Joe Mauer led a Minnesota Twins club that boasted the fifth-best run total in Major League Baseball last year while posting the third-highest batting average.
The Twins did this despite missing their clean-up hitter, Justin Morneau, for most of the final month of the season.
Morneau won't be a concern, however, at the start of the 2010 season. It has been reported that he was cleared by doctors this week to resume all activity, now that the stress fracture in his back has fully healed.
Having Morneau back will give the Twins' offense a boost in 2010, but the Twins made two key acquisitions in the off-season to provide an even greater boost.
This year, the Twins have improved their offense at two of its weakest points: Left field and shortstop. These improvements place the Twins in position to have the best lineup in baseball.
First, with the signing of Jim Thome, it is highly likely that Delmon Young will be moved to the bench. Young was brought in for his bat and big arm, but does not move well out in left field and has shown terrible plate discipline with the Twins.
Jason Kubel is not the greatest left fielder, but he is better than Young and had a career year at the plate in 2009.
The most likely scenario is that Thome will play DH in all games against right-handed pitching. The starting outfield will then look like this: Kubel in left, Denard Span in center, and Michael Cuddyer in right.
This lineup will supplant Young's limited power against righties (five home runs in 2009) with Thome's big bat (18 home runs against righties in 2009).
Against left-handed pitching, Kubel will likely DH with Young playing in left field. Though Young is a poor outfielder, the Twins will want to save Kubel's troublesome knees from the stress of 150-plus games in left field.
The numbers support this lineup as well: Kubel hit .243 against lefties in 2009, while Thome hit just .209. Young, however, hit .310 against lefties.
As you can see, the acquisition of Thome allows the Twins to put a great lineup out against left-handed and right-handed pitching.
The Twins made their other key acquisition during the off-season in shortstop J.J. Hardy.
Hardy struggled at the plate in 2009 for the Brewers and was sent to the minors for a stretch. However, this should be seen as a blip on the radar screen and not a major red flag.
In the previous two seasons, Hardy was a solid .280 hitter with 25-home run power.
Hardy will be a great candidate for a bounce-back season with the Twins as one of their better right-handed hitters and a solid defensive shortstop.
With their off-season acquisitions, the Twins have accumulated the following (potential) lineup:
1. Denard Span, CF (.311 AVG, .392 OBP in 2009)
2. J.J. Hardy, SS (61 home runs over last three seasons)
3. Joe Mauer, C (Reigning MVP and Batting Champion, career .327 hitter)
4. Justin Morneau, 1B (2006 MVP, four straight 100-RBI seasons)
5. Jason Kubel, LF (.300 AVG, 28 HR, 103 RBI in 2009)
6. Michael Cuddyer, RF (.276 AVG, 32 HR, 94 RBI in 2009)
7. Jim Thome, DH (23 home runs in just 362 at bats in 2009)
8. Brendan Harris, 3B (.267 career hitter)
9. Nick Punto, 2B (.248 career hitter)
The one glaring weakness in this lineup is obviously Nick Punto batting ninth. Punto is just a .248 career hitter, but plays solid defense.
Brendan Harris is average offensively from the eighth spot, but has been consistent in two seasons with the Twins.
The top seven of this lineup is scary, though.
Denard Span will lead off and will likely reach base at a .400 clip.
Numbers two through seven in the lineup will strike fear in the heart of opposing pitchers. Each of those six has hit over 25 home runs in a season.
Four of the those six hitters have also driven in 100 runs in a season and all but Hardy have driven in over 95.
This Twins lineup also boasts two MVP awards and three batting titles thanks to bash brothers Mauer and Morneau.
In Kubel, Mauer, and Morneau, the Twins have three great left-handed bats, all on the front-end of their baseball prime.
This will be a powerful, smart lineup that will produce a lot of runs and put pressure on opposing pitchers and defenses.
Any way you look at it, the Twins will have an incredible offense. The big question is: Can their pitchers stay consistent and healthy throughout the season?
If Kevin Slowey can stay healthy and Francisco Liriano can bounce back to his late 2008 form, the Twins may be able to finally crack the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
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