Columnist gets fans prepped for ‘07 Twins
March 23, 2007
The American League Central is a much-improved division since the Twins won three straight division titles in 2002-04. After an off year in 2005 Minnesota won the division again in 2006 on the last day of the season. The team will have their work cut out for them to repeat this year with the Cleveland Indians, 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox and last year’s American League champion Detroit Tigers all being legitimate threats within the division.
In Major League Baseball’s unbalanced schedule, the Twins will play each of those teams 18 times, while only playing teams outside the division for six to nine games over the course of the season.
The good news is that the majority of last year’s core players will be back.
Joe Mauer will start at catcher, backed up by naked batting practice specialist Mike Redmond. Redmond is also one of only three Twins with a World Series ring (Luis Castillo and Ramon Ortiz are the other two).
First base is also set with Justin Morneau. He started 157 games last year and will likely not need a backup, although right fielder Michael Cuddyer can play there in an emergency.
Second base will be manned by Castillo with rookie Alexi Casilla ready to take his place in case of injury.
Jason Bartlett will likely be back at shortstop. Bartlett got the starting job in the middle of last season and rescued the Twins from out-machine Juan Castro. In 99 games he batted .309 and became one of the “piranhas,” as named by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.
Third base will look a little different this year. Nick Punto, who also won a job in the middle of last season, will be back, but could return to his former role of utility player or platoon with free agent acquisition Jeff Cirillo.
Cirillo was once one of the best third basemen in the game and a two-time all star, but at age 37 he’s probably not much more than a solid bench player. With Milwaukee last year, he batted .319 in limited playing time.
Cuddyer and his cannon arm will be back in right field and Torii Hunter will return to center in what could be his last year in a Twins uniform. With Shannon Stewart’s departure to the Oakland Athletics, the left field job will fall to some combination of Jason Kubel, Jason Tyner, and Rondell White.
The Twins have a group of position players most teams in baseball would be envious of, but the problem lies in the starting rotation. After ace Johan Santana nothing is certain.
Boof Bonser, who was the favorite for the number two spot, will likely be replaced by free agent Ramon Ortiz. Another free agent, Sidney Ponson is in the mix, as is Carlos Silva.
The Twins are taking a big risk starting the year with three members of the rotation who last year went a combined 26-36 with a 5.92 ERA. If any of those three should falter, the Twins have an excellent group of pitching prospects close to the Majors, including Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker.
The Twins success this year will depend on the young stars like Mauer and Morneau continuing where they left off last season and whether or not pitching coach Rick Anderson can return Ortiz, Ponson and Silva to respectability.
My prediction: second place in the division because of the pitching question marks, but making the playoffs through a Wild Card berth.
Ben Brewster is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2009.