In 2010, the Minnesota Twins went 94-68 and won the AL Central.
Since then, they’ve gone 195-291 (.401) and have turned in back-to-back 66-96 seasons.
What’s been the problem, you ask? According to former Twin Bert Blyleven, pretty much everything.
“It’s all about pitching and catching the ball defensively and scoring runs,” Blyleven said on The Morning Show. “And the Twins have done a terrible job of that over the last three years.”
Looking at last year specifically, Minnesota’s pitching was atrocious. The Twins finished last in the majors in quality starts, with 62, while their ERA (4.55) and WHIP (1.41) ranked 29th and 28th, respectively.
“Their biggest thing is starting pitching,” said Blyleven, a Hall of Famer who won 297 games in his 23-year career. “The last three years, the starting staff has really struggled to go even, say, an average six innings. Last year, no team other than the Houston Astros averaged less innings as a starting staff.”
Minnesota’s starters averaged about 5 and 1/3 innings per game, which puts a whole lot of pressure on the bullpen. Reliever Anthony Swarzak, in fact, pitched 96.0 innings last year – most among relievers in baseball.
The starting staff will undergo a pretty seismic overhaul, however, as Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were added from the Dodgers and Yankees, respectively. In fact, Nolasco signed the richest free-agent deal in franchise history – four years for $49 million.
That duo will join Mike Pelfrey, who was “miserable” last year – going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA – but who was also “rushed back from Tommy John” after missing all of 2012.
Kevin Correia (9-13, 4.18 ERA) will also return to the rotation, while Ron Gardenhire will return to the dugout. The Twins manager was rumored to be on the hot seat last season but signed a two-year extension.
“In sports, it’s easier to fire one than 25,” Blyleven said. “And believe me, Ron Gardenhire (is a good manager). When he had a good team – when he had guys like Torii Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski and guys like that – they won. And all of a sudden now, the talent has kind of gone down through the minor league system. They’re starting to build that up a little bit, and they’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Offensively, the Twins will put their trust in Joe Mauer, who is transitioning from catcher to first base – this after playing just 113 games last year.
“He can hit in the dark, I think; he’s such a pure hitter,” Blyleven said. “But when you only have him out there 113 games like he did last year, (it’s tough to win). He’s won three batting titles as a catcher. No one in baseball history (has been) able to do that.
(But) when you’re paying a guy $23 million – about one-third of your total salary – you have to make sure that individual is out there every day.”
You also need to make sure he’s producing. Mauer hit 28 home runs when he was named AL MVP in 2009. He’s hit 33 in the four years since.
While Mauer will never be a 40-homer guy, Blyleven said he needs to shoot for 20 home runs and 100 RBIs, the latter of which would be a career-high.
Kurt Suzuki will take over at catcher, while Josh Willingham is hoping to return to 2012 form, when he hit .260 with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs.
“There’s a lot of question marks going into spring training,” Blyleven said, “but the Twins are looking for a miracle.”