I should start by saying I’m not your typical pessimistic journalist when it comes to the local teams. I’m not trying to build heat or be that “shock jock” type to get Minnesota Twins fans fired up.
I just have a lot of doubts about the Twins this season. I didn’t last year, picking them to win the AL Central. I even picked them to get to the American League Championship Series before losing to the New York Yankees in the playoffs (guess I was half-right there).
The Twins have managed to field playoff teams throughout the last decade. One common thread with all of those teams was the presence of a strong bullpen. And I have my doubts about the current group.
But that’s not all. Former AL MVP Justin Morneau had a tough spring training, joining another rehabbing teammate in closer Joe Nathan. Now I try not to pay much attention to spring numbers. But if there were two veterans that had to be treating spring training like it was the regular season this year, it was these two. And neither showed much.
Morneau hit .152 in 10 spring games. Nathan had a 9.72 ERA in nine appearances.
To me, Nathan might be the most important player on this team, which pains me to say since we’re talking about a guy who will probably throw only 70 innings this season. But it’s tough to imagine the bullpen being effective without Nathan being his old self again.
Even with Nathan, it’s a shallow ‘pen. Without him, Matt Capps slides into the closer’s role, which isn’t a big deal except for the fact that there isn’t a solid right-hander left to take over the eighth-inning job. Jose Mijares is pretty trustworthy as the lefty, but beyond that, who do you trust? I think Kevin Slowey could be decent as the long man. Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins are question marks as the other southpaws. And I’m convinced Jeff Manship is on this team because there were no other reliable options. The guy has a career ERA over 5 and a spring ERA over 5. That means he didn’t win the job, but rather that others lost the job.
Combine the fact that many of the team’s starters – notably Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn – aren’t considered the typical workhorse starters, and this is a team that can ill afford to not have depth in the bullpen.
The Twins can always make a midseason trade to keep pace with the Chicago White Sox – who boast a much better pitching staff than the Twins – and the Detroit Tigers. But if they fall too far behind, it might be too late.
But enough raining on your parades. It’s opening day. Enjoy it. And the Twins should be a team you can enjoy. While I might not have picked them to win the AL Central, it’s a good lineup – with or without Morneau slugging – and a team that should be reckoned with in the division.