July 7, 2005

Deja Vu (and the WSOP)

It is impossible not to be concerned with the way Johan Santana has pitched of late. After going 4-0 with a 3.55 ERA in April, Santana is now 3-5 with a 4.14 ERA since -- including a 6.1-inning, six-run start against the Angels yesterday -- giving him just seven wins and a not-so-pretty 3.98 ERA heading into the All-Star break.

Of course, it's also worth remembering that Santana headed into last year's All-Star break with numbers so mediocre that he didn't even make the All-Star team:

YEAR     GS        IP     W     L      ERA      SO     BB     OAVG
2004 19 123.2 7 6 3.78 136 31 .221
2005 18 124.1 7 5 3.98 143 26 .226

In fact, Santana's numbers right now are nearly identical in every way to his first-half numbers last season. It is sort of eery how similar the stat lines are across-the-board, actually. And as I've written about several thousand times, he went on to finish 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA on his way to winning the AL Cy Young award.

The big difference, however, is that this time last year Santana was starting to round into Cy Young form, going 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA in June and starting July with three straight 10-strikeout games and a 1.44 ERA. This year, quite the opposite is happening, as Santana has faded from a nice start and is giving up runs in bunches.

The basic point remains though, which is that periods of intense struggles on the mound do not preclude future dominance. Whether the struggles come in April and May or June and July, the fact is that Santana is a very streaky pitcher and has shown in the past that he can flip the switch and go from mediocre to unhittable in the blink of an eye.

Expecting any pitcher to take an ERA nearing 4.00 into the All-Star break and come back the best pitcher in the league -- like baseball's version of Clark Kent going into a phone booth and coming out Superman -- is wishful thinking, obviously, and expecting the same guy to do it two years in a row is silly.

Santana is not going to go 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA in the second half again this year, and he doesn't need to. He simply needs to fix whatever his problem is. Whether he is injured or just ineffective, tipping his pitches or struggling with his mechanics, he and pitching coach Rick Anderson need to figure it out before the season slips away.

With a league-leading 143 strikeouts, a fantastic 143-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a dominant opponent's batting average of .226, the pieces are all in place for another amazing second-half run. But something needs to click in Santana that clicked in him last season, or none of the talk about second-half schedules and Wild Card standings will mean a thing.

Switching to a less depressing subject, today is Day 1 of the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event. This may sound silly to some of you, but I have been looking forward to this day more than I have all but two other sporting events. I have been counting down the days for a year now, all while watching each 2004 WSOP episode on ESPN dozens of times. ("He called me with jack-high!" Sorry, inside joke.)

Anyway, if you are like me and you're interested in constant updates on the tourney, here are a few great sites to check out throughout the next nine days (yes, this year's Main Event will last nine days):

  • Tao of Pauly's World Series of Poker Live Blog
  • Poker Wire's Live Updates
  • Card Player's WSOP Coverage
  • (If there are any other sites giving frequent updates, let me know and I'll be happy to add a link.)

    My prediction for the Main Event? The field is beyond massive, with "Day 1" actually having to be split into three separate heats, so the chances of a big name making it through the field are slim. I'm guessing one recognizable name will make it to the final table and the champion will be someone under 40 years old who no one has ever heard of.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)
    - Winning in Extreme Environments (by Dan Fox)

    Today's Picks (74-60, +$1,435):
    Los Angeles (Lowe) -105 over Colorado (Kennedy)

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