Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Phil Coke is 1-7 for the Central leading Detroit Tigers
The three teams currently ahead of the Twins (the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox) are not among the elite clubs in Major League Baseball. The teams have significant flaws, and it does not appear likely that one of them will break away from the rest of the division.
The Tigers have issues with their pitching rotation. While Justin Verlander (10-3, 2.38) is having a Cy Young season, Max Scherzer's 9-3 record is attributable more to his strong run support than his pitching, as illustrated by his mediocre 4.47 ERA. His record easily could be similar to that of Brad Penny (5-6, 4.66) or Rick Porcello (6-5, 4.50) if not for the Tiger offense. Phil Coke (1-7, 4.32) has not demonstrated an ability to pitch deeply into games, and his 5.57 June ERA may be a sign that he is beginning to wear down physically.
The Indians have had trouble scoring runs, although they have been more potent than the Twins. Shin-Soo Choo is likely to miss the majority of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left thumb. While 2011 has not been a great season for Choo, he is a career .290 hitter with the ability to hit for power and steal bases. The Indians will miss him during the stretch run.
The White Sox are simply an average team. Their starting rotation has no glaring holes, but with the exception of Philip Humber (7-4, 2.89), the rotation is decidedly unspectacular. Mark Buehrle (6-5, 3.73) is providing a mediocre return on the $14 million the White Sox have invested in him for the 2011 season. Rookie Sergio Santos is an unproven commodity as the closer. Paul Konerko (.324, 21 HR, 60 RBI) has been impressive offensively, but the rest of the offensive lineup has been hit-or-miss.
The Twins will have to overtake these three teams in order to win the division. This will undoubtedly be a difficult undertaking, but the relative weakness of the AL Central gives the team a fighting chance.