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Season Preview Q&A | February

I was recently asked to answer some questions for the folks at Yankee True Blue, ranging from New York's incessant dominance of the Twins to the resurgance of Carl Pavano to Justin Morneau's status. I've posted my answers below. Enjoy!

Click here to read the interview!

YTB: Last season ended with yet another playoff loss to the Yankees. What is it about the Twins that makes it so difficult to beat the Yankees?

TT: It could be because the Twins have fared significantly better against right-handed pitching over the last few years than against left-handed pitching, which made Sabathia and Pettitte all the more dangerous. It could be that the soft-throwing Twins don't match up well against the power-hitting Yankees. Or, the Yankees' domination of the Twins over the last few years could simply be a result of a psychological issue that puts Minnesota at an unquantifiable disadvantage whenever they set eyes on those pinstripes.

There are many possible explanations for why the Yankees have won 57 of the last 75 games against the Twins, and the best answer is probably a combination of several factors.

YTB: Carl Pavano was an absolute bust in The Big Apple, the mere mention of his name is frowned upon at Yankee Stadium. Other than his health, why has he been successful in Minnesota?

TT: You could count on one hand the number of people who expected Pavano to be the anchor he was last year to the Twins' rotation. He defied his age; 35-year-old pitchers aren't supposed to get better, but Pavano's 3.75 ERA begs to differ. His 2010 season was remarkable, but few expect Pavano to continue that streak of excellence.

He relied heavily on Minnesota's strong infield defense (which has since been torn apart) and a high left-on-base percentage that will surely return to normal next year. Pavano won't be great again in 2011, but if he stays healthy, he'll certainly be better than he was while in New York.

YTB: Justin Morneau is working to come back from a devastating concussion that sidelined him for a huge chunck of last season, how is his progress and when he comes back, can we expect the same old Justin Morneau?

TT: Morneau took a knee to the head on July 7, 2010, causing his brian to crash against his skull, leading to a temporary loss of brain function. He appears to be on track for Opening Day, but no one knows what to expect out of the Canadian. Concussions are scary business, and there's no telling if Morneau will suffer through any lingering symptoms as the season progresses.

Can you expect the same old Morneau? Probably not; the entire situation is clouded with uncertainty. But Minnesota is certainly hoping for a full recovery out of their resident Mountie.

YTB: Joe Mauer signing a long-term contract with the Twins, in my opinion, was great for baseball. How much does he mean to the city and its fans?

TT: Regardless of the player, $23 million per season is a lot of money to devote to one player. If anyone should be given that kind of money, though, it's Mauer. An embodiment of Minnesota, Mauer is clearly one of the "good guys" in the sporting world. He stays out of trouble, is an excellent role model, and doesn't say anything more offensive than "golly gee."

Mauer took a discount when signing with the Twins, and losing him to another team would have caused rioting in the streets of Minneapolis.

YTB: Outdoor baseball returned to the Twin Cities last season, how would you rate the stadium and it's overall appeal?

TT: Even though I currently live in southern Arizona (through the summer, at least) I managed to make it up to Minneapolis for a few games last year. Target Field absolutely lives up to the hype. It's by far the best and most beautiful stadium I've ever seen, and deserves to be visited by every baseball fan. With gorgeous views of the downtown skyline and giving fans the chance to breathe fresh air while watching a baseball game, it's an amazing stadium.

YTB: Jim Thome surprised a lot of folks by putting up fairly decent numbers last season, is it realistic to think he can be just as good this year?

TT: Thome enjoyed one of the best season of his career as a 39-year old, and it's unrealistic to expect him to repeat it this year. But he won't be playing as much in 2011, which could give his aging body a break. Thome will be a valuable bench bat for the Twins as he likely finishes his quest for home run No. 600.

YTB: What's the biggest question mark heading into the season?

TT: Even though the bullpen has plenty of holes, and the middle infield remains untested, the biggest question mark for the 2011 season is Justin Morneau. Nobody knows what to expect out of the first baseman, and the Twins are going to be in trouble if they can't count on their bat.

YTB: Tsuyoshi Nishioka came over from Japan, how big of an impact will he make this season, if any?

TT: The Nippon Professional League in Japan, which Nishioka played in last year, is essentially equivalent to Triple-A. The young middle infielder put up great numbers last season, and he should perform well against major-league pitchers in 2011.

Nobody expects an MVP-caliber season out of the speedy Nishioka, but few expect a Kaz Matsui-like bust, either. Nishioka's offensive production will likely hover around the league average, though could provide the Twins with additional value in the field and on the base paths.

YTB: What's your prediction for the season?

TT: The Twins didn't make any major transactions this offseason, but they also didn't lose any irreplaceable players. A season similar to 2010 is probably a reasonable expectation, but in the vastly-improved American League Central, that may not be enough.

Prediction: 92-70, second in AL Central 

Many thanks to Jim Gazzale of Yankee True Blue!

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