2006 Twins PreviewWell, it came incredibly slowly, but it is finally here. The Major League Baseball opened its season last night with the White Sox beating the Indians. I've been ready to go for way too long, and I can hardly wait until Shannon Stewart steps into the box tomorrow evening. Here is my take on the Twins offseason and the upcoming season. Go Twins!
The Twins offense should be better; you'd think it couldn't get worse. Some of the offseason moves have made them better. Luis Castillo was a great move. He had nearly a .400 OBP last year, which will be invaluable at the top of the order. I expect him to be leading off shortly into the season. Rondell White should also be a great acquisition. He can drive in runs, hit for some power, and hit for average. Also, by all accounts, he is a great teammate. The questions regarding both players is their ability to stay healthy. Castillo's legs have given him trouble in recent years, and White has been referred to as "RondDL" White. Hopefully becoming a full-time DH will improve his chances of staying healthy.
Mauer and Morneau are two more reasons the offense should be better. While Mauer was solid last year, he did leave some room for improvement (as you would hope from a 22 year-old). I expect his power numbers to improve as he becomes more comfortable hitting early in the count. Morneau had a terrible year last year, and I really expect him to improve drastically on his 2005 numbers (.239/.437/.340, 22 hrs, 79 rbi). I also believe he is the key to the offense. If he plays this year like he did in 2004 (or better), the offense will be much better. I can see him hitting 30-35 hrs with a .270 avg and driving in 100+ runs. If Stewart and Hunter rebound, the offense could be alot better. If Jason Kubel performs at the same level he played at prior to his knee injury, the offense could not only be alot better, it could be very good.
All those positives could be undone by two unfortunate personnel decisions: Tony Batista and Juan Castro. I already talked about just how bad a hitter Juan Castro is. I might actually suggest DHing for Castro and hitting with the pitcher. Batista is also an out machine. He may hit some homers, but the overall production will not improve the offense; I think it will make it worse. It's too bad the organization has completely given up on Cuddyer at the hot corner. Hopefully, the Twins will dump Batista before it's too late and get a legitimate 3B option. Also, I am hoping Bartlett will play his way back to the big club by May or June. I am seriously pissed about his inexplicable demotion to AAA. I guess .380 BA, .500 OBP wasn't cutting it this spring.
The pitching staff should also improve. They improved the back end of their rotation by adding Scott Baker and, eventually, Francisco Liriano. They'd better improve because in the end, it will be the pitching staff that carries the Twins to a Central Division title. Nathan will be solid in the closer role, as should Rincon and Crain. If everyone stays healthy (i.e. Santana and Nathan), then I expect the pitching staff to be as good as last year.
When it's all said and done, if everything goes right (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, good health, no Castro) the Twins will win the Central. However, I think it's too much to go right. As a result, I predict the Twins will finish 2nd in the AL Central (89-73) behind the White Sox. The Indians pitching won't hold up, despite their great offense. I hope I'm wrong, because I think this team has as much potential as any Twins team in the last 5 years.