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Play ball! Twins are optimistic about 2014 chances

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Opening Day across the vast majority of Major League Baseball is here and the Minnesota Twins start the season on the road against the Chicago White Sox.

With three straight 96-plus loss seasons the expectations for 2014 aren't very high. Minnesota's pitching staff should be better with the additions of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, along with Mike Pelfrey another year removed from Tommy John surgery and Kyle Gibson no longer a rookie.

Nolasco says he'll be ready to go today when the Twins meet the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. First pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m.

"Oh, yeah, it's definitely different," Nolasco said Sunday, according to the Pioneer Press. "You wake up, you're locked in. You know it's your day."

The pitching upgrades were made, but Minnesota really didn't do anything to improve a lineup that scored a paltry sum of 614 runs last season. Tyler Mason of Fox Sports North wrote about the need for Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe to have bounce-back seasons. Both struggled mightily in 2013.

Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN also wrote about Plouffe, saying the third baseman needs to hit "like 25 bombs." Plouffe slugged 19 home runs over a 39-game stretch of the 2012 season. Since then, it's taken him 187 games to hit 19 more homers.

Joe Mauer, of course, will bat third and be the centerpiece of the lineup. He's entering the 11th year of his big league career, one that has seen him average a .323 batting average with 14 home runs and 87 RBI.

But this is Mauer's first season as a first baseman. Phil Miller of the Star Tribune put together a great column on how the move could help Mauer stay on the field. Injuries and the natural wear and tear of playing catcher limited Mauer to 113 games last season and only 82 games in 2011.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly doesn't think Mauer will have any trouble converting to first base.

“Believe me, he wants to do very well. That’s his personality, that’s why he’s as good as he is. He’ll work hard at it,” Kelly told the Star Tribune. “If he doesn’t do very well, I’d be shocked.”

The leadoff hitter this season will once again be Brian Dozier, who hit a career-high 18 home runs last season. Dozier thinks he can continue to add power to his game.

"It's definitely not a ceiling," Dozier said of his 2013 power numbers, as reported by the Pioneer Press. "I never want to lose that just because I'm in the leadoff spot. I feel like I'm a guy that's not just your typical get-on-base guy, which is my No. 1 priority. But I don't want to lose being aggressive and an RBI guy who can hit the ball out of the park. I think I can handle both."

While a lot of the same faces are back, there are some new players to get to know. Fox Sports has a photo gallery with info on each player right here.

Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports isn't very optimistic about the Twins.

Prediction: Improved but still very bad starting pitching, improved but still very bad hitting, and a slightly less unwatchable overall product. Fourth place, AL Central.

If Las Vegas is right, the Twins will be close to losing 90 games again. The over/under for Twins wins this season, according to Bovada, is 70 1/2.

Only time will tell, and the summer journey gets started this afternoon.

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