Where would the Twins be without Johan Santana? Seems like a strange enough question, but just a few weeks ago, it seemed like everyone in the Twins world was ready to take Francisco Liriano over Johan. Santana had a few bad weeks and he didn't look like he had the old dominating magic Liriano was showing. But in last night's victory over the Indians, Santana had everything.
In eight innings pitched Santana walked only one, struck out nine, and gave up a measly three hits. For some reason, with 99 pitches, Ron Gardenhire decided against giving Johan a chance for a shutout. It's a disappointment to me, despite the fact I know they want to save his arm. If he goes over 110-115 pitches, fine, but when he is cruising, it should be his game to go out there and complete. That's the old-school way of baseball and it's one of the old aspects I truly miss.
Regardless, he was his nasty self. Instead of relying on his changeup, throwing it too many times, and getting knocked around some, Johan spotted his fastball and threw a lot more sliders. By doing so, he forced the Indian hitters to guess a lot more and thus, when he threw the changeup, they were not expecting it and could not sit on it. This is a good strategy. It's not like Santana has a weak slider or anything. He can throw that and the fastball and use that changeup in those strikeout situations, without ever giving a hitter the chance to time the change.
Of course, I don't want to come out and immediately suggest Johan can save this club. They are two games back in the Wild Card race behind the White Sox. Santana and Brad Radke are playing those savior roles and there is even a slim chance of seeing Liriano again, but I get nervous in every other game. Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser, and a nervous Matt Garza don't intimidate opposing teams very much at all. That chance, therefore, relies a lot on the offense consistently producing.
Last night, the heroes were Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer. As usual, Cuddyer looked awful with no one in scoring position, hacking away, but suddenly, with runners on and a chance to give the Twins a bigger lead when it was 1-0 in the eighth, Cuddyer hit a two-run single. As for Mauer, a two-out RBI single in the third gave the Twins their first lead. Mauer also stole a base, walked twice, and sits with an ever-more-impressive .443 on-base percentage. Amazing.
Tonight, however, may not be as much of a cakewalk. If Silva is out throwing bricks to the Indians hitters, I can see a Travis Hafner, record-setting grand slam single-handidly breaking hearts. Please make that sinker sink, Carlos.