The Twins started competing on the Bloomington prairie in the spring of 1961. The Chicago White Sox are the only team with which the Twins have shared a grouping for the entirety of 51 seasons: American League (1961-68), AL West (1969-1993) and AL Central (1994-present).

The Twins and the White Sox had a bit of a rivalry early on. Chicago beat out the Twins by three games to finish second behind the Yankees in 1963. The White Sox were second by seven games to the pennant-winning Twins in 1965. The Twins and the White Sox were involved with Boston (the winner) and Detroit in the Great Race of 1967.

There wasn't much to offer from Twins vs. White Sox after that until the turn of the century. The teams were scoring runs in bundles and battling for the AL West lead in midsummer of 1977, before both ran out of pitching and faded.

The decade of 2001 to 2010 was different. The Twins won six Central titles, and lost a Game 163 to the White Sox in 2008. The White Sox won two division titles, the World Series in 2005 and finished second to the Twins three times.

The teams went to 2011 spring training with the highest payrolls in franchise histories: $128 million for the White Sox and $113 million for the Twins.

The White Sox offered the marketing slogan, "We're All In." The Twins settled for confident talk of an outstanding lineup 1 through 9, about two experienced closers to draw from in Joe Nathan and Matt Capps, and about a rotation that had six viable starters for five spots.

The White Sox fell to 79-83 and finished third, 16 games behind Detroit. The Twins were last at 63-99 and twice as many games behind the Tigers.

The White Sox and the Twins have gone in the same direction since then: downward in payroll and in veteran talent.

The process started last summer. The White Sox unloaded Edwin Jackson on July 27. The Twins gave away Delmon Young on Aug. 15.

This winter, the White Sox lost Mark Buehrle as a free agent and traded Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor for prospects. The Twins lost Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Nathan in free agency.

The result is the Twins will start spring training this weekend with a payroll a fraction below $100 million, and the White Sox will open with a payroll a fraction above $100 million.

White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams traded Santos to Toronto on Dec. 7 and said: "It is the start of a rebuilding." Later, the White Sox tried to back away from that theory, but they then turned around and traded Quentin to San Diego for prospects.

The Twins and Terry Ryan, back on the GM job after Bill Smith was fired Nov. 7, have looked at "rebuilding" as the vilest 10-letter word in the language.

They have filled the roster with journeymen, as if plugging holes on a contender, rather than face this reality:

The Twins and the White Sox, after spending most of previous decade jockeying for position at the top of the AL Central, are likely to be sparring for fourth and fifth in 2012, and beyond.

Detroit will run away in the Central again. Cleveland and Kansas City have better and younger talent than the Twins and Chicago.

The Twins protest this assessment, by saying they can be back as contenders with healthy seasons from Justin Morneau (31 in May) and Joe Mauer (29 in April).

Really? What do the Twins think they are going to get from the battered M&M Boys?

2008: Combined 309 games with 32 home runs, 185 runs scored and 214 RBI. I don't think so.

2009: Combined 273 games with 58 home runs, 179 runs scored and 196 RBI. Not happening.

I'm saying, best case, Mauer and Morneau duplicate 2007: 266 games, 146 runs, 171 RBI, but with fewer home runs. Mauer might muscle up and get seven, but Morneau isn't hitting 31.

Would that durability and production from five years ago be enough to carry a subpar rotation, an uncertain bullpen, a mediocre infield and a depleted outfield into contention in the AL Central?

Answer: No.

I don't even think it would carry the Twins past the White Sox, which is a bad scenario, indeed.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. •