The American League Central continues to be a tight two-team race heading into the last month of the season, as the Chicago White Sox lead the Minnesota Twins by two games heading into tonight’s play. That got me thinking, how many times over the years have the Twins and White Sox finished first and second at season’s end? Surprisingly (or maybe not if you consider each franchise’s spotty record of success over the years), it’s only happened five times, and only one of those times was before 1991. As you’ll see, if history is any indication, Minnesota has the advantage when they square off against Chicago in a pennant race. Let’s jump on the Baseball-Reference Express and see where it takes us…
On August 27: Twins (71-57, 1st by 7 games), White Sox (62-64, 3rd)
Final Standings: Twins (92-70, 1st), White Sox (83-79, 2nd)
Chicago was in first place as late as July 24, but they went into a 2-10 funk over the next two weeks and were never a factor in the race again, although they rallied to finish with a winning record. Minnesota cruised to their third consecutive division title on the strength of Johan Santana’s first Cy Young award-winning season. Unfortunately, they failed to win a postseason series for the second straight year.
On August 27: Twins (68-64, 3rd), White Sox (71-62, 1st by 1 game)
Final Standings: Twins (90-72, 1st), White Sox (86-76, 2nd)
This is really the only interesting stretch run that the Sox and Twins have shared. The Twins took most of the season to heat up, as they had a losing record at the All Star Break and didn’t spend a day in first place in July and August before breaking through in early September. Heading into a key three-game series at the Metrodome on September 16, Chicago trailed by only a half-game. However, after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Twins during which the Sox led for only half an inning, they were 3.5 games behind and would get no closer the rest of the way. Shannon Stewart came over to the Twins in a midseason trade with Toronto and was a catalyst in Minnesota’s second-half surge.
On August 27: Twins (79-54, 1st by 13 games), White Sox (62-70, 2nd)
Final Standings: Twins (94-67, 1st), White Sox (81-81, 2nd)
After nearly a decade of ineptitude interrupted by brief periods of mediocrity, Minnesota announced their presence with authority in 2002. The Twins had a winning record in every month of the season and were never out of first place after May 1. They cruised into the postseason and beat the Oakland A’s in the first round before bowing out to the eventual World Champion LA Angels in the ALCS.
On August 27: Twins (76-52, 1st by 8 games), White Sox (67-59, 2nd)
Final Standings: Twins (95-67, 1st), White Sox (87-75, 2nd)
Not a lot of drama here, as Minnesota cruised to the division title without much of a challenge from the Sox or anyone else. There were more memorable games in the postseason, as the Twins completed their worst-to-first run with an ALCS triumph over the Toronto Blue Jays and a dramatic World Series victory against the Atlanta Braves.
On August 27: Twins (83-47, 1st), White Sox (73-54, 3rd)
Final Standings: Twins (102-60, 1st), White Sox (95-67, 2nd)
The Sox pulled as close as 4-1/2 games back on September 5 after they won two out of three from the Twins, but that was as close as they would get. The Sox lost five straight the following week, including two straight at home to the Twins, while Minnesota reeled off four straight, and that was it. The Twins went on to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Minnesota shortshop Zoilo Versalles was named the American League MVP, as he hit .273 with 19 homers and 77 RBI, one of the weakest MVP seasons on record.
After examining the historical record, there’s certainly no guarantee that Minnesota and Chicago will stage an epic, back-and-forth struggle in September, but it would certainly be a great cap to this unexpected season of contention for these two clubs.