Tomorrow is the day! Minnesota Twins baseball will be back for real to kick off the 2014 season against the Chicago White Sox! The roster has been set, the players are arriving in Chicago and the field is ready. For some, right now the season is only filled with the promise of what it might turn out to be. You can’t criticize anyone for being overly optimistic because there isn’t any proof of 2014 games yet…let the dreamers dream. For others, this Minnesota Twins team doesn’t inspire any hope.
Two big time, mainstream predictions (Sports Illustrated and ESPN) were made recently and both of them put the Twins solidly in the basement of the AL Central. However, one big difference between the two 2014 forecasts is that Sports Illustrated predicts that the Twins will finish 62-100 (four games worse than 2013) and ESPN has them finishing 69-93 (three games better). No fan wants to see either of those as a projected record before a single game is played but that’s the reality of this Twins team. But how close are these projections going to be? The Twins spent a lot of money this offseason to upgrade their biggest weakness, the starting rotation, and didn’t lose any key players. Surely they can’t be worse than they were last year like SI predicts?
Every Twins fan knows how great of a hitter Joe Mauer is and his move to first base will let his ability, barring injury, play out in 155+ games (his career high for games played is 147 in 2012). He’s a top favorite for the AL batting title and he makes 30-40 doubles and 10-15 homeruns a year seem pedestrian. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having wild pipe dreams about a resurgent power year from Mauer coming out from behind the catcher’s mask, but only a small bump in his triple slash (.Avg/OBP/OPS) is more likely.
However, Joe Mauer could have a career year and that still doesn’t immediately lead to a .500 record in 2014. The SI and ESPN predictions might be skewed low but the 2014 team doesn’t have the base talent level to play .500 baseball with average years from most of the team. Someone else from the team needs to step up and produce in a big way to push this Twins team far above its ability and talent level. Who will that be? Can the aging sluggers Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham have one more good year? Oswaldo Arcia is getting a bunch of attention as a potential break-out player and any improvement from his debut last year will help fuel what little offense the Twins have. Brian Dozier replicating his late season stroke and Trevor Plouffe finding any kind of consistent one would surely help as well. It’s not saying much based on his rookie season, but Aaron Hicks will have a career year and will actually look like a competent MLB hitter. But is that enough to turn heads and outplay every prediction that has been made on their 2014 season?
Suffice to say, making the playoffs would require half a dozen hitters or pitchers to play out of their minds for 5-6 months. The confluence of career years from multiple players isn’t likely and thus 2014 is going to be another rebuilding year. But with that being said, the Minnesota Twins will be far more competitive than they were last year. The starting rotation isn’t stellar by any means but it has been upgraded to a professional rotation with actual big league starters, compared to last year where 40% of the Twins starts were made by pitchers who are no longer at the MLB level. The offense will be lacking for long stretches of games but it’ll have a far easier time scoring 4 runs for a win versus the 5-6 that they needed to win in 2013. If the starters can keep them in every game, who knows who might step up in a big way.
I think that the Minnesota Twins will not lose 90 games in 2014. They have enough pitching and the potential to back that pitching up on offense enough times to win at least 73 games. Is a 7 game improvement from 2013 all that great? No, not really. But only about of dozen of these guys will be on the next great Twins team and if they are the ones that power that win improvement, 2014 will be a huge success.
Just remember, that a season’s success is what you make it.