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Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Jorge Lopez delivers against the Detroit Tigers during the ninth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

The Minnesota Twins have been full of surprises, haven’t they?

Just when most everybody last winter had given up on the idea that Byron Buxton would stay with the Twins, the oft-injured centerfielder signed a long-term, $100 million extension. And he’s been mostly healthy, although the right knee remains a source of constant worry.

The team that signed last winter’s most coveted free agent, shortstop Carlos Correa? Why, the Twins, of course, a team that no one had ever spotted before shopping in Tiffany’s. And while his offensive numbers are down, Correa has brought the defense, leadership and winning numbers that change cultures.

And what team did the most at this week’s trading deadline to help themselves in the there-for-the-taking American League Central? You’ve got it: The Twins. While their two primary challengers, the Cleveland Guardians and Chicago White Sox, sat this one out, the Twins made the kinds of moves you expect from a team that has designs on playing meaningful baseball games in October.

At this rate, the Twins may yet convince their fan base that they can win a playoff game, something they haven’t done since Johan Santana shut out the Yankees in Game 1 of their American League division series in 2004. Eighteen consecutive playoff losses have ensued. The Twins haven’t won a postseason series since 1991, when they went from last the year before to beating another worst-to-first team, the Atlanta Braves, in the World Series.

Perhaps it bears mentioning that the Twins finished last in the AL Central last season, after winning 101 games just two seasons earlier.

Another worst-to-first in the offing? Let’s just say Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine gave that scenario some plausible legs this week with four deadline deals that brought them a top-shelf closer in Baltimore’s Jorge Lopez; a legitimate front-line starter in Tyler Mahle, freed from the purgatory of Cincinnati; a reliable setup man in Michael Fulmer, six years removed from being AL Rookie of the Year with the Tigers; and a veteran backup catcher in Sandy Leon, who won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2018.

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Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Michael Fulmer against the San Diego Padres in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Twins came into the deadline needing relief help for prized rookie Jhoan Duran, who is 6-foot-5 and can throw 101 miles an hour. They got it in Lopez, a run-of-the-mill starter who became a lights-out closer with his power two-seamer in Baltimore, and Fulmer, a one-time All-Star as a starter whose slider has played much better coming out of the bullpen in Detroit.

The Twins needed another starting pitcher they could hand the ball to with some confidence in October, along with Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan. With Luis Castillo (Mariners) and Frankie Montas (Yankees) off the board, the Twins may have gotten the next best starter available in Mahle, a right-hander who is going from hitter-happy Great American Ballpark to the pitcher-friendly environment of Target Field. Mahle was OMG in GAB—a 5.02 ERA with an .807 OPS against. He has done a passable impression of a top-of-the-rotation starter on the road (3.74 ERA, .682 OPS against) and as a flyball pitcher will love the more spacious dimensions of Target Field.

Minnesota traded away nine prospects, including four pitching prospects just to get Lopez, but as the regular season moves into its final two months, they appear to be much stronger than the team that has lost 22 times in games in which they led or were tied after eight innings, including five blown leads in the eighth inning or later in eight games against the Guardians.

Their new alignment worked like clockwork in their first post-deadline game, Lopez requiring just seven pitches to record his first save in a Twins uniform, and Fulmer one of four relievers to close out the Tigers with four scoreless innings.

These moves guarantee nothing, of course. And the White Sox and Guardians, despite being somnambulant at the deadline, probably have enough resources to keep this a three-team race until the end. The division likely won’t be decided until the Twins and White Sox play a season-ending, three-game set in Chicago Oct. 3-5.

But Twins players know their front office has their backs. Doubtful that was the message conveyed in Chicago and Cleveland.

“Before the deadline, we said we believe in this team. We said it from the get-go,” Falvey told reporters this week. “We felt that way all year. We wanted to try to find a way to supplement it. We did. Hopefully, we found a way to infuse some energy in that room.”

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