Twins Opening Day outlook

Twins Opening Day outlook

The Twins are preparing to head into the 2008 season with perhaps as many questions as answers.

The team will embark on the start of a new season with plenty of new faces, and manager Ron Gardenhire expects that it will take a little time before he truly knows just how his team might fare in '08.

"I've gotten a little sense, but I don't know if I exactly know what we can do yet," Gardenhire said of his new-look team. "I think there is still a lot of gray area out there. But I'm very excited about the talent level."

Among the issues for the team to sort out is its unsettled rotation. Injuries, illness and youth have the Twins approaching the start of the season with a bit of uncertainty surrounding their starting pitchers.

The hope is that even with a young and somewhat inexperienced rotation the Twins' newly improved offense and talented bullpen will help carry the group to success.

And knowing the type of guys they added over the offseason, along with some of the young talent the team already possessed, Twins players have nothing but a positive outlook on '08.

"If you look at our team, I think we're going to be good this year," closer Joe Nathan said. "A lot of people don't think we're going to be, but we're going to be a good team for a lot of years. A lot of guys here are hungry."

Calling card
Pitching and defense have been at the core of "Twins baseball" for over two decades. The Twins have prided themselves on being one of the most fundamentally sound teams during that span. And despite numerous changes to the roster over that time, the focus never seems to shift. It's why the Twins have been able to weather the numerous roster changes over recent years and succeed. The hope is that they can do the same in '08.

Projected starting lineup
1. CF Carlos Gomez
2. C Joe Mauer
3. RF Michael Cuddyer
4. 1B Justin Morneau
5. LF Delmon Young
6. DH Jason Kubel
7. 3B Mike Lamb
8. 2B Brendan Harris
9. SS Adam Everett
Projected rotation
1. RHP Livan Hernandez
2. RHP Boof Bonser
3. RHP Nick Blackburn
4. RHP Kevin Slowey
5. RHP Scott Baker
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Joe Nathan
Setup: RHP Pat Neshek
Setup: LHP Dennys Reyes
Middle: RHP Juan Rincon
Middle: RHP Matt Guerrier
Long: RHP Brian Bass
Achilles' Heel
The loss of Torii Hunter in center field left the Twins with a big hole to fill. They got their replacement from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade. Carlos Gomez, 22, is raw but talented. At times, he makes spectacular plays in the field and on the basepaths. But then there are instances where he misfires with his cannon arm and looks overmatched at the plate. The Twins just hope the positives can outweigh the negatives this season.

You'll know they're rollin' if...

Nathan

The Minnesota bullpen gets (relatively) little work. The group, anchored by its All-Star closer, will once again be one of the Twins' biggest strengths in 2008, but the key will be not to overuse it. If the relievers can remain untaxed, it will mean that the club's very young rotation -- with only one starter over the age of 26 -- is carrying the team deep into outings.

You'll know they're in trouble if...

Young

The offense struggles supplying runs. The Twins took big steps to try to improve what was an anemic offense in 2007. The additions include Delmon Young, runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year honors last season, and Mike Lamb, who is charged with improving the production from third base. But a struggling offense once again could spell big trouble for a young, unsettled rotation.

Testing, testing
The Twins will get a stiff test when they open up the season with four games against the Angels. But it's a three-game series with the Indians mid-month that may be the best indicator of whether the club will be able to compete in the AL Central. A series victory would be huge for Minnesota as the Twins were just 4-14 against Cleveland in 2007, their worst winning percentage against any team in the American League.

Interleague Play
The Twins have recorded a winning record in Interleague Play in each of the past two seasons, but that won't be so easy in '08. In addition to their annual rivalry with the Brewers and a three-game series at home against the Nationals, the Twins are set to face three American League West clubs that each finished with at least 89 wins in the 2007 regular season. The Rockies are coming off the franchise's first World Series appearance, the Diamondbacks won the division last season, and the Padres fell just short of yet another playoff appearance.

The Bottom Line
With a rotation that's full of question marks, the Twins offense must step up and help carry the club if they are to succeed.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.