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Michael Rand: Two moves make it clear: Twins' top rival in 2021 is the White Sox

Minneapolis Star Tribune logo Minneapolis Star Tribune 1/13/2021 Michael Rand, Star Tribune
a close up of a person wearing a costume: The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. © Winslow Townson/Getty Images North America/TNS The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.

As the Twins continue to have a slow offseason — what management would call "waiting out the market" and fans would call "JUST DO SOMETHING YOU CHEAP $%@&#!" — the American League Central seems to settling in around them nonetheless.

Last year's abbreviated 60-game season ended up about as close as possible in the division standings: the Twins finished 36-24; the White Sox and Cleveland finished just a game behind at 35-25 apiece. All three made the playoffs. (All three would like to forget what happened next, as they went a combined 1-6 in the wild card round and lost all three series).

Even without much action from the Twins, they have won back-to-back AL Central titles and should be considered at least a threat again to win in 2021.

But Cleveland's cost-cutting, which continued a couple days ago when they traded star shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the Mets, is a clear signal: This is a two-team race now, with Cleveland dropping out and trying to regroup for the future.

That sentiment was bolstered in the other direction on Monday when we learned the White Sox gave Liam Hendriks — yes, the former failed Twins starter turned dominant reliever — a contract guaranteed to pay him $54 million to pitch at least three seasons.

ESPN's Jeff Passan looked at the loaded White Sox roster, with a lot of talented players under contract for the next few seasons, and concluded: "The White Sox don't just look like the best team in the American League Central. As of today, they're the team to beat in the AL, period."

Passan notes that a lot of other AL contenders, including the Twins, have done very little this offseason.

If the AL Central does really evolve into a two-team race between the Twins and White Sox — and if MLB really is able to play the full 162-game schedule it has announced — then I'll leave you with a scheduling quirk to remember:

The Twins and White Sox don't play each other until May 11, when they start a series in Chicago. And they will be done playing each other by Aug. 11, when they end their final series against each other at Target Field. The division race could very well come down to those 19 meetings over a three-month stretch.

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