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  • The 2008 Blueprint

    In my attempts to determine a plausible best-case scenario for this year's Twins team, I've struggled to come up with real-life examples to use for comparison. On the forum earlier this week, Twins Daily member sam.ekstrom pointed to the 2008 Twins as a potential "doppelganger" for the 2012 squad. I've got to say, I find this to be an encouraging model for a positive outcome if things break reasonably well.

    Now, to be clear, that 2008 team was by no means great. They won 88 games, were a middle-of-the-road club by most statistical measures and came within a game of the playoffs only by virtue of playing in a pretty bad division. But then, coming off a 99-loss season, these current Twins can't very well aspire for true greatness. Instead, they can try to follow the course that turned them from outsiders to contenders four years ago.

    Expectations were low for the '08 Twins. They had finished 79-83 in 2007 – their worst mark in eight years – and had watched multiple franchise mainstays depart over the offseason. Yet, they went on to surprise the baseball world by pushing Chicago to a division tiebreaker game, and they didn't do it with outstanding pitching (they finished seventh out of 14 AL teams in ERA) or power hitting (last in the league with 111 homers).

    Instead, those Twins hit for average, ranking third in the AL at .279, and they were extremely opportunistic (.305/.380/.446 with runners in scoring position). Their pitching wasn't great, but it was good enough. Many point to this year's rotation as a crippling weakness, but take a look at the numbers from that club's starters and tell me that this year's bunch can't at least match them:

    Nick Blackburn: 33 GS, 11-11, 4.05 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
    Scott Baker: 28 GS, 11-4, 3.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
    Kevin Slowey: 27 GS, 12-11, 3.99 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
    Glen Perkins: 26 GS, 12-4, 4.41 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
    Livan Hernandez: 23 GS, 10-8, 5.48 ERA, 1.63 WHIP
    Francisco Liriano: 14 GS, 6-4, 3.91 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

    Boof Bonser also made 12 starts and finished the year with an ERA near 6. This group was a beacon of neither durability (only Blackburn threw more than 173 innings) nor dominance (Liriano led all starters with a 7.9 K/9 rate and the Twins' staff as a whole averaged 6.1 whiffs per nine -- nearly identical to last year's 6.0).

    The 2008 starters were sufficiently effective because they threw strikes and benefited from solid defense. That's a formula that this year's rotation will seek to follow.

    Holding leads in the late innings is also important, and while the 2012 bullpen won't likely feature a performer as stellar as Joe Nathan, the overall unit should be able to match the effectiveness of an '08 group that ranked sixth in the AL in ERA, seventh in WHIP and 10th in K/9.

    From an offensive standpoint, this year's team will similarly have to find ways to push runs across without big power numbers. That 2008 group managed to finish third the AL in runs scored despite ranking last in homers, thanks largely to their ability to hit for average. That ought to be a strength this year for a lineup that will feature Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll, among others. Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Danny Valencia will need to chip in some pop and drive in runs, but they've shown the ability to do so in the past.

    The point of all this is to say that the Twins don't necessarily need Mauer to return to '09 form, or Morneau to go back to hitting 30 home runs, or Liriano to rack up 200 strikeouts. Rather, they can rely on a recipe that's worked for them in the past, which is hitting for a high average, converting on scoring opportunities, throwing strikes, playing strong defense, and hoping that a high-80s win total will be enough to give them a shot in the AL Central.
    This article was originally published in blog: The 2008 Blueprint started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. TwinsGuy55422's Avatar
      TwinsGuy55422 -
      I can see the similarities between the 2008 Twins and this group. I think this year's squad needs to play with a chip on its shoulder and like it has something to prove. They don't need to break bats and throw water jugs, but a nice quiet fire in the belly would be great to see.
    1. sam.ekstrom's Avatar
      sam.ekstrom -
      First off, thanks for the mention. Second, the Twins will need boosts from Pavano and Marquis to separate themselves from the 2008 staff. Two of the three remaining starters from '08 (Baker, and Blackburn) had arguably their best career season in '08, or at minimum their second best year. Frankie pitched very well for the final two months, and Perkins' production will be hard to duplicate unless we get a jolt from, say, Anthony Swarzak.

      With the Twins playing a small-ball style this year, I think we need one or two guys to contribute their career-best season to keep us in games---maybe Blackburn/Liriano? I think they have the most room for improvement (if you take out '06 for Frankie).
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Only 1 year ago they were the favorites to win the central. Had everyone been healthy, they'd probably still be in conversation to win it. That 99 loss season tends to sour people's outlook when they take a big picture view. I agree the question marks here are much bigger than say with Detroit, but Detroit has it's fair share of problems as well. The central could easily turn into a 3 or 4 team race in which the winner doesn't win 90 games. For the Twins, I really think it is coming down to health.... Mauer seems OK, but Baker, Liriano, and Morneau need to be healthy look like their former selves. If they do, they will be right in this mix too.
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      Another similarity with '08 - the Detroit Tigers were heavily favored to win the division (even to win it all by some) that year after making big splashes in the offseason with the acquisitions of Cabrera, Willis and Renteria.

      And they ended up falling flat on their faces.

      Everyone was crowning the Tigers division after they signed Prince.

      But what happened in '08 is another reminder that games are won on the field in Spring and Summer, not on paper in December and January.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Great point, Jack.
    1. mysonlikes7's Avatar
      mysonlikes7 -
      I just think the starting rotation and lack of dependable arms in the bullpen will be the downfall of the Twins this year. Even if some of the pitchers do come around and have above average years, I think the Tigers are too good to fall far enough for the Twins to catch them. The Royals are also going to be better and it will be interesting to see if the Indians run last year was a fluke or if they are beginning to trend upward. It is difficult for a team to improve 15 games from one year to the next let alone 25 games to reach the 88 win total.
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