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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Who are these guys?

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer


Friday, April 23, 2004

Quick, name the Twins top performers so far this season. Torii Hunter? Not exactly. Corey Koskie? Not even close. Johan Santana? I wish.

The surprises do not stop there. The Twins are only 14 games into this young season yet they have already had five key players land on the disabled list, including one-third of their starting lineup. Despite all the injuries and miscellaneous factors working against the Twins, they are still first in the American League Central. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all: the Twins would not enjoy the lofty vantage point without major contributions from such household names as Henry Blanco, Jose Offerman, Lew Ford, Joe Roa, and Aaron Fultz.

I know what youre thinking: didnt Jose Offerman retire, like, four years ago? Since when do the Twins have Henry Blanco? Who are the other three guys? Who the heck are ANY of these guys?

These guys are the glue holding together a team that is only a shadow of its former (2003) self, one decimated by free agency, trades, and injuries.

Tight-fisted owner Carl Pohlad would not pony up the dough this winter to re-sign relief pitchers LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was traded to save money and make way for über-prospect Joe Mauer. Pitcher Eric Milton was also traded for monetary reasons.

The Twins recovered and thought they had adequately filled those holes going into spring training, but then the injury bug decided to bite, and boy, what a bite it took. Fifth starter Rick Helling broke his leg in early March and reliever Grant Balfour injured his shoulder a week before the season started.

Then the carnage turned brutal: catchers Mauer and Matthew LeCroy took the fall in the seasons third and fourth games respectively. To top it all off, all-star centerfielder Torii Hunter was injured only a couple days later.

The Twins were just entering a relatively easy part of their schedule and could ill afford to fall too far behind in the standings.

As it turns out, Twins fans had nothing to worry about. Blanco, a 32 year-old backup catcher with a career .219 batting average, has looked like the second coming of Johnny Bench, hitting .324 with 3 homeruns and 10 RBI in Mauers absence.

Offerman has shown a knack for coming through in the clutch and is hitting .302. Sweet Lew Ford, recently called up from AAA, has been absolutely lights-out as Hunters replacement, hitting .444 with two homers, a pair of triples and 12 RBI in his first 10 games. Journeymen relievers Fultz and Roa have pitched a combined 17 innings and allowed only 3 runs. Whoever said help comes from the most unlikely of sources sure was not kidding!

Meanwhile, the old standbys Doug Mientkiewicz, Shannon Stewart, Brad Radke and Jacque Jones have also been playing well of late. Set-up man J.C. Romero looks to have successfully rebounded from a sub par 2003 season and has returned to the form that made him one of the games top relievers in 2002.

Although the starting pitchers have struggled thus far, the Twins are currently the best hitting team in the American League. This is an offense that has the potential to score a lot of runs this season, enough to make up for any possible shortcomings on the mound.

The Twins may have won the last two AL Central titles, but is 2004 shaping up to be a dogfight to the bitter end. Each of the Twins opponents has their own obvious strengths and weaknesses.

The Chicago White Sox have always had plenty of talent, but have never been able to put it all together and usurp the Twins. The Kansas City Royals, this years trendy pick to win the division, have a potent offense but serious question marks in their pitching staff.

The Cleveland Indians have some good young players, but are at least a year away from contention. The Detroit Tigers made some key free agent acquisitions over the winter in a desperate attempt to improve on last years 119-loss season, but they are still woefully lacking pitching depth. The Twins, despite their losses, have an excellent chance to make it three in a row.

Slowly but surely, the Twins are even getting healthy again. Hunter returns this week, and LeCroy soon after, while Mauer underwent minor knee surgery and will require about two more weeks of rehab.

In the meantime, our super-subs are playing well beyond expectations and keeping the team right were it belongs: at the top of the standings. Personally, I dont care if these no-names are supposed to be good or not. In sports, it all comes down to winning. As long as you win, it doesnt matter what your name is.


For more coverage on all things Twins, check out Ryans website at twinschatter.blogspot.com


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