Was it Sun Tzu, or Michael Corleone in Godfather 2, that said “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer?”
Or maybe it was both?
Either way, it is probably decent advice to live by. In this installment of ‘getting to know your neighbors,’ we’ll be taking a look at our neighbors to the north. Formerly the Senators. More recently nicknamed the “Bomba Squad” (insert eyeroll here) — the Twinkies. Whatever you want to call them, as of late, they are the enemy that Sox fans should, and will, be keeping an eye on the most.
Hailing from the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, hence the name, Twins, the team now lead by manager Rocco Baldelli is a franchise that was originally from Washington D.C., known as the Senators, dating back to 1901. Fast forward to 1961 when the club relocated and became the Twins. This is where we’ll begin our story today.
It was actually in 1960 that MLB granted Minnesota an expansion team, but then owner Calvin Griffith convinced the league to let the Senators move to Minnesota and let Washington host the expansion team for the 1961 season. Griffith, the nephew of former owner and player for the aforementioned Washington Senators, Clark Griffith, moved the team into Metropolitan Stadium and found success early on. Led by the likes of Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Jim Kaat, the Twins won the AL Pennant in 1965.
Major success would be hard to come by for the team again until the late ’80s and early ’90s where they won themselves two World Series titles, first in 1987 against the St. Louis Cardinals, and again in 1991 defeating the Atlanta Braves.
I can go on and on listing the Hall of Fame inductees the Twins have had over the years or talking about the accolades that they have racked up throughout their history, but that’s not really what we’re here for now, is it?
Who are the Twinkies now?
What do we, as White Sox fans, really need to know?
On March 9 of this year, Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic wrote an article that marked the date as being exactly 6,000 days since the Twins had won a playoff game. The last time they had won? October 5, 2004. Game 1 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees. Since that date, they have lost 18 consecutive playoff games. Not only is that an MLB record for a postseason winless streak, but it’s also a North American record across all major sports.
So why should White Sox fans concern themselves with such a team? The answer is a simple one. On paper, the Twins should be the only other team in the AL Central that could possibly compete for the division title.
At the conclusion of the shortened 2020 season, the team from the Twin Cities finished with a record of 36-24, exactly one game ahead of the Cleveland Indians (soon to be known as the Cleveland Baseball Team), and the Chicago White Sox. Good enough to win the American League Central and go on to face the Houston Astros in the first round of the playoffs. As you might have guessed with information already provided to you here, they did not fare well and lost the first two games of a best of three Wild Card Series.
About the only thing Sox fans have to hold over fans of the Twins from that 2020 postseason, is that their favorite team won Game 1 of their playoff series against the Oakland Athletics. We can rehash that debacle of managerial miscues, defensive and baserunning gaffes, or lack of production in do-or-die situations. But why? It still stings. Most experts, writers, and fans alike will say that the Sox were the better team, but decisions made by Ricky Renteria, the lack of a true number three starter in the rotation, not having postseason experience, and some key injuries (I’m looking at you Eloy…again…ugh), were too many obstacles to overcome for the boys in black and white. Let’s not spend any more time on that. Like I said, it still stings.
Going into the 2021 season, the White Sox and Twins have both refocused their sights on finishing atop the AL Central. Both teams have made some moves since their postseason exit last year. Both clubs see themselves as the top contender in the division, although the Sox may be feeling that pressure from their neighbors to the north just a little bit more after learning Eloy Jimenez will miss a large portion of the regular season this year, since rupturing a pectoral muscle while hanging on the left field wall trying to bring back a home run during a Spring Training game.
By now, most of you know that Adam Eaton has made his return to the Southside, Dane Dunning was traded to the Rangers for Lance Lynn, and Liam Hendriks was signed to take over the closer role previously held by Alex Colome. In a move reminiscent to that of the Jerrod Dyson signing last year, the Sox brought on the services of speedster Billy Hamilton. But, maybe the most shocking and confusing move is the very late addition of infielder Jake Lamb, just a day after learning the fate of Eloy when it seemed the club was in need of a serviceable outfielder. If you’re perplexed, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
So, what did the Twins do to change the complexion of their team? The short answer is, well, not all that much. I’m only going to hit on the key moves here. I can go in-depth about how these two teams stack up against each other, but I’m going to issue a challenge and invitation to my readers — I would love for as many of you as possible to join fellow staffer, Ian Eskridge and me, on Thursday night, before the first game of the season, for the latest episode of White Sox Daily Live on Twitch TV and join in on the interactive live chat.
Not only will we be talking about Opening Day baseball against the Angels, but we’ll also be commenting on the construction of the division rivals and how the path to the playoffs looks for the Sox. Jump into the chat and let us know how you feel, give us your thoughts, and ask us all of your questions, live! We’ll do our best to break everything down!
Now, back to that quick rundown of what the Twins have done this offseason. After a long wait, and what seemed like many fans clamoring for him to become part of their hometown team, Nelson Cruz returned to the Twinkies on a one-year deal. They lost slugger, and White Sox killer, Eddie Rosario. Also gone is comeback-player-of-the-year hopeful, Jake Odorizzi. With Jake now playing for the Houston Astros, the Twins decided to sign J.A. Happ who will likely slot into the fourth spot in the rotation, one that held the distinction of having the second-best ERA last season. That rotation includes Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda.
Minnesota signed Andrelton Simmons to play shortstop, likely moving Jorge Polanco back to his best position of 2B. Here’s the kicker for some Sox fans. After White Sox GM Rick Hahn locked down what was thought to be the best bullpen arm on the market in Liam Hendriks, the Twins swept in and signed the pitcher left out of the Sox bullpen, Alex Colome. In what would be the last key move of the Twins offseason, they signed Matt Shoemaker to a minuscule $2MM deal. Oft-injured, Shoemaker can be lights out when healthy. Remind you of anyone on the Sox? Carlos Rodon maybe?
On paper, these two teams look to be neck and neck, although an improved Sox rotation looks like it could vault them ahead of the Twins to win the division for the first time since 2008. The White Sox bullpen looks to be the best in the game, and a lineup constructed of the reigning MVP, former 2019 batting titleholder, and multiple future MVP candidates, looks to dominate the American League. The Twins lineup has been one of the most powerful in baseball for years now and hopes to continue that trend, but now seems to be looking up at the White Sox. Whatever the Sox plan to do with left field long term after Eloy Jimenez has gone down to injury remains to be seen, but it definitely makes the race to the top of the Central that much harder to predict.
The 2021 season looks like one that will be exciting for both teams at the outset of the season, and the race could be one that comes down to the wire. Keep your nitroglycerine pills and blood pressure meds handy, you very well may need them in abundance over the next six months.
Don’t forget to head on over to Twitch TV to check out the White Sox Daily Live stream. Download the app and join in the live and interactive chat. While you’re there, mash that follow button so you don’t miss any future episodes. White Sox Daily Live features in-game video clips, media interviews with players, coaches, and staff, guest appearances, as well as commentary from the White Sox Daily crew!
Featured Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images