2011 was supposed to be the Twins year. They were coming off of a fantastic 2010 season that was capped by another playoff appearance and their customary three-and-out performance in the Divisional Series against the Yankees. They were playing their second season in the brand new Target Field and it appeared that they would not be challenged for the weak American League Central division.
Well, as with a lot of the predictions heading into 2011, they blew away in the wind just as soon as the gates opened.
Instead of winning the division, the Twins suffered through one of their worst seasons in recent memory. They finished at the bottom of the AL Central with a record of 63-99 while they watched Detroit run away with the title. Even their home field, which had been an advantage for years, treated them poorly, holding the Twins to a 33-48 mark at home.
Now in fairness, the Twins were beset with injuries last season, when their three primary bats, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel missed a total of 236 games between them. That left the sole responsibility of producing on the back of Michael Cuddyer, and while he did admirably, that is a lot of weight to shoulder.
2012 doesnít appear to be any easier for the Twins. Both Cuddyer and Kubel have moved on through free agency, the Tigers added Prince Fielder during the offseason, and that says nothing of the strides expected of both Cleveland and Kansas City for the upcoming season.
The Twins did counteract the loss of Cuddyer by inking Josh Willingham to a 3-year, $21 million deal, but the real hinge for them swings on the health of both Mauer and Morneau.
And isnít that the rub just about every year with the Twins?
Morneau has missed 200 games over the last three seasons combined as he has dealt with a string of injuries, including two concussions while Mauer has missed an average of 20 games per season, minus the two stellar years he put together in 2009 and 2010. Mauer is back behind the plate after some experimentation of playing him at first base last season in order to keep him healthy, while the decision to let Kubel leave was likely attributable to the desire to give Morneau time in the DH slot for the same reason.
There is no doubt that the pair makes a huge difference for the team. Two MVP award between them is proof to that. The question comes as to what to expect from them in 2012. While Mauer may swing a sweet stick, his power outburst in 2009 may be a bit of a reach to expect again, as his average of 9 home runs per year in the other five full seasons are likely more indicative of his true power, especially given that Target Field isnít as hitter friendly as the Metrodome once was.
Meanwhile, Morneauís struggles with post-concussion syndrome may be more worth watching, as they seem to be triggered by other injuries. If he is fully recovered and ready to resume his career, his power numbers are much easier on the eyes than Mauerís and there is no doubt that the Twins could use his bat. Theyíll need it every day if they want to succeed in 2012.
After making the decision to extend both of these young bats a few years ago, the Twins are definitely looking for a little more bang for their buck. That starts with getting them both in the line-up, together.
Otherwise, it could be another long season of looking up at what might have been.