It’s safe to say most Twins fans hold little hope that the 2013 season will be anything more than a job interview for many of the young players coming up. After back-to-back last places finishes in the AL Central and 195 losses in the 2011 and 2012, the last thing fans wanted to hear was that payroll would again decrease. Before you completely write this ball club off for 2013, let’s look back at what the Baltimore Orioles did last year.
Baltimore came off two seasons very similar to what the Twins have gone through these past two years. Take a look at 2010 and 2011 in Baltimore.
|2011||Baltimore Orioles||AL East||162||69||93||0||.426||5th of 5||708||860|
|2010||Baltimore Orioles||AL East||162||66||96||0||.407||5th of 5||613||785|
Now compare the last two seasons the Twins have put together in Minnesota.
|2012||Minnesota Twins||AL Central||162||66||96||0||.407||5th of 5||701||832|
|2011||Minnesota Twins||AL Central||162||63||99||0||.389||5th of 5||619||804|
Those two seasons match up almost identically, with the Orioles winning 3 more games each season. Both teams scored and allowed nearly the exact same number of runs in the back-to-back seasons and finished in last place in their divisions.
Now look at what Baltimore did in 2012 after the two disastrous seasons leading up to it.
|2012||Baltimore Orioles||AL East||162||93||69||0||.574||2nd of 5||Lost LDS (3-2)||712||705|
The Orioles increased their win total by 24 last season, thanks to a major reduction in runs allowed. They gave up 155 fewer runs in 2012, almost one per game! They finished only 2 games behind the Yankees, who held the best record in the AL, and beat Texas in the play-in game before losing to the Yankees in a battle in the ALDS. How did they turn it around so quickly?
Well, it wasn’t due to payroll. Baltimore’s payroll decreased from $85M in 2011 to $81M in 2012. While the Twins reduction this year is more drastic ($94M in 2012 to the $81M range currently for 2013), it’s my belief that spending money doesn’t necessarily translate into wins. In baseball any promising season can be derailed by injuries, or brought to a higher level by young players rising to the top.
The biggest thing that changed for the Orioles from 2011 to 2012 was how many runs they allowed. They scored runs at about the same pace, but gave up runs at a blisteringly low rate compared to the year before. Jeremy Guthrie was traded to Colorado before last season for Jason Hammel who was coming off 3 below-average seasons. They also went over-seas to sign Wei-Yin Chen. Both of those pitchers turned in respectable seasons in Baltimore in 2012, but nothing spectacular.
What was spectacular was the Orioles bullpen. Their top 5 most widely-used relievers all finished the season with ERA’s under 2.65. The only reliever to achieve that in 2011 was Koji Uehara, who the Rangers traded for in mid-July. The entire Oriole bullpen lost only 12 games in 2012. The Twins bullpen lost 21 games in 2012.
No more will we see the likes of Matt Capps or Jeff Gray out in the bullpen, and Bobby Cuellar was promoted to be the new bullpen coach. Glen Perkins, who was solid in his first partial season in the closer role, returns along with Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, Alex Burnett, and Anthony Swarzak. All 6 of those pitchers have in one season or another showed signs of being really good bullpen pitchers.
Are they capable of trimming 155 runs off of last year’s team total like Baltimore? It’s going to take health and consistency to do it, but it’s possible. With the additions of Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey in the starting rotation; along with up-and-comers Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks; there is potential in this pitching staff to turn this thing around yet in 2013. Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Scott Baker are all gone or expected to have little impact (Blackburn) this season; so the rotation will peak fans’ interest almost as much as the success or failure of the bullpen. Baseball is a funny game, so don’t write off the payroll-slashed Twins before these pitchers even report to spring training.
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