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WSI News - News Watch

Hart expects Twins to struggle

March 18, By Phil Rogers; Chicago Tribune

There's a great feeling around the Minnesota Twins this spring. But not everybody is buying the expectation that the American League Central will be decided in a three-team race among the Twins, White Sox and Cleveland Indians.

John Hart, best known as the Indians' architect, expects Minnesota to play more like the team that was 30-45 after the All-Star break than the one that was 55-32 before.

"I think it will be between the White Sox and Indians," said Hart, who left Cleveland to become Texas' general manager. "I think Minnesota is going to struggle. I respect what the Twins have done, but I just think they will struggle."

Because Minnesota and Texas train within 50 miles of each other along the Gulf of Mexico, Hart's opinion should be based on current information. But he bases it as much on experience as scouting.

"It's not that easy," Hart said. "People don't realize how hard it is to build a contender. The Twins have some talent, but I think they are one injury away on their pitching staff from having some trouble, and if they were to lose [Torii] Hunter or [Corey] Koskie, it would hurt them. It's just my opinion but the Twins are clearly behind the other two teams."

Hart wonders if the Twins will miss manager Tom Kelly, who has been replaced by his lieutenant, Ron Gardenhire.

"They are coming off a good year and they seem to have anointed themselves as contenders," Hart said. "But they have lost their manager, and I think they are going to see that it's not as easy to be a contender when everyone expects you to be a contender as it looks."

Minnesota cleared an important hurdle when Rick Reed came to his senses, deciding not to walk away from a guaranteed $15 million. In Eric Milton, Brad Radke, Joe Mays and Reed, the Twins have the deepest rotation in the Central, but it's a top-heavy staff with serious bullpen issues.

But this hasn't been a great spring training for the Sox or Indians. Hart praises Mark Shapiro, his handpicked successor in Cleveland, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if owner Larry Dolan's slicing of the payroll leaves the Indians fighting to win 85 games. The first sub-.500 season since 1993 is possible.

Cleveland needs some pleasant surprises to compensate for the departure of Robby Alomar, Juan Gonzalez and Kenny Lofton. But instead there's concern about second-year lefty C.C. Sabathia weighing nearly 300 pounds and the defense of center fielder Milton Bradley, who has been an adventure.

Manager Charlie Manuel continues to experiment with lineups, the most glaring need being to find a leadoff man to replace Lofton. Matt Lawton is the best option, but he could be needed to hit fifth. Brady Anderson is another option, but first he has to win the left-field job from Russell Branyan.

"I think their club is going to be a good one," said Hart, sounding as if he might have held on to his stock in the publicly traded Indians. "I like that club. Mark has done what he thought needed to be done, and he has put his stamp on that team."

Unfortunately it is a postcard stamp. Hart used up all the 34-cent stamps.

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