April 2, 2007

It's Opening Day

It's finally here. Opening Day has arrived, and the Twins are set to take on the Baltimore Orioles tonight to kick off the 2007 season. Since it's Opening Day, what better way would there be to kick off the 2007 season than with a preview of the Twins lineups, starting rotation, bench and bullpen. I've included charts of each of these things, and then have explanations of each next to the charts.

So lets get started...

The Lineup:
The Twins lineup will be much like last years, with a few small changes. One of those changes will be Rondell White moving from the designated hitter spot over to leftfield and newly acquired Jeff Cirillo and Jason Kubel switching off at the designated hitter spot. For the game tonight, Cirillo will be at designated hitter since the Twins are facing a left-hander. However, when the Twins face a right-hander, you will see Jason Kubel. At times, you may also see the Twins give Kubel some time in the outfield since Ford is out with an injury.

This season, you will also see Mauer and Redmond in the lineup at the same time more often. With Mauer's overuse leg injury, the Twins will DH him more often and put Redmond at catcher. I'll have more on the bench players roles below.

Finally, if Bartlett gets on fire this season, and Punto’s production slows, don’t be surprised if you see Gardenhire move Bartlett to the number two spot and Punto down to the number nine spot.

The Rotation:
The rotation this year, will include just two pitchers from Opening Day last season, Johan Santana and Carlos Silva. It will also include Boof Bonser, who was on the roster for most of the second half last season. The other two spots, are new faces in Minnesota and are veterans Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz.

Although Ortiz has been bad over the last couple of years, it looks as though Rick Anderson was able to work his magic with him. Ponson and Silva on the other hand, had up and down springs, and will have to pitch well to maintain their rotation spots.

Since the Twins are in such a tough division this season, General Manager Terry Ryan has said that if they don’t pitch well, the Twins will act much more quickly than they did last season to avoid falling to far back. And, the Twins have a lot of different options down in the minor leagues. The list includes Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker.

I think we will see Garza by the end of May, and don’t be surprised if you see at least one of the other pitchers from the list before September call-ups. The ones that don’t come up, expect to see them in September.

The Bench:
This year, the bench includes five players since the Twins went with 11 pitchers. The bench includes catcher Chris Heintz, who at the beginning of camp many may not have thought had any chance to make the team. However, Heintz allows the Twins to put Mauer at DH and still have a backup option. Also, even though you don't see him on the bench, Jeff Cirillo will be a big bench player this season. When not at DH, Cirillo will give the Twins depth at third base, second base and possibly even at shortstop. As I mentioned above, he will be in the everyday lineup whenever a lefty is pitching, otherwise Jason Kubel will be in that spot.

The Twins also have Tyner, Rodriguez and Redmond on the bench. Rodriguez may see some time at shortstop this year, but will see more time at second when Castillo needs a day off. Tyner will be the primary backup outfielder until Lew Ford returns from his knee injury, and Redmond will see time at catcher when the Twins give Mauer a day off, or possibly even DH him.

The Bullpen:
The bullpen will look the same as it did when the season ended last year. The Twins this season will have Reyes and Neshek both on the Opening Day roster meaning they will each get to pitch full seasons.
This year, if the pitchers pitch like they did last season, the Twins bullpen should be just as good and possibly even better. Rincon and Crain will be the primary setup guys, with Neshek getting some time there as well. Reyes will be the lefty guy, and you might see Venafro sometime this season as well. Guerrier will be the mop-up guy, and Nathan will again be the closer.

I mentioned this in the Starting Rotation section, but some other players that you might see this season in addition to the pitchers I mentioned are Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, Josh Rabe, Matt LeCroy, Ken Harvey, Glenn Williams and possibly some other prospects.

Casilla and Span are the two players that I definitely expect to see sometime this season because both are expected to start next season for the Twins. The rest of the players on this list may get called up if they are playing well or if there is an injury on the Major League roster. But to say the least, we have some pretty good options in my opinion.

Season Outlook:
There's no doubt that the road to the playoffs will be tough this season with the Tigers, White Sox and maybe even the Indians all being contenders. But the Twins have a good chance if their starting pitching can keep them in games.

In my opinion, if the Twins can hand a lead to the bullpen, their chances will be very good. The one thing we must remember is that the season is 162 games long so a championship cannot be won in April or May and you also can't miss the playoffs in April or May as we found out last season.

It should be a fun season, and I hope to have fun here at Twins Territory with recaps, news, opinions and more. I would like to again encourage you to leave your comments on anything you might be thinking throughout the season, and please e-mail me with anything else you may have to add.

Again, it'll be a fun ride this season, and it all starts tonight on ESPN2.