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Twins could finish anywhere from second to last place

Target Field
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
If everything breaks right for the Twins, staying in contention is possible, but my guess is that they finish right around .500.

We start the season today with some Twins notes:

• Here's the Twins' lineup for Game 1 versus right-hander Jake Arrieta and the Orioles:

1. Denard Span, L        CF
2. Jamey Carroll, R      SS
3. Joe Mauer, L          C
4. Justin Morneau, L     DH
5. Josh Willingham, R    LF
6. Ryan Doumit, S        RF
7. Danny Valencia, R     3B
8. Chris Parmelee, L     1B
9. Alexi Casilla, S      2B

I'd have sent Chris Parmelee to Triple-A to begin the season, but if you assume that those nine players must start on Opening Day, that's exactly what my batting order would look like. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's something.

• I wrote all the season previews for AL Central teams at HardballTalk and concluded that the Tigers are clear front-runners, perhaps more so than any other team in any other division, while the Indians, White Sox, Royals and Twins are each very capable of finishing anywhere from second place to last place. If everything breaks right for the Twins, staying in contention deep into the season is possible, but my guess is that they finish right around .500.

• While a .500 record may not sound very optimistic, Las Vegas has the over/under for Twins wins around 73, which is higher than only the Astros and Orioles, and ESPN.com's season simulation based on Baseball Think Factory's excellent ZiPS projection system has the Twins going 70-92. They were so awful last season that improving by 15 games would still leave them at 78-84, so .500 would be quite an accomplishment.

Jason Marquis needs to build up his arm strength after leaving spring training to be with his family following his daughter's bicycling accident, so he's agreed to an assignment to Double-A and will have his turn in the rotation skipped at least once. And thankfully his daughter is making good progress in her recovery.

Scott Baker exited Thursday's minor-league start after just 11 pitches, so it doesn't sound like he'll be returning from elbow problems any time soon.

• As if the Twins didn't have enough question marks, Buster Olney of ESPN.com crunched the numbers and found that they have the toughest early season schedule in the league based on 2011 records.

• In addition to being an excellent guest on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode, Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press also wrote a lengthy, even-handed, and interesting article about all things Joe Mauer. Once you're done reading it, follow Goessling on Twitter and bookmark his blog. Good writer, good guy and good addition to the local Twins media.

• As someone who loves the Twins and The Big Lebowski, this commercial is pretty great:

"The Big Hrbowski" is the role Kent Hrbek was born to play.

• For months Terry Ryan insisted that Trevor Plouffe would be used exclusively in the outfield after his disastrous rookie showing at shortstop, but now that the Twins don't have a true backup shortstop on the roster, suddenly Plouffe is in the infield mix again. Plans changing was the theme of this spring, but giving Plouffe some chances at second base or third base is a worthwhile idea while they try to figure out where he fits offensively and defensively.

Seth Stohs has a complete rundown of all the minor-league rosters over at Twins Daily. Of my top 10 prospects, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario will be at low Single-A Beloit, Oswaldo Arcia and Levi Michael will be at high Single-A Fort Myers, Aaron Hicks and Alex Wimmers will be at Double-A New Britain, Joe Benson and Brian Dozier will be at Triple-A Rochester, Kyle Gibson will be rehabbing Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks will be in the majors.

• Parmelee working his way on to the Opening Day roster left the Twins short a Triple-A first baseman, so they acquired Matt Rizzotti from the Phillies for cash considerations. As a 26-year-old career minor-leaguer available for basically nothing, Rizzotti is hardly a prospect, but he's consistently had very impressive numbers that include a .295/.392/.511 line with 24 homers, 34 doubles, and 79 walks in 139 games at Double-A last season.

Matt Bashore starred at Indiana University and was the Twins' supplemental first-round pick in 2009, but arm problems have limited him to just 19 career innings and he was released last week. They also released 2009 third-round pick Ben Tootle, a hard-throwing right-hander whose career was similarly ruined by injuries, and Dustin Martin, an outfielder acquired from the Mets along with Drew Butera in the mid-2007 trade for Luis Castillo.

Joel Zumaya underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last week, and instead of putting him on the 60-day disabled list all season, the Twins released him. And despite his one-year contract supposedly being "non-guaranteed," they're apparently on the hook for his entire $850,000 base salary, rather than the initially reported $400,000.

• Back in December, the Twins traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for marginal prospect Daniel Turpen and then, six weeks later, the Rockies traded him to the Indians, who were looking for rotation help following Fausto Carmona's arrest on false identity charges. Cleveland gave up a better prospect for Slowey than Colorado did, yet even with Carmona still out of the picture, the Indians decided to send Slowey and his $2.8 million salary to Triple-A.

Pat Neshek had a 0.00 ERA with eight strikeouts and zero walks in nine innings this spring after signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles, but they sent him to Triple-A anyway.

Matt Tolbert did not make the Cubs on a minor-league deal and will begin the season at Triple-A Iowa.

Cristian Guzman, who was attempting a comeback at age 33 after sitting out all of last season for personal reasons, was released by the Indians.

Johan Santana returned from shoulder surgery to throw five scoreless innings in his first start since 2010.

Jason Bulger and Steve Pearce both signed minor-league contracts with the Yankees after being released by the Twins in the middle of spring training.

• If you're interested in keeping tabs on Twins prospects this season, Twins Fan From Afar is a blog you should definitely check out, as Andrew Walter will be attending games in New Britain, Conn., and writing about the Double-A team that includes top-40 prospects Hicks, Wimmers, Chris Herrmann, David Bromberg, Deolis Guerra, and James Beresford.

• If you impersonate Bert Blyleven on Twitter, he will tell you to "get a life a-hole."

• Last but not least, in what has become an Opening Day tradition this is Richie Havens singing my favorite version of "Here Comes The Sun."

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Comments (2)

Minor miracle

A .500 season, given last season, and what I've read over the winter, might qualify as a minor miracle.

Nonetheless, because of where I lived my first 50+ baseball seasons, .500 is what I regard as the minimum for a team to be considered "respectable." Not all of those teams I grew up watching and listening to radio broadcasts about managed to reach .500 but – without checking any references – my memory is that most of them did, so that's my personal benchmark for baseball respectability.

Where did I grow up? St. Louis.

Twins doldrums

The Twins will win no more than 70 games. They have horrendous starting pitching after Liriano and Pavano who both are no better than a number 3 starter on a good club. And where did people get the idea they will be a good hitting club. Mauer still takes the first pitch for a strike, ends up defending the plate and hits into too many double plays rather than knock in runs. Morneau is a shell of his former self. Where is the leadership on this squad. The M&M boys are too Meek and Mild. Grit is something the Twins lack from top to bottom.The outfield is slow, they still don't have any legitimate power (Morneau has to prove himself) and their fielding is suspect. They play in a pitchers park but are built to fail there with no pitching and little speed. Last Place in the division, hands down.