The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Ed Thoma

April 6, 2009

Twins' Opening Day carries big expectations

No Joe Mauer tonight for the Twins and no Scott Baker — no, not even a Boof Bonser or Pat Neshek.

But somehow the Twins will scrape together enough functional players to open the 2009 season.

There are high hopes in these parts for the TC boys, a real expectation of a divisional title and maybe more.

After all, it’s essentially the same young team that barely missed winning the divisional title last season. The Twins have an excess of outfielders, a pair of young superstars and a deep starting rotation. What’s not to like?

Plenty, in the consensus views of the statheads — or, as one writer for The Hardball Times Web site put it last week, the “reality-based community.”

Not that number crunchers are writing off the Twins. For one thing, they don’t much like the outlook for anybody in the AL Central. David Pinto, in his Baseball Musings blog, suggested the division winner may well have a sub-.500 record.

What don’t they like about the Twins? Two main points:

• The uncertainty about Joe Mauer’s health.

The historical record of tall catchers is not good, and there isn’t much of a track record for baseball players with this particular back problem. The lack of a timetable for his return is regarded with suspicion.

• The overproduction of the 2008 lineup.

The Twins last year were fourth in the majors in runs scored, but were only 10th in on-base percentage and 20th in slugging percentage. Their on-base-plus slugging was a hair below average.

The Twins scored so many runs because they hit about 20 points higher than anybody else with men in scoring position. (They also had 72 sacrifice flies, which isn’t a record but is real close.)

Another issue: Such players as Denard Span and Alexi Casilla performed at a much higher level in the American League than they had in the minors.

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