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Despite improvement, Twins expected better

Despite improvement, Twins expected better

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Despite improvement, Twins expected better
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Twins finished with the worst record in the American League in 2011, it was easy to pin their struggles on injuries.

After all, they were coming off an AL Central title, and pivotal players such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span missed significant time with various injuries and ailments.

But Minnesota's struggles carried over into 2012 despite the relative health and production of Mauer, Morneau and Span, as well as key additions such as Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit.

Instead, the pitching was to blame for the Twins' woes in 2012, as the club's starters had the worst combined ERA in the AL as the season wound down.

2012 season wraps
2013 outlooks

The rotation was hurt by injuries -- Scott Baker missed the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, and Carl Pavano made just 11 starts because of right shoulder issues -- but it was also just plain ineffective.

The Twins used 12 starters on the year, and only rookie left-hander Scott Diamond finished with a sub-4.00 ERA.

Minnesota didn't have the rotation depth to deal with the injuries to Baker and Pavano or the struggles endured by Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis, who was designated for assignment in late May.

Put it all together, and the Twins finished slightly better than they did in 2011 but were never in contention.

Record: 66-96, last in AL Central

Defining moment: If starting the season 0-4 wasn't bad enough, the Twins held a news conference on April 11 to announce that Baker would be undergoing a season-ending elbow operation six days later. It caused the rotation to be in disarray right from the start of the season, and the Twins never fully recovered. They started off the year with a Major League-worst 10-26 record with a 5.28 ERA over that span and never got back to any better than 10 games under .500.

What went right: Mauer bounced back from his worst season to be named an All-Star for a fifth time and remained in the AL batting race until the end of the season. He also played in more than 140 games for the first time since 2008. ... Morneau put his concussion problems behind him and finished the season healthy for the first time since '08. He also had a big second half offensively, with his power returning. Span dealt with a few injuries throughout the year but was productive when in the lineup while providing steady defense in center field. ... Willingham and Doumit, who were both signed as free agents before the season, produced as advertised, as they combined for more than 50 homers. Fellow newcomer Jamey Carroll also brought a veteran presence to the team and was a solid defender at every position he played in the infield. ... Ben Revere had a breakout season, as he kept his batting average around .300 and stole more than 30 bases for the second straight year. ... Trevor Plouffe settled in at third base and provided plenty of power, including 11 homers in June. ... The bullpen was improved, with Glen Perkins and Jared Burton having huge years, while Alex Burnett and Brian Duensing were also effective as relievers.

What went wrong: The rotation was in poor shape, as the Twins couldn't find much consistency from anyone but Diamond. ... Baker was lost for the season without throwing even one pitch. ... Pavano dealt with shoulder issues early in the year before being placed on the disabled list in early June. He attempted to make a return but was shut down in late August after an MRI exam showed a bruise on his right humorous bone. ... Closer Matt Capps got off to a solid start but missed two months with rotator cuff irritation that he began to experience in early July. ... Blackburn had his worst professional season, posting a 7.39 ERA before being taken off the 40-man roster and sent to Triple-A Rochester on Aug. 20. ... Liam Hendriks, who was the club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, couldn't translate his success to the Majors. It took him 18 big league starts, including four last year, to pick up his first win. ... Marquis, who was signed as a free agent before the year, was designated for assignment after posting an 8.47 ERA in his first seven starts. He ended up joining the Padres, with whom he had some success. ... Liriano posted a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts before being sent to the bullpen. He did bounce back to enjoy an impressive stretch as a starter but was ultimately traded to the White Sox for infielder Eduardo Escobar and pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

Biggest surprise: Diamond emerged as one of the best left-handers in the AL during his rookie season after posting a 5.56 ERA in the Minors last year and a 5.08 ERA in seven big league starts in 2011. He started the year at Rochester, with whom he had a 2.60 ERA in six outings before joining Minnesota's rotation in early May. He quickly emerged as the Twins' most dependable starter and appears to be the only pitcher on the roster who is a lock to be a starter with the club next season.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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