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Updated: April 8th, 2012 10:56pm
Zulgad: Surprised by lost weekend in Baltimore? You shouldn't be

Zulgad: Surprised by lost weekend in Baltimore? You shouldn't be

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Given the amount of hyperventilating occurring among some, the Minnesota Twins might want to consider handing out paper bags to those who attend Monday's home opener at Target Field.

The Twins will send out a lineup against Los Angeles Angels lefthander C.J. Wilson that was outscored 15-5 in being swept in a season-opening, three-game series at Baltimore.

The Twins made Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Jason Hammel look as if the Orioles have the makings of their most dominant rotation since the famous 1971 foursome of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson. Each one of them recorded 20 wins.

Now, the Twins get to face a pitcher the Angels rewarded with a five-year, $77.5 million contract in their second biggest free-agent signing of the offseason. Number one on that list, of course, would be slugging first baseman Albert Pujols, who received a $240-million, 10-year deal to leave St. Louis.

The Orioles actually were considered to be "the easy" portion of the Twins' early-season schedule. Over the next 17 days, they will see the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox before playing host to Kansas City in the final weekend of April.

Considering the Twins lack of punch in Baltimore, and the fact the team's top two starters, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano, gave up a combined nine earned runs in 11 innings, it's difficult to muster much enthusiasm for Ron Gardenhire's club.

However, there is one very important thing to keep in mind as the Twins return home after three miserable days at Camden Yards: No one should be all that surprised by what happened.

For all those who took to Twitter to express their outrage on Friday, Saturday or Sunday - or perhaps all three - you need to remember that this franchise lost 99 games last season. The 2011 Twins were a massive disappointment and a bad baseball team.

You can say all you want about Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Denard Span being healthy entering this season, but even if you assume the offense will get straightened out, and that figures to happen at some point, that doesn't end the question marks.

The starting rotation? The bullpen? The defense?

Is there any guarantee this team will be able to put together all facets of its game for extended periods this season? Absolutely not.

That's not simply said in the aftermath of a three-game sweep against an Orioles franchise that long ago lost its way. That could have been pointed out in January, entering spring training in February or coming out of the practices games.

The thing with the top-tier teams in baseball is that if they struggle, questions are usually answered with the word, "when." When the pitching improves, when the hitting gets on track, etc.
With a team like the Twins, every question is answered with an "if." That figures to be the case all summer.

There was grumbling from many this offseason after Terry Ryan stepped back in as the Twins' general manager. The team lost outfielders Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer and closer Joe Nathan in free agency.

Signed on the open market were shortstop Jamey Carroll, catcher/outfielder/designated hitter Ryan Doumit, left fielder Josh Willingham and righthanded pitcher Jason Marquis.

Carroll received a two-year, $6.5 million deal; Doumit and Marquis were each signed for $3 million for one year; and Willingham got a three-year, $21 million contract.

Closer Matt Capps, meanwhile, was retained for one-year, $4.75 million with an option for 2012.

None of the moves appeared to be those of an organization that really thought it was going to bounce back in a big way. Upset fans seemed to get that during the winter, so other than for the eternal optimists, it's surprising that anyone now believes the Twins are going to somehow find a magic formula.

No one wanted to hear or read this during the offseason, but in many ways this appears to be baseball's version of a rebuild or, at the very least, a serious retooling.

With the possible exception of Willingham, the Twins did not make what would be considered a serious commitment to any of the free agents they added. This means they aren't on the hook very far into the future with any of these players, and Ryan has left himself with the option of dealing some of them near the trade deadline if the Twins are struggling.

The Twins are not going to come out and use the word rebuilding, but Ryan is an astute baseball man and he survived a much worse period in franchise history.

Ryan turned over the general manager's position to Bill Smith following the 2007 season, having been the architect of a franchise that won the American League Central title in four of his last seven years on the job.

Before that, however, Ryan was in charge of an organization that was among the worst in baseball in the 1990s. After winning 92 games in 1992, the Twins did not get to 80 victories again until 2001.

One of things Ryan wanted when he agreed to replace Smith last fall was that the GM's title had an interim label attached to it. Perhaps Ryan wanted to see if he would enjoy all the day-to-day responsibilities that in 2007 he decided he no longer wanted to face.

The Twins' brass has to be privately hoping Ryan will agree to drop the interim tag at some point because the reality is while this certainly shouldn't be a repeat of the 1990s it could take some time.

And that was obvious before the Twins ever headed for Baltimore.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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