There might not be a single player who means more to his team that Justin Morneau to the Minnesota Twins. The League MVP in 2006 missed 81 games last season, and his absence in the every day line was heavily noted. Throw half of the season, Morneau was on pace for another top caliber season, with 18 home runs, 56 runs knocked in, and a .345 batting average. Those numbers theoretically were cut in half due to his concussion when he and Toronto Blue Jays second basemen Aaron Hill collided at second base on a double play. The Twins valiant effort without him landed them second best in the American League.
Still, the Twins offense surged despite the 4 time All-Star's nonexistence in the post all star break time cap. They were sixth in the league in runs, third in hits, eighth in total bases, and third in batting average. Throw Morneua into the mix, it makes for one efficient offense that scores runs without the benefit of many long balls. Catcher Joe Mauer is no snub either, come to think of it, neither are sluggers such as Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, utility man Michael Cuddyer, and speedster Denard Span. Outfielder Delmon Young matured nicely in 2010, carrying his own weight and producing runs.
So offensively, this team is set; assuming they maintain their health. Now, onto the most important part of the game; pitching.
The old days of the Twins crafty, un-overpowering, but effective pitching staff are probably over. Not that their young arms can't do the same, but they've got some room for enhancement. Lefty Francisco Liriano might be the only exception due to his comeback type year last summer. His 201 punch outs lead the team by far, and his 3.62 ERA was well on its way to legitimacy. Still, he is a bit behind schedule in terms of being a true number one. When the organization dealt ace Johan Santana to the Mets, they envisioned Liriano being just as good as perhaps baseball's top south paw. Things have not quite gone according to plan thus far, but Liriano is arguably their top hurler.
The rest of the rotation will have to get the job done with lower talent levels, but consistency in the little things. Throwing first pitch strikes, working well when behind in the count, pitching effectively with runners on base; which shouldn't be too big an issue. The Twinkies are coached extremely well, and take care of the fundamentals first.
They might not have made any off season moves, but they get two key names back that are almost as good as, if not better than off season transactions. Morneau will return to the field, and close Joe Nathan ‘s will arrive to the bullpen. The ninth inning just got a little easier for Twin's enthusiast to handle. Substitutes Jon Rauch and Matt Capps saved 37 games combined last season, but two is not better than one in this case. Hidden in those 37 saved leads were 6 blown leads. With Nathan, the Twins seldom falter when leading after eight innings. With these revivals of players in their crucial roles, the Twins are back in the thick of things for not just the A.L. Central, but perhaps the American League Pennant.