Are the Twins contenders or pretenders?

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Don't look now, but the Minnesota Twins are 18-14 and in the thick of things in the American League Central race.

Entering Monday's action the Twins sit in third place, one game behind Detroit and 2.5 games behind the first-place Royals.

While Detroit and Kansas City, the reigning American League champion, were expected to win a lot of games, those who believed in the Twins were few and far between until this latest stretch of winning – a stretch that includes 17 wins and only 8 losses since a season-opening 1-7 dry spell.

The winning has started to change the skepticism about the Twins, judging from the latest power rankings around the league:

Bleacher Report ranks the Twins No. 15: "... another 5-2 performance that included series wins against the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics, they have officially forced their way into the upper half of the rankings and are eyeing a spot in the top 10 if they keep it up."

MLB.com ranks the Twins No. 12 and ESPN ranks them No. 12.

The Twins have scored 151 runs – the sixth most in Major League Baseball. But scoring is not really new – the Twins finished seventh in the majors in runs last year.

What's the biggest difference between the Twins in 2014 and in 2015? Twins Blogger Rhett Bollinger notes it's really the pitching that's improved.

"It's the pitching that's been the biggest surprise, as Minnesota hurlers have combined to post a 4.07 ERA, which is tied for the 16th-best mark in the Majors. It's a marked improvement from their 4.57 ERA last year that ranked as the second-worst team ERA in the Majors."

But Bollinger notes the pitching staff is still having a tough time striking out opposing hitters. So far Twins pitchers have just 167 strikeouts in 283 innings. Given the defensive troubles in the outfield, Bollinger thinks it could be tough for the pitching staff to keep it up unless they strike out more batters.

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