Big question is if the Twins pitching staff is any better

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After a third straight 90 loss season (96 last year), most people probably think the Minnesota Twins finished last in the American League Central division.

It's easy to misremember, but actually, they finished three games ahead of the White Sox, who lost 99 games. But as bad as the White Sox were, their pitching staff finished with an earned-run average (ERA) of 3.98. Not bad considering the Twins had a team ERA of 4.55, only the Houston Astros, who lost 111 games, were worse (4.79).

But Minnesota's bullpen was actually pretty good. The starting pitching, however, was downright brutal, finishing with an MLB-worst 5.26 ERA. No other team's starting staff posted an ERA worse than 4.81. In addition, the Twins totaled just 62 quality starts (six innings pitched with three earned runs or less allowed) – meaning they played 100 games without a quality start. In contrast, the Tigers, who represented the AL in the World Series, led the majors with 108 quality starts.

The big question entering a new season is how good the 2014 starting staff will be.

CBS Sports calls new acquisition and Opening Day starter Ricky Nolasco a "modestly better-than-average starter," and fellow newcomer Phil Hughes a starter "whose performance has never matched up with his upside." Hughes has outstanding potential, but Nolasco is the workhorse the Twins wanted. 

The team signed him to the largest free-agent contract in team history during the offseason when he agreed to a four-year $49 million contract.

Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson told FOX Sports Net, "We're real excited about the rotation. Our objective is to have 200-inning guys who can go deep in a game, which is huge."

In reality, the Twins haven't had a 200-inning pitcher since Carl Pavano threw 222 innings in 2011.

The Twins are hoping the next guy will be Nolasco. He is coming off a solid 2013 season split between the Marlins and Dodgers. Nolasco posted a 3.70 ERA in 199 1/3 innings as he made 33 starts. It was the fifth time in six seasons that he made at least 30 starts.

"He adds stability," assistant general manager Rob Antony told TwinsBaseball.com. "It is one of the things we were striving for. He can give you innings and keep you in games. Is he your prototypical No. 1? No. Is he our most reliable guy? Yes. He has earned the right to be the Opening Day starter."

Hughes was disappointing in 2013, he was 4-14 with the Yankees. But he has previously been a 16- and 18-game winner.

Then there are three returning starters: Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson.

Correia was the Twins most consistent starter in 2013, throwing just over 185 innings. Pelfrey was 5-13 last season for the Twins in his comeback from Tommy John Surgery. He is another year removed from the surgery and the Twins saw enough of him to bring him back.

The dark horse could be Gibson. At 27, Gibson is starting to throw the ball like the first-round draft pick he was when he was selected by the Twins out of Missouri. He has had a strong spring and beat out Scott Diamond for the fifth spot in the rotation.

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The Twins will be in Chicago to take on the White Sox on Monday.

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