Ozzie Guillen has never been too timid about stating his adoration for the Minnesota Twins and the way they play the game. At seemingly every opportunity, he has publicly complimented the organization, its players and its manager. Oftentimes, when the White Sox would play at the Metrodome and Guillen would rattle off one of his profanity-laced diatribes about his team's uninspired play in a post-game presser, one got the impression that the Chicago skipper secretly desired a gig in the opposing dugout.
It should come as no surprise that Guillen is partial to the "piranha" approach to run-scoring that he helped the Twins make famous a few years ago. During a 16-year playing career, Guillen posted a modest .264/.287/.338 hitting line while managing just 28 home runs in more than 7,000 plate appearances. Even when he was at his best, Guillen's value came from his speed and defense. That style certainly doesn't mesh with the way the White Sox have been constructed for much of the past decade, with an offense built around plodding sluggers like Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Joe Crede and Carlos Quentin. Chicago's offensive formula has been effective -- as illustrated by their World Series Championship in 2005 and subsequent AL Central title in 2008 -- but it has been drastically different from the one employed by the light-hitting Twins.
Today, we're seeing a major shift in philosphy for both teams.
The Sox have spent the past year parting ways with the likes of Thome and Dye while loading the roster with players fitting a different mold. Juan Pierre, who was signed during the offseason to play center field and bat leadoff, is a speedy runner who has consistently demonstrated an ability to hit for a high average but whose power is almost non-existent. Omar Vizquel, Chicago's new starting shortstop, is an all-glove guy who provides little with the bat, particularly at this late stage of his career. Mark Teahen, acquired in a trade with the Royals, hasn't slugged over .410 in any of the past three seasons.
Through moves like these, the White Sox are shedding their label as a straight power-hitting club while leaning more on speed and defense, not to mention an excellent and relatively youthful starting rotation. This is the formula that once epitomized Twins baseball.
Looking at the current Twins' roster, however, we find that they've strayed from that foundation. An outfield alignment of Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer possesses plenty of offensive upside but may cover less ground defensively than any other trio in baseball. Glancing up and down the lineup, you're hard-pressed to find three guys capable of swiping 20 or more bases, but you're also hard-pressed to find three (OK, maybe four) guys not capable of bashing 20 or more homers.
Over the years, Chicago has regularly sat near the top of the league in long balls while the Twins have been at the bottom. As recently as 2008, the White Sox ranked first in the American League in home runs while the Twins ranked dead last. This year, there's a pretty realistic chance the Twins will out-homer the Sox. The last time that happened was the last time the Twins won the World Series, back in 1991.
The White Sox will be a team to monitor throughout spring training and throughout the season, as they appear to be the Twins' most formidable competitors for the AL Central crown. For the first time in ages, the Twins may have the more dangerous lineup in this heated rivalry, but conversely the Sox may hold an edge in pitching and defense. It's a strange role reversal, but it should make for another great race in a division that has gained a reputation for improbable outcomes.