Healthy Twins should win

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

The Minnesota Twins are hoping silence truly turns out to be golden.

They have hardly been heard from in the off-season. But that’s the way the Twins usually operate, barely causing a ripple on the trade or free agent markets; waiting to make their noise on the playing field.

The Twins are looking for their third consecutive division title and, considering they won last year without Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, plus a hurting Joe Mauer, they might just be fine.

Change in this division comes at a glacial pace. Ron Gardenhire and the Twins always seem to make a September run to glory; the Tigers always seem to spend big and play small; the White Sox are masters of implosion; Cleveland is where fish and baseball careers go to die and the Royals are everybody else’s minor-league affiliate.

The only thing that could change this routine might be injuries. Mauer, Morneau, Nathan and Michael Cuddyer missed most of the spring recovering. The offence has misfired as a result although Gardenhire doesn’t seem to believe there’s anything to worry about. But, he’s paid to say stuff like that.

If the White Sox bust out of the gate in April and May while the Twins are still getting on track, maybe something does change.

But first they have to find a closer. Second, the offence can’t hang out the Gone Fishin’ sign come Sept. 1 like it did last year.

Detroit was a .500 team last year. Yeah. Yeah. They’re better: Assuming they can get Miguel Cabrera to stop looking at life through the bottom of a bottle; assuming Victor Martinez figures out how to hit at Comerica Park; assuming Minnesota and Chicago become like Atlantis.

In other words, everybody assume the usual positions.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca

1. Minnesota Twins

(First place in 2010, 94-66)

If they’re healthy they repeat. If they have a repeat of ill health, they’ll have trouble holding off the Chisox.

Every season the Twins show up with an unheralded lineup and find a way to contend. One thing has changed in that Minnesota, always notoriously thrifty (we’re trying to be polite, here) is opening the vault. The payroll jumped from $65 to $97 million and it enabled them to bring back staff ace Carl Pavano. The rotation rounds out nicely with Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn.

Not to mention, there’ll be the usual surprise from a minor league system that specializes in surprises.

2. chicago White Sox

(Second place in 2010, 88-74)

Chicago is touted to have a lineup worthy of a World Series.

Perhaps. Any team that has Mark Buehrle heading its rotation can’t be discounted.

But they have to overcome a legacy of under-achievement, close calls and chokes.

Offensively, this edition should be better with the addition of Adam Dunn to a nucleus that includes Paul Konerko. On a good day it matches anything the Twins can throw out.

The rotation after Buehrle isn’t bad either with Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Jake Peavy has been bothered by tendinitis this spring, but if he bounces back this has the makings of the deepest staff in the division.

There is a potential hiccup with Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz gone. Matt Thornton won the closer job this spring and could be great. Or not.

You know, kind of like his team.

3. Detroit Tigers

(Third place in 2010, 81-81)

Nobody has more fun than the Tigers, at least not as long as Jose Valverde is around. He saved 26 of 29 games last year, but Valverde is more than just about statistics. Loud, likable, he’s known as “Payaso Grande” which, translated, means “clown.”

It is meant in the most complimentary way. He leads the league in practical jokes and may be the most popular guy on the team. But that, along with the addition of Victor Martinez’ ability to handle a pitching staff and drive in runs, isn’t likely to elevate the Tigers to the top.

The rotation kicks off with Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. But after that it gets dicey and with Detroit finishing 13 games out last year it’s going to take more than Victor and the Clown Prince of Baseball to breach that gap.

4. Kansas City Royals

(Fifth place in 2010, 67-95)

The Royals finished 27 lengths behind the Twins, but might move up a notch because the Indians have regressed dramatically.

Baseball Prospectus named the Royals’ minor league system the best in baseball. That’s like winning Miss Congeniality. It doesn’t help a club that dumped its best asset in Zack Greinke, leaving Jeff Francis and Luke Hochevar heading a mediocre staff.

Joakim Soria is still around as trade bait as GM Dayton Moore guts the roster. Again.

Oh, Bret Saberhagen where have you gone?

5. Cleveland Indians

(Fourth place in 2010, 69-93)

Shin Soo Choo received a pardon from the South Korean military, which is more than the Indians can expect to get for their performance this summer.

Choo and Carlos Santana are the silver lining to a dark cloud that has hung over this city ever since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.

Chad Durbin, the set-up man in Philly for three seasons, got left out in the free-agent signing frenzy for relievers. He ended up taking a one-year $800,000 deal with Cleveland after Philadelphia signed Cliff Lee and didn’t have money left to resign him. So, he comes cheap. Question is, does he come happy and productive?

Chris Perez is set in the closer role. But most nights there won’t be anything to close.


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