Opposing him will be another All-Star in right-hander James Shields, who bounced back last year with a terrific season, as he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA over a career-high 249 1/3 innings. His 11 complete games were also by far the most in the AL.
But lost in the shadow of the elite arms is a star-studded, albeit inconsistent offense that includes another former AL Rookie of the Year in third baseman Evan Longoria and a returning fan favorite in first baseman Carlos Pena, who spent one year with the Chicago Cubs after hitting 46, 31, 39 and 28 home runs in the previous four seasons with Tampa Bay.
The two are penciled in as the go-to run-producers in a lineup that also includes intermittently dynamic holdovers like Desmond Jennings (.259, 10 HR, 20 SB in 2011), Ben Zobrist (20 HR, 91 RBI). B.J. Upton (23 HR, 81 RBI, 36 SB) and Matt Joyce (.277, 19 HR, 75 RBI). Upton, though, is currently sidelined with a back injury.
One year after winning the American League Central, the Twins stumbled to the worst record in the AL a year ago, finishing 63-99, their poorest finish since dropping 102 games in 1982.
"It's great," said Pavano, who is set to become the 10th Twins pitcher to make consecutive Opening Day starts. "It's an honor for your organization, because you feel like they want you to start it off two years in a row. It's my job to get us out on the right foot."
But, as bad as the Twins were last season this is still a team that won 94 games in 2010. So, the hope is that when healthy this club can compete with anyone, especially in an underwhelming AL Central, outside of the Detroit Tigers.
Baltimore, meanwhile, got a rare glimpse of a playoff-like atmosphere last September, but they'll be a longshot to experience that atmosphere for real come this October.
Teams that should be in: Michigan State, Indiana
Work left to do: Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Iowa
Behind the big two, the pecking order might be in a bit of flux. Has Michigan State passed Indiana after handling the Hoosiers in East Lansing? Where is Illinois in that mix? What looked like a four-big league last week could be morphing into five -- and even six is not unthinkable at this point if everything breaks right.
Should be in:
Michigan State [21-8 (8-6), RPI: 20, SOS: 15] The Spartans made it four-for-four on the homestand, a gigantic accomplishment that leaves them in extremely good shape. MSU is only 1-6 on the road and is at Michigan and at Wisconsin to close things out, meaning the date with the Wolverines on Tuesday looms very, very large. Beating Texas early will hold up well, as will the rout of Bradley and the win over BYU, but will 8-8 be enough? It very well could be, as the computer numbers are good, but why chance it?
Indiana [18-9 (8-6), RPI: 24, SOS: 32] Hmm ... good thing the last two are at Northwestern and home to Penn State, because IU might want to get both to feel completely safe after dropping its third in the last four, fading after halftime at Michigan State. Who knew the best nonconference win would be over Southern Illinois, which is a gift that keeps on giving for the Hoosiers. The win over Wisconsin also looks good on the mantel.
Work left to do:
Illinois [21-9 (9-6), RPI: 31, SOS: 25] A good performance at Penn State leaves the Illini in pretty good shape. Can they go to Iowa and take care of business to really look on their way? That's a huge game, as there is a possible cluster of teams that will end at 9-7. Illinois beat Bradley, but has lost to Xavier. A 9-7 mark and a semifinals trip in Chicago could be enough with the computer profile hanging in there, but it would be better not to mess around, clinching at least a tie for third.
Purdue [18-10 (7-7), RPI: 47, SOS: 28] Couldn't get it done at Iowa, but did win at Northwestern to put 9-7 squarely in sight. Where does that leave the Boilermakers, though? Even if they beat Minnesota and Northwestern at home, that won't help the computer numbers. Nonconference wins over Virginia, DePaul and Oklahoma are solid, but not spectacular. The Boilers very well might need an upset in the B10 quarters to have a legit claim.
Michigan [19-10 (7-7), RPI: 55, SOS: 53] Well, Michigan did what it needed to do, winning at Minnesota to take control of its fate. The Wolverines have Michigan State and an already-wrapped-up-the-league Ohio State at home to close, so the chances are there. Win both and we can talk. There is no marquee win yet in the profile, and the Wolverines were splattered in several games against name opponents. A mediocre computer profile fueled by a lack of road wins isn't helping, either.
Iowa [16-12 (8-6), RPI: 80, SOS: 64] For the sake of being complete, we'll add Iowa, this season's Stanford. It's plausible that the Hawkeyes could get to 10-6 (at Penn State, vs. Illinois left), but where does that leave them after a gruesome nonconference performance where the best win was over ... Toledo? Iowa State? Cornell?? If they get to 10-6, we can start to look at what they need to do in the B10 tourney, although my gut sense is that they would need to make the final and have knocked off Ohio State or Wisconsin on the way to have any real claim.
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