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Minnesota Twins: Is 2011 Do-or-Die for Ron Gardenhire?

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Minnesota Twins: Is 2011 Do-or-Die for Ron Gardenhire?
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Ron Gardenhire has been a great reagular season manager for the Minnesota Twins. Can he take it to the next level?

This season will mark Ron Gardenhire's 24th with the Twins organization and his 10th as manager.

In the 110 years of the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins franchise, Gardenhire ranks third all time with 803 victories with the third longest tenure as manager.

His .550 winning percentage is also third best for the franchise behind Billy Martin (.599), who only managed the 1969 season, and Walter Johnson (.570), who managed from 1929 to 1932.

After winning his sixth AL Central Division title in nine years, Gardenhire was named AL Manager of the Year in 2010—finally, after finishing runner-up five times the previous eight seasons. 

The only thing missing from his resume is a World Series appearance. It's been 20 years since Tom Kelly guided the 1991 Twins to their second World Series Championship in five years.

Time may be running out for Gardenhire.

In 2002, after 11 years as the Twins' third base coach, he was named Kelly's replacement, much to the chagrin of many Twins fans who were hoping Paul Molitor would take over as manager. 

Even before the 2002 season began, there was talk about contracting the Minnesota Twins. After several failed attempts to get their own stadium, owner Carl Pohlad was considering a buyout from Major League Baseball that would have made 2002 the last season for Twins baseball.

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Before he even coached his first game, Gardenhire was handed a built-in excuse for failing to extend the Twins season—their $40.2 million payroll was the third lowest in the league.

In the face of all this, Gardenhire's first season as Twins manager was his best.

He led the Twins to his first AL Central title and defeated the Oakland A's in the divisional round of the playoffs. In the ALCS, the Twins would lose the series to the eventual World Series champion Anaheim Angels, 4-1. 

Even with the loss to the Angels there was hope—hope that Gardenhire had the keys that would return to the Twins to another Fall Classic appearance.

From 2002 to 2009 the Twins payroll would rank between eighth and 12th in the American League. "Small Market" was the tag associated with the Twins. Fans were repeated bombarded with the message that without a new venue and the revenue streams it generated Minnesota could not compete. 

Yeah, it was extremely difficult to compete in Minnesota—and the fans of Minnesota bought that hook, line, and sinker and funded a new stadium.

In 2010 the Twins moved into Target Field, their state-of-the-art stadium, and moved up the payroll ladder fielding the fifth highest payroll in the American League.

With that the expectations also moved up.

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Can Gardenhire get the Twins fired up to finally make it past the divisional round of the playoffs?

The pressure is on for Gardenhire to at least repeat the success of his first year as manager and make it to the League Championship Series.

As successful as Gardenhire and the Twins have been in the regular season, they have been just as dreadful in the post season.

Gardenhire's playoff record is 6-21 overall and 0-12 over the last four divisional series.

The Twins' payroll is projected to be approximately $114 million for 2011—again the fifth highest in the AL.

The Twins have plenty of pieces for Gardenhire to work with. He has two league MVPs in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and Delmon Young was getting mention in 2010 because of his offensive contribution.

They re-signed Carl Pavano and Francico Liriano appears ready to return to the dominating form of his rookie season in 2006 when he was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA. The team has $18.4 million of the 2011 payroll invested in the closer position with Joe Nathan and Matt Capps. 

Another AL Central Division title will not be enough.

Anything short of an ALCS appearance this season will be a failure for Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins. 

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