Two teams who don't have a whole lot of expectations kick off their seasons this afternoon when the Minnesota Twins visit the Baltimore Orioles in the first of three games at Camden Yards.
Frustrating. That is the best way to describe the 2011 Twins.
One year after winning the American League Central, the Twins stumbled to the worst record in the AL a year ago, finishing 63-99, their poorest finish since dropping 102 games in 1982.
Injuries were the biggest reason for the dramatic turnaround, as the Twins utilized the disabled list a major league high 27 times, with key players such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and Jason Kubel all missing extended periods of time with various injuries. The injury bug also plagued the pitching staff, as Carl Pavano was the only starter to avoid the disabled list.
Pavano will be on the hill this afternoon, as he tries to bounce back from a season that saw him go 9-13 with a 4.30 ERA. He did top 220 innings for the second straight year and today's start will be his third ever on Opening Day.
"It's great," said Pavano, who is set to become the 10th Twins pitcher to make consecutive Opening Day starts. "It's an honor for your organization, because you feel like they want you to start it off two years in a row. It's my job to get us out on the right foot."
In all, the Twins scored the second-fewest runs in the AL, while allowing the second most in the majors. Typically not a formula for success, but one that should improve with a healthy Morneau, Mauer and Span in the lineup.
But, as bad as the Twins were last season this is still a team that won 94 games in 2010. So, the hope is that when healthy this club can compete with anyone, especially in an underwhelming AL Central, outside of the Detroit Tigers.
Baltimore, meanwhile, got a rare glimpse of a playoff-like atmosphere last September, but they'll be a longshot to experience that atmosphere for real come this October.
Despite finishing 28 games out of first place in the American League East, the Orioles found themselves in the thick of the AL playoff race on the final night of the regular season. Trailing Boston 3-2 in the ninth inning, they rallied to score two runs, with Robert Andino's walk-off single eliminating the Red Sox from the postseason. Tampa Bay clawed back to defeat the Yankees on the same night to claim the AL Wild Card spot and put the nail in the coffin of the Red Sox's epic September collapse.
Looking ahead, Baltimore would like nothing more than to be playing for its own fate this fall. But for that to happen, a whole lot will have to break right. After all, the team has endured 14 consecutive losing seasons, including a last-place finish in each of the last four.
Innings-eater Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore's Opening Day starter in three of the last four years, was dealt to Colorado in February. In exchange, the O's received starting pitcher Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. The front office also signed a ton of guys to minor league contracts and entered camp with 10 players who are out of options. Those players will either make the team or try to latch on somewhere else.
The general hope in Baltimore is that the veterans mesh with the team's young nucleus already in place, leading to an improvement in the win-loss column, and some hope for the future.
So with Guthrie in Colorado, Opening Day duties will now fall on righty Jake Arrieta, who was 10-8 last season with a 5.05 ERA in 22 starts. He has faced the Twins twice and is 1-1 against them with a 4.50 ERA.
"Jake's certainly got the experience to handle this," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm proud of him, to get to this point, regardless of what happens. I think if he's healthy, he's going to be a real contributor for us this year."
Baltimore won six of its eight meetings with the Twins last season.