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In the Zone: Twins have a different approach to playoffs this time around

Six banners or one ring?

Which one is more coveted?

The Star Tribune's columnist Jim Souhan had an excellent article in last week's edition about the Minnesota Twins being "envious" of the Chicago White Sox.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Twins are envious of the White Sox.

Despite recent history of the Twins simply dominating the White Sox --the latest example, a sweep over the Chi-Town product to go 13-5 against them this season -- the Minnesota players said they would switch places with their Chicago counterparts.

The main reason? A World Series ring.

The Twins are close to clinching their sixth division title in nine years, with the majority of them foiling the White Sox' chances of playing in the postseason.

But that one time Chicago did close the deal on a division, they went all the way by winning a World Series.

That team was built to be World Series contenders, not simply playoff contenders.

Although it was a one-time hit for the Sox, they hit it over the fence.

Meanwhile, the Twins have been regulars in the playoffs, but have hit either singles or doubles -- like the upset over the Angels several years ago -- or simply struck out in the Divisional round, i.e., losing to the New York Yankees.

But those five previous teams which won Central Division titles were only built to do just that, make the playoffs.

The bigger storyline of the Twins making those playoffs was the payroll of the team, which hovered between the $50-60 million mark, while other playoff teams like New York and Boston were well over the $120 million mark.

The Twins usually entered playoff action undermanned against the larger spending teams.

They relied on building from within, and they did the best job of that in the majors.

But the Twins' management refused to supplement that homegrown talent with free agent signings, thus keeping the team stagnant as being "just" playoff and division contenders.

This year's squad is built much differently, however, and with that, they have catapulted from being playoff contenders to World Series ones.

And it all started with upper management.

With the highly-successful opening of Target Field this season, the Pohlads went about making the Twins one of the gems of the American League.

They went out and signed a huge insurance policy in Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who has been one of the many keys to the current run, which has them only .5 of a game out of first place -- in the American League.

Thome's power production has lessened the sting of losing the former MVP, first baseman Justin Morneau.

Another important signing was that of Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson, who solidified the upper half of the batting order, while maintaining his leather and keeping Minnesota as one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball.

The trade of Carlos Gomez -- who was obtained through the Johan Santana trade -- for shortstop J.J. Hardy was yet another sign the Twins were all in for a deep postseason run.

The contracts of these players -- with Thome and Hudson's being one-year deals -- were not the first concern of the team's upper management.

The talent they brought was the No. 1 priority.

The Twins entered the season with a payroll just over $90 million, which ranked in the top 10 in baseball.

But general manager Bill Smith and the Pohlads were not done there.

Seeing that this group was just a few bullpen pitchers away from being dominant, the Twins went out and traded for their closer, Matt Capps, thus adding salary.

But they still were not done adding talent -- and salary.

The bullpen, which was already considered one of the best in the majors, was strengthened even more with the waiver wire pickups of lefties Randy Flores and Brian Fuentes -- who led the A.L. in saves last year with 48.

Those were mid to late season pickups which reportedly have the Twins eclipsing the $100 million mark in payroll.

No, a team can't buy championships, but spending wisely certainly helps.

The Twins' management does need to be given credit, as they didn't give up the farm to acquire ace Cliff Lee.

Sure, Lee would have been a big pickup for the starting rotation, but the trio of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing has proven to be more than reliable as starters.

Add in the fact the game has been shortened for them with a very stout bullpen, which allows the Twins' starters to go six or seven innings with a lead.

But the Twins still can boast of using their homegrown talent, as well, with rookie third baseman Danny Valencia providing key numbers such as his .333 average and strong glove.

Yes, even though this Twins team is accomplishing a similar feat as the five previous division champion squads, this one is built to delve deeper than the others did.

Maybe with that in mind, those divisional flags can be turned into solid gold and the Twins don't have to be envious of their Chicago counterparts anymore.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.