The Twins finished last season with a 71-33 run, and all the key lineup pieces return. - Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in a blog posting predicting a 95-67 record and first-place finish for the Twins.
Christensen summed up my exact reasoning, in picking Minnesota first in the division this season: this team played .700 baseball for almost four months, and even controlling for the brief presence of Francisco Liriano, the team hasn't changed all that much between last year and this year. Why shouldn't Minnesota repeat?
Well, it's incredibly early in the season. Barely 6% of the games have been played. But in the season's first ten games, I think we've seen just exactly how a major Twins drop-off might go down.
Here's a few examples of the manifestations of a drop-off:
- In 2006, Minnesota hit .296 with runners in scoring position (second in the league), and .289 with runners in scoring position and two out (first in the league by a pretty wide margin). So far in 2007, they're hitting .242, .189 with two outs, both down near the median.
- In 2006, Jason Bartlett made 13 errors in 99 games, and hit .309. In 2007, he's made four in eight starts, and has only two singles in 23 at-bats.
- The "piranhas" - maybe the story of 2006 - have been toothless in the season's first ten games. As Nick Nelson points out: "Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau, and Hunter have combined to hit .300/.357/.520 so far this season, [but] the rest of the lineup has delivered a paltry .203/.267/.238 line." There is a reason Joe Mauer has only one RBI this season - he's had only four at-bats with guys in scoring position.
- Nick Punto: .132/.214/.211, 9 strikeouts. In 2006 he hit .290. For his career, he's hitting .256. Which is the truer picture?
What if that doesn't happen again this year? What if Nick Punto's really the second coming of Denny Hocking? What if Ron Gardenhire's misgivings about Jason Bartlett end up being proved correct this time around?
I looked at the roster for this year, and I thought, "This team hasn't changed that much - the lineup is practically the same. Why shouldn't they repeat?"
What I forgot is this: it is a different year. While the faces remain the same, the players are still different.
There's a long way to go. 94% of the season is left to be played. But I know exactly what I'm worrying about.
Are you worried yet? And if not, what evidence is making you think everything will be okay? Let's hear it in the comments below...