Twins-Tigers: It's the Have-Nots vs. the HavesRICK LUBBERS: How’s this for a cruel April Fools’ Day joke, Minnesota Twins fans?
By: Rick Lubbers, Duluth News Tribune
How’s this for a cruel April Fools’ Day joke, Minnesota Twins fans?
The Twins open the 2013 baseball season today against the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers and the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander.
It’s the Haves against the Have-Nots.
Oh, and it’s going to be cold, with weather better suited for watching a late fall Gophers football game than an early spring ballgame.
Forecasts call for a partly cloudy day with a high around 36 degrees and a wind chill as low as 19 degrees. So, bundle up and get to know everyone sitting near you. You’ll probably all be huddling together to conserve heat by the fourth inning. Maybe buy one of those gigantic pretzels and use it as a seat warmer.
Unfortunately, the Twins’ season forecast is just as frigid. After winning only 66 games and finishing last (22 games behind the Tigers) in the American League Central in 2012, nobody’s predicting a miracle run this season.
Sure, the meat of the batting order is solid with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham; plus, prospect Aaron Hicks might be a gem in center field and batting leadoff.
But if you can name more than one of the Twins’ starting pitchers, you probably work in the team’s front office. Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Liam Hendriks and Cole De Vries?
Never heard of them.
But that’s life as a Have-Not. When your team payroll of roughly $75 million (according to the Associated Press) lags in the bottom third of all Major League Baseball, you shop for pitchers out of the bargain bin.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have roughly double the Twins’ payroll at close to $147 million (fifth-most in baseball), and buy brand-name pitchers (Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello) and don’t bother with generics. Detroit has stockpiled so much talent that former Duluth Huskies lefty Drew Smyly couldn’t find a spot in that loaded rotation and will begin the year as a reliever. If he were a Twin, he’d probably ascend to ace in short order.
Then there’s that batting lineup that includes Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, as well as Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson and Victor Martinez.
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is so desperate to bring a World Series crown to Detroit that he shells out big contracts almost as quickly as he sells his Little Caesars pizzas.
That’s the luxury of being the Haves.
As for the rest of the division, they’re the Should-Haves (Chicago White Sox), Might-Haves (Cleveland Indians) and the Could-Haves (Kansas City Royals).
The White Sox gave the Tigers a run for the 2012 division crown and probably will do so again this year. Not coincidently, they have the ninth-highest MLB payroll at approximately $120 million.
The Royals and Indians have checkbooks similar to the Twins at close to $80 million each, and those three squads probably will have to fight just to stay out of the division cellar.
Of course, high payrolls don’t guarantee success, nor do low ones ensure mediocrity. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers, who rival the New York Yankees with a $200-plus million salary load. They didn’t even make the playoffs last year.
The only figures that count are wins and losses. That’s why hope and enthusiasm run high for all baseball fans on Opening Day, regardless of how generous or stingy they are at paying players. OK, maybe not for fans of the Houston Astros and their $19 million payroll that couldn’t even cover A-Rod’s checks. They’ll be happy just to avoid another 100-loss season.
Even though the mighty Tigers have rolled into town, they hardly dominated the series schedule last season, winning 10-8. And Verlander hasn’t won on Opening Day in five previous starts. Maybe all that cold air will cool off his 100 mph heat enough for Twins hitters to spray the ball around Target Field.
Maybe manager Ron Gardenhire can lead the Twins to a quick start and push the team’s victory count closer to 80 wins than 60.
Then maybe the Twins can surprise some folks and move from the ranks of Have-Nots to Might-Haves.
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.