Why Morales could keep the Twins in playoff contention


Do the Minnesota Twins have a lineup good enough to keep them in contention for a playoff spot this season?

Yes, according to Sports on Earth's Jack Moore.

"With Morales, the Twins can take a swing at a playoff run without giving up prospects or committing any money to 2015 and beyond," Moore wrote. "There's reason to believe a Minnesota club with Morales has the bats to make it interesting."

Morales signed a one-year, $12 million contract. The deal is prorated, so the Twins will ultimately only have to pay the former Angels and Mariners switch-hitting slugger $7.4 million, according to ESPN.

Morales picked the Twins over a handful of others because, as General Manager Terry Ryan said, the Twins were ahead of those teams in the standings.

"We're certainly in the mix," Ryan said, according to TwinsBaseball.com. "We've played pretty decent up to this point and have surprised some people. So why not us? We're at the point in the season where there's a lot of baseball left. So why not the Twins? I read a handful teams were after Morales, but we were ahead of a lot of those clubs in the standings. So I thought why don't we bring in a quality player who doesn't cost us a Draft pick, which we treasure here."

That's right, at 29-32, Minnesota is only 3 1/2 games behind Seattle in the wild card chase, and only five games separate the Twins from AL Central-leading Detroit.

"It's a good signing. A lot of us are real excited right now," Joe Mauer said. "It tells you how close this division is and us adding is definitely a great thing."

The addition of Morales meant the end of Jason Kubel's run with the Twins. Kubel was released on Sunday, clearing a roster spot for Morales.

Morales will likely serve most of his time as the designated hitter. The 1-through-9 lineup looks as promising as it has in years.

Josh Willingham is healthy again and crushing the baseball; Trevor Plouffe is playing his best baseball in two years; Brian Dozier remains productive; rookie Danny Santana has been a huge upgrade over Aaron Hicks in centerfield; and Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki have been good.

Will Santana continue his hot hitting? Based on the data pulled by Aaron Gleeman, probably not.

If Mauer can bust out of his slump (currently hitting .264 with only 11 extra-base hits), the Twins might be talented enough to make a run at the playoffs.

The pitching will have to get a little better, too. With a staff ERA of 4.40, the Twins rank 14th in the AL.

Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Kyle Gibson have been solid, but Kevin Correia and Samuel Deduno have been inconsistent. Waiting for the call from Triple-A Rochester is 6-foot-9 right-hander Alex Meyer.

Meyer is 4-2 with a 3.44 ERA for the Rochester Red Wings. He has 64 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings, giving him an average of 10.64 strikeouts per nine innings – the highest average for a starter in the International League, according to Democrat & Chronicle.

If the pitching maintains or gets better, and Morales injects more balance and power to the lineup, the Twins might end up playing meaningful baseball late into the summer.

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