Time to start taking the load off Target Field
When the contractors started building Target Field the Twin Cities media predicted 2010 would be a great year for the Minnesota Twins.
They were right - up to a certain point. That Minnesota team won the American League Central Division with a 94-68 record. They also set the sixth-best attendance mark in baseball drawing 3,223,640 fans to their beautiful park..
Since that time the Twins have been a second division flunkie and Minnesota's front office has been dealing with a falling fan base. Fan attendance dropped to 2,477,644 last year giving the Twins a modest ranking of 17th.
It was a given that general manager Terry Ryan would have to open the organization's wallet to land some veteran free agents. Pitchers Rick Nolasco and Phil Hughes and catcher Kurt Suzuki are the top newcomers. The Twins would sure like the fans to believe these guys will help Minny erase the 27-game gap that separated them from the playoffs last year. Common sense should tell the fans it is going to take a lot more. The probability is that only Nolasco, who won nine of his 12 decisions with the Los Angeles Dodgers, might be up to the task before him. He can give the Twins plenty of innings if he gets the chance. Hughes won 18 games for the Yankees in 2010 but he won only four games last year in 18 decisions and had a lousy 5.19 ERA. Suzuki is going to play but the Twins also like Josmil Pinto, who hit .342 in 21 games last year.
If you have post-season plans tradition says pitching is a great advantage. Six of the top 10 pitching staffs in the majors helped their teams to the playoffs. In this area the Twins have almost nowhere to go but up. Their staff ERA was 29th out of 30 teams last season.
Ryan's grab for pitching talent last year turned out depressingly bad. Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfry and Vance Worley only gave the Twins 15 victories. It is not much of a comfort to know that all three of these players are regarded as starting candidates this spring. They also have guys like Sam Deduno, Josh Gibson and Scott Diamond shooting for starting jobs.
The Twins did manage to get some respectable earned run averages out of relievers Caleb Thielbar, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak and Jared Burton. All three posted ERA's below 3.00 and Perkins saved 36 games out of a possible 40. The Twins were also able to use relievers Casey Fien and Brian Duensing in 73 games.
Offensively the Twins managed to score only 614 runs which is never going to take much pressure off a beleaguered pitching staff.
The Twins have moved Joe Mauer to first base this spring and the former catcher will have to like it if he wants to keep playing baseball. The concussion he suffered last year was too serious to let him play behind the plate. Mauer hit .324 but he only played in 113 games and drove in a measly 47 runs hitting out of his normal No. 3 spot in the batting order.
Another hitter who has to pick up his game is outfielder Josh Willingham. Without Justin Morneau around the Twins need a lot more than 111 games, a .208 batting average, 14 homers and 48 ribbies from Willingham.
Trevor Plouffe's bat is also needed. The third sacker fell to 14 homers and 52 RBIs last year in 129 games - hardly the same player that hit 11 homers in just one month during the 2012 season.
It's a cinch that one of the big reasons the Twins promoted Tom Brunansky to be their hitting coach was to cut down on strikeouts. When your team strikes out a team record 1,430 times you have to do take a different approach.
If the Twins want to reverse their sliding attendance they have to do it on the diamond this year. Target Field cannot be expected to carry them in 2014.