2009 MINNESOTA TWINS PREVIEW
The 2008 season was a huge success for the Twins. Minnesota established an excellent starting rotation and made a late run and finished the regular season tied with the Chicago White Sox atop of the AL Central at 88-74. Unfortunately for the Twins, they fell short in the one game playoff and found themselves sitting at home in October.
However, optimism abounds in the Twin Cities and for very good reason; Minnesota returns last year’s team virtually intact and should again be a force to be reckoned with in the toughest division in baseball. 2009 could be a banner year for the Twins.
The Twins boast the best starting rotation in the AL Central. Barring injury, their rotation is already set. Star flamethrower Fransisco Liriano (6-4, 3.91 ERA, 14 starts last year) returned after a year and a half of injury rehab at midseason and is expected to be the staff ace. He certainly has the talent. Behind him are Scott Baker (11-4, 3.45 ERA, 28 starts), Kevin Slowey (12-11, 3.99 ERA, 27 starts), Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.05 ERA, 33 starts), and Glen Perkins (12-4, 4.41 ERA, 26 starts). However, it is worth noting that not one of their starters pitched 200 innings last season and 2008 also marked the first full major league season for Slowey, Blackburn and Perkins, so beware the dreaded ‘sophomore slump.’ That said, no other team in the division has the ability to trot out a very good starter every game like the Twins do and these five hurlers should be the team’s backbone this year.
Minnesota usually has an excellent bullpen and 2009 shouldn’t be any different. Anchoring the pen is superstar closer Joe Nathan, whose 1.33 ERA, 39 saves and ridiculous strikeout-per-inning ratio make him one of the game’s best. The Twins should also be able to nurse plenty of leads his way with veterans Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain on hand. Also watch out for young gun Jose Mijares, who posted a 0.87 ERA in 10 games last year down the stretch. Minnesota’s bullpen is as good as any in the AL Central and will be a strength this year.
The Twins have one of baseball’s best catchers in Twin City native Joe Mauer (.328, 9 HR, 85 RBI, .413 OBP last year), who usually finds himself in contention for the AL Batting Title. First baseman Justin Morneau (.300, 23 HR, 129 RBI, .374 OBP) is also a very dangerous hitter and should find himself among the league leaders in RBIs again this season. Up the middle, Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of pop but second baseman Alexi Casilla (.281, 7 HR, 50 RBI, .333 OBP) and shortstops Brendan Harris (.265, 7 HR, 49 RBI, .327 OBP) and Nick Punto (.284, 2 HR, 28 RBI, .344 OBP) should get on base plenty and score a lot of runs. Third baseman Brian Buscher (.294, 4 HR, 47 RBI) will get his first chance at a full major league season and will need to have a big year or the Twins could be looking for help at the hot corner come July.
Minnesota has a young outfield that is really just coming into their collective prime. Leftfielder Delmon Young (.290, 10 HR, 69 RBI, .336 OBP) enters his third full major league season and should improve his power numbers this year. Centerfielder Carlos Gomez (.258, 7 HR, 59 RBI, .296 OBP) is raw but very talented in his second full year and Rightfielder Denard Span (.294, 6 HR, 47 RBI, .387) is coming off an impressive rookie season. Designated Hitter Jason Kubel (.272, 20 HR, 78 RBI, .335 OBP) will also provide some depth in the outfield and fan favorite Michael Cuddyer (.249, 3 HR, 39 RBI, .330 OBP) should bounce back and see a lot of playing time after missing more than half of last season due to injury. The Twins should find plenty of production from their outfield this season and their three young stars should all improve upon their 2008 production, making Minnesota’s outfield a very dangerous group.
The Twins enter this year hungry to return to postseason play after coming so close last season. For many of their players, last year was their first run at a postseason berth so even though they fell short, that experience in invaluable. Any playoff team boasts great pitching and Minnesota is the best in the AL Central in that regard. Furthermore, their lineup has a lot of pop and should produce a lot of runs. The Twins should be even better than last year’s team and nothing short of 90 wins should be considered acceptable. Expect the Twins to get over the hump and win the 2009 American League Central Division crown.
By Matt Baxendell
> View all of the 2009 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans