In his past few starts preceding yesterday's matchup against Detroit, Johan Santana had shown glimmers of his top form. It started with a great outing in Chicago on April 21 in which he shut down the powerful White Sox lineup for seven innings except for a 2-run homer by Jim Thome. In his next couple starts, Santana started running up his strikeout totals and picked up victories against the Royals and Mariners. All this led one to believe that Santana might be able to stop the miserable run of the Twins' rotation against the Tigers, who had demolished Twins pitching in each of the teams' first five matchups. And did he ever.
Santana carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of yesterday's game, striking out eight in the first four innings. Johan was as dominant as ever, absolutely blowing away a lineup that has been perhaps the most dangerous in the league so far. Santana appeared to simply run out of gas in the seventh inning, where he lost his bid for a no-hitter as well as a shutout. He gave up four hits in that inning alone, including a two-run home run to Magglio Ordonez. Nonetheless, Santana's final line was excellent: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 11 K, 1 BB. I'd be interested to see if Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan, who have been so content to blame all of Carlos Silva's struggles on his participation in the World Baseball Classic, will be willing to come out and admit the possibility that Santana's participation may have had a tremendously positive effect on him. Over the past couple years, Santana has set a trend of taking until about June to truly hit his stride, but now he appears to be doing so in early May. Could the fact that he was playing competitive baseball about a month before he usually does be the X-factor here? I don't necessarily have an opinion about it one way or the other, but I think it's definitely a possibility.
Meanwhile, the Twins offense once again did its part. After scoring a grand total of one run in three games in Detroit the previous weekend, the Twins put up 17 in this series. The series MVP offensively has got to be Michael Cuddyer, who hit .545/.615/.909 with a couple walks and 3 RBIs over the three games. Cuddyer hit a two-run triple in the first inning of yesterday's game that put the Twins on the board first and gave Santana some much-needed breathing room. As a guy who's been critical of Cuddyer's seeming inability to live up to the potential he showed as a minor leaguer, I'm absolutely thrilled with the way he's playing right now and I'm loving him in the five-hole. The thing that we'll have to watch for the next several weeks is whether Cuddyer is currently in the middle of a short-lived hot streak or if he's truly ready to break out and put together a solid full season.
Torii Hunter is having a very typical Torii streak right now. After a couple weeks of mind-numbingly bad play, Hunter is extremely hot right now and is in the process of bringing his batting average back up to respectability. At the conclusion of the Mariners series which ended Monday night, Hunter was hitting .194 with an ugly .607 OPS. Now, less than a week later, his average is up to .243 and the OPS has shot up to .768. A 160-point increase in OPS in less than seven days is pretty impressive. It's unfortunate that we know from experience that Torii won't keep this up for too much longer and is bound to drop into another nasty slump soon.
After starting the season 0-10 against legitimate division opponents, the Twins can feel a little better now after taking the last two games of their home series against the Tigers. At 13-18, they've still got a ways to go before they can get back to .500, but getting a couple impressive victories over a team that has embarrassed them all season is a good enough start. I'm a little frightened at the thought of what the Rangers hitters are going to do to Radke, Silva and Lohse in the three-game series that begins tomorrow in Arlington, but for now I'll just bask in the warm glow of a terrific outing by Santana and a good quality series for the Twins offense.