Figuring out the biggest question mark for the Twins as the 2006 season approaches isn't difficult -- just ask Twins center fielder Torii Hunter. "Great pitching -- check. Good defense -- check. Offense -- well, we're going to see what happens with that one," Hunter said. But not surprisingly, that's nothing new to the club. An annual mystery that appears right around the start of April, the offense has been a lingering issue for the team from Minnesota. Based more around the basics of small ball than big hitters, the Twins have waited long for a club to emerge as an offensive powerhouse.
Instead, it has been the pitching that has remained the backbone of the organization and the offense the unknown. So once again this season, as Opening Day rolls around for the Twins, it's the same old story. "This isn't the first time it's been a question," Hunter said, of the team's ability to drive in runs. "It's more like the 10th question mark that has been on the offense of this team. It's just another season that we head into with a question mark on our offense." Considering the problems that the team had at the plate last season, it's no surprise that this year the offensive concerns may be drawing even more attention. For the Twins in 2005, it wasn't an offense that sputtered, but one that went kaput. The club scored a total of only 688 runs and struggled to a .259 team batting average. The Twins were outhit and outscored, which makes putting together wins quite difficult. The changes that the Twins made during the offseason to try to correct the problem were put under immediate scrutiny this spring to see what type of impact they might have. Guys such as second baseman Luis Castillo, who was brought in to add speed and get on base, and designated hitter Rondell White, who could add more RBIs, have been closely watched to see if they might be the keys to turning around this offense. Spring Training is not usually a good test of what an offense can do, but again, the Twins have shown the tendency to click at times and slink along at others. From what Twins general manager Terry Ryan has seen, though, so far it's been an improvement. "We brought in some new people, and I think it's apparent visually that some of these guys are going to produce," Ryan said.The thought behind the Twins making these additions is that it wouldn't take much to improve the team's win column. A strong pitching staff has been a constant for the club and helped carry the Twins to 83 wins, despite the lack of run support. With just a little improvement, there are many that feel the Twins can change the focus from the mound to a more well-rounded ballclub. Sure, it still won't be a team with the offensive firepower of the Yankees or the Red Sox, but the Twins are hoping it will be enough for a return to the playoffs. "We just need to score enough runs and I think we will do that," White said. "With this pitching staff it shouldn't be that hard so you have the confidence you are going to win every day." It's normal for many of the players to approach the season optimistically, but often one of the toughest critics of the team has been Hunter himself. Never one to shy away from stating his opinion, Hunter wasn't afraid to admit that the offense again will be a question mark, but he also says that he believes this could be the year that the team returns to having a more potent offense. "I'm excited about this year," Hunter said. "I'm feeling like I did in 2002, about our offense that year. I was so excited to have that offense and when they left, I was so disappointed. I'm kind of getting that feel back from 2002 when we won the division." But if that feeling will translate into success this season, Hunter remains cautious. "I mean, I think we are a better team than last year offensively, but there is always a question with the Minnesota Twins," Hunter said. "We'll just have to wait and see." The Twins just hope the answer is a positive one.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.