Twins stop in Duluth to say they're confident of 2009 playoff spot
The Minnesota Twins ended the 2008 season one victory shy of a division title in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. That didn't make it any less disappointing when Minnesota lost 1-0 in a one-game playoff against the Chicago White Sox for...
The Minnesota Twins ended the 2008 season one victory shy of a division title in what was expected to be a rebuilding year.
That didn't make it any less disappointing when Minnesota lost 1-0 in a one-game playoff against the Chicago White Sox for the American League Central title. The Twins finished the season 88-73, but lost three of their last four games.
Despite a so-far stagnant offseason that has yielded few free agent signings, but little to no roster casualties, either, Minnesota believes it's poised for a playoff spot in 2009.
"I think that tough one-game playoff loss will be a motivational force for them, at least early in the season," Jack Morris, former Twins pitcher and current radio analyst, said Monday at the team's winter caravan stop in Duluth. "That's always a reminder; it's kind of like a toothache always hanging over you all the time."
Minnesota enters its final season at the Metrodome with fewer questions than a year ago. Outfielders Denard Span and Carlos Gomez helped make the start of the post-Torii Hunter era a good one, second baseman Alexi Casilla proved to be a solid everyday player, and young starters Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins have a full season of major league experience behind them as part of a rotation that once appeared to be in trouble after the departure of ace Johan Santana.
A rejuvenated Francisco Liriano, who is two seasons removed from elbow surgery, and Scott Baker also contributed to the pitching rotation in 2008.
"It was unbelievable last year. They say we were overworked in the bullpen, but those guys did a great job," said reliever Matt Guerrier, who led the majors with 76 appearances last season. "Perkins being his first year as a starter, Blackburn was a rookie, Slowey getting his first full season, Liriano coming off an injury; just all that stuff."
No Twins pitcher threw 200 innings in 2008. Blackburn went 193 1/3 innings, and Slowey was a distant second at 172 1/3.
"Now we're two years into it," Guerrier said. "Hopefully they'll go an inning or two longer and give me a day or two more rest, and it makes everybody stronger."
Catcher Mike Redmond said a pitcher's second season presents new challenges when faced with trying to fool hitters.
"I think we've gotta keep pushin' 'em. They did a great job last year, and now we've gotta figure out a way to make up that one game," he said. "A lot of times that second year is the toughest because guys have seen them now. You're always making adjustments in this game. That's [catcher] Joe [Mauer's] and my job and [pitching coach] Rick Anderson's job to give those guys the knowledge to go out there and get through those games.
"I think if they continue to improve on what they accomplished last year, we should be in good shape."