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Twins staff and fans look toward next year

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Joe Mays fell down in April after diving for a ball hit by Aaron Boone of the Cleveland Indians. ( David Maxwell/Getty Images)
The Minnesota Twins 2005 season ends this weekend at the Metrodome. For the first time in three years, the team will not finish at the top of its division or go to the playoffs. Instead, Twins players and many fans will spend this fall and winter pondering what went wrong and what the team will have to do to make a stronger showing next season.

Minneapolis, Minn. — For the last three years Twins fans have welcomed this time of year. Fall not only brings chilly breezes, like those swirling around the Metrodome plaza these days, but it signals the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs. But not this year for the Twins. The team will end up in third place in its division.

Twins fans Tom and Amy Collins from Edina, pondered the club's status outside the dome about an hour before the team faced the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

"They failed to hit in the clutch after the first six weeks of the year," he says. "That's the nuts and bolts of it. You can't hit in the clutch, no matter how well you're pitching, if you don't score runs you don't win. That's the name of the game; you gotta score."

Indeed, the Twins missed many opportunities to get hits with runners in scoring position this season. They lost 30 of 57 games that were decided by one run. Also the Twins ranked near the bottom of the American league in the number of home runs.

Collins says he thinks the Twins are going to have to make some big changes.

"My prediction is they're going to get rid of Lew Ford," says Collins. "They're going to get rid of Matthew LeCroy. There's a 50-50 chance that Jacque Jones will be gone and it's almost a certainty that two of the three pitchers, {Kyle} Lohse, {Joe} Mays and {J.C.} Romero will be gone."

There are professional observers inside the dome who would agree with Tom and Amy Collins' assessment of what the team should do.

"You don't have to be a baseball expert to know they're greatest deficiency was offense -- guys to swing the bat," says Charley Walters, a sports columnist for the Pioneer Press. "And so the great challenge for Terry Ryan, the general manager, is to go out and find some of those guys."

Walters says the team will have to find those big bats through the free agent market. However, he says those players carry high price tags. And the Twins are known for keeping a relatively modest payroll. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan declined to talk about personnel changes until the season officially ends this weekend.

On Thursday night Twins righthander Joe Mays pitched in what could be his last game as a Minnesota Twin. He struggled with the Kansas City Royals through the first inning. He gives up three walks, two hits and three runs. In the second inning he gave up two more runs. He managed to finish with three strong innings in which he didn't give up a hit or a walk.

But with six wins and 10 losses this season, many see him as the weak link on an otherwise strong pitching staff.

After the team's loss to the Royals, Mays talked about his future with the team. He said he wants to come back, but doesn't sound optimistic.

"Every person has to move on at times and I don't want to," said Mays. "But if that's the case, then we've got to go where I go. So that's where I stand right now."

On the bright side, attendance is up. And the Twins have seen strong pitching performances this year, particularly from last year's Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana and from Carlos Silva. And lately, they've seen encouraging outings from young pitchers Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire says he's enjoyed watching Baker and Liriano, and says they're something to build on next season.

"You know it's fun to see some things happening a little bit," says Gardenhire. "It hasn't been great, we know it's not going to be a perfect situation or scenario because our expectations were one place and we didn't reach them. But you always have to look for positives. You're playing every night and that's what we've been trying to do."

Twins fans can get a glimpse of the future of Twins pitching this weekend when the team faces the Detroit Tigers. Liriano, 21, takes the mound tonight. Baker pitches on Saturday. And Johan Santana will try to end the season with a win on Sunday.

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