With Opening Day just days away, I've compiled a list of questions whose answers I'm looking forward to.
In no particular order...
10. Can Pat Neshek continue to be the force he was in 2006?
He sent down 53 on strikes in just 37 innings. Opponents hit .176/.210/.321. Coming into this year, Neshek looks to be part of one of the Twins' largest strengths. Teaming up with a good fastball and breaking pitch, that helter skelter throwing motion ought to keep hitters guessing.
9. Will Nick Punto continue to own third base?
For the majority of last summer, even in the days when Punto was hitting well over .300, lots of questions were raised about his ability to not just play every day, but to play every day at a position that generally demands some power at the plate. Little doubt remains that his defense is adequate, but traditionalists will still moan about the lack of SLG and HR numbers.
8. Why the hell is Carlos Silva starting the year in the rotation?
Do you know? I imagine that the Twins may feel he needs the chance, considering we picked up a relatively expesive contract option on the sinker baller. Matt Garza, the guy who probably has earned a spot in the rotation with a pretty solid spring, was sent to Rochester with a quote from Gardenhire saying something about Garza needing to locate more pitches than just his fastball. Couldn't they be saying the same thing to Silva? Except, instead of "locate more pitches than your fastball" you could say "locate anything besides the buffet."
But that's just me. And I can be mean.
7. Will Ron-Dizzle continue to lack sizzle at the pla-zizzle?
I'm actually quite positive on Rondell for this coming summer. His spring training line of .289/.319/.467 line isn't necessarily impressive, particularly since he still has troubles taking a walk (just 1 this spring), but he should be able to lend some stability to the bottom third of the order. My fingers are officially crossed.
6. Who steps up besides Johan?
Boof, Ramon, Carlos, Sidney. Matt, Scott, Kevin, Glen. Out of those eight, and maybe a couple others, we need to find four names who can maintain over the course of a summer against major league hitters. If we can't find anyone, I'm sure that with enough beer both Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven could be convinced to strap it on.
Can you use the phrase "strap in on" in reference to baseball? Sure. Why not.
5. Will I manage to find enough time to devote to my not-so-secret-love Baseball whilst filling out immigration forms?
LA LA LA LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING LA LA LA LA.
4. Can Torii's defense rebound at all?
He's had an entire off-season to get healthy. As last summer wore on it looked like his defense was getting better, although it just could have been my eyes deceiving me. Last April and May and June (and that one October game) it was, well, a number of things...it was confusing, disappointing, sad, telling and frustrating, when we had to watch Hunter take an angle on a ball like he was running on ankles which were 100% healthy. Torii still has some miles on those tires, but how many of those miles belong in center?
I love you Torii.
3. Will Johan win another Cy Young award?
2. Who becomes the Twin of 2007 that the fans love to hate?
This title has a long and storied history. Luis Rivas, Kyle Lohse, Tony Batista, Juan Castro. Who this year? My candidates are, in no particular order: Carlos Silva, Rondell White, Ramon Ortiz, Luis Castillo and Nick Punto. Torii Hunter will have his critics, like he does every year. If Juan Rincon falters he could get some votes. My money is on one of the first three gentlemen I listed.
1. What will be the surprise of the summer?
That one is pretty general, but seriously, someting always happens that the experts don't predict. Maybe the Royals win 85 games to become 2008's darlings? Perhaps our bullpen faulters and our rotation inexplicably shines? What if Joe Mauer hits .280...or .380? Per chance Jason Kubel tears the cover off the ball and earns a spot in the every day lineup?
For me it can sometimes be hard to draw the line between critic/analyst and Twins/baseball fan. This time of the year the needle bends heavily towards fan; I'm optimistic, spring is in the air and all teams are even with no games lost that should have been won.
Less than a week...