It's back to the AL Central as I scramble like mad to keep up with Gage and get these scintillating previews done before Opening Day. Friday's soup of the day: your 2007 Minnesota Twins.
The most exciting thing about the 2006 Twins won't be around until 2008. At best. Francisco Liriano's got a long, lonely road back, and the Twins don't--and shouldn't--want him to rush back lest they risk him re-injuring his elbow like he did last season. I can't say the White Sox want him to rush back either. I look for Liriano to get super lonely and seek solace in the CC Sabathia diet--which, apparently, consists mostly of pork fat (the Twinkie joke was just too easy). What should really upset Twins fans, though, is that they may have seen Santana and Liriano in the same rotation for the last time... more on that later.
In any case, the Twinkie rotation looks a lot less intimidating behind Santana with both Liriano and Brad Radke gone. My heart bleeds that I can't hear Hawk Harrelson rhapsodize about how Radke is a consummate professional and a Sox killer this year... absolutely bleeds.
Now teams only have to deal with the likes of Boof Bonser (his name is Boof), Carlos Silva, Ramon Ortiz (his career year was in 2002), and Matt Garza. If you're a Twins fan, you know you're in some trouble when the most proven veterans behind Santana are Ortiz and Silva, the latter of whom posted a robust 5.94 ERA last year (in 5 starts against the White Sox, Silva posted an astronomical 7.82 ERA). Thome, Konerko, and Dye must already be having wet dreams about how they'll savage this staff. Gardenhire can't rearrange his staff so that the Sox see Santana every series, can he? That would make me sad; I can't see Santana doing much worse than the 2.31 ERA he posted against the Sox in 5 starts last year.
But the Twins lineup doesn't convince me they're going to compete either. There's not much to criticize with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau--they're good. Really good. But it's hard for me to believe that 2006 MVP Morneau (I don't know if that will ever sound right. Wait. No. No, it'll never sound right) won't regress to the mean a little bit. I know guys have breakout seasons all the time, but Morneau's average jumped from .239 in 2005 to .321 in 2006. An 82 point jump is just a little much for me to comprehend. Plus, he may be the whitest man ever to play the game. And by white I just mean flat-out pale, not that he's a cracker (although he is a Canadian). He looks like I did today after I nearly passed out from giving blood. And the time I did pass out with my head in a toilet from drinking much too much Goldschlager. Which, really, is any Goldschlager at all.
Looking elsewhere, Luis Castillo and Rondell White are way past their primes, and Torii Hunter has probably lost more than a step (was that badly botched attempt at a diving catch in last year's playoffs a fluke? I'm leaning towards no). After that, you're left with the Piranhas, who, I'm sorry, I still can't take seriously. I'm more apt to attribute their success against the Sox last year to voodoo magic than to talent. But hey, Nick Punto, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Bartlett may prove me wrong again this year.
I just don't think--and I need to believe that--the Twins have enough to sustain the kind of success they enjoyed last year. They were playing way over their heads, and 86 wins rather than last year's 96 seems a lot more reasonable--which will put them behind the White Sox, Tigers, and maybe even the Indians. I'm not sure this is a franchise heading in the right direction either (of course, that may just be my general hatred for the Twins bleeding through. I can find things to like about the Indians and the Tigers, but the Twins are just a half-step below the Cubs on the hatred scale as far as my White Sox fandom is concerned). Sorry Twins fans, but at least you're not the Royals... and you do have a new stadium in the works. Unfortunately, it's just a stadium you may never see Johan Santana pitch in.