Joe Mauer Heads The Minnesota Twins 2011 Season Preview

Joe BlairContributor IFebruary 22, 2011

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09:  Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins looks on during batting practice against the New York Yankees during Game Three of the ALDS part of the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

With catchers and pitchers reporting to camp and spring training just around the corner, anticipation for the baseball season is at its highest. With the season a little more than a month away, it is the perfect time to make predictions for the 2011 MLB season.

The defending AL Central Champion Minnesota Twins have many questions going into the 2011 season. The offseason has had its ups and downs, and two of their biggest stars are coming off major injuries.

The Twins’ biggest question is their bullpen. Last year, the Twins' bullpen was one of the best in the American League with an ERA of 3.49, fourth in the league. During the offseason, however, the Twins lost Brian Fuentes, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier to free agency. Those four players combined to pitch for over 200 innings out of the pen.

Another question for the bullpen is closer Joe Nathan. When healthy, Nathan has been one of the best closers in baseball, but he is 36 and coming off of Tommy John surgery, which did not allow him to play last year. On the bright side, Matt Capps should be one of the best set-up men in the majors.

The Twins’ rotation is almost identical to last year's, which put together the fifth-best ERA in the American League but struggled with consistency, especially Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker.

Carl Pavano and his mustache, along with Brian Duensing, were the two bright spots in the rotation. Pavano put together All-Star numbers and has developed into the team’s ace, but he has been vulnerable to injuries, and at age 35, isn’t getting any younger. I believe the key to the rotation this year will be the continuing development of Liriano into an ace for the future.

Last year, the Twins were fifth in the American League in runs scored, but they lost second baseman Orlando Hudson, and All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau is coming off a lingering concussion that caused him to miss most of the second half of the season. Morneau will likely not repeat the MVP season he was having before his injury.

The Twins signed Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka (good luck trying to pronounce his name), who has a lot of upside offensively and defensively but has never played a Major League Baseball game. All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, is one of the best hitting catchers of all time, but he has struggled with injuries on and off throughout his career.

Former first overall pick Delmon Young had a solid season, batting just under .300 with 112 RBIs. The resigning of Thome made sure they will have a power source in 2011.

AL Manager of the Year Ron Gardenhire and the Twins’ small-ball style will keep them in the division race all year, but I see them finishing behind the long ball happy Chicago White Sox in the Central. Though I do not have them winning the division, I feel that they have a great shot at an American League Wild Card spot.