See that picture? That's from spring training this year. While it might seem like a farce or some sort of not-so-amusing joke right now, we assure you that at the time it was not for a parody story. All five of those pitchers -- Glen Perkins, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano -- had shown sufficient promise and/or performance in 2008 to give the Twins great hope that they had solved their rotation problems for years to come.
Roughly 4 1/2 months into this season, however, with a new ballpark set to open to great fanfare and expectations in 2010, the same set of five is pockmarked with question marks. Perkins started strong but has been abysmal since then. He has a 7.34 ERA since those first three starts of the season and has battled a mysterious shoulder problem. Baker has been much better since a slow start, but he still has an alarming tendency to cough up leads and doesn't make enough batters miss to be an ace (or even a No. 2 starter, in the eyes of many). The Blackburn backslide lately has been alarming. Slowey was effective when healthy, but he's done for the year with an injury. Liriano has been a puzzling mess all season and now he, too, is on the DL.
The questions, then, are these: Was last year the mirage, or was this year the mirage? Or does the truth about this set of pitchers lie somewhere between the 2008 promise and the 2009 letdown? Which of these five do you go into 2010 counting on to be in the rotation, which do you hope will rebound, and which do you give up on? And, big picture, if you think 2008 was a mirage -- albeit a fun one -- how much long-term damage might that season have done?