FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's truly amazing what this thing called spring (don't worry Minnesota, it's on its way) can do. Maybe it's the steadfast sunshine, maybe it's the fresh (choose one: Florida, Arizona) air or the plethora of palm trees. Or maybe it's the steadfast sunshine.
Its power can't be underestimated, though, whatever the culprit. Shoot, it's not only the baseball banter that gets covered with a coat of extra granulated sugar. Even one's own thoughts turn especially and unrealistically hopeful.
Last year, thanks to evidence provided by the eight straight losing seasons that preceded, nobody had much reason to believe anything would be different for the Twins. But it was.
They surged from the starting gate, won nearly as many games as league-leading Seattle for a couple months, topped the American League Central all the way until mid-August and wound up in second place with a respectable 85-77 record.
Sure, some of last season's potential miscalculations wound up that way. Troy Hawkins' run as the Twins' relief ace failed down the stretch in a heap of blown saves and wild pitches. In David Ortiz' defense, he missed more than two months with a broken wrist, but he didn't turn into the 30-home run hitter some believed he would.
But, as everyone knows, many of the prophecies that could've been passed off as lies last spring turned out to be true. Joe Mays' emergence. A Gold Glove for Torii Hunter and Doug Mientkiewicz. A .300 average and an All-Star Game trip for Cristian Guzman.
So after surviving Bud Selig's threat to end these February/March fibs for Minnesota forever, we've arrived at 2002.
Nobody knows if Jacque Jones can cut down on the strikeouts and consistently get on base or if Eddie Guardado can save 35 games. But one thing's clear for the Twins.
This is their year.
It's easy to become brainwashed, especially being around a team with a new manager who's not only courteous but could do successful standup and a group of players who are as polite and personable as most politicians seem in public.
But an early examination of the roster reveals enough talent in the right places (see: starting pitching), the potential for improvement at several positions, well-taught and hardworking personnel and all the motivation in the world.
The inspiration issue is often one of the most overblown in sports. The Vikings had one of their most popular players die during training camp, a far more serious and influential event than anything related to contraction. But the Vikings couldn't run the ball, their coach couldn't control his star wide receiver and tackling was at times a chore.
The Twins don't have problems of that magnitude, even when translated properly into the terms of their sport. There is a serious doubt about who will get lefties out in the seventh and eighth innings, now that Guardado's been crowned the closer. And the Brian Buchanan Adventure in right field hasn't even begun.
But this team has endured too much to let itself be bogged down by a couple holes in the bullpen or a below-average glove in right.
The Twins will make the playoffs this year.
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