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Updated: April 1st, 2013 7:11pm
Warne: What needs to happen for the Twins to surprise people in 2013?

Warne: What needs to happen for the Twins to surprise people in 2013?

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by Brandon Warne
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- If any of the Minnesota Twins players were looking to the future and what it might hold, none of them were tipping their hands before Monday's opening game against the Detroit Tigers.

"I don't think we're too worried about August and September, to be honest with you," closer Glen Perkins said. "I think it's more looking at April, and getting off to a good start here. Get through day one and go day by day. We need to try win today first."

Veteran infielder Jamey Carroll had a similar message, saying that a good start boils down to "pushing runs across in big situations, and getting good pitching."

When asked what needs to happen for the Twins to play meaningful baseball in August and September, manager Ron Gardenhire said, "Our starters are going to have to eat up innings, and get us deeper into the games. ...

"If you go by what we did in spring training, we caught the ball very well. Our fundamentals were better. Cutoff men, the whole package, all those little things go into how you win baseball games. But, we've got to protect our bullpen. You can't end up using them four or five innings a game. So our starters definitely have to get us deeper into games, and we have to stay healthy. Health is always a big issue with any baseball team, and we've got to keep these guys on the field."

While many pundits and projection systems have the Twins pegged for another last place finish in the American League Central, there are some pieces in place which could provide hope this could be a much-improved ball club.

The contention here is the Twins offense could sink or swim with their second tier of hitters. The first tier is comprised of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Josh Willingham, and by many accounts this group has looked locked and loaded for much of the spring. A severe fall-off from one of these guys likely would prove cataclysmic.

But the second group, which includes Trevor Plouffe, Ryan Doumit, and Chris Parmelee, will help dictate if this is simply a middle-of-the-road group, or one that is among the best in the majors. With modest seasons from this top six -- relative to what they've done in the big leagues -- projections show the Twins offense could score in the neighborhood of 740 to 750 runs. That would have placed the Twins comfortably in the top-10 in runs in 2012.

This is a good offense.

And if someone from the second or even third tier -- a guy like Aaron Hicks or Brian Dozier -- takes a step forward, it's not hard to see this group vaulting into top-five consideration. After all, 750 runs -- which would have been eighth-best last season -- is only 15 shy of what No. 5 St. Louis did offensively last season.

But run prevention is a big key here, and it's not something the Twins have been very good at the past two years. The Twins rotation last season gave up 832 runs, or 24 more than the top-ranked Rangers offense scored.

And if the starting staff lacks the potential that a ton of strikeouts might bring, this is a bunch that will induce groundballs by the dozen. Groundballs don't leave the park for home runs, and quite rarely go for extra base hits. For example, according to Baseball Reference, the triple-slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) on grounders in 2012 was .238/.238/.258. So while a rotation full of Justin Verlanders or David Prices might be ideal, the Twins right now appear to be angling for a roster full of Jake Westbrooks and Justin Mastersons.

The hope is that the trio of Pedro Florimon, Dozier, and Plouffe will flag down enough grounders to keep the starters upright into the sixth and seventh innings, keeping the bullpen fresh and hopefully affording a better-than-advertised offense more opportunities to dig itself out of holes like the one in Monday's opener when the Twins fell behind 3-0 after the first two innings.

If the current incarnation of starters doesn't pan out, the Twins will have some help in the high minors that shouldn't be that far away.

This group includes Kyle Gibson, who will start the season at Triple-A Rochester, and offseason acquisitions Trevor May and Alex Meyer, who will begin at Double-A New Britain. Of that trio, only Meyer is not repeating a level. So there is some optimism that each of these pitchers should have potential to rise quickly through the system.

But this is very much a work in progress and nothing is going to turn around overnight.

Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter suggested Monday that fans of his former team exercise caution with their expectations of Hicks as the team's every day center fielder.

That's likely sound advice when looking at the Twins as a whole for 2013.

Brandon Warne covers the Minnesota Twins for 1500ESPN.com. He has also contributed as a baseball analyst for Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com
Email Brandon | @Brandon_Warne
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