2010 A.L. Central Preview: Pitching Has a Target on Its Back in Minnesota

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2010 A.L. Central Preview: Pitching Has a Target on Its Back in Minnesota

The Twins are coming off a very successful 2009 campaign in which they finished in a first-place tie with the Detroit Tigers (86-76), and then won a one-game playoff to move into the postseason.

This year they will open their new, open-air stadium, Target Field (pictured), which is reportedly a hitter-friendly ballpark… that fact may cause havoc with the club’s hope of repeating as division champs.

The Twins have lots of questions in their pitching staff, especially with the recent injury to closer Joe Nathan (a development which will cause some re-shifting of roles in the bullpen). The fear is that the offense will not be able to score runs fast enough to keep pace with their opponents at The Bulls-eye.

Key Additions: SS JJ Hardy, 2B Orlando Hudson, DH Jim Thome

Key Subtractions: SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede, OF Carlos Gomez, C Mike Redmond

Key Performer, 2010: Francisco Liriano

Starting Rotation:

The rotation will not be as strong as everyone expects due to a myriad of issues. The new ballpark will almost certainly inflate ERAs, which in turn will hurt confidence, which in turn will impact performance.

Staff ace Scott Baker is a flyball pitcher who will be plying his trade in a facility everyone believes will surrender home runs with regularity.

Kevin Slowey will return from injury and while some of his metrics are promising, like Baker, he is surrendering fly balls too frequently. He saw his hr/9 increase from 0.9 to 1.2 to 1.5 over the last three years—and that was before they moved into Target Field.

Francisco Liriano was brutal last year, but had a brilliant winter-league season. It remains to be seen which pitcher the Twins will see during the 2010 regular season.

The metrics on Nick Blackburn suggest he may be the beneficiary of lots of good luck… and there are questions as to how long his luck can last (opponents hit .290+ against him). Oft-injured Carl Pavano had a nice campaign, but will he hold up?

Bullpen

The Twins' bullpen had lots of questions BEFORE Nathan’s injury; now everything will be in flux.

Jon Rauch appears likely to get first call to replace him as closer, but he could soon be replaced by Matt Guerrier (the metrics suggest he may be in for a rough year in 2010), or Pat Neshek (who is returning from an injury), or possibly Jose Mijares (my favorite to eventually assume the role), or Jesse Crain (a reliever who walks five batters for every nine IP).

Once one of the strengths of the Twins, it says here the bullpen may be its Achilles heel in 2010.

Lineup

LF Denard Span (.311, 8 HR, 68 RBI, 23 SB) will bat leadoff and may steal 30 bases. Newcomer 2B Orlando Hudson (.283/9/62/8) will bat second, but he is getting older and his skill sets are starting to erode. C Joe Mauer will bat third, and is coming off a career year that earned him a brand new, big-money contract. It is expected the new park will benefit him tremendously.

1B Justin Morneau (.274/30/100) will bat cleanup. If he is over the back woes that plagued him last year he, too, should be able to take advantage of the dimensions at Target Field.

LF/DH Jason Kubel had a breakout season last year, hitting .300, with 28 HR and 103 RBI. He will provide the protection Morneau needs behind him in the batting order. RF Michael Cuddyer (.276/32/94) will hit sixth.

The bottom of the lineup will consist of the enigmatic Delmon Young (.284/12/60), SS JJ Hardy (.226/14/55), and a revolving door at catcher-likely to be Brendan Harris more often than not.

Outlook

Pitching and defense wins championships, and I dont expect the Twins to have nearly enough pitching in 2010-only Baltimore, Cleveland, and Kansas City had worse team-ERAs last season.

Target Field is going to take a toll on the staff; therefore, I foresee Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey struggling. If you have them in a fantasy baseball league, you may want to sell high.

It will be a decent season in Minneapolis thanks to the offense, which should put people in the seats and ensure that games are entertaining. It won’t be an especially good season because the pitching is not geared to the new ballpark.

SOX1Forecast: 85-77, Second place.

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Minnesota Twins—Top Five Prospects:

1. OF Aaron Hicks
2. C Wilson Ramos
3. OF Ben Revere
4. 3B Danny Valencia
5. P Kyle Gibson

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