Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tough schedule could put Twins in early hole

One of the downfalls of having an unbalanced schedule in MLB is that teams will end up facing a lot of competition from the other divisions in their league earlier in the year. For the Twins this means a healthy dose of the AL East and AL West to start the 2012 campaign. The AL East has three of the top teams in the entire American League and the AL West has put together two of the best rosters at the top of that division for 2012. This leaves the Twins with a lot of tough competition when their season gets underway at the beginning of next month.

The Twins start the year in Baltimore but almost all of the rest of the month is against teams that won 86 or more games during 2011. The Angels, Rangers, and Red Sox make trips to Target Field in the first month of the season. An east coast road trip sees the Twins visit New York and Tampa Bay. The month ends with a west coast swing into Los Angeles to face the Angels for the second time in the month.

Overall, it looks like a very tough schedule to start the year so here's a brief look at each of these teams. Following a 99-loss season, the Twins will want to get off to a good start but it could be hard with the teams they will be facing off against.

Los Angeles Angels
2011 Record: 86-76
2011 vs. the Twins: 6-3
April schedule vs. Twins: 9th, 11th, 12th, 30th
The Angels made some of the biggest waves in the offseason free agent market by bringing in Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. After seeing the success of the Rangers during the last two seasons, the Angels are looking to unthrone Texas from the top of the AL West. Top prospect Mike Trout could provide a lift to an aging outfield but recent reports have him starting the year in the minor leagues. By the fifth full week of the season, the Twins will have played the Angels nine times with six of those contests coming at Target Field. In the early part of the year, these teams will be very familiar with one another so it will be interesting to see how the match-up shakes out.

Texas Rangers
2011 Record: 96-66
2011 vs. the Twins: 3-5
April schedule vs. Twins: 13th, 14th, 15th
The Rangers made some of their own noise in the free agent market by paying a kings ransom to sign Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. Former Twins closer Joe Nathan was also lured away to Texas for the opportunity to fight for a World Series title before his career is over. The Twins first weekend series of the year at Target Field is a three-game set with Texas and this could mean Nathan coming out of the bullpen in center field. During the last two seasons, the Rangers have represented the American League in the World Series and they look poised to make the playoffs again in 2012. These two teams won't face each other again until the later months of the season so it will be interesting to see how much these team's change in the middle portion of the year.

New York Yankees
2011 Record: 97-65
2011 vs. the Twins: 6-2
April schedule vs. Twins: 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th
A four-game series in the Bronx was probably not very high on the Twins early season wish-list but that was the way the schedule was put together. Unlike the other teams listed above, the Yankees didn't make a huge mark on the free agent market but that doesn't mean that they weren't busy with other moves. The biggest free agent signing for the Bronx Bombers was in the form of Hiroki Kuroda a 37-year old starting pitcher. Other than this signing the Yankees also traded away top prospect Jesus Montero for pitching phenom Michael Pineda from the Mariners. The Twins have struggled with the Yankees in recent years and Yankee Stadium has been full of horrors for the Twin Cities squad. Here's hoping the Twins find a little early season luck in the Big Apple.

Tampa Bay Rays
2011 Record: 91-71
2011 vs. the Twins: 7-3
April schedule vs. Twins: 20th, 21st, 22nd
The Rays have become the model franchise for small market teams with their ability to develop young talent and produce a winning baseball team. Tampa's front office usually stays away from messy free-agent deals because they have the talent in their system to replenish the major league squad. Carlos Pena will make a return trip to Tampa Bay and he represents the biggest offseason signing for the Rays. A stocked rotation with David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson will only get deeper with the edition of top pitching prospect Matt Moore. With all of their talent, the Rays will be picked to finish near the top of the AL East for the fourth year in a row.

Boston Red Sox
2011 Record: 90-72
2011 vs. the Twins: 5-2
April schedule vs Twins: 23rd, 24th, 25th
After a heartbreaking end to the 2011 season, the Red Sox will be looking to get 2012 off to a positive start. Manager Terry Francona left the team following the team's collapse and veteran manager Bobby Valentine replaced him. The only multi-year free agent signing for the Red Sox was former Twins utility-man Nick Punto but they also brought in outfielder Cody Ross to add some depth to their line-up. One of the biggest questions facing this team in spring training a starting rotation that ranked 13th in innings pitched pitched last season with only the ninth best ERA in the AL. The offense should continue to produce if the team can find away to hold the other team from scoring. A rough start by the Red Sox at the beginning of 2011 was the talk of baseball and the team will be looking for some positive conversations to start 2012.

With 16 straight games against this tough competition, the Twins could find themselves looking up in the standings before the team ever faces a AL Central foe. Of those 16 games, 15 of them come in a stretch without a single off day. The Twins could be in good shape for the rest of the year if they can find a way to get out of April without digging themselves a giant hole in the standings.

No comments: