Perspective please, regarding Twins
MINNEAPOLIS — Season ticket-holders have renewed at 95 percent. A fair share of the folks that held partial season tickets in 2010 have increased the number of games. The Twins expect to reach the cutoff of 25,000 season tickets during the next few weeks.
This is the most conclusive referendum for the on-field performance and the appeal of the ballpark in the team's first season in Target Field.
The Twins went 94-68 to win the American League Central. This equaled the second-best victory total of the decade.
It was a decade (2001-2010) in which the Twins had nine winning seasons and produced an average record of 89-73. There were six division titles, as well as a Game 163 loss to the White Sox in 2008.
This has been a remarkable revival when you recall that through the prior eight seasons (1993-2000), the average record was 66-87. The Twins finished fifth in the seven-team AL West in 1993, then either fourth (four times) or fifth (three) in the five-team AL Central.
In the year ahead, there will be a 10-year anniversary of a footnote in this franchise's history: On Nov. 6, 2001, major league owners met in suburban Chicago and approved contraction from 30 teams to 28. The targeted clubs were the Montreal Expos and the Twins.
Harry Crump, a district court judge in Hennepin County, took away the momentum for contraction by issuing an injunction that favored the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (the Metrodome landlord) over the Twins. Crump's decisions also gave the Twins' baseball operation time to work on the momentum gained from the 85-77 record in 2001 — the first winning season since 1992.
What the team has done with that momentum is extremely impressive. The downside has been the events of October — a litany of postseason failure that some folks seem to find as disturbing as those 199 games the Twins finished out of first place from 1993 through 2000.
In their latest sudden death, the Twins were swept by a vulnerable Yankees club. This playoff era started in 2002 with an upset of Oakland in the first round and Joe Mays beating the Angels in the Game 1 of the ALCS. Since then, the Twins are 0-6 in postseason series, 2-19 in games and have a 12-game losing streak.
What do you about it? Keep trying to get back there.
The Twins' brain trust looked at the six-month grind of 2010 (more than the Yankees' sweep) and reached a conclusion:
They were 53-28 in Target Field, and yet it came up as a big yard where speed should play better than power. And in 2010, the Twins offered their slowest collection in years, with lead foots at shortstop (J.J. Hardy), in left (Delmon Young) and right (Jason Kubel), and the faster-than-molasses Orlando Hudson at second.
The Twins weren't prepared to make big moves in the outfield — not with Delmon's production last season. What they need is for Denard Span to have a better year in center, and for Justin Morneau to return to first, so that the adequate Michael Cuddyer can be available in right.
Where the Twins could go with speedier alternatives was in the middle of the infield.
In 2009, Alexi Casilla was written in at second base, after several weeks of strong play the previous summer. He failed miserably. Now, he's 26, played OK in limited action in 2010, and the Twins have decided to give him another (and last) shot to claim a place in the middle of the infield.
His partner at season's start will be Tsuyoshi Nishioka, also 26 and the Japan League batting champion. He was introduced as a Twin at Target Field on Saturday.
The e-mailers carry the same theme: "How do the Twins know that Nishioka can play here?"
The Twins have $15 million of confidence that he can, but they don't know.
They also don't know if Joe Nathan will be joining Matt Capps and Jose Mijares at the end of the bullpen in April, or if Morneau will say "I'm ready," or if starter Kyle Gibson and reliever Carlos Gutierrez will be ready to help by June, or if Span is the player they saw in '09 or last year, or if three pitchers from Alex Burnett, Jim Hoey, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama and Scott Diamond can fill the bullpen, or if Brian Duensing is a bona fide starter, or ...
Relax. Enjoy the holidays.
It's only two months to pitchers and catchers, when the annual mysteries start to be unraveled.