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Hayden Goethe, Published April 04 2012

Goethe: Oft-injured stars are back, but optimism isn't with Twins

Fargo - Sure, Nostradamus offered predictions on the end of the world and some of society’s great tragedies.

But what about Joe Mauer’s health, or the performance of a once-leaky Twins bullpen?

The world’s great thinkers from centuries ago would have no doubt been challenged guessing the fortunes of Minnesota’s baseball band of misfit and – in the bullpen’s case – misfiring toys.

But before Twins fans can seek answers, let’s first look at the questions that have haunted the franchise this offseason.

Can oft-injured leaders like Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano stay on the field for an entire season?

Can a bullpen that finished last in all of the major leagues in ERA last season rebound?

Can a rotation that finished in the bottom five in the majors in ERA last season actually improve when the only pitcher added was journeyman right-hander Jason Marquis?

A strong finish to the preseason by Morneau and the overall health displayed by Mauer and Span to this point add hope that the Twins lineup could be potent once again.

Some of the relief arms in camp, like right-hander Jared Burton and left-hander Matt Maloney, also have given the impression that perhaps this season’s bullpen won’t be as bad.

And Francisco Liriano has been arguably the hottest pitcher in all of the majors this spring. Spring numbers may not matter, but it’s hard to ignore Liriano’s line: 27 innings, 25 hits allowed, 33 strikeouts, 5 walks, 2.33 ERA.

The most important question is this: Can the Twins really be expected to compete with the beefed up Detroit Tigers in the AL Central?

I didn’t have to look much further than the comments posted on my blog lately to see that most people don’t think the Twins’ chances of challenging the Tigers are all that promising.

E “I say go with the youth movement. … The Twins aren’t going to win anyway, why not give the young guys some experience now …”

E “The Twins suck. It’s simple.”

So despite seeing Mauer, Morneau and Span still in uniform and healthy, this opening day will have a different feel from the more optimistic ones of years past.

For as impressive as the names on the backs of some of the uniforms are, it’s the front of the uniform and the 99-loss pall cast by a downer of a 2011 season that the Twins will have to overcome this year.

Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558 or hgoethe@forumcomm.com

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