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Mauer's injury, shaky staff define rocky season

Continued rise of Twins prospects provides bright spot in 2013 campaign

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the Twins, 2013 was too much like the previous two years.

The club hoped to be more competitive after losing 99 games in '11 and 96 games in '12, but instead lost 96 games for a second straight season to finish with the fifth-worst record in the Majors.

The starting rotation struggled, as the Twins used 11 starters and finished with the worst ERA and the worst strikeout rate in the Majors while also logging the fewest innings.

And the offense didn't fare much better, finishing 25th in runs scored while smashing the club record for most times striking out in a season. The Twins also traded longtime first baseman Justin Morneau to the Pirates on Aug. 31, and he signed with the Rockies during the offseason.

It was also a year that saw several of the club's top players go down with injuries such as Joe Mauer, who suffered a season-ending concussion on Aug. 19, and Josh Willingham, who underwent knee surgery during the season. Mauer's concussion will also have a major impact on the organization, as he's moving from catcher to first base next season as a result.

But the Twins have hope moving forward with one of the game's top farm systems, and they've revamped their rotation so far this offseason, signing free-agent right-handers Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey to multiyear deals.

So plenty went on with the Twins in '13, and of all the storylines that played out over the past 12 months, here were the five biggest:

5. Rotation was easily the worst in the Majors

Twins starters combined to post a 5.26 ERA, which was nearly half a run higher than any other team. They also became the first team since the 2006 Royals to strike out fewer than five batters per nine innings. It led to another frustrating season for the Twins, but they at least addressed the rotation after the season by adding Nolasco and Hughes to the mix while re-signing Pelfrey.

4. Twins set the club record for strikeouts

While Twins pitchers had a tough time striking out hitters, Twins batters had no trouble finding ways to strike out. The Twins struck out 1,430 times, which was the third-highest total in Major League history, only behind the '13 Astros (1,535) and the '10 D-backs (1,529). It's something the Twins are going to have to cut back on in '14 if they're going to be more competitive.

3. Farm system only gets better

One positive in '13 was the continued development of the team's top prospects, as Byron Buxton ascended to super-prospect status and Miguel Sano is right there with him. Buxton is ranked the top prospect in baseball, according to, while Sano is ranked No. 3. The Twins also saw impressive seasons from other top prospects, including Alex Meyer, Josmil Pinto, Jorge Polanco, Danny Santana, Lewis Thorpe and Jose Berrios. They also drafted a potential ace in right-hander Kohl Stewart with the No. 4 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.

2. Ron Gardenhire remains manager

Gardenhire was in his last year of his contract in '13, and with the Twins struggling for a third straight year, there was speculation about his job status. But Gardenhire signed a two-year deal to remain manager after the season, and will be charged with trying to bring the club back to contention with a young roster. Gardenhire will also have Hall of Famer Paul Molitor at his disposal, as Molitor was added to the coaching staff as an infield coach.

1. Mauer suffers career-altering concussion

When the Twins played the Mets in a makeup game at Target Field on Aug. 19, no one knew it would be Mauer's last time behind the plate. But Mauer was hit in the helmet by a foul tip from Ike Davis while catching, and didn't return for the rest of the season. It was announced after the season that after consulting with doctors, Mauer would be moving to first base next season. It's a major move for the organization and Mauer, who remains signed through 2018 at $23 million annually.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
Read More: Minnesota Twins, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Mike Pelfrey