Monday, April 24, 2006

"(Very) Cautiously Optimistic"

I realize that this column, which was published last Thursday, is now a bit outdated, but I thought I'd put it up here anyway for your reading enjoyment. I don't write a ton of Twins-related stuff anymore (mostly St. Olaf-related stuff) but on occasion I do.

And after that weekend sweep, I (unfortunately) look prophetic.

Cautiously Optimistic

I’ve learned my lesson.

It seems as though every time I use this column to sing the praises of my favorite sports franchise, the Minnesota Twins, something inevitably blows up in my face.

In early 2004, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my tenure as the Messenger’s sports editor, I proclaimed from my would-be pulpit that the Twins were a “force to be reckoned with” in the powerful American League, even dubbing them the “team to beat” in the 2004 playoffs.

The Twins were then promptly toppled by the New York Yankees in four games during the postseason’s first round.

Last year, still retaining the rosy glow of a cock-eyed optimist, I fell in line with the so-called national “experts” and tagged my Twins for their fourth-consecutive American League Central Division title.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of ignoring emerging powers like the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, both of whom had left the punchless Twins in their wake by mid-season.

But 2006 is a new year, one in which I am determined not to repeat my past transgressions. After all, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, right?

So even though the Twins made a number of positive off-season acquisitions this past winter, I am most assuredly not going to pick them to overtake the World Champion White Sox and 93-win Indians in the highly-competitive American League Central.

Even though three-time All-Star Luis Castillo (acquired for next-to-nothing during the Florida Marlins’ fire sale this winter) is a vast upgrade from the pitiful group the Twins trotted out at second base in 2005, I’m not going to say that his addition will drastically improve what was the league’s worst offense a year ago.

Although new DH Rondell White (owner of a career .289 batting average despite his miserable start this season) should provide some much-needed protection for young hitters like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the Twins’ lineup, I’m not going to say that I foresee breakout seasons for these two rising stars.

And even though the Twins have overcome a dismal 1-5 start by winning five of their last seven games, with the previously-questionable infield duo of Juan Castro and Tony Batista leading the way (a combined .319 batting average and nine RBI through 13 games) against contenders like the Athletics, Yankees and Angels, I am most assuredly not going to bestow the title of genius upon Twins’ general manager Terry Ryan for allowing these scrap-heap veterans to channel their inner (All-Star) selves.

No, instead I’m going to use this space to repeat what you have heard from all the professional prognosticators this spring: These new-look Twins, despite some intriguing additions and one of the league’s top pitching staffs, don’t have what it takes to contend with the mighty White Sox and ├╝ber-talented Indians in baseball’s toughest division.

Even though the Twins have looked so impressive during the past week and a half, displaying surprising power and clutch hitting to go along with their trademark pitching-and-defense approach, I’m not going to get all excited and say that 2006 is the year the Twins will finally put it all together.

Instead, I’m going to show a little bit of self-restraint this year, and I invite you to do the same. This isn’t to say you should stop “root, root, rooting” for the home team. On the contrary, these guys need all the support they can get as they do battle with the American League’s best.

But please repeat after me as I say, once and for all, that the 2006 Twins will not take baseball by surprise this season – they will not win their division, cruise through the playoffs or win their first World Series in 15 years.

Who knows? Blind optimism obviously hasn’t been working of late, so perhaps this new approach will work wonders for the hometown nine.

This is one year where I defintely won’t be disappointed if my prediction proves false.