Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top 5 Reasons the Twins Can Contend in 2011

Yesterday I wrote about the Twins and their recent role of being underdogs. There are many "experts" that are predicting the Twins to have a lackluster year following their successful first season at Target Field. While at the same time the White Sox and Tigers have rebuilt their rosters in attempt to knock the Twins from their perch on top of the Central Division.

The moves or lack of moves that the Twins have made this offseason has lead many to question what to expect from the coming season. There are question marks in the infield, the bullpen, and the starting rotation. With Spring Training right around the corner it will be fun to see how these story lines play out in the coming season.

Here my top 5 reasons why the Twins can contend in 2011:

Liriano's emergence as an ace
In the second half of the 2010 season, Francisco Liriano reemerged as the ace of the Twins pitching staff. From shortly after the All-Star break until the middle of September there was a stretch where Liriano went (8-0) and the Twins were (10-1) in the games that he started. An amazing stretch of baseball from the left-handed flame-thrower and the sign of his emergence as an ace. The Twins need Liriano to put together an entire season of the numbers that he amassed during his second half surge. With a Liriano led pitching staff the Twins would be pushed from a team from the edge of contention to the cusp of another division crown.

A healthy Morneau and Nathan 
Two of the biggest stories for the Twins last season were the injuries of closer Joe Nathan and 1B Justin Morneau. Assuming, and this is a big assumption at this point, both of these players are back at 90-100% then the Twins Opening Day roster takes a big jump in a positive direction. In each of the last two years the Twins haven't had Morneau to complete their end of the season run. A healthy and effective Nathan will take some of the question marks away from the bullpen situation. By having both of these players healthy there will be less concern that the team will have to deal with and it will make contention in the Central much easier.

Gibson as an ace in the hole
Seth Stohs wrote yesterday about when Twins fans can expect to see pitching prospect Kyle Gibson in the major leagues. The Twins already have a surplus of starting pitching at the major league level but Gibson can offer the team some protection as their "ace in the hole." The Twins have some question marks in their starting rotation and it will be interesting to see what the team decides to do with it as the team breaks camp. In recent years the Twins have been involved in talks around the trade deadline for a starting pitcher. Those talks never amounted to anything and so the Twins had to turn to internal option like Brian Duensing. Gibson can be the "shot in the arm" that the club needs in the second half to become contenders.

Mauer's (k)need for MVP #2
Joe Mauer enters the first year of the monster contract that he signed last spring and Twins fans are going to continue to expect a lot from their hometown superstar. In 2010 Mauer saw a decline in the statistical output that he had in his MVP season of 2009. There were nagging knee and shoulder injuries that kept Mauer from competing at 100%. Mauer is arguably the best catcher in baseball and he is one of the elite players in the game. If the Twins can rely on Mauer to carry more of the offensive load in 2011, the road to a third straight division title will be much smoother sailing.

Home Field Advantage
The Twins were only one game over .500 on the road last season. For a team that won 94 games that means that there was a whole lot of home cooking that was happening at Target Field. The Twins assembled a 53-28 record at their first season in their new home. During that time the Twins outscored their opponents by 86 runs. The Twins teach their pitchers to pitch to contact and Target Field played to the Twins advantage by being a "pitcher's park." The Twins sold out nearly every game last season as fans flocked to the wonderful atmosphere that the new facility provided. If the magic of Target Field carries over to season number two, the Twins will be pushing for the three-peat.

What are your reasons for thinking the Twins can contend? Leave a comment and let me know.

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