© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
When the Twins take the field at the Metrodome for Opening Night against the Angels on March 31 at 6:05 p.m. CT, it will be a group that might be a tad unfamiliar to fans.
This past offseason, the Twins went through an overhaul of sorts. And as the team embarks on the start of the 2008 season, all of the changes will finally be unveiled. They include a new-look left side of the infield in addition to a new left fielder, center fielder and second baseman.
Of the position players, only three starters from the '07 team return. But it's a group that makes up the "core" of a talented young lineup -- right fielder Michael Cuddyer, first baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer.
The look of the rotation will also be quite different. Opening Day pitcher Livan Hernandez is coming to the American League for the first time in his 10-year career. And Boof Bonser is the only returning starter who made more than 12 starts for the team last season guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster for the Twins.
The drastic changes to the Twins' roster could be enough to create an identity crisis for a young team looking to regain its spot atop the American League Central division. But instead, the team has embraced the idea of shattering the notion that this is somewhat of a "rebuilding year."
"I think there are some guys that have a little chip on their shoulder," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're not expected to do too awful much. I think we've done OK. We've handled ourselves pretty good in this organization. So when we start getting, 'They aren't going to be very good,' well, that kind of irritates all of us a little bit."
That irritation was only increased by the players feeling that the focus this offseason was not directed at the Twins' new additions but rather their losses. Having said goodbye to ace Johan Santana and center fielder Torii Hunter, the Twins quickly saw their status as a perennial division title candidate drop to that of a potential bottom feeder.
"This year the expectations are even lower than normal because we lost people," Cuddyer said. "It was all like, 'You lost the "faces" of the franchise.' But to me, this is a year when most people are coming in and looking to establish themselves."
That includes a group of new Twins eager to put past disappointments behind them. Talented on the field but with some disappointments off it, Delmon Young is looking for a fresh start in a new uniform. Shortstop Adam Everett and third baseman Mike Lamb are each trying to prove that they aren't just "one-dimensional" players. Brendan Harris is trying to show that his bat -- and glove -- can be a boost for the Twins at second base.
Even the returning players are looking to push past the disappointment of the 2007 season, when they went 79-83, their first losing record since 2000.
Over the course of the spring, the restructured Twins got a chance to bond together as a group. But the players agree that until the curtain finally rises on a new season, the team won't really get a feel for just how things might go.
Cuddyer, though, doesn't envision too much of a change from past Twins teams.
"We're still going to be the same team as far as manufacturing runs," Cuddyer said. "We're not going to be hitting three-run homers and relying on that. We have to rely on stealing bases, doing the right base running and playing defense.
"So as far as any identity concerns that might be out there, I think we're the same team -- just with new pieces."
This young Twins ballclub will be challenged right out of the gate in '08. First up on the docket is a four-game series at home against the Angels. The Twins' opponent has also been in a rebuilding process -- one focused more on adding than subtracting.
That includes one particular addition who the Twins know quite well. The Angels brought in Hunter on a five-year, $90 million deal this past offseason to add some offense to their lineup.
So while it will be a day of adjusting to the new look Twins, an old familiar face that will greet the team in center field -- he'll just be wearing a different uniform.
"It will definitely be different," Cuddyer said of seeing Hunter donning an Angels cap. "For 15 years, all he's ever been in is a Twins uniform. So to see him in red, it's going to be a little odd. He was special to this organization for a long time. He always will be, but now that he's an Angel, we've got to try to beat him."
MIN: RHP Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93 ERA in 2007)
Hernandez is set to make the eighth Opening Day start of his career, but it will be his first in the American League.
LAA: RHP Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91 ERA)
With ace John Lackey sidelined due to an elbow injury, the Angels are turning to Weaver for his first Opening Day start.
Morneau was 3-for-4 with a home run against the Orioles on Opening Day last season at the Metrodome. ... Hernandez is 3-3 with a 4.98 ERA in his seven career Opening Day starts. ... There are just six position players returning from last year's Opening Day roster: Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Mauer, Morneau, Nick Punto and Mike Redmond. ... Mauer is 2-for-6 off Weaver in his career.
On the Internet
Official game notes
ESPN2/WFTC29 (FSN outstate)
KSTP AM 1500, KMNV/KMNQ (Español)
Tuesday: Twins (Boof Bonser, 8-12, 5.10 in 2007) vs. Angels (Jon Garland, 10-13, 4.23), 7:10 p.m. CT
Wednesday: Twins (Nick Blackburn, 0-2, 7.71)vs. Angels (Joe Saunders, 8-5, 4.44), 7:10 p.m. CT
Thursday: Twins (Kevin Slowey, 4-1, 4.73) vs. Angels (Ervin Santana, 7-14, 5.76), 12:10 p.m. CT