Let’s face it: The Twins were projected to finish poorly this season even before Ervin Santana was busted for an 80-game suspension on Friday. Almost every prediction we saw saw them finishing with between 66 and 74 wins, always in last place in what figures to be a very good AL Central.
Without Santana, the picture is even bleaker.
That said, spring training is a time for hand-wringing. And we’ll have the rest of the season to gripe and see how this all plays out. On Opening Day, though, there’s still time for optimism. The Twins are 0-0. Anything, in theory, can happen. As such, here are a few reasons why this year — regardless of how soon some of the team’s prospects arrive — might not be as bad as we think:
1) The starting pitching should still be better than it was last year, even without Santana for half the year. By all accounts, Kyle Gibson looked great in spring training. Ricky Nolasco looks more like his old self. And Mike Pelfrey, taking Santana’s spot in the rotation, threw well enough this spring to inspire at least a hope that he will be serviceable. Tommy Milone as the fifth starter isn’t great, but it’s better than the team has done in recent years. If Phil Hughes is anywhere near the pitcher he was a year ago and the starter stay healthy, this will still be an improved staff.
2) The bullpen, which is a cause of great concern, might not be a disaster. As long as Glen Perkins and Casey Fien are good, and the starting pitching is better, most of the unproven arms in the ‘pen won’t get overexposed. If there’s an area where no-names tend to surprise, it’s the bullpen.
3) The offense finished seventh in MLB in runs last season and has since added Torii Hunter. If Joe Mauer can have anything resembling a bounceback season, while young hitters like Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas continue to progress, there’s no reason this offense can’t be a real strength of the team.
That’s a lot of ifs, of course. Every section, 1-3, was loaded with them. But at least until Monday afternoon, this season is a blank canvas. There are historical tendencies and projections to deal with, but there is also the opportunity for the Twins to control their own destiny. With each loss, that chance diminishes. For now, though, anything is possible.