by Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
The title might sound like hyperbole, but Ervin Santana has been as good as any pitcher in baseball through his first three starts. A trifecta punctuated by his 1-hit shutout on Saturday.
"It's one of those special ones that's going to be marked down in the history books here," said Paul Molitor of Santana's outing, "you don't see 1-hitters every day."
You also don't see a trio of outings like what Santana's had to start the 2017 campaign -- at least not in recent Twins history.
Just look at the numbers:
22 Innings Pitched, 1 Run, 5 Hits, 15 Strikeouts, 5 Walks, 0.41 ERA
When you compare those figures to the numbers from his first three starts in 2016:
15 Innings Pitched, 5 Runs, 15 Hits, 16 Strikeouts, 5 walks, 3.00 ERA
There are interesting similarities and differences.
The strikeouts and walks are nearly identical, but Santana's dramatically reduced the number of hits he's given up. That could have something to do with a crazy-low .074 BABIP. But a pitcher doesn't get a number that low without outstanding defense behind him.
"Its means a lot, you know especially that play that Sanó made and Santana in left field," Santana said of the Twins defense on Saturday, "so I mean, everything's working our way right now, so we just have to keep it up."
As good as Santana's been, there are two obvious questions that spring to mind:
One, how long can he keep this up?
From mid-June to mid-August of 2016, Santana had an 11-game stretch where he held opponents to a batting average of just over .200 and had an ERA of just 1.79. So perhaps for a couple of months?
Let's be honest, Erv is what he is: a 13-year starter with a career ERA of 4.07. But he's also a guy that can get hot for stretches of time. How do you know when he's going good?
His catcher on Saturday, Chris Gimenez, says it's all about the slider.
"Just being able to throw a slider wherever he wanted to was a big one," Gimenez said. "We threw just enough down-and-away sliders that when he happened to leave one kinda up-middle, it kind of buckled them. We got away with a couple kind of back-up sliders, but like I said, he did enough work in with the fastball and sliders down-and-away that we got away with those."
A pitcher that can get hot with not much more than a good fastball and slider can be an attractive thing to teams in a pennant race.
Which leads to question number two: will the Twins look to maximize Santana's value in a trade before the deadline?
This is a matter of pure speculation at this point, because we have no idea what CBO Derek Falvey & GM Thad Levine's plan for this season was, or how they might adjust it based on the early hot start by Santana and the Twins.
There also isn't much of a track-record for Falvey and Levine that can be used to predict future decisions. Neither Cleveland or Texas has shown fear in moving players and acquiring assets, but that doesn't mean the Twins front-office leaders will definitely go that route now that they're in charge.
That being said, it's clear that the Twins are in need of longer-term solutions for the rotation, and if moving Santana can bring back a couple of high-end prospect arms, then the move becomes something of a no-brainer.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy this hot streak for as long as it might last.
After the dreadful season that was 2016, the fans deserve it.
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