Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Two Diamonds in the Rough

Francisco Liriano was completely dominant against the Brewers on Sunday night. Johan Santana did not have his best stuff last night, but still had a decent start and the Twins were able to pick up their 11th straight victory. In watching the two pitch, I started thinking about how truly special the Twins' situation is. We knew Santana and Liriano were going to be a great duo at the top of the Twins' rotation, but could anyone have realistically predicted it was going to happen this soon? If both players stay healthy and keep their level of production up, we could see these two finish 1-2 in the league in ERA, strikeouts, opponents' batting average, WHIP and even wins. It's pretty difficult to find a good comparison in baseball history for what these two players are doing. It's not that there haven't been instances where a rotation featured two great pitchers (Maddux/Glavine and Koufax/Drysdale come to mind), but two guys with the type of nasty stuff that they can make opponents swing and miss like Santana and Liriano do?

I think we can find a decent comparison in the recent past, and all we have to do is go back to 2001 and look at the Diamondbacks' duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. That year, Schilling and Johnson both finished in the top three in the National League in ERA, wins, strikeouts and WHIP. I probably don't need to remind you what those two were able to accomplish that season, and I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that the Twins currently have a more talented (and much younger) team surrounding their pair of aces than Arizona did in 2001. And the big difference between Schilling/Johnson and Santana/Liriano, of course, is that in 2001 Johnson was 37 and Schilling was 34, whereas Santana is currently 27 and Liriano is just 22.

The interesting thing about Santana and Liriano is the method in which both players ended up with the Twins. These were not exactly marquis prospects when they came to the team. Santana was acquired as a Rule V draft pick and Liriano was essentially a toss-in in the A.J. Pierzynski trade. Do you give credit for the success of these two pitchers to Terry Ryan and the Twins' scouting department for seeing something in them, to the Twins' coaches for developing them, or was it just dumb luck in one or both instances?

Whatever the case, the Twins are in a unique situation right now and if the 2001 Diamondbacks are any indication, great things could be on the way for this team.