Saturday Short: The Key to the Twins 2011 Season

19 Feb

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We talk a lot about all of the question marks for the Twins heading into the season, and no question, after winning 95 games a season ago, it is remarkable how many unknowns there are heading into spring training. In my mind, one word describes the biggest issue for the Twins 2011 season. That word will determine, potentially, whether this team finishes first in the AL Central or falls to third. The word is one that every team has to worry about every season, and one that often fits into the cliche world. The word is “health.”

Yes, that refers to Justin Morneau and the concussion that he suffered last July. Yes, that refers to Joe Nathan and his return from Tommy John surgery last spring. It refers to Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker who each had “minor” offseason arm surgeries. It refers to Francisco Liriano who experienced some shoulder soreness the last few days. Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer each had “minor” knee surgery in the offseason. Pat Neshek’s return to 100% with a full season under his belt after his Tommy John surgery is a big story this spring. James Hoey and his, as Phil Mackey said on 1500espn yesterday, 185 mph fastball needs to stay healthy (and throw strikes). Carl Pavano has never been a beacon of health, and hopefully he can hit the 200 inning plateau again in 2011. And there are always unforeseen injuries throughout a season, big or small.

It is safe to assume that the Twins will not be 100% healthy all year. Neither will the White Sox or the Tigers or anyone. But this season more than any recent season, the term “health” is such a big thing heading into spring training. There are plenty of other question marks, including a lack of depth at some positions that make health even more important for the Twins. What is the backup plan if Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau get hurt? Who gets playing time if any of the Twins infielders get hurt? I actually am less worried about the Twins pitching staff as it relates to health than I am the position players because of the depth question.

I have no problem saying that, IF HEALTHY, the Twins have the best team in the AL Central, just ahead of the Chicago White Sox.

What do you think? What is the Twins most important key to their 2011 season? How would you rank their top five issues? Feel free to leave your comments here. Also, for more links to Twins articles and thoughts throughout the weekend, be sure to follow me on Twitter where I like to retweet Twins-related articles and post thoughts frequently.


9 Responses to “Saturday Short: The Key to the Twins 2011 Season”

  1. Jesse H February 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    5 Keys Issues for the Regular Season

    1. Yankee’s Series – The Twins MUST win at their regular season series against the Yankee’s this year. If we are ever going to get past that team in the playoffs we must first get past them in the regular season.

    2. Liriano – We need an ace on this team and management has shown they are not willing to get a rental during the season so we need someone on the team to step into that role. Liriano can be that guy.

    3. Middle Infield – Both of our middle infielders have a chance of bombing this year (Casilla because of past performance, Nishioka because of the transition) and we will not win with Tolbert and Plouffe playing those spots.

    4. Gardy – The one constant through our playoff failures is Gardy. He needs to come up with a different message for this team as it goes through the regular season and gets ready for the playoffs because the one he has used for the last decade isn’t working.

    5. Gibson – I firmly believe that Slowey is a guy who will always be injured during the season and Blackburn is just not that good. We will need a good contribution from Gibson this season despite the much discussed 6 guys for 5 spots storyline.

    Items noticable because of their ansence from this list:

    1. Morneau – We have survived too many times with him down in the second half either because of injury or poor play to make me think he is a deal breaker.

    2. Bullpen – It will come together, if there is one thing this team can do it is develop a bullpen and find deals during the season for bullpen help.

  2. bcntwinsfan February 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    As long as the twins sort out their bullpen situation they will win the central. morneau will be back at some point.cuddyer and thome can cover until that time. and at least one of our mi will shine. expect bounceback years from span and kubel and that mauer will have an even better year this year than last year, but not 2009.
    By the way, ive figured out the pink polka dots. if you stare at them long enough they form one of those hologram pictures of seth eating nachos

  3. JA February 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Hi Seth,
    The Twins do have many questions that need to be answered. The infield at every position. Will Valencia, Nishi, and Casilla all grad hold of their respective positions? Will Morneau come back? These are my biggest concerns. The outfield, bullpen, and the rotation I believe feature enough depth and talent that the staff should be able to find the right mix even in the case of an injury. So on paper, this team is set-up to contend with the likes of the tigers and White Sox. Which neither team has the depth the Twins have, nor do they have the coaching staff that for much of the last decade has gotten the most out of their roster.

  4. Jim H February 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Health and depth are indeed the keys to a successful season. The Twins really have better depth than many bloggers suggest. Even in the middle infield, the Twins have a couple guys who can play defense if Casilla struggles, and think Nishi will play defense even if he struggles on offense.

    I think the Twins could have a great season if the pitching comes together, and that probably depends on health. Having an “Ace” is less important than finding 5 starters to give you consistent innings. Except during Santana’s run, at least 2 or 3 teams in the Central Division have had better aces than the Twins every year. Sometimes they have even had a couple pitchers better than the Twins No. 1. Having at least 4 and better yet 5 consistent starters, reduces the workload for the long relievers who are always the poorest pitchers on the staff. It becomes easier to set up your best relievers if the starters consistently get deep in games.

    Quality starts are a much maligned stat, but if your starters give you a bunch of quality starts, your chance of winnings goes way up.

  5. Kunza February 20, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Ron Gardenhire! He is the key to the entire season. He needs to change a bit. I think he is quickly becoming the Lou Pinella of the modern age. A pretty decent regular season manager but just doesn’t have it when it comes to the playoffs.

  6. TT February 20, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    You know things are going pretty well when fans are concerned during spring training about how well the team will do in the playoffs. Health is always an issue and the answer is always the same, more depth. If you look at the Twins vulnerabilities, I would put them in this order:

    Mauer. Delmon Young may be able to take over the number three spot in the batting order. But the Twins really have no backup catcher that you want anywhere in the lineup every day.

    Span. Last year Span would have topped this list, but Repko and, potentially, Revere make his getting hurt less of an issue for center field. Nishioka and Casilla can probably handle the top two spots in the order if needed.

    Mijares. Nathan and Capps give the Twins some depth at closer and the Twins are going to be auditioning a lot of guys for the right-handed setup spots. But Mijares is the only established left-handed setup guy. And the other options are much more limited.

    Morneau. You don’t replace an MVP quality bat. The only reason he isn’t near the top of this list is that most of his plate appearances will be taken by Thome.

    The Twins actually are quite deep. They can absorb injuries almost everywhere else without a steep dropoff. Are Tolbert or Plouffe as good as Nishioka or Casilla? No. But they are not likely to be dramatically worse either.

    If the Twins need to use Plouffe or Hughes to replace Valencia it will be a big drop off from last year. But I don’t think last year is representative of what we can expect from Valencia. If you do, then add Valencia to the list above, because the Twins don’t have anyone at third base who can put up comparable production.

  7. mike wants wins February 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Still sticking to around 90 wins, give or take 2-3…..

    1. Mauer health – the backups would cost them runs, runs, runs. Might not be worth $23MM, but close.

    2. Span or Casilla or Nishi getting on base 38% of the time, hitting first in the order. One of the other 2 getting on 35% of the time and hitting second in the order.

    3. MIF defense. The Twins were great in the MIF last year. Hard to imagine them being that good again. If so, that would be huge.

    4. Health. There aren’t a lot of great minor league options for 1B, 3B, SS, 2B. There probably are for OF, SP, RP.

    5. Starting pitching is always key.

    6. Not trading starters for prospects, whether that be Liriano or Delmon Young or whomever.

    7. Young or Cuddyer continuing to get better, or getting back to being better.

    8. Morneau’s health. He’s a great, great player. They are a much better team with him.

  8. troystwinsdugout February 22, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    I think people don’t give as much credit to Carl Pavano. he was basically our ace last year. I think however that a key for us this year is whether or not starters like Liriano and Baker and especially Baker can do well this year. I’d probably also add Slowey into the mix as well for starting pitching that should also improve from last year. Add Duensing and you have a solid rotation if all of them say have ERAs under 4.5. And Blackburn will probably be the long man in my book, but I think everything wil be sorted out in Spring training.

  9. renda extra June 1, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    I liked the site

    Mary Kate

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