The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

April 1, 2014

Thoma column: For the remade Twins, 2014 looks like more losing

The start of the baseball season is supposed to be about fresh beginnings, wide open promises and the hope that springs eternal in the human breast.

I’m here to quash that kind of optimism among the followers of the Minnesota Twins. (I strive to be a realist, not a romantic.)

The Twins spent the offseason reinforcing a weak starting rotation. Terry Ryan and Co. did a pretty good job of it. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and the returning Mike Pelfrey aren’t likely to win any Cy Young awards, but the rotation won’t be the burden it has been the past two years.

But the offense is ... offensive.

The 2013 Twins scored 614 runs. That was Minnesota’s lowest full-season total since 1972, a year when hitting was so low the American League adopted the designated hitter rule.

The Twins’ lineup repairs: Replacing Ryan Doumit and Justin Morneau with Kurt Suzuki and Jason Kubel.

That’s not enough. The 2014 Twins will struggle to score runs again. It really doesn’t matter what batting order Ron Gardenhire deploys; he can only hit Joe Mauer in one place in a game, and most of the remaining slots will inevitably be filled by guys who should be hitting eighth or ninth if they belong in a major league lineup at all.

In fairness to the Twins’ brain trust, I don’t think they intended their position-player moves to be largely recycling guys who were good five years ago. In the words of assistant general manager Rob Antony, “We were trying to give money away.” The good veteran free agents went where they might win immediately; other free agents, to be blunt, would only be in the way.

What I’ll look for in 2014 from this team isn’t contention. It’s progress.

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