Cockcroft: Minnesota Twins preview

For a team that annually operates on one of the smallest budgets, the Twins have performed remarkably well since the turn of the century. A three-time American League Central champion from 2002 to '04, Minnesota rallied from an 11-game deficit at the All-Star break to add a fourth such title in five seasons. That's right, in a year in which it felt like the Detroit Tigers won the AL Central, it was actually the Twins who finished in first in 2006.

Possessing baseball's best battery, both from a fantasy and a real-life perspective, has a lot to do with the team's success. Catcher Joe Mauer won the batting title, while left-hander Johan Santana won the Cy Young award. Now both players are considered the unquestioned No. 1s at their positions, and it's not unreasonable for fantasy -- or real life -- to put Joe Nathan right there amongst the leading closers. First baseman Justin Morneau, who earned MVP honors, also ranks among the best at his position. With all those elite players back and still in their prime, the Twins should once again be a winner in 2007.

But it's not only the "new M&M Boys" leading the offensive charge. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer finally broke through with a 24-homer, 109-RBI performance; center fielder Torii Hunter set a career high with 31 homers and drove in 98 runs; second baseman Luis Castillo managed his sixth career season of at least a .290 batting average and 20 stolen bases; and shortstop Jason Bartlett batted an impressive .309 in 99 games after a mid-June call-up. All four of those players also return for 2007, and none is older than 31, meaning there's a good chance this offense should be at least as potent as it was a year ago.