Twins' prolific bats drive rare success against AL East

– The Twins are feasting on the American League East.

They left Rogers Centre with two victories in three games against the division-leading Blue Jays. That included a 7-2 gem Wednesday in which righthander Phil Hughes threw seven shutout innings and the Twins offense pounded out 16 hits.

That makes the Twins 6-for-6 in series against AL East teams this season. They went 4-2 this year against Toronto, winning the season series for the first time since 2005.

“That says a lot,” said Hughes, who should know, having played with the Yankees for seven seasons. “This is a tough division, especially on the road.

“To be able to come in and win a series is huge, especially with their offensive capability.”

Josh Willingham homered. Kendrys Morales and Joe Mauer each had three hits. The Twins led 2-0 in the first inning in every game of this series, and they are 21-12 when they score first.

The Twins enjoy an off day Thursday before opening a three-game series at AL Central-leading Detroit on Friday. They head to Comerica Park feeling good about a few developments.

1. The look of the lineup with Danny Santana on top of it: In Santana, the Twins have a leadoff hitter who has not appeared to be overmatched at the plate. The rookie went 2-for-5 and scored two runs Wednesday, lifting his batting average to .372 in 25 games. Santana singled to lead off the game, then scored when Willingham homered into the second deck.

Santana has game-changing speed. Two Twins players have compared him to a young Jose Reyes, who had a good series for Toronto — but not as good a series as Santana.

“We think he’s got a chance,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He has some things to learn, but he has a chance.”

2. Morales doesn’t need spring training: The veteran is out of options and therefore couldn’t play minor league games to get game-ready. But Morales asked to play one day after signing with the Twins and has showed no rust. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBI Wednesday, and his hits were all lasers. In the series — his first games since the end of last season — Morales went 6-for-14 with three doubles, three RBI and two runs scored.

Morales led off the sixth inning with a double and scored on Trevor Plouffe’s sacrifice fly for a 3-0 Twins lead. Morales’ booming double to center in the seventh off Bobby Korecky cleared the bases and made it 6-0.

“I’m glad we got Morales on our team,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He can fall out of bed and hit.”

Three weeks ago, Morales, Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia weren’t in the lineup. Now they are the middle of the order.

And Mauer went 3-for-4 with walk on Wednesday after batting .107 over his previous seven games. What can this offense do if he heats up?

“It doesn’t seem like there are too many holes in our lineup,” Hughes said.

3. Hughes can make adjustments: One start after struggling against the Astros, Hughes (7-2) came back big-time against a dangerous power-hitting team. In seven innings, he scattered seven hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out nine. He gave up a pair of singles to begin the sixth, then retired the 3-4-5 hitters. He broke out the curveball to strike out Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind to end the inning, pounding his fist in his glove as he walked off the mound.

The Twins now head to Detroit for a weekend series with a little swagger.

“We’re playing good baseball,” Dozier said. “I feel like we’re kind of clicking right now.”

 

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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