If you've ever listened to a Hold Steady record, there's a great chance you are aware of frontman Craig Finn's Minnesota roots – during the band's early years, he packed so many references to Minneapolis into his songs that it seemed like he was openly auditioning to be a Twin Cities tour guide. And if you've ever caught one of the Hold Steady's beery, cheery live shows (particularly one between April and October), you definitely know about his love of the Minnesota Twins.
Over the years, Finn's been a very vocal supporter of his hometown team, sermonizing about greats like Kent Hrbek, Johan Santana and Kirby Puckett, recording anthems to be played at Twins games (he even wore his jersey in the studio) and stumping to end decades of derogatory disrespect – whatever you do, don't call them "Twinkies."
All of that was easy to do when the Twins were winning. But, after a run of success at the turn of the millennium, the Twins have been downright awful, losing 90-plus games in each of the past four seasons. Yet Finn has remained faithful through it all, and though most are predicting another losing year, he's cautiously optimistic about his team's chances. Hey, like he sings, "You gotta stay positive." Here's Craig Finn's take on the 2015 Minnesota Twins.
The future used to be really bright for the Twins; from 2000-2006, those were great years, even if we were bounced out of the playoffs. We were still playing above our heads, our front office made good deals and we came out ahead in a lot of trades. Now it's become the opposite. It's been a rough few years. You find yourself thinking "Maybe they won't lose 90 games this year," and then they always do. And to watch guys like [Michael] Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez – players we let walk away or traded away – go out and kill it other places, it was disappointing. Every year, I get the MLB Extra Innings package, so I can watch games, but last year I didn't even get it. I was on tour a lot, but still, it wasn't worth watching. It feels like there was a malaise that fell over the team. There were grumblings that some players thought it was a little country club over there. And [Ron] Gardenhire, I love the guy, but I felt like it was time for him to go. He had a great run, but I just think you have to send a message to the players that if you lose 90 games a couple times in a row, you don't keep your job.
Last year was pretty joyless. It wasn't that long ago that we played in the Metrodome, so it's still a wonder when you walk into Target Field. You can sit there and watch a team lose. Can I do the same thing when I'm sitting in my apartment in New York? Not really. It reminds me of certain years growing up, the pre-Kent Hrbek/Kirby Puckett teams, those 100-loss, 90-loss seasons. This is probably the second bad era the Twins have been in since I've been a fan. I will certainly go to games when I'm home, I'll watch when I can. But I don't know if they're MLB Extra Innings-worthy. We only have one TV, so I can't be telling my girlfriend "No, you can't watch The Bachelor, I've got the Twins versus the Blue Jays. It'll be over in four hours."
Having said all that, I think it's going to be an interesting year! Vegas set their win total at 70, and I'd take that. I don't expect a miracle, and their division has kind of been flipped around. Kansas City is good, Chicago made a bunch of moves, Detroit is always going to be good, Cleveland will be good. One of the things that I love, though, is that we had some success with picking up guys who couldn’t hack it in New York. Phil Hughes was a great story last year. Carl Pavano before that. And they brought in Ervin Santana, who isn't a huge difference-maker, but shows a willingness from the team to address some holes. And we outbid people for his services, which is a very non-Twins thing to do. And then with Torii Hunter, they paid him a lot, but you get the feeling this was a move to address the culture of the team – I don't care how he does, and it's not my money. I think it's great he's there. And you keep hearing about young guys like Sano and Buxton, and if just one of them happens it would be quite a coup. People who know about prospects speak very highly of them, and you're just waiting on them. So that gives you something to look forward to. And then there's people like Aaron Hicks or Oswaldo Arcia, who could be good.
I want to see at least .300 from Joe Mauer. If you go on the StarTribune.com sports section, and read the comments, he just gets killed; people say he needs to hit 30 homers, and that ship has sailed, but he's still one of the great singles hitters of our time, so I'd like to see him get his average up and play more consistently. Get a little of the Cal Ripken in him.
The rotation obviously isn't going to overpower the Tigers, but Phil Hughes was a pretty cool story. I hope he can prove last year wasn't a fluke. I would love to trade [Ricky] Nolasco; he doesn't seem like the greatest guy – if he wins 20 games, I'll back him, but right now, I just can't.
I really like Glen Perkins – I think he's my favorite Twin right now – he's very funny on Twitter, he seems like a smart, cool guy, and he's a Minnesotan, so I'm pulling for him this year. And I hope to see Sano and Buxton, and a guys like Arcia and Hicks, those are stories too. It will be a fun year; I have faith they'll win more games than they did last year.
Famous Fan Fearless Forecast: 80-82, let's say fourth place in the Central. That assumes some sort of weird White Sox wipeout. Someone will falter, and then we'll be there to maybe finish in third at best.