The Minnesota Twins came into the 2010 season as the favourites in the AL Central and they lived up to those expectations. However, it ultimately proved to be a frustrating year for the Twins, as it was for the rest of the AL Central teams.
Minnesota Twins (94-68)
The Twins celebrated the opening of their glorious new ballpark with an AL Central title, yet postseason success still remains painfully elusive for Ron Gardenhire’s team.
The New York Yankees swept the Twins 3-0 in the Division Series, just as they had done in 2009. Add in a 3-0 sweep by the Oakland A’s in 2006 and three straight Yankee wins in 2004 and Minnesota’s losing playoff streak now runs to twelve games. This run is more likely sheer bad luck rather than being indicative of some integral flaw in the Twins’ organization, but the 2010 edition of ‘High Hopes dashed in Minnesota’ was all the more disappointing because it reflected a whole season of positive developments being followed by set-backs.
The excitement over Target Field’s imminent opening was disrupted by star closer Joe Nathan’s Spring Training injury woes which lead to him undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the whole season. There were celebrations throughout Minnesota when hometown hero Joe Mauer signed an eight year/$184m contract extension prior to the season, but his power numbers plummeted (28 longballs in 2009, 9 in 2010) as he battled through a long list of nagging injuries. Justin Morneau was having an MVP calibre season until he suffered a concussion while sliding into second base in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on 7 July. Morneau’s condition, much more than a mere baseball injury, failed to improve enough for him to return to the field for the rest of the year.
Some of the good stories did stand on their own with no negatives to bring them down. The acquisition of Jim Thome on a one-year deal for a basic $1.5m proved to be one of the best value moves of the offseason, Delmon Young started showing some of the form that made him the overall number one pick in the 2003 draft, while Francisco Liriano had his best year since undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of 2006.
Ninety-four wins and a division title is far from a bad season, but it’s not quite what the Twins were hoping for and they have some work to do over the offseason to keep ahead of the pack. Carl Pavano looks like he’ll be heading elsewhere as a free agent, Jim Thome’s future is still to be determined, while the Twins don’t know quite what they can expect from Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan in 2011.
The Twins should be good enough to enter the season as favourites for the AL Central, but will they finally make a breakthrough in the postseason?
Chicago White Sox (88-74)
It was hard to concentrate on the baseball on the South Side in Chicago as the Ozzie Guillen-Kenny Williams soap opera created plenty of stories to distract from the on-the-field efforts.
Amid the tension, one thing you can say about the White Sox in recent years is that they’ve never given up. They haven’t dished out lavish contracts, but whenever an opportunity presented itself that they felt could improve the team, they’ve gone for it.
Unfortunately, not many of the recent deals have panned out how they hoped. Jake Peavy missed half of 2010 and has made 20 starts with a 4.11 ERA since joining the team on 31 July 2009. The decision to allow Jim Thome to leave over the offseason was a big mistake, while late-season punts on Edwin Jackson and Manny Ramirez didn’t produce any reward. Gordon Beckham’s sophomore slump added to the general feeling of disappointment, not alleviated by the Twins tailing off at the end of the regular season to leave the White Sox just six games back in the final standings (they were 12 games behind with less than two weeks of the season remaining).
That will not put off the White Sox from mounting a challenge in 2011. The recent signing of free agent slugger Adam Dunn adds a potent bat to the lineup. Paul Konerko had arguably the best season of his career in 2010 and while initially the signing of Dunn made people think that Konerko’s time at the Cell had come to an end, in recent days it’s been suggested that the Sox may have the money to bring him back as well. One thing’s for sure: they’ll do everything they can to make it happen.
Detroit Tigers (81-81)
The Tigers’ 2010 season will be remembered for Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game on 2 June. Umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call on what should have been the final out will go down in history as one of the all-time umpiring gaffes, but any recollection of that moment should also be followed by an appreciation of how well Galarraga and Joyce handled the situation. Much as everyone involved will forever wish it hadn’t been necessary, it was a welcome act of understanding and reasonableness that is too often absent from sport and many other walks of life.
Detroit were yet another team whose ambition was thwarted by injuries in the second half of the season. A 24-31 record through July and August left them out of the running in September and the best they could achieve was a level .500 record.
The Tigers’ two top talents, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, had very strong 2010 seasons, while Max Scherzer had a very impressive year and rookie Austin Jackson showed plenty of promise.
The Tigers have some flexibility to make moves in the offseason, with several contracts coming off the books, and they’ve already flexed their financial muscle by signing free agents catcher/DH Victor Martinez and relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit. With a few more additions and a reversal in fortunes on the injury front, the Tigers could make a big jump back into contention in 2011.
Cleveland Indians (69-93)
Manny Acta’s first year in charge of the Indians proved to be as difficult as expected.
Any manager will struggle to inspire his team to many victories without a pitching staff that can at least give the team a chance to win on a consistent basis. Fausto Carmona returned to some decent form and Chris Perez impressed as the team’s closer, but otherwise the Tribe had little pitching that they could rely on.
The offence wasn’t exactly a powerhouse either. The team’s star prospect Carlos Santana lived up to the hype in an all-too-brief cameo before he suffered a serious knee injury. He followed Grady Sizemore under the knife as the centrefielder struggled through 140 plate appearances before undergoing knee surgery.
The one person the team could rely on was Shin-Soo Choo. The Korean had another strong season, reinforcing his reputation as one of the most underrated players in the game. The Indians feared that they might lose Choo to national service, but he has now been given an exemption after helping South Korea win a gold medal at the recent Asian Games. The Tribe’s luck may have started to turn, but they’ll need plenty more if they are to contend in the next few seasons.
Kansas City Royals (67-95)
There was little to cheer in Kansas City this year. The magic of Zack Greinke’s Cy Young 2009 season was absent as their star pitcher couldn’t quite find his form and ended the year openly questioning his future with the team. Billy Butler and Joakim Soria performed well, but their efforts didn’t count for a great deal in another depressing year.
Trey Hillman’s stint in charge came to an end after a 12-23 start to the season. Former Brewers manager Ned Yost took over and didn’t make much difference as there just isn’t enough talent in the Royals’ roster to even flirt with a winning record.
It’s been that way for a while as the Royals have finished above .500 only once (83-79 in 2003) since 1995. However, that situation may be about to change. Years of futility have produced a sequence of high draft picks and the Royals can now boast the best farm system of any Major League team. Position players like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, and pitchers like John Lamb and Mike Montgomery, have the potential to bring success to K.C. Don’t expect a significant change in fortunes in 2011 though.