Twins '06: Is the Future Still Now?

Snapshots of a long-shot season to come

Scott Baker, SP: Looks to be a classic-mold Twinkie: Effectively works up and down and in and out with stuff a titch above mediocrity. Which is none too shabby for a fifth starter with room to grow.

Francisco Liriano, long relief, SP in waiting: Remember three years ago, when everyone in the world knew that Santana should be starting but the Twins inexplicably kept him in the pen? How long they repeat this idiocy will depend on how soon Silva is injured, Lohse blows up, or Baker can't handle extended viewing by major league hitters. But with a blistering fastball and a nasty changeup from the left side, there is no time like the present for Liriano to start if the Twins have any hope of competing with the Tribe and Pale Hose.

Joe Nathan, closer: It seems like his rising heater is an invitation to gopher balls, but you can't argue with the results the past two seasons. More dominant than Reardon, Aggie, or Everyday Eddie, Nathan was the first dividend from Ryan's greatest personnel coup, the trade with SF that brought him along with Liriano and prospect Boof Bonser for AJ Pierzynski.

Johan Santana: The game's best starting pitcher is not enough to make the Twins favorites in the AL Central
Craig Lassig
Johan Santana: The game's best starting pitcher is not enough to make the Twins favorites in the AL Central

Juan Rincon, set-up: Beware of hurlers with elbow troubles and a history of steroid suspension, but Rincon looked superb in the opener versus Toronto, and, if capable without chemicals, has better overall stuff than Jesse Crain, who is temporarily getting the eighth inning while Rincon works the seventh.

Jesse Crain, set-up: A dozen wins and a 2.71 ERA for your secondary set-up man is a boon to any team, and it indicates how good Crain is at dousing rallies with men on base last year. Good fastball and slider, but now that Romero is gone and Liriano is (hopefully) headed to the rotation soon, can he consistently get lefties out? Britt Robson

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Where they'll finish:

2nd, behind the Indians, who are poised to return to their mid-'90s form. The Twins still have the best pitchers in baseball—better than last year, even—but their offensive upgrades aren't enough to compete for the division or even the wild card (that'll go to Boston or New York, as usual). Oh yeah, and the White Sox are a bunch of clowns. —Chuck Terhark

3rd, behind the White Sox and Indians. The trouble with the Twins is that their offense stands to be middling even if all the question marks get settled in their favor. That leaves pitching, and once you get past Santana you've got a good but not great staff featuring three or four bottom-of-the-rotation types and a pair of youngsters who may or may not arrive this year. —Perry

3rd. The Indians and White Sox (in that order of finish ahead of the Twins) both hit better and pitch nearly as well. —Robson

2nd, barely. The Twinks also have a shot to win the wild card, where they could spoil into October. Cleveland and Chicago's bullpens are a full grade below that of the Twins. Besides, the current Twins batting order, flawed as it is, carries more potential surprises than anything Minnesota has seen since 1988. G.R. Anderson Jr.

 

Who to watch:

Joe Mauer: Assuming our Canadian man-child of a first baseman underperforms again, Mauer is the Twins' only non-pitcher with All-Star potential. Shannon Stewart: Any hope the Twins have this year depends on the left fielder rediscovering his power (and as of this writing, it looks like he has). Francisco Liriano: Duh. If he escapes the bullpen he'll be Minnesota's first Rookie of the Year since Marty Cordova. —Terhark

Justin Morneau, because another season as underwhelming as his 2005 would go a long way toward making a mediocre offense downright bad; Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, because the team's chances of dominating in any facet of the game are riding on their good health and strong performance; and the right-field tandem of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, because a team already staring at one or two offensive black holes in the lineup (shortstop, third base) can't afford another. —Perry

Kyle Lohse and Francisco Liriano (a change has gotta come); Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer (best hope for an upgrade). —Robson

Whoever's in right field. Also, Jason Bartlett is the franchise's best shortstop, and, mark my words, Terry Tiffee will replace Batista, for the better, at the hot corner by the All-Star break. Finally, it's worth waiting to see if Ruben Sierra can get healthy and spell Morneau at first when the kid—who could be great, someday if not soon—has his inevitable meltdown. Injury or no, I still think signing Sierra is the best offseason move Terry Ryan made on the cheap. —Anderson

 

They could win the division if:

—I can eat a dozen Dome Dogs before the seventh-inning stretch of the home opener. Failing that, the Twins need their young players to step up big-time. When Bartlett and Kubel have jobs, the team's depth becomes playoff-quality, and with either Baker or Liriano in the rotation they stand to allow the fewest runs in the bigs. Starting both rookies might be too risky, but doing so and trading Lohse while his value is high (he had the best spring of any pitcher in the league) could bring a valuable third baseman, which would send the team's post-season potential through the roof. —Terhark

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