As a new season dawns, we take a look back at the 2012 season, sixth months in advance. For the first time in a few years, optimism is hard to come by. The Twins, division champions in 2010 and in five of the eight years prior to that, were expected by most to challenge for another AL Central crown in 2011, but instead played like drunk pirates with peg legs. Everyone got hurt. Even between the injuries, the team lurched from loss to loss. The hitting was nonexistent. The pitching was terrible. The defense was abjectly bad.
With all that to live up to, the 2012 season gets off and running in...
... as the Twins open the year in Baltimore. An umpires' conference is called before the first pitch, so that the crew can point out to Ron Gardenhire that despite the fact that Michael Cuddyer now plays for Colorado, the manager had penciled him in the lineup at first base, right field, designated hitter, and as an available relief pitcher.
In the opening series, Minnesota takes two of three games, eliminating the Orioles from contention in the AL East for the ninety-third consecutive year. Peter Angelos attempts to move his team to the NL Central in the middle of the night.
Pleased with themselves for their success in replacing Michael Cuddyer with a cheaper equivalent in Josh Willingham, the Twins announce their intention to extend the effort to other players. The first replacement is Matt Capps, who is replaced by his equivalent, a fifty-five-gallon drum filled with pork sausage.
Jamey Carroll makes four errors - two fielding, two throwing - in a loss to New York. In response, Ron Gardenire calls Danny Valencia "worthless" in a press conference, and makes the third basemen field ground balls until 2 am.
With both Liam Hendriks and Luke Hughes in the lineup, the Twins again tie their possibly never-to-be-broken record for Australians. Strangely, the game against the Angels lasts four days, with Hughes top-scoring with 126, Hendriks taking 5 for 71, and the Twins posting a comfortable seven-wicket win.
Francisco Liriano sets a modern-day record by recording more than ten strikeouts and ten wild pitches in the same game. "He just needs to get more on top of the ball," says pitching coach Rick Anderson, with his head in his hands and a half-empty bottle of whiskey on the desk in front of him.
Nick Punto makes his first return to Target Field as a member of an opposing team. Ron Gardenhire is thrown out of the game after tearfully charging the batter's box in the third inning and attempting to tackle Punto. "I just wanted to rub his head," says the manager sorrowfully.
As it does so often in this game of tradition, April is followed by...
... as Ryan Doumit goes on the disabled list, prompting the return of Drew Butera to the major league roster. He strikes out five times against Oakland, as grief counselors roam the Target Field stands, consoling the many Twins fans who are weeping openly.
Ben Revere sets a personal record against the Angels at Target Field, as he hits the ball in the air more than 200 feet from the catcher. "I really caught ahold of that one," he says proudly. "It would have been out of there, if somebody had picked it up and thrown it into the stands."
Chris Parmelee hits only one home run in the first month and a half of the season. "We can't understand it," says a front office official. "He hit four last year in September, and just look here at his Triple-A... oh... I mean his Double-A... oh. Oh no."
The team lives through a scary moment in Detroit, as Francisco Liriano accidentally looses pitches into both dugouts on the fly, injuring a Twins trainer and a Tigers bat boy. Liriano also strikes out eleven and records a one-hitter in a Twins win.
Asked why Alex Burnett has yet to pitch in a game on the season, Ron Gardenhire asks, "Alex Burnett? Are you sure he's still here? Wait, is it a different Alex Burnett? It must be. Has to be a different one. Why would we have even kept the other one around? He hasn't got anybody out in two years."
After hitting .478 for the month of April, Alexi Casilla starts out May on a 1-for-59 streak. He also begins speaking a language that is not English, Spanish, or in fact any language that University of Minnesota linguistic experts have ever heard. "Either he's just speaking gibberish, or he's an alien," says Terry Ryan. "Frankly, this is not surprising, and we have been prepared for this for some time."
Things heat up on the field, if not in the standings, as the calendar turns to...
... as Luke Hughes is suspended for three weeks by Major League Baseball after going into the Target Field stands to punch the fourteen thousandth person who yelled the words "shrimp on the barbie" during pregame warmups.
Justin Morneau reveals that he has been playing through two pinched nerves, a broken toe, a sore hamstring, and SARS. "I still feel like I can help the team," he says, though reporters note that he is visibly bleeding from both a cut on his neck and a possible coyote bite on his leg.
Francisco Liriano strikes out the side in his first three innings of work, but also walks eleven hitters and needs 149 pitches to get through the nine outs. Rick Anderson is seen smoking openly in the dugout, hands trembling.
Josh Willingham misses two games after Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and Boss Hogg cook up a plot to steal the family farm.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka becomes the first player in memory to decline a promotion to the big leagues. "It is much nicer here in Rochester," he says through his translator. "The fans are very nice and nobody calls me 'the Japanese Punto.'"
It's on that note that June gives way to...
... as Justin Morneau, dealing with a sore elbow, is seen soaking his arm in gravy and cheese, a remedy he claims to have learned from noted Canadian witch-doctor Geddy Lee.
Francisco Liriano hits nine Indians in a game and throws four wild pitches, but strikes out nine and wins, 9-7. "He's got to keep from falling off the side of the mound, and maybe get some brownies or something," says Rick Anderson, through a green haze of pot smoke. The highlight of the press conference is a shirtless, bongo-playing Anthony Swarzak, who says he's just "feeling the rhythm, man."
Ben Revere, playing right field, cuts down Eric Hosmer as the Royals first baseman goes from first to third, giving Revere his first outfield assist of the year. The youngster celebrates exultantly, even though Hosmer tripped over second base and tried to crawl the rest of the way to third.
Joe Mauer is placed on the fifteen-day disabled list due to "tiredness." A small group of fans stages an impromptu "Occupy Mauer" protest outside Target Field, but they are immediately attacked and routed by a much larger protest of moms, who beat the protesters up with flasks of chicken soup.
Matt Capps is fined by Major League Baseball after hot day in Kansas City, when the closer spends the first five innings of the game bathing in the right-field fountain.
To be fair to Capps, it's pretty hot in Kansas City, especially in...
... as Jamey Carroll becomes the first Major League player to contract polio since 1929. Says the eighty-three-year-old shortstop, as he whittles a flute from a piece of birch wood, "Well, they didn't have the shots, back when I was a kid."
While filling out his lineup card for that night's game in Seattle, Ron Gardenhire scrawls in Trevor Plouffe at shortstop, just to see how it looks. He is treated for bruises after being attacked with a bat by the evening's starting pitcher, Carl Pavano.
After pitching thirty-two consecutive scoreless innings, Francisco Liriano gives up eleven runs on fifteen hits in one and a third innings in Kansas City. "He just needs to slow himself down, is all," says Rick Anderson, tying a piece of surgical tubing around his arm and preparing to plunge a needle into his ever-collapsing veins.
Matt Capps blows his eleventh save of the year. The team requests that he be placed in the Witness Protection Program for his own safety, to protect him from marauding bands of Twins fans. Capps takes several phone calls of support from Ron Davis.
An ugly incident sees Scott Baker throw his largest tirade in the clubhouse ever, as after a bad performance, the right-hander says "Gosh dang it" four times, hangs up his jersey in his locker backwards, and forgets to say "thank you" to the clubhouse attendant.
The team reprimands Jeff Gray for climbing into opposing bullpens and calling up the other team's manager and trying to get into games. Says Gray, "The way my career is going, I have a real chance to be the first major leaguer to play for more than 20 teams. I figured I'd get a head start, is all."
The pennant race heats up as we move on to...
... as Anthony Slama strikes out two in his first major-league inning of the year, but also gives up a home run. In response, the Twins make Slama shower with a hose in the groundskeeper's room, and give Alex Burnett a contract extension, just to make it really sting.
Francisco Liriano throws a no-hitter and a two-hitter, and also departs two outs into the game twice after giving up thirteen and fifteen runs, respectively. Rick Anderson checks into Hazelden for treatment for addiction to painkillers, alcohol, heroin, crack cocaine, amphetamines, and paint thinner. Says Liriano, "I think things are going pretty well this year."
Disappointed with his failure to make an impact, Rene Tosoni asks for a trade to the team he's always wanted to play for - the Montreal Canadiens. Say the Canadiens, "Well, he doesn't play hockey, but he speaks French and that's really our only requirement anyway."
Joe Benson, in an attempt to look "more professional" after sporting a mullet in 2011, plays right field in a tuxedo and a top hat.
The Twins again lead the league in recurring injuries and mis-diagnosed problems. "We couldn't be prouder of this achievement," says head trainer Rick McWane, as he absentmindedly wraps Justin Morneau's knee in tape to fix what Morneau had described to reporters as "a sore shoulder."
And on that note, another disappointing season ends for the Twins, another lost year at Target Field.
Or does the team surprise everyone and make a run back to the top of the division? We can foresee a lot of things... but not that.