Minnesota Twins: Top 5 Storylines To Watch In 2011
The Minnesota Twins are coming off a banner season.
They won their sixth American League Central title since 2002, opened Target Field, which ESPN named the "best fan experience in all of sports," and set an attendance record of over three million fans.
So what will define 2011 for Minnesota Twins fans?
1. Can Justin Morneau Return to MVP Form?
For the second straight postseason, Justin Morneau watched his teammates get swept out of the first round of the playoffs from the dugout.
Morneau suffered a season-ending concussion in early July in a play that seemed like a routine slide into second base.
Prior to the injury, Morneau was putting together an MVP resume. He was hitting at a .345 clip, with 18 home runs and 56 runs batted in.
Minnesota has seen what a concussion can do to a player. Corey Koskie spent the first seven seasons of his career in a Twins uniform before signing a free agent contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
After an injury-plagued season he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006. Koskie would only play the one season in Milwaukee after suffering a concussion. He would never take another at-bat.
After a long fight with post-concussion syndrome, Koskie would continue to try and make a comeback into the majors, until officially retiring in 2009.
Hopefully Morneau won't have the same trouble returning to the field. Reports say that Justin will be ready to play come spring training.
Twins fans will be keeping an eye on Morneau this spring.
2. Will Tsuyoshi Nishioka's Game Get Lost in Translation?
Tsuyoshi Nishioka is leaving behind the Land of the Rising Sun, and trading it in for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Nishioka had a breakthrough season in Japan this season. He was the batting champ, hitting for a .346 batting average.
Nishioka was also the first player to hit for over 200 hits in a season in Japan's Pacific League since a young Ichiro Suzuki in 1994.
The Twins are slotting him into the No. 2 position in the lineup as the starting second baseman.
Can Nishioka continue his success in an American style of baseball? His success (or lack of) could determine whether the Twins will be able to add a seventh AL Central title in 2011.
3. Will The Twins Be Able to Overcome Losses in Bullpen?
Despite losing Joe Nathan for the year during spring training, the 2010 Twins squad had one of the top bullpens in all of baseball.
Led by longtime Twins Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, the Twins boasted a 3.40 bullpen ERA, good for eighth best in the Majors.
The Twins were able to add pieces to the puzzle as the season went on with trades for Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes.
The bullpen will be perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the 2011 season.
Gone are Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier.
Nathan should be ready to roll come April, but no one knows for sure how effective he will be just one year removed from his Tommy John surgery.
The Twins will look to Nathan, Capps, Scott Diamond, Jim Hoey, and perhaps Pat Neshek to anchor the team this season.
The Twins' ability to patch together the bullpen will be a key factor in the success of the team this year.
4. Have The Twins Done Enough to Hold Off Re-Loaded Tigers and White Sox?
Bill Smith, the Minnesota Twins' General Manager, has pretty much stood pat all offseason.
Besides the aforementioned signing of Nishioka, Smith has let Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Brian Fuentes, Jesse Crain, Nick Punto, Jon Rauch, and Matt Guerrier all walk this offseason.
Smith has also yet to address the situations with Carl Pavano and Jim Thome, who are both yet to sign with a team.
Meanwhile the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox have been busy making splashes in the free agent market to try and close the gap on the Twins.
The Tigers went out and signed free agent catcher Victor Martinez to a four year, $50 million deal.
The White Sox added some pop to the middle of their lineup by signing DH Adam Dunn to a four year, $56 million deal.
With all the departures, will the Twins be left with enough to fend off the competition as they go for a third straight division title?
5. Will Target Field Continue to Shine in Year Two?
The Twins opened Target Field to rave reviews in 2010.
Many wondered if the Twins massive home field advantage that the Metrodome afforded them for the last 28 seasons would make the 10-block trip to the new digs.
Well...the Metrodome magic hopped onto the nearest lite rail and headed on down to Target Field.
In the first season in the new stadium, the Twins sported the best home record in the American League and second-best home record in all of baseball at 53-28.
Can the Twins reproduce the early success in Target Field in its second season, or does the sophomore slump hit new stadiums too?