Over at Josh's Thoughts he suggests local bloggers make their predictions for the coming season. Here are some for the Twins.
The criteria for this are always a problem, I don't think people even agree on who the top pitcher for last year was. So here are my predictions in specific categories:
Strikeouts - Liriano
ERA - Liriano
Innings Pitched - Baker
Wins - Slowey
I think Liriano will be back but continue to struggle pitching deep into games. The result will be fewer innings pitched and a lot heavier reliance on the bullpen. Together those translate into fewere wins. Baker is going to get a lot of outs and pitch deep into games, but he will give up some runs while doing it. Slowey will get as many outs as Baker, but will give up fewer runs while getting those outs. The combination will translate into the most wins.
Saves leader - Guerrier
I think the closer by committee will really be Guerrier to start. I think he will handle the job well enough to hold the job until/unless the Twins trade for a closer.
Joe Mauer - The other candidate is obviously Morneau but if Mauer stays healthy his position is going to make him more valuable than anyone else on the team even if he doesn't put up the same MVP numbers as last year.
Twins Best Rookie
The only rookie on the opening day roster is Drew Butera and his role as temporary backup catcher means he can only win this category by default. So the question is who is most likely to contribute later in the year. I suspect the popular choice will be Danny Valencia. But, aside from my doubts about him, the Twins would have to move someone to make room. I doubt they are going to do that in the middle of a pennant race. The most likely spot for a rookie to get shot is at the back of the bullpen, so the question is which of the rookie pitchers in the minors is most likely to help out.
Kyle Waldrop - Waldrop is not on the major league roster. But he and Anthony Slama have both been kept around right up to opening day. I think Waldrop, a former first round sandwich pick, is the better talent.
Twins Most Improved Player
Delmon Young - I think the sleeper here is Jacques Jones, but he has no place to play. So unless someone gets hurt he will likely have to be most improved somewhere else. Young needs to be the most improved player or he is not going to play much. You can almost see Gardy straining to figure out how to have Thome in the lineup every day, so Young is going to be on a very short leash.
This is a hard category since it deals with expectations. I am going to put JJ Hardy here since I think some people look for his numbers from a couple years ago and expect that as a return to normal. I don't think that is going to happen and mid-way through the season we are going to start hearing complaints about his defense. By the end of the year, shortstop will not be seen as one of the Twins strengths.
Bold Predictions (think of several if you'd like)
The Twins will win 100+ games and have more than one 20 game winner. I think with their offense and deep starting staff the Twins are going to win a lot of games for the pitchers who are the most effective.
The Royals will surprise people as their young players break out.
Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox will make the playoffs.
A.L. Central Prediction (Standings):
Three Keys to Success for the Twins:
Keeping people healthy - this is always a key to success. For the Twins the most important player to keep healthy is Denard Span. Revere was impressive in spring training. But he is not ready to lead off and play center field in the major leagues at the same level as Span. Span is not the team's MVP, but he may be the most irreplaceable.
Finding an effective closer - this is Twins most obvious question mark. A lot has been made of the difference between the "average' closer and a great one. But the alternative to great is not average, as anyone who remembers guys like Dave Stevens can attest. A terrible closer, who goes through stretches of blown saves, would be a real problem. It will spill over into the rotation and offense as everyone else tries to step up to compensate.
Maintaining their defense - I think Gardy pays a lot of lip service to defense, but he usually ends up going with the guy who has the better bat. That is fine when most of your players are average to outstanding defenders. But this is a team with several players who are playing a new position (Span), whose defense has questions (Young, Cuddyer, Kubel) or may be in decline (Hardy, Hudson, Punto).