After an abysmal 2011 season, the expectations for the Twins in 2012 are all over the map. There’s the camp that believes injuries and bad luck played a very large part in our 2011 campaign. This camp argues that with the health of Morneau and Mauer, along with the rest of the injury-laden ballclub from last year, the Twins will quickly return to a contender in the AL Central. The sentiment is that despite losing an American League high 99 games last year, the Twins are not in fact broken, so a major overhaul is unnecessary. There are even a few division foes that have joined this camp.
Then there’s the other camp, which resides on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. This camp’s argument begins and ends with the fact that the Twins were terrible last year. Striking out only 940 batters in 2011, a number that was by far the worst in the majors, the Twins pitching struggled mightily throughout the year. The hitting wasn’t much better, ranking 21st or worse in every major statistical hitting category, including runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases, RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS. That is phenomenally bad. These are the results proffered by a bad team, not a team who were just a few bad injuries away from contending for a division title. Add to it the fact that longtime Twins Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and, yes, even Kevin Slowey are now gone, not to mention Jim Thome, and there’s no conclusion except to expect a similar result in 2012.
Then, there’s everyone in between, who hold out hope for a better team, but realize how poor the Twins played last year. While key veterans have parted ways with Minnesota, the likes of Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carrol, Joel Zumaya and Jason Marquis have arrived. There remain rumors that Dan Wheeler could be joining the pitching staff as well. But this isn’t the type of talent that will bring a team from worst to first is it? Young talent like Ben Revere and Denard Span hope to make a significant impact this year, but despite a talented 18 year-old like Miguel Sano, the truth is Minnesota’s other top prospects are a long way from contributing. This is mainly because most every promising prospect in the Twins’ farm system was brought up last year. And these are just the beginning of the questions for 2012.
Can Mauer and Morneau remain healthy? Is Morneau being moved off 1B or will he succeed in his rehab to come back as our starting first baseman? Can Terry Ryan get back to his old ways and rebuild an elite division leader? Will Ryan’s proclaimed reduced payroll bar us from contending? Can Matt Capps be a reliable closer? Can Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano become a feared 1-2 punch that everyone has longed for them to be for the better part of a decade? Is there any way Minnesota can bounce back from a dismal 2011 season or are we screwed before 2012 even begins?
It’s at this point that you realize, we don’t know anything. The media are all of the place on how they think the Twins will fare this year. The fans are erratic in their opinions. Nobody knows anything about this upcoming Twins team. Not even Terry Ryan. It’s a frightening place to be. The unknown is always daunting. But it’s a little exciting too.
Two years ago when we won the division title, it was clear from the start we didn’t have the pitching to contend for a World Series. Our ceiling was easily defined that season. If we won the AL Central and a first round playoff series, it would be a successful year. Turns out, we won the division and lost in the first round to the Yankees. All in all it was virtually as successful as it could have been for that group. They nearly reached their absolute ceiling.
This year? Who knows. Can we contend for a division crown? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s kind of exciting having no idea where this ballclub’s ceiling resides. How high can they go? Anyone that tells you they know, is fooling themselves. The fact remains, however, it’s quite frightening not to know how low the floor is too.