MINNEAPOLIS - On the surface, it might seem as if the Twins are knocking on the door, poised to resume the championship pursuit that consumed them for much of the prior decade.

That theory would be based on falling three games short of the Houston Astros in a season-long bid for the second wild-card spot in the American League.

In reality, that could be a dangerous approach to this pivotal offseason.

“I would be very guarded about just saying, ‘Oh, we’re in good shape,’” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said this week. “I don’t have that opinion. We are in better shape than we have been, that’s for sure, but there’s still a lot of work to do here.”

That’s because, even after winning 83 games and posting the seventh-biggest turnaround in Twins franchise history, they enter the long, cold winter staring at a 12-win gulf separating second place and the AL Central champion Kansas City Royals.

No other second-place team must make up such a large difference this offseason. The San Francisco Giants, who finished eight games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West, were next.

“We should be pointing to win the division,” Ryan said. “That’s important, instead of playing that one (wild-card) game. Nobody likes that game. Well, the one way to get out of that is to win the division.”

Including the season’s final weekend, the Royals swept the final six games they played at Target Field, holding the Twins to a combined six runs. For the year, the Twins dropped 12 of 19 games with the Royals.

So, do the Twins have more work in front of them than it might otherwise appear?

“I don’t know if we really look at it that way,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “The fact (the Royals) are one of the best teams in the American League says a lot, but within the game, you can ask anybody around here, I feel like we had just as good a team as they did.

“Obviously we came up a few wins short of what they had. If anyone had said we’d have 83 wins, I’m sure everybody in America would have said, ‘Absolutely not,’ but we feel like we could have won a lot more. You look at all the close ballgames.”

Indeed, the Twins went 21-20 in one-run games and 6-8 in extra innings. The Royals, buoyed by the game’s most-feared bullpen, went 23-17 in one-run games and 10-6 in extras.

“I think your goal should be to win divisions,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Playoffs, getting in somehow, some way, would fall under that. It still would be a good goal for us trying to move forward.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service