September 26, 2006

Twins Notes

  • Johan Santana shook off some early trouble last night to record his 19th win in what was apparently his final start of the regular season, going eight relatively smooth innings in a solid tune-up for Game 1 of the ALDS. The performance essentially guarantees that Santana will become just the eighth pitcher in the history of baseball to capture the major-league triple crown by leading both leagues in wins (19), ERA (2.77), and strikeouts (245).

    Santana's final numbers:

    GS      W     L        IP      SO     BB     HR     OAVG
    34 19 6 233.2 245 47 24 .220

    Santana holds unbeatable leads in ERA and strikeouts, and is one win ahead of Chien-Ming Wang for the MLB lead. Wang makes his final start of the season tonight against Tampa Bay, meaning the best he can do is tie Santana. The list of pitchers whose company Santana will soon keep is impressive to say the least: Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Grover Alexander, Hal Newhouser, Dazzy Vance, and Dwight Gooden.

    Take a look at how steady Santana has been since moving into the starting rotation full time in 2004:

    YEAR     GS      W     L      ERA        IP      SO     BB     HR     OAVG
    2004 34 20 6 2.61 228.0 265 54 24 .192
    2005 33 16 7 2.88 231.2 238 45 22 .210
    2006 34 19 6 2.77 233.2 245 47 24 .220

    Aside from some variance in win-loss record thanks to horrible run support last season, those three pitching lines are as similar as they are amazing. It's a shame that he'll have just two Cy Young Awards to show for that historic three-year run, but at least there's no chance of him being shafted for a second straight season. It's also a shame that Santana won't reach his second 20-win season, but having him start twice in the five-game ALDS makes up for it.

  • Unfortunately, the Tigers stayed in front of the Twins in the AL Central by beating the Blue Jays last night, making a fourth division title in five years unlikely. Because of the tie-breaker situation, the Twins will have to actually beat the Tigers by one game in order to claim the division, which means they may as well be two games back with just five games to play. Assuming Detroit wins at least once more, the Twins would have to either finish 5-0 while the Tigers go 3-2 or go 4-1 while the Tigers finish 2-3.

    Given the fact that Santana is expected to skip his final start and the Tigers finish up their schedule by hosting the Royals in a three-game series, it's probably safe for the Twins to start booking hotel rooms in New York. All of which is why Randy Johnson's back spasms are suddenly an interesting topic. The Yankees are expected to go with Wang in Game 1 and Mike Mussina in Game 2, with the 43-year-old Johnson penciled in for Game 3.

  • On the subject of playoff rotations, Ron Gardenhire indicated yesterday that Boof Bonser will get the Game 2 start behind Santana. The notion of Bonser starting against the Yankees in the second game of the postseason would have seemed absurd a few months ago, but he's clearly established himself as the Twins' No. 2 starter by going 5-3 with a 3.47 ERA and 54-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 starts since coming back up from Triple-A.

    Bonser was fantastic against the Royals Monday, tossing 6.2 innings of two-hit ball while giving up one run on a solo homer, and has now turned in nine straight starts without allowing more than three runs. He's a 24-year-old rookie who'll be on a huge stage for the first time at Yankee Stadium and is at a major disadvantage against the powerful New York lineup because of his homer-prone tendencies, but going with Bonser is the right decision.

    The Game 3 starter will be determined by how well Brad Radke pitches against the Royals Thursday and how healthy his shoulder feels afterward. It'll be Radke's first appearance since August and will either be the last game he pitches in the big leagues or the first step toward rejoining the rotation for one last postseason run. I remain skeptical that Radke can shake off a significant injury and a lot of rust to be counted on in the ALDS, but a Santana-Bonser-Radke rotation is worth holding out hope for.

  • Joe Mauer took last night off after going 2-for-3 Monday, watching his lead for the AL batting title shrink when both Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter went 2-for-4. Here's what the race for the highest batting average in the league looks like with five games left:
    Joe Mauer         .349
    Robinson Cano .343
    Derek Jeter .341

    The season is quickly becoming very Yankees-centric, with Mauer battling New York's middle-infield duo for the batting title, Justin Morneau competing with Jeter as the two most popular mainstream media candidates for AL MVP, and the Twins facing a likely first-round trip to The Big Apple.

  • I had to laugh when Dick Bremer reacted to a leaping Torii Hunter catch Monday by saying: "You wonder if that's a ball Hunter doesn't get to three or four weeks ago, because he admits to having a quicker first step now." One of the many things I've harped on here of late is that Hunter's defensive struggles in the weeks immediately following his stint on the disabled list were largely ignored by the local media, and especially by Bremer and Bert Blyleven on the team's television broadcasts.

    So when does Bremer finally decide to bring it up? When Hunter's foot is healthier and his problems defensively are in the rear-view mirror. That's always been Bremer's way of doing things, with another example being how he went out of his way to praise Juan Castro's play on a daily basis right up until the Twins cut him loose, at which point he completely changed his tune to how replacing Castro with Jason Bartlett provided a much-needed spark for the team's turnaround.

    I make a lot of strong statements here, ranging from subjective observations and unpopular opinions to unlikely predictions and non-mainstream analysis. I'm certainly wrong my fair share of the time and get criticized sometimes even when I'm right, but you can always count on hearing what I think. Bremer has no ability to do that, parroting whatever the company line is until it changes and gladly ignoring the elephant in the room because it might not be a pleasant topic to discuss.

    When balls were flying over Hunter's head and he was flailing around on the turf after futilely attempting to make the spectacular plays we've all come to expect, Bremer acted as if it was business as usual. When Castro was showing all the range of a potted plant and the infield was a sieve, Bremer excitedly acted like the Twins had Ozzie Smith at shortstop. Now that Hunter is playing well again and Bartlett is getting to everything in sight? Suddenly history has changed and the revised topics are on his mind.

  • Speaking of Castro, he signed a two-year contract extension with the Reds, adding to the mounting evidence that Wayne Krivsky leaving his post as Terry Ryan's right-hand man to become Cincinnati's general manager is one of the best things that could have happened to the Twins. It's comforting to know that the Twins' annoying preference for veteran mediocrity over young talent at times in the past may have been largely Krivsky's doing. It's also comforting to know Castro won't be coming back.

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