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On and off the field, this is a critical year for the Twins. They can terminate their lease on the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome at the end of this season if they don't draw 2.4 million fans, the number necessary to make their average 1.4 million for the first three years indoors. Owner Calvin Griffith says he'd like to stay in Minneapolis, but he wants the Twins to draw considerably more than the 858,93 fans they got in '83.

So the Twins better be better, and they should be. They've come a long way in two years. "It used to be a team could hold out their best pitchers against us and win," says manager Billy Gardner. "But now they have to put their best nine or the field."

If looseness is any indication of a team's confidence, the Twins may yet challenge the White Sox. Before a spring-training game against the Dodgers, outfielder Mickey Hatcher snuck into the Los Angeles clubhouse, snatched Tommy Lasorda's trousers and cut off the legs. Reliever Ron Davis walked through the dugout wearing them on his arms. Lasorda was livid, but the message was clear. The Twins were through being the butt of jokes.

Minnesota has a solid attack, led by first baseman Kent Hrbek (.297,84 RBIs), third baseman-turned-leftfielder Gary Gaetti (21 HRs, 78 RBIs), and rightfielder Tom Brunansky (28 HRs, 82 RBIs). With so much firepower, the Twins felt they could afford to give up Gary Ward to the Rangers for pitching help, namely Mike Smithson and John Butcher. After seven years in the minors, righthander Ken Schrom found himself last season and won 15 games. Davis saved 30 games, so the relief pitching is in good hands.

But the Twins do have some liabilities. Their pitching isn't deep enough, and they aren't strong up the middle. Dave Engle is a good hitter (.305), but not yet a good catcher. There's a gaping hole at shortstop. Minnesota would like Jim Eisenreich to be in center, but the jury's still out on whether he has overcome the nervous disorder that caused him to quit after two games in 1983 and 34 games in '82.

The Twins have a new second baseman, Tim Teufel, the MVP in the International League following a .323 season with 27 homers and 100 RBIs. Some scouts still can't believe he's for real, but the Twins thought enough of him to move John Castino back to third base and Gaetti to left. Last Sept. 16, in his 10th major league game, Teufel went 5 for 5 with two homers in an 11-4 victory over Toronto, and Minnesota fans in attendance—all 11,640 of them—called him out of the dugout. That's the kind of excitement the Twins must provide to be called back for an encore.

Although Minnesota hurlers gave up 45 fewer home runs than in '82, they remained the most battered staff in either league, allowing 163. Their 4.66 ERA was also the worst in the majors. In the pinch, the Twins lacked punch; their pinch hitters batted .232, had 16 RBIs and hit only two home runs, both of them in the same game.