After putting up perhaps his most dominating performance of the season against the Devil Rays yesterday, Johan Santana just might have locked down his second Cy Young award. In every possible way, Johan has been the best in the league and he has, when the Twins have needed it most, stepped up and led this team.
If the Twins go to the playoffs, don't just thank Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Johan Santana has done as much if not more to keep this team in the race. (I realize looking at win shares that this is not necessarily true, but if you count in his defense and his ability to lead by example and in the clubhouse, it's not so absurd. Neither Justin or Joe are quite the outspoken leader Johan is.) In this sense, it's quite conceivable that Johan could be a MVP candidate over our M and M boys.
The main statistical support for this comes from the fact that the Twins are 25-5 (.833 winning percentage) in games in which Johan starts. The last time a team won like that behind a starter, it was a .900 winning percentage (.900) behind Randy Johnson for Seattle in 1995. For comparison's sake, Johnson won the Cy Young that year, going 18-2 in a strike-shortened season with a 2.48 ERA along with 294 strikeouts in 214 and 1/3 innings and only 159 hits allowed. That isn't bad company for Santana, considering Johnson is one of the best starting pitchers ever.
Johan now leads the major leagues wins (17), WHIP (0.99), strikeouts (219), ERA (2.84), and OPS (.615) and is second in BAA (.215). Keep in mind, that's MLB, not just the American League. In such a huge offensive year in the AL, Santana has put incredible numbers up while leading the Twins to victory after victory.
Another reason the Cy Young is his is that his closest competitor, Roy Halladay, has way too much ground to make up even though there is a decent chunk of the season remaining. Halladay pitched a fine game against Cleveland last night (7 IP, 9 Ks, one earned run allowed in a game the Blue Jays bullpen lost) to bring his ERA to 3.22 with a good win total at 16, but it's the other stats the he loses on. His WHIP (1.09) is good, but that's more a product of his impressively low walk total (32) than his dominance. He only has 126 Ks (not even in the top 20 in the AL) and has allowed a .249 BAA. Even if he wins one more game than Johan on the season, it likely won't be enough to sway voters away from Santana's staggering lead in most every other category.
I know what you might be thinking: Santana was considerably better than Bartolo Colon in almost every category last year, but that didn't stop voters from handing the award to Colon due to his extra wins. However, like in the 2004 Cy Young race against Curt Schilling, Santana's dominance has been so much greater that it will be hard for the voters to ignore just because of a one win differential.
As for last night's game? Other than Johan's eight inning, two hit, 12 K performance that baffled the Tampa Bay hitters, there was also some good hitting to get excited about.
With some help from a terrible Tampa Bay defense, the Twins scored eight runs to easily defeat the Rays. With a few hard hits from Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, the Twins offense looked a lot more alive, which is good news considering Carlos Silva is on the mound tonight.
* One extra note: Part of the idea of this post was suggesting that Johan may be a legitimate MVP candidate over Morneau or Mauer. What is interesting is the last time a pitcher had such a good year in a huge offensive season, he was a big MVP candidate as well. That was Pedro in 1999 (and 2000, for that matter), but he didn't manage to win, as two writers even left him off the ballet because "they couldn't justify giving the award to a starting pitcher." Interestingly, one of those writers was apparently our own LaVelle Neal (who I've met briefly and is a pretty nice and interesting guy) along with the New York Post's George King, according to Rob Neyer. I wonder how much of a chance Santana really has or if he'll make much of a mark on the ballots even.