I played catch with The Veteran yesterday in preperation of playing my first season of softball this summer, so I’m all psyched about MLB opening day.
Hope springs eternal every March and April as baseball fans assess their team’s chances for winning their division and advancing in October and this year is no different for this baseball fan and his hopes for the Twins as they prepare for tonight’s 4 p.m. season opener at Seattle.
This year, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Twins will not only win their fourth straight division title, but that they have a great shot at advancing to the World Series. It ain’t just the locals that are optimistic: The Twins have opened some eyes at ESPN, with 7 of ESPN’s 19 "Experts" (otherwise known as writers) picking the Twins to make it to the World Series this year, and 4 of them picking them to win the series. Two of ESPN’s biggest names, Jayson Stark (who is calling the Twins the Patriots of baseball) and Peter Gammons have the Twins taking the series. Buster Olney (who also picked the Twins to win it all) has them ranked as the fourth best team in the Majors.
While the Twins did lose Koskie to Toronto and Guzman to the Nationals, I doubt their losses will prove to be crippling. Koskie is a great fielder at third and has some power at the plate, but he was injured most of the time. I can’t remember when, or if, he has played an entire season without missing significant time to his bad back or some other such ailment. Cuddyer will be a downgrade in the field but he’ll probably be healthier than Koskie, so at least we’ll have consistency in that corner and he’s no slouch at the plate, either.
Guzman was pretty amazing at times at short but he could also make some boneheaded plays due to lack of concentration and, except for the year that he was a ridiculously talented triples hitter, he just isn’t that phenomenal at the plate.
Nevertheless, shortstop is the biggest question mark the Twins have as they open the season with rookie Jason Bartlett manning the position. Bartlett will likely be an improvement at the plate and he’s proven himself to be improved defensively, but he is a rookie and will probably make rookie mistakes that we’ll have to live with. Yet he has enough talent for Gammons to pick him as a Rookie of the Year candidate.
Pitiching, again, is the strength of this team so there is little concern there.
The biggest is whether Joe Mauer can remain healthy enough to catch every day. The Twins aren’t yet convinced of that because they’ve got four catchers (Mauer, Redmond, LeCroy, and Corky Miller) on their opening day roster in order to take it easy on Mauer at the beginning of the season.
If Mauer stays healthy and contributes every day, then the Twins lineup will have more pop this year and the Twins should be capable of both winning more games (how many one- or two-run losses did Brad Radke have last year?) and advancing deeper into the playoffs.