Minnesota Twins 2004 Preview

The Minnesota Twins enter the 2004 season with hopes of repeating as the American League Central champions. However, it will not be a walk in the park by any means. Gone are pitchers: Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, Rick Reed, and Kenny Rogers. Also gone is starting catcher AJ Pierzynski. Manager Ron Gardenhire will have to revamp his bullpen quickly if the Twins are going to have any shot at contending for the Division crown.

The Twins outfield is as strong as any in baseball. Left fielder Shannon Stewart was signed to a three year contract in the off season. He hopes to duplicate his 2003 performance that garnered him MVP consideration. The always exciting Torii Hunter will once again roam centerfield in the Metrodome. Hunter's batting average slipped into the .250's last season. He will undoubtedly look to improve his average and maintain his power which saw him hit 26 homers and drive in 102 runs last year. Jacque Jones will be the starting right fielder. Jones has been rumored in deals that would send him to: Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Cincinnati, or Houston. At press time, no deals had been announced. Lew Ford and Michael Ryan are very capable reserves who will also see playing time in the outfield.

The infield will look very similar to last year. Doug Mientkiewicz will hold down the fort at first base. Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman will return as the improving double play duo that was key to the team's success last year. Newly acquired Jose Offerman and youngster Nick Punto will fill in for Rivas and Guzman as needed. Left handed batting Corey Koskie will return as the everyday third baseman. Koskie is hoping to avoid the injury bug that plagued him last season. Twins fans are hoping that rookie catcher Joe Mauer will be as good as advertised. Mauer is a Minnesota native who was taken number one overall in the draft by the Twins a few years back. Matthew LeCroy will serve as Mauer's back up. He will also spell Mientkiewicz at first base.

The pitching staff has been decimated by off season departures. Eddie Guardado was very vocal during the 2003 season about his desire to leave in the off season. He signed a three year contract with the Seattle Mariners in December. LaTroy Hawkins packed his bags and headed south to the Windy city where he signed a two year deal with the Cubs. The bullpen did receive some help in the off season when the Twins traded catcher AJ Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Joe Nathan. JC Romero and Juan Rincon are the other experienced hurlers who will work out of the bullpen. Youngster Grant Balfour and Carlos Pulido also expect to see some innings in relief. The closer spot is currently up for grabs. Look for JC Romero and Juan Rincon to share closer duties until a true stopper emerges. The starting rotation looks pretty solid heading into the season. Brad Radke and Johan Santana will be the clubs top starters. Kyle Lohse will be the number three starter if he has a good spring. Joe Mays will start the season on the disabled list, but is expected to return early on. Righthander Carlos Silva will hold his place in the rotation until he is healthy. Veteran Rick Helling figures to be the number five starter when the season begins.

The Twins should have plenty of leads going into the late innings this season. The biggest question will be whether or not the bullpen will be able to hold on to them. "Everyday" Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins will be sorely missed. The offense will once again be solid. Starting pitching will give the Twins a chance to win many games. However, due to bullpen depth, Ron Gardenhire will have to work some magic if the Twins are going to repeat as Division Champs.

Prediction: 86-76 2nd Place in the American League Central

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