June 25, 2007

One-Man Gang: The Sequel

It's real tough, because you have to do everything out there.

- Johan Santana, June 24, 2007

Johan Santana was a one-man gang last week against the Mets, tossing a complete-game shutout while drawing a walk and smacking a stand-up double off Jorge Sosa. He continued the Babe Ruth impression yesterday afternoon, holding the Marlins to one earned run over six innings while launching an RBI triple off Byung-Hyun Kim. With Nick Punto on first base in the second inning, Santana squared around to bunt before pulling the bat back and yanking a ball into right-center field.

According to Ron Gardenhire:

I told him before he went to plate, "We're going to bunt." But I said, "If he runs, then you're going to swing." I meant, "When we steal second, you're going to swing." But he saw it as, "OK, if he runs, I'm swinging." He saw him running and he whacked.

Punto scored easily to put the Twins up 2-1 as the ball flew over right fielder Jeremy Hermida's head and Santana cruised into third base with a stand-up triple before coming around on Jason Bartlett's sacrifice fly to make it a 3-1 game. Santana officially went 0-for-2 in his final two trips to the plate, but his fourth-inning ground ball actually led to runs when Aaron Boone hit Punto with the throw on a would-be force out at second base and the ball skipped into left field.

Santana reached third base again, but strayed too far on a Jeff Cirillo ground ball and was tagged out after a brief, manic rundown that eschewed the base path. While perhaps not the world's greatest baserunner--although he made pretty good time around the bases and didn't pass out following the triple--Santana pushed his career hitting line to .258/.281/.322 in 32 plate appearances. To put that in some context, here's how Santana's career numbers compare to some of his teammates:

                     AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     IsoP     IsoD
Nick Punto .253 .322 .333 .655 .080 .069
Luis Rodriguez .241 .316 .337 .653 .096 .075
Jason Tyner .272 .310 .315 .625 .043 .043
Johan Santana .258 .281 .322 .603 .064 .023

Not only has Santana shown 50 percent more power than Jason Tyner during their respective careers, he's sporting a higher batting average than Punto and Luis Rodriguez, who were half of yesterday's infield and combined on a play that turned a would-be double play into an unearned run. Among pitchers with at least 30 plate appearances, Santana's .603 OPS ranks second in Twins history behind only Luis Tiant, who amazingly batted .406 during his lone season in Minnesota:

Luis Tiant .955
Johan Santana .603
Camilo Pascual .546
Jim Kaat .514
Dave Boswell .504

Santana joins Dave Boswell, Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, Jack Kralick, Camilo Pascual, and Mike Fornieles as the only pitchers in Twins history to hit a triple, becoming the first member of the pitching staff to hit a three-bagger since the designated hitter came into play in 1973. Brewers catcher Johnny Estrada is the all-time leader in plate appearances without a triple, batting 1,970 times without once doing what Santana did yesterday. Funny game, that baseball.

Some other notes from the weekend ...

  • Jason Kubel went 5-for-8 with two doubles and two walks during the three-game series, giving him a .265/.324/.480 hitting line with five homers and eight doubles over the past 30 games. Kubel has quietly been one of the team's best hitters since early May, yet Gardenhire continues to bench him regularly in favor of both Tyner (.271/.320/.322) and Lew Ford (.247/.304/.342). And why? Because as Gardenhire said Friday, "Lew and Tyner are both playing well."

    Kubel began Friday's game on the bench so that Ford and his .728 career OPS against left-handers could start against Scott Olsen. With the Twins down 4-2 in the eighth inning, Kubel came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit double down the left-field line off Armando Benitez. Kubel came around to score the game-tying run on the play when the Marlins' defense essentially played the double into a homer, but only after Justin Morneau bruised his right lung on a nasty collision at the plate:

    Morneau won the battle by scoring, but lost the war by coughing up blood afterward. He remains in a Florida hospital while the rest of the team flew back to Minnesota and there's no timetable for his return. I'm not thrilled with third-base coach Scott Ullger's decision to wave Morneau home on the play, but Ullger putting runners in bad spots is certainly nothing new. After being an awful hitting coach for nearly a decade, Ullger lost that job and is in his second season as an awful third-base coach.
  • To make matters worse, Morneau's injury was wasted when Juan Rincon served up what turned out to be a game-winner homer to Hanley Ramirez moments later. Rincon had bucked his recent trend of horrible pitching by tossing a 1-2-3 seventh inning and got two outs when Gardenhire decided to leave him in for the eighth inning, but allowed a homer in his third straight appearance and tied a career-high with five long balls in just 25.2 innings this season.
  • With Morneau stuck in the hospital, Joe Mauer launched two homers yesterday after coming into the game with one long ball in 183 plate appearances. After batting .347/.429/.507 last season, Mauer is now up to .319/.409/.488 this year despite a 4-for-26 (.154) slump upon returning from the disabled list earlier this month. While not on pace to defend his batting title, given the decrease in league-wide offense Mauer has essentially been exactly as effective as he was in 2006.
  • Santana uncharacteristically struck out just one batter in his shutout win over the Mets, but followed that up yesterday with his usual eight strikeouts in six innings. For all the misguided talk of Santana not being on top of his game, he ranks fifth among AL pitchers with a 2.83 ERA and has held opponents to a .218 batting average with a 114-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 108 innings. Through 16 starts in his previous three seasons as a full-time starter, Santana had ERAs of 2.75, 3.78, and 4.38.
  • With Luis Castillo getting yesterday off to rest his sore legs, Rodriguez got the start and went 0-for-3 while making the aforementioned throwing error at third base. He once looked like a decent utility player, but Rodriguez is now incapable of playing shortstop, doesn't look especially solid at second base or third base, and is hitting .179/.273/.244 after batting .235/.315/.322 last season. With Punto recently demoted to his rightful place as a utility man, what purpose does Rodriguez serve, exactly?
  • Torii Hunter lined a single into center field leading off the second inning Saturday, at which point Alfredo Amezaga overaggressively played it into a "triple" as the ball skipped past him and to the wall. The play brought back memories of Hunter misplaying a similar Mark Kotsay hit into an inside-the-park homer during last year's ALDS. Hunter went 6-for-14 during the series to raise his batting average back up to .306 after a one-day stop at .299.
  • By winning back-to-back road series against the Mets and Marlins, the Twins improved to 38-35, which is the same record they held through 73 games last season. The big difference is that 38-35 put them 11 games behind the Tigers last year, while this time around it "only" sets them 6.5 games back of Detroit.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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