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Questions about Twins’ offense remain as season opens today

By Joe Oberle

Sports Xchange

When the 2014 Minnesota Twins season is finished, Twins officials will likely have had to answer one question over and over again: Why didn’t you upgrade the offense?

After adding two decent starting pitchers to improve a moribund starting rotation, the Twins were able to do little to improve a lineup that had one of the team’s worse seasons on record in 2013. So assistant general manager Rob Antony will likely be haunted by the question, and it appears he already has an answer:

“We had flexibility (with the payroll). We were trying to give money away,” he told the Pioneer Press. “Some players didn’t take it. They signed with other people.”

The Twins added right-handed pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and the addition of that pair instantly upgrades the rotation, which was led last season by Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia.

Pelfrey is another year removed from Tommy John surgery, so he will be stronger, healthier and likely improved, while the inning-eating Correia’s value should rise in this rotation.

Add young righty Kyle Gibson (who beat out Scott Diamond during the last week of spring training) to the rotation and a weakness from last season suddenly looks much better. With more strength at the top of the unit, the pressure on Gibson — a second-year player who had a great spring training — should lessen just a bit and allow him to develop in the majors, which is where he needs to be.

The new rotation should also take some pressure off the bullpen, which was overused in 2013 but came through as the most consistent unit on the team. The bullpen members return mostly intact and should be slightly improved with the installation of Caleb Thielbar (a nice, mid-season surprise in 2013) to replace Josh Roenicke, who was up and down at best last season.

The X factor for this team will be the everyday lineup. Twins fans will not see a lot of new faces in a lineup that struggled to score runs in 2013 and set a team record — and nearly a major league record — for strikeouts.

The Twins added former Twin Jason Kubel to play some outfield and designated hitter, but he is coming off a down year and did not light it up in Fort Myers (.186 batting average).

The team’s best player, Joe Mauer, has a new position, having moved out from behind the plate to play first base. But it remains to be seen if that move will provide enough offensive firepower to offset what the team loses in defense — moving a Gold Glove catcher to a position that he is still learning.

In spring training, the Twins had trouble hitting for power and scoring runs again. And Antony, who is acting general manager while Terry Ryan recovers from cancer treatment, certainly noticed.

“I read clips of some of the other teams, and a guy hit his fifth home run of the spring,” he said. “We usually have a guy like that who does that. We haven’t had anybody that’s really put on a show.”

In 11 games during the final two weeks of spring training, the Twins scored an average of 2.0 runs per game (down from 3.79 in the 2013 season). That output might win some games if the pitching holds, but not enough to prevent a fourth consecutive season of 90-plus losses.