Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and Ben Johnson, who joins the group this week. Johnson is a 2005 Milaca graduate. He played football, wrestling and baseball for the Wolves and was a pitcher on the St. Cloud State University baseball team until a rotator cuff went out. He graduated from SCSU and now works at Xcel Energy in Becker. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Twins opened their 2013 season Monday afternoon by losing to the Detroit Tigers 4-2 at cold Target Field. Looking at strengths and weaknesses, what kind of season is it going to be for the Twins?

-Dorr: So much of what will happen this season depends on the starting pitching and that is a complete mystery at this point. Vance Worley, Monday’s starter, was on the DL twice last year. Kevin Correia lost his spot in the rotation at Pittsburgh and Mike Pelfrey, a dominating pitcher a couple years ago, is coming off arm surgery. Then you have Cole De Vries, still a question mark, and last year’s “find,” Scott Diamond, is on the DL but expected back. There are way too many question marks there to be comfortable about the pitching. You have a rookie center fielder who has never played above Class AA (he struck out three times in the opener Monday) and a non-hitting shortstop who made some great plays last year and butchered some easy ones. Can Trevor Plouffe repeat his 24-home run season? Will Chris Parmelee make it in right field? Is Justin Morneau finally back to his previous form? Question mark, question mark, question mark. It could be a comeback season or it could be another disastrous one. The Twins should score some runs but can they keep other teams from outscoring them? Their 1- for-9 performance with runners in scoring position Monday against Detroit is pretty much run of the mill. It happens way too often.

-Marxhausen: This season is going to be very similar to the last two. Justin Verlander of the Tigers came in Monday and shut down the Twins like he normally does. Verlander pitched five innings, but  gave up just three hits with seven strikeouts. I think the season will mimic what the Twins’ performance looked like in the game Monday – close but no cigar. The Twins lack the bats to provide much run support. In the game Monday, the Twins left 12 players on base, including based loaded in the seventh inning. The lack of experienced hitters is going to result in many games similar to Monday’s loss. The weaknesses are all around, including questions about the starting pitching staff as well as the bullpen and the young faces on the team who have limited experience. The strength is the team has leaders to rally around. So, as long as players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham do well, other players may feed off their attitude and mimic their actions. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride this season, with the ride descending a majority of the time.

-Larson:  There are many weaknesses and few strengths on the 2013 Twins, much the same ones as in 2011 and 2012. I heard general manager Terry Ryan on the radio several times over the past few weeks and wondered if he could keep a straight face while uttering absolute nonsense about this year’s team. Short on starting pitching for two-plus seasons, the team’s solution was searching the through re-hab facilities and scanning a list of unwanted pitchers. This year’s program at Target Field should include a glossary of injuries suffered by pitchers. Veterans Mauer, Morneau (before he’s traded) and Willingham will make things interesting a few times. The Minneapolis Star Tribune titled its Twins season preview section “Silver Linings” and presented a dozen reasons for fans to enjoy the season. I could only think of three, veterans Mauer/Morneau/Willingham, hot dogs/beer and a very nice setting to watch baseball before paging through the section. And, I could only think of those same three after paging through the section. I was surprised to see veteran writers shilling so hard for the team.  One headline read, “Deep prospect pool has Twins set up for years to come and Target Field helps keep memories of their heyday alive.”  When asked about the potential of his team’s young prospects, a veteran coach once told me “if they were good they’d be playing now.” It’s amazing how the Twins’ minor league system went from “the cupboard is bare” to “World Series here we come” in such a short time. There wasn’t a headline in that special section that read, “Big profits at Target Field put Twins in bidding war for talented free agents.” The Pohlads couldn’t have designed the section any better.

-Johnson: An optimistic Twins fan would say it will be a better year for the Twins than in 2012.  I regretfully feel it will be another disappointing year if you expect anything more than a 4th place finish in the division. Their lineup should be solid although there will be inconsistencies in the bottom depending on which players fill the shortstop/second base roles.  It was nice to see Mauer and Morneau have great spring camps and showings at the WBC.  The Twins have historically been known for stellar defense which should be better than last year (4th to last place in the AL). Their weakness is their pitching rotation.  I would not be surprised to see 14 or more different starters for the Twins this season.  Hopefully a few of them stick and compete in this brutal division.

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•Question:  The Twins have had back-to-back miserable seasons. Take a shot at what the team’s record will be this season.

-Dorr: How does 81-81 sound? Too optimistic? Probably. That would be a very good season. Getting somewhere near 70 wins is probably more realistic. Remember, this was written on Monday, April Fool’s Day.

-Marxhausen: The season is going to be no different than the last two. General manager Terry Ryan made many moves this off-season but the Twins are still the same team as last year – with some new faces. Pitching was the huge factor that needed to be addressed and he brought in Vance Worley and others to try to put together a respectable rotation. The team’s fate will depend on how that works out. But, I will remain optimistic and say that Minnesota will not have 100 losses and will finish the season 67-95.

-Larson:  The dust fans will see hovering over Target Field by mid-June will be from the other Central Division teams galloping away from the Twins. I’ll put the team’s record at 64-98.

-Johnson: A case can be made that each of the teams in the American League Central has gotten much better since last year (through trades and acquisitions).  With the tougher division, I have them cracking a hundred losses at 61-101.

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•Question:  Who’s going to win the American League Central  and what will the order of finish be?

-Dorr: Detroit. That’s what ALL the experts are saying. I’ll go along with them and hope for a different result. Kansas City and Cleveland are dramatically improved and the White Sox are about the same, possibly not quite as good. Let’s put Minnesota last, Kansas City (with very improved starting pitching) second, Chicago third and Cleveland fourth, although those three could easily exchange spots.

-Marxhausen: With the Twins swimming at the bottom of the barrel in the last-place spot, the fourth-best team in the division will be the Cleveland Indians. They will also finish sub-500 with a 75-87 record. After the Indians, the third-place spot will go to the Chicago White Sox who will have a similar season as the Indians, but only slightly better, finishing with a sub-500 record of 79-83. Finishing in second place will be the Kansas City Royals, who will end with a .500 record at 81-81. The Central Division champ will be the Detroit Tigers who will finish 88-74.

-Larson:  Detroit’s hitting and pitching will overwhelm the rest of the division. Cleveland will finish second, followed in order by Kansas City, Chicago and Minnesota.

-Johnson: Detroit is the clear favorite, followed by Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City and Minnesota.

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•Question:  The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is down to the Final Four. 1. What are your thoughts on last weekend’s games? 2. Michigan faces Syracuse and Louisville meets Wichita State in the semifinals Saturday. What will the title game match-up be Monday and who wins the men’s crown?

-Dorr: The only game I saw much of was the Michigan one, thus I know very little about the other three teams. I can’t name two starters from any of the other teams, in fact. But Louisville sounds like the favorite so I’ll take Louisville to beat Michigan.  Tubby Smith to Texas Tech while Minnesota’s new AD can’t get anyone? Not very impressive by Mr. Teague so far.

-Marxhausen: This past weekend’s games had some unusual twists and turns that left some fans scratching their head. Nothing like a Cinderella team in No. 9 Wichita State to keep the headlines rolling as they topple over No. 2 Ohio State to head to the Final Four to face Louisville. Louisville against Duke was a competitive match-up even after the disastrous leg injury to Louisville’s Kevin Ware. Louisville used the injury as inspiration to close out Duke. Syracuse seemed to breeze past Marquette with ease, holding it to only 39 points. Michigan had similar success, taking an early lead against Florida and never looking back. The championship game is going to come down to Michigan against Louisville, with Louisville winning the whole thing.

-Larson:  It’s somewhat surprising that the final Big Ten team left standing is Michigan. I would’ve bet on (and lost) Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State before Michigan. But, the Wolverines have been impressive. Michigan’s run will end Saturday, with defense-minded Syracuse joining Louisville in the finals. It’s Louisville in the title game, 72-68.

-Johnson: I was sad to see Florida Gulf Coast lose this past weekend.  I watched both of its victories against Georgetown and San Diego State. and was very impressed with the chemistry and coaching it has.  Michigan looks tough and, as expected, Louisville has taken care of business thus far.  I have those two in the finals with Louisville taking the crown.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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