For the past couple years, I have always found myself complaining about how the national experts continually ignore the Twins when talking about the best teams in the Major Leagues and teams who have a real chance to win the World Series. I guess it's understandable... we are a small-market team who have won games in a relatively unexciting fashion, without hitting the ball out of the park or (at least up until last year) by dominating opposing hitters and racking up out-of-this world strikeout and ERA numbers.
I was completely stunned this year when I clicked into ESPN.com's expert predictions. Of the 19 analysists they had choose their favorites for the World Series, SIX have the Twins going to the Big Show, with four of them choosing us to win it all! ESPN the Magazine's Buster Olney, who apparently has Twins fever this spring, picks us to win it all as well as Johan Santana to win the AL Cy Young and Jason Bartlett for AL Rookie of the Year. While he might be considered a lesser-known baseball analysist to the general public, it is awesome to see that Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, two of the most prominent baseball buffs in the media, also picked the Twins to win the World Series. Incredibly, the same number of people chose the Twins to win it all as the Yankees.
So the question is, are so many people picking the Twins just because it's a very popular sleeper pick, or is this team a legitimate World Series favorite? I don't think anyone expects us to finish with a better record than the Red Sox or Yankees, but once you get to the playoffs, it's all about having two or three dominant starting pitchers, a great bullpen, and timely hitters. Assuming the team can stay healthy all year, the Twins have all these things, so I would say the pick is well-conceived. When it comes to the Yankees, Randy Johnson will be tough to beat in the playoffs, but I don't think the Yankees' pitching is that unhittable beyond him. The Red Sox will be extremely difficult to pitch to, especially if JC Romero doesn't step up as a dominant left-handed pitcher for us this season, but we could get past them.
The Minnesota Twins season officially starts tomorrow, and I for one am absolutely pumped. This shaping up to be one of the most entertaining and exciting Twins seasons of all time. For now, I will look forward to flipping on ESPN tonight and watching the Major League Baseball season begin with what should be a classic matchup between the Yankees and Red Sox.