adam Everett
Underrated addition: None
He’ll be missed: Dennys Reyes
Dennys Reyes was a vet lefty that can be replaced, but depth is nice and they didn’t lose anything else, and I didn’t forget about Adam Everett.
Biggest Key to Success: Play Your Game
People are going to downplay the Twins because of their less-than-stellar lineup.
They’ll say there’s no pop or boom in it, Nick Punto’s average is low and his average of singles is high because it matches his actual average.
If that makes any sense to you.
But don’t buy it. Joe Crede is a nice addition if he’s healthy, he can give you some pop, but even if he isn’t, that shouldn’t matter.
Things tend to end up pretty well when you’ve got four outfielders. This isn’t football where when you’ve got two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks. With four players for three spots, the odds are in your favor that you’ll find a combo that works.
Alexei Casilla is probably their best kept secret. If he can stay healthy, he can finally be that force they’ve been hoping for in the two spot.
This team doesn’t need to clobber you to death. As long as they are playing you close, and you can bet they are, their pitching can keep them afloat until they deliver the knock out punch.
That’s all the pop you need.
Biggest Concern: Who’s the Bridge?
You know your team doesn’t have a lot of concerns when people are asking, “Which talented relief pitcher do you think will be setting up elite closer Joe Nathan?”
Because that’s the only question I can come up with. The Twins have a rather deep bullpen, they always have. But they don’t have one guy that is dead set to hand the ball off to Nathan in the ninth.
Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, newcomer Luis Ayala?
This isn’t one of those problems that make you lose sleep, but it certainly can be an issue if no one falls into place like they should. Thankfully, it’s an easy issue to fix.
Biggest Change: Maturity
Really what has changed with this team? They’ve lost very little and gained very little. Although the late addition of Joe Crede sort of changes that addition part, they still were very quiet this offseason.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, especially for the Twins who seem to just build on what they have.
The biggest thing for them was a year older a year wiser. Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano anchor a rotation that doesn’t have anyone older than 27 years of age. It’s just the same old Minnesota Twins plan of attack with the starting pitching.
Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey put together decent years and have shown flashes of brilliance, while Glen Perkins is next in-line to show he belongs. Considering the Twins traded Matt Garza away in the 2007 offseason, they must have faith in Perkins.
Everyone is a year older and a year wiser, and in Liriano’s case, healthy, so with another year of experience under their collective belt, the Twins rotation has the potential to take off.
Team MVP: Justin Morneau, 1B
It gets increasingly difficult to pick between Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. But Morneau isn’t a former MVP for no reason at all.
But why pick Morneau over Mauer?
Morneau is just an all-around hitter.
While Mauer is a hitting machine, Morneau is the muscle. He’s the run-producer that drives that lineup. A team that doesn’t have a lot of them needs to depend on their best one.
That’s why he’s this team’s MVP. He’ll be there from start to finish and he can carry a lineup when they need him to.
On the Rise: Denard Span, OF
When I watch Denard Span, I just get this funny little feeling about him.
I get this feeling that he’s destined for good things in the game of baseball. He plays the game hard, especially on the defensive side of the ball, his offensive game looks polished to the point where he could be a consistent player for years to come.
It may have been a small dose in just 93 games, but he’s just one of those guys you get a good feeling about. He only strikes out a little more than he walks, he can run and have a little pop in his bat. Is it super human power?
No it’s not, but for a guy who’s up there for speed and defense, knocking a few out of the park don’t hurt.
Span has something special about him. I’ve yet to put my finger on it, but he’s given the Twins a reason to befuddle themselves about what to do with Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer.
People should be high on the Twins; they have a lot of good reasons to be.
They look to be solid at just about every position of their ball club. They aren’t flashy, they won’t hit a lot of home runs, but that isn’t their style.
Their rotation is deep and a year older, their bullpen still has the most underrated closer in the entire game in Joe Nathan.
When they signed Joe Crede, it got even more difficult to find a weakness for them. Even if he goes down, they at least tried. Not so sure Brian Buscher couldn’t get the job done if called upon either.
It may be homerism that keeps me from actually picking them, but I really wouldn’t be shocked to see them win the division or even in the playoffs by other means.
Prediction: Finish Second in the AL Central
Pittsburgh Pirates – NL Central
Last Year: Finished Sixth in AL West
Notable Additions: IF Ramon Vazquez, OF Eric Hinske
Notable Subtractions: C Ronny Paulino, IF Chris Gomez, IF Doug Mientkiewicz, OF Jason Michaels
Underrated addition: Eric Hinske
He’ll be missed: Doug Mientkiewicz
Hinske could be an option if Nyjer Morgan doesn’t work out until Andrew McCutchen is ready to make the leap. Mientkiewicz is the consummate professional and ideal clubhouse presence, a bigger loss than people think.
Biggest Key to Success: Get the Picture
I think we’ve seen what Zach Duke is made of, and I’ll take him for what he really is, a fifth starter in the fourth-rotation spot.
But I’ve seen better things from Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell.
They both have shown better things than what they did in 2008 and I’m positive they can do better.
If this Pirate team is going to go anywhere and at least try and end this ridiculous streak of losing seasons, the rotation, mainly Snell and Gorzelanny need to click.
As important as it is for the lineup to get themselves in gear as well, this rotation has to prove they have talent. Pittsburgh used their trading chips to mostly acquire help for the lineup, which means they must have some faith in their starters.
They did get Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf, but make no bones about it; they have yet to show that front of the line rotation potential that a pitcher like Ian Snell has shown.
If the Pirates don’t get their guys in the rotation straightened out, their failures will continue.
Biggest Concern: Is Help on the Way?
Basically I want to know if the Neal Huntington plan is working.
They drafted Pedro Alvarez, traded their big chips Jason Bay and Xavier Nady for loads of help. They’ve got youngsters like Steve Pearce and Andrew McCutchen that are right on the brink of contributing.
But is it all going to pan out?
Can guys like Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss, who were in the Bay trade, live up to the billing they received with their former clubs?
When you trade two of your best hitters, the return you get for them better pan out, in more ways than one, or you are really going to shoot yourself in the foot.
If it’s all for not and some of the players they’ve brought in do not pan out, they are practically back at square one.
Biggest Change: Assimilation
The Pirates made all their changes in August. The biggest difference between October and April is the fact that those changes have gotten a chance to gel.
Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss can now find their spots in the lineup and Ross Ohlendorf or Jeff Karstens, or both, can find a spot(s) in the rotation. Craig Hansen can also help round out a solid bullpen that includes Tyler Yates and John Grabow.
The biggest thing for them is just making sure these additions adapt in a way. They are now a part of the club, for better or for worse, so make the most of it and hope they are what you desired when you acquired them.
Team MVP: Ryan Doumit, C
I like Ryan Doumit so much, I’d love to double up on him and make him the On the Rise player as well.
Thing is Doumit is a bit of an unknown with the rest of baseball because he plays for the Pirates. But he is also their most important player.
If he’s healthy, he’s an All-Star hitter behind the plate. He’s the NL’s version of Victor Martinez. He just hits the baseball. He’s going to be the cleanup hitter and he’s going to be the lifeblood of this Pirate lineup.
He isn’t the best defensively but his production from his position is invaluable, and I would think Raul Chavez left a little bit behind on Doumit when it comes to handling the pitching staff.
On the Rise: Paul Maholm, SP
Since I didn’t double up on Doumit and I think everyone is aware of Nate McLouth, how about a little lover for the Pirate’s ace?
Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, and Zach Duke all looked like they were going to be the best the Pirates had to offer at one point. Yet it was Maholm who ended up putting it all together first.
He’s hardly the ideal choice to be your first starting pitcher out there, your best, but he’s shown the most growth.
Maholm was also the victim of a few bullpen collapses, which explains his 9-9 record.
I don’t think Maholm maintains his success in 2008, I think he builds on it to another level.
Oh the Pirates, what is there left to say about Pittsburgh?
This is a crucial year for the Pirates if you ask me. They could finish dead last in the division for all I care, but we need to see some progress.
We need to see if the trades that the new regime has pulled off are working or at least proving progress.
We need to see if the team is making better decisions in terms of the draft and making wiser decisions in keeping their budding superstars.
It isn’t about wins and losers, while not having another consecutive season with a losing record would be nice, as long as they are playing hard every night and putting a legitimate baseball team on the field as well, that’s all they need.
Hopefully progress is made and they could find themselves out of the basement with some bad luck for other central teams and some good luck for them. I’m going to assume that doesn’t happen though and Pittsburgh finishes last once again. At least it’s not last in all of baseball.
Prediction: Finish Sixth in the NL Central
On deck for Thursday, Mar. 12: Toronto and St. Louis