What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
The Minnesota Twins were one of the biggest disappointments of the 2011 MLB season. Their fortunes dramatically changed in 2012 and the Twins, who despite numerous division titles in the 20 years since winning the 1991 World Series, had never been back, won the World Series by defeating the Atlanta Braves in another seven game showdown after slashing payroll by $20 million for the season.
Minnesota’s struggles in 2011 could have been pinned on a number of players, yet two typically get most of the blame: former AL MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Both dealt with health issues in 2011, but were healthy in 2012, with Mauer playing in 145 games (split between catcher and DH), and Morneau logging 151, fully recovered from post-concussion syndrome. To their credit, both players were extremely productive in 2012. Mauer hit an AL-leading .334 with an .873 OPS, while Morneau had a season reminiscent of his MVP season of 2006, OPSing .934 with 32 homers.
Mauer and Morneau had some help in the Twins lineup, namely from free agent signees Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham. The former Oakland Athletic and Washington National Willingham was a key signee to replace long-time Twin Michael Cuddyer, and he delivered, OPSing .821 with 23 bombs on the year in left field. As for Doumit, not only did he get some time behind the plate to spell Mauer, but he also got time at DH and right field, and the former Pittsburgh Pirate OPSed .795 with 18 homers for the squad, making his $3 million contract look like a bargain. The Twins also got key contributions from center fielder Denard Span (.749 OPS, 31 stolen bases, and a Gold Glove) and perhaps shockingly, new shortstop Jamey Carroll, whose .761 OPS might not look like much, but was a huge upgrade over Alexi Casilla from a year ago.
Minnesota’s pitching staff, once a huge strength for the team, was merely average for the World Champs in 2012. Ace (by default) Carl Pavano won 14 games with a 3.70 ERA for the squad, while Francisco Liriano, once thought to be the successor to Johan Santana, won 16 with a 3.91 ERA and 184 strikeouts. The other three members of Minnesota’s starting staff, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Jason Marquis, combined to win 32 games and put together a 4.21 ERA. The Twins’ bullpen was a strong suit, as the much-maligned re-signing of Matt Capps would lead to 41 saves and a 2.13 ERA. Minnesota’s incumbent set-up men, Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing, allowed just three home runs between the two of them, and each had an ERA under 2.00. Then, there was the oft-injured Joel Zumaya, who would miss the first month of the season coming back from Tommy John surgery, but would strike out 62 batters in the 43 innings he threw after his return.
At times, it wasn’t easy. The Twins had to surpass the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. But through some timely hitting and pitching, and of course, a little good luck, the Twins edged out the Tigers in the division, and battled through the playoffs to get deep into October, where they faced the Braves in a rematch of the 1991 World Series. It was a back and forth series, but Minnesota’s home-field advantage at Target Field would eventually be too much for the Braves to overcome.