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Despite a few shortcomings, this team is good

Contract extensions make Twins contenders in 2010

By Josh Newman
After seeing the kind of start the Twins got off to in 2010, I remain optimistic about this young season.

Obviously, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this season: Joe Mauer’s new contract; the signing of Jim Thome, who at 39 is still in great shape; Denard Span’s 5-year extension; and, of course, this beautiful outdoor stadium we have come to know as Target Field.

But there was also one big question at the start of the regular season: would John Rauch be able to handle the role of closer?

Let’s face it: Joe Nathan’s injury left some big shoes to fill. I agreed with Gardy’s decision to go with Rauch as the closer at the time because of his previous closer experience. Prior to this season, his resume stated that he had 26 saves in his career, yet he had been used primarily as a middle reliever.

So far, Rauch has not let me down. He has converted on 100 percent of his save opportunities through April 13. You can’t get any better than that, folks. Now if he could just work on slamming the door every night instead of giving up an occasional run. Nobody’s perfect, but Rauch has been able to get the job done, and thanks to his ability to do his job on a regular basis, I am not a nervous wreck anymore. If he keeps this up, I don’t see any reason he can’t get 30 saves.

With that position taken care of, let’s move on to another issue: Target Field. There is a lot of buzz about the new stadium, and I can justify it because of its structure, natural beauty and, most importantly, its lack of a roof. However, it is Minnesota’s first open air stadium since their final season at the Met back in 1981. They will be playing on grass instead of artificial turf, and the turf was able to fool opposing teams with unpredictable hops from fly balls. The outfielders must actually run to the ground balls because grass is not as fast or bouncy as artificial turf. And with the lack of a roof, the Twins must now contend with other natural elements on a regular basis, such as strong winds. I don’t expect the Twins to master Target Field right away. It will definitely be an adjustment, and hopefully it doesn’t take too long. The last time I heard, you must be able to win at home if you want to be a strong team.

Assuming everybody stays healthy, I have almost no worries about our offense this year – yet. Span gives us plenty of speed at the leadoff spot, right where he belongs. Mauer and Justin Morneau should both be themselves – 30 homers and close to 100 RBI as the mainstays of the lineup.

As always, the biggest question mark is pitching. Nick Blackburn will rebound from his 1-1 start. My biggest concern about the rotation is Francisco Liriano. Even though he allowed only three earned runs in six innings in his first start, he walked five batters while striking out only three. Five walks! That’s a lot, especially for just six innings of work. He must remember to throw his pitched over the plate and that he is not required to throw his pitches in a certain amount of time. Rauch has my confidence now, and I also feel that Scott Baker and Carl Pavano (what a great game he had in his first start!) will have solid seasons. Kevin Slowey has a 1.69 ERA, but he allowed seven hits in just 5.1 innings in his first start. If he can lower that number, I will feel better about him.
Am I too optimistic? If you think so, that’s your problem. This year’s team is definitely better than last year’s squad. If they make it to the postseason, though, I am not sure how far they will make it. However, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it because we still have the entire regular season ahead of us. Play ball!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, Josh. This team has some flaws but so does every other club. The Twins are solid in most areas -- especially the offense, defense and relief pitching. All you can ask for is that they keep winning series...hopefully they'll take Boston in the rubber game tomorrow. Liriano certainly needs to step it up, though. The Twins need him to at least regain some of his 2006 form. Five walks is way too many, and he can't continue to struggle that much with his control. Slowey also has been walking more batters than usual in his two starts, but I'm not as worried about him in the long run. He should be pretty good if he stays healthy.