Baseball is back. I'll have to admit: I didn't watch much of it last year. The Brewers stunk, and the Twins were much worse. Our local nines were stuck in the bowels of sucktitude. Once June hit, there was no real reason to watch baseball, and I might have seen a couple games through the summer.
In the words of Canadian alternative band Evans Blue, this time it's different.
The Twins look miserable once again. Yeah, they went out and bought themselves some requisite major league pitching. That was good, because they didn't really have any in 2013. For an organization that home-grew guys like Brad Radke, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano (yeah, I know he wasn't drafted, but most of his development was as a Twin), and others, the well ran dry in a hurry.
While Trevor May and Alex Meyer mature in Rochester, the team needs Ricky Nolasco, Philip Hughes, and 2013 newcomers Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to lead the way. Monday, Nolasco sure didn't start well, giving up five runs and ten hits in six innings as Minnesota fell 5-3 to the White Sox.
I'm actually optimistic about Minnesota's pitching. Less so about the bats.
If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know I've been pretty consistent with the stance that Joe Mauer will have a big offensive season, by his standards. I said that when the team announced his move to first base. I'm thinking 15-20 home runs, the typical 30-35 doubles, .400 OBP, and a jump in slugging percentage, closer to his MVP season (.587) but not quite hitting that unsustainable number.
Mauer won't be the problem. If Monday's lineup is any indication, the problem will lie above him in the batting order.
Spare me the "two hits, three RBI" talk with Kurt Suzuki. He's a good defensive catcher and only a passable, replacement-level bat for the position.
He hit second in Monday's game. Brian Dozier, who makes outs for breakfast every day, was the leadoff hitter. Ahead of Mauer. Poor guy -- figuratively speaking, of course, since we all know Mauer is filthy rich -- is going to lead the American League in "at bats with two out and nobody on base" this season (had one Monday, three total two-out at bats).
I'd love to rip Ron Gardenhire, but until Aaron Hicks proves himself, the Twins don't have a viable leadoff hitter, or No. 2 guy.
Unless you put Mauer in the leadoff spot. And even that's not ideal, because while he gets more at bats, it also takes him away from more of a run-producing role.
And, no, Byron Buxton isn't ready yet.
Meanwhile, the Brewers actually have a pretty formidable top of the order. Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy can all rake. Youngster Scooter Gennett has shown promise at second base, where Rickie Weeks has sufficiently flamed out and has little use to this team in his current form.
This team can score runs from the top of the order. It's the bottom that has me concerned, but lots of teams can say that.
Who's playing first base? Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay.
Who's in left instead of Braun? Khris Davis.
They better get runs out of the top five guys, and some production out of Gennett, because whatever they get from left field and (especially) first base is going to be a bonus.
The pitching staff is solid (the Matt Garza signing was genius, because now Milwaukee has three proven starters in a pitching-rich division), but the NL Central is stacked. The Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates are all contender types, so the Brewers are lost in the shuffle in the division race.
I have hope for Milwaukee, though. Ownership is committed to competing, and since the young talent pool is dry compared to, say, Minnesota, the Brewers have to make moves like the Garza and Kyle Lohse (last year) signings to stay above water.
What do the teams have in common? Solid bullpens. Minnesota's has more upside, but both should be just fine, at the worst.
For the Twins, the offense and the lack of high-end pitching will hold them back in a division that isn't exactly stacked.
For the Brewers, it's more about the top teams that already exist, along with the lack of balance in the batting order. Damn, do they miss Prince Fielder in Milwaukee.