video thumbnail

Joe Mauer on learning to play first base

Combined, they lost 192 games last season.

So when it comes to turning the page and looking toward the new season, nobody had to ask the Twins and O's twice.

The new year arrives precisely at 3:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That's when the first pitch will be delivered in a season that both clubs hope serves as a return to respectability.

"We all have short memories here," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "The fans have short memories, evaluators have short memories. But [the players] have to show it. ... People will forget about last year if we let them."

But first, a quick word about last year.

For the Twins it was a dizzying fall from grace. They entered 2011 as back-to-back American League Central champs realistically looking to repeat, but injuries -- most notably involving former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau -- eroded their lineup, they kicked the ball around and they didn't pitch well. It added up to a 99-loss season that still stings.

The O's also entered 2011 with high hopes after finishing 2010 with a 34-23 record under manager Buck Showalter. They expected their young arms to make major strides, but they, too, fell victim to injuries early in the year, and their young players did not develop as planned.

What followed were shakeups to both front offices, with Andy MacPhail, the O's president of baseball operations, opting not to return and Twins GM Bill Smith being dismissed. Into those spots stepped Dan Duquette, installed as Baltimore's GM 10 years after he last held such a role with Boston, and Ryan, who had stepped into an advisory position to make room for Smith four years ago, only to become Smith's successor.

New leadership in the front office is a start, but the Twins and O's are looking for big changes on the field, too, if they're going to compete with such powerhouse teams as the Tigers in the AL Central and the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East.

Healthy stars would sure help.

The Twins, for one, are encouraged by what they saw this spring from Mauer and Morneau. Both are expected to be everyday presences in manager Ron Gardenhire's lineup, though Morneau seems destined for mostly designated hitter duty at this point.

"I think if you take two pretty good players, two MVP-type guys, out of anybody's lineup, you're going to struggle," Gardenhire said. "And we did. We really did. And not just because of their performance but their leadership on the field and [what they brought] to the table. We need them on the field. And they want to be on the field. I can guarantee you that. They both really want to play baseball."

Morneau's long-term concussion issues have hindered his career, and O's second baseman Brian Roberts knows the feeling. Roberts will open the season on the disabled list with concussion symptoms dating back to 2010, so the O's are once again without their leadoff man.

But what will truly determine how far both of these clubs climb out of last year's rubble will be their ability (or lack thereof) to piece together an effective rotation. After all, the Twins finished 12th and the O's last in the 14-team AL in starters' ERA last season.

It is, then, incumbent upon Opening Day starters Carl Pavano and Jake Arrieta to set an early tone in the opener.

"I'm not going to sit here and give predictions," Pavano said of his club, "but we're a considerably better team, no doubt about it."

Indeed, the Twins are heartened by the return to health of Mauer and Morneau, and the O's are encouraged by Brian Matusz's solid spring after a disappointing 2011 and Arrieta's full recovery from elbow surgery.

It's a long and difficult climb back to coherence after losing 90-plus games, but those are foundation points on which to build. And Opening Day is the first real opportunity to put those short memories to good use.

"We just need to concentrate on our own," O's center fielder Adam Jones said. "Worry about our own [selves] and execute for each other. If we do that, I think we'll be fine."

Orioles: Little set in stone

Showalter is not going to be a prisoner to a set lineup this season. He has newfound flexibility in the DH spot with Vladimir Guerrero gone. Wilson Betemit is expected to get the majority of starts in that spot, but he can also be used at various spots in the field.

And there is even flexibility within the order. For example, shortstop J.J. Hardy can bat anywhere from first to seventh, depending on the day or the matchup.

"I like the flexibility our lineup has and the ability to move parts around," Showalter said. "You don't get locked in. We've got some things we can move around, take advantage of the matchups. If we can keep our egos out of it and have some trust in each other, we should be able to present some lineups that are a little more versatile than last year."

Twins: Replacing key pieces

In addition to the 99 game losses last year, the Twins lost three key pieces to free agency in the offseason, with outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, and closer Joe Nathan all heading elsewhere.

In the wake of those departures, new veteran presences were brought onboard in the form of left fielder Josh Willingham, shortstop Jamey Carroll and right-hander Jason Marquis. The hope is that the new bodies have a big influence, whether it be through production or sheer clubhouse presence.

"I think the organization did a great job of bringing in guys to replace the guys we lost," Pavano said. "They've done a great job of giving guys what they need to get healthy, and we'll continue to get that. I think that was a huge step. The organization gave us the players we need, and now it's our turn to do our jobs. Let's go out and win ballgames."

Worth noting: To honor the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park before Friday's game, 1992 Opening Day starter Rick Sutcliffe will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Chris Hoiles. With Hoiles behind the plate, Sutcliffe threw a five-hit complete-game shutout against the Indians in the first game at Camden Yards. ... The last time these two clubs faced each other on Opening Day was in 2007, but the last time they both opened in Baltimore was on April 11, 1967. The O's won that one, 6-3, with Brooks Robinson's two-run homer in the first inning looming large. ... The O's have the all-time edge in this matchup, 165-125. Comments