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Twins must overcome injury curse to contend

What Minnesota Twins fans were looking for last season and what they got were two vastly different things.

After winning the American League Central Division title two years in a row the fans thought the Twins were ready to make the jump to the next level.

What few people saw was the word "disaster" written on the wall. The Twins lost 99 of 162 games for their worst season since 1986.

Injuries are a fact of life for every major league baseball team but the 2011 season was a season-long train wreck. No fewer than 20 Minnesota players were sick or injured. Former American League MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were sidelined four different times. Mauer appeared in just 82 games hitting .287 with 3 home runs and 30 RBIs. Morneau played in 69 games hitting .227 with 4 home runs and 30 RBIs. You do not really have to go much further to explain why the Twins were so anemic at the plate.

Mauer is ready and raring to make up for his disappointing 2011 season but do not look him behind the plate that much. Do not count on Morneau playing 162 games at first either.

With Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer playing for Arizona and Colorado the Twins are going to roll the dice with some new talent in the DH and right field spots. Josh Willingham is ready to take over for Cuddy. His numbers for the A's last year were pretty close to Cuddy's numbers for the Twins but while Cuddyer was a fan favorite Willingham is an unknown.

The DH job could go to one of five players - including Mauer and Morneau - depending on what manager Ron Gardenhire decides to do.

The Twins added aging Jamey Carroll from the Dodgers to play shortstop but they have not cut Tsuyoshi Nishioka loose so they might still have plans for the former Japanese superstar. Alexi Casilla has the kind of speed Gardy wants but he has to give the Twins more than 97 games. Third baseman Danny Valencia turned out the infield's top power numbers, 15 homers and 72 RBIs, but the Twins saw him hit .310 in 2010 and his batting average slipped to .246 last year. One of the most miserable, and telling, statistics about the 2011 season was that the Twins fell from fifth to 28th in team fielding percentage.

Ben Revere stepped up and played a good center field for the Twins last year after Denard Span was lost to a concussion in June. He might have to stay there if Span cannot come back from the concussion.

The Twins have a lot to prove with their bats. The team hit an AL-worst 103 homers last year. Outdoor baseball seems to have permanently messed up their long ball swings. They hit 172 dingers in 2009, their last season under the Dome.

Do not expect miracles from Minny's pitching staff. Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano all have starting experience but do not mistake them for one of the AL's better staffs. All five of them spent time on the DL last year. A good yardstick for starting pitchers is innings pitched. Pavano's 222 innings last year was impressive with the support he had he could not produce miracles as his 9-13 record and 4.30 ERA showed. Duensing was the next with 161 innings and Blackburn threw 148 frames.

The Twins are throwing Jason Marquis, a journeyman right-hander with the Nationals and Diamondbacks, into this year's starting ranks and hoping for the best.

Some people might say there is potential because their staff ERA was 3.95 in 2010 - the fifth best in the AL - but the fact is that last year it dropped to 4.58 - 13th out of the AL's 14 teams.

The fact that the Twins are handing the ball to Matt Capps after losing Joe Nathan to the Rangers shows they have plenty of confidence in their closer but a 4.25 ERA and 15 saves is not going to scare too many teams. Nor will the middle relievers that they seem to be assembling - Jose Mijares, Glen Perkins and former Detroit righty Joel Zumaya.

Terry Ryan is back aboard and perhaps some of his wheeling and dealing will put the Twins back on track in time but Ryan is going to need a lot of breaks on the field - and not the kind that put you on the DL.