Nearly 10 Years Since Santana Trade, the Minnesota Twins Are Still Looking for an Ace
I was lucky enough to take in a Giants game while in San Francisco over the weekend.
My aunt – a long-time San Francisco Giants season ticket holder – was sleeping off the effects from the night before when she celebrated her 60th birthday.
So she gave me and my family her tickets near the first base dugout.
The Giants were wrapping up a four-game set against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it just so happened that Madison Bumgarner would toe the mound for the finale before heading into the All-Star Break.
The next three hours transported me back to the mid-2000’s, when the Minnesota Twins threw Johan Santana out every five days.
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I remember the charge in the crowd, the looks on the faces of the Twins players and their body language.
San Francisco seemed confident at the start.They wanted to jump out to an early lead, and they did.
After, the Giants were blessed with tons of scoring opportunities, but wasted nearly all of them (2-for-14 with runners in scoring position).
But they, or the crowd, never seemed uneasy.
They needn’t be. After scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning, the Giants and the crowd both knew that would probably be enough for Bumgarner.
He tied a career-high with 14 strikeouts, and took a no-hitter into the 8th inning for the third time in his career.
Two more late runs, and a long bottom of the 7th inning, kept Bumgarner in the dugout for too long.
He wasn’t as sharp in the 8th, giving up his first hit, but settled down to get out of the inning.
Watching the Minnesota Twins for the last few years, I wondered if his day was done. He was over 100 pitches, had lost the no-hitter, surely Bruce Bochy would go to the bullpen.
Instead, the top of the ninth came with Bumgarner marching out to the mound with Cake’s, “The Distance,” trumpeting his return.
The crowd knew all the words, of course, as a complete game in San Francisco isn’t as rare as it is in Minnesota.
Bumgarner’s complete game one-hitter was the eighth complete game by the Giants this year.
But the presence of a true ace on the staff (and the Giants have two with Johnny Cueto), calms not only the masses, but the batters, and even the fielders.
Bumgarner lost his chance at a perfect game when Gregor Blanco dropped a fly ball.
No matter. Bumgarner gave a little look to Blanco and proceeded to strike out the next batter and patted Blanco on the back on the way to the dugout.
Johan Santana used to provoke the same sense of calm among his teammates whenever he took the mound.
“Just give him a couple early runs, and we’ll be good.”
Back in the aughts, Santana won two Cy Young‘s, led the league in K’s three times, in ERA twice – plus another when he was with the Mets.
Minnesota appeared to have his replacement, Francisco Liriano, ready, just as they were contemplating moving Santana.
The finances at the time with the Metrodome wouldn’t allow the Minnesota Twins to keep Santana, we were told, but Liriano had shown Santana-like flashes of brilliance.
The future still looked bright, until Liriano’s violent slider proved too much for his pitching elbow.
Flash-forward to 2016.
Another Santana, Ervin, is now the “ace” of the staff.
At times, Santana fits the bill. While he’s not going to blow anyone away, he’s an efficient ace, allowing two earned runs or less in each of his last four starts.
Whatever hiccups Santana had earlier in the year, he is back to his reliable self.
Which means the Minnesota Twins will probably trade him before the deadline at the end of this month.
Which would be a mistake, given that Santana should be awarded some support in the form of Jose Berrios shortly after the All-Star break.
An interchangeable 1-2 on the staff, with Santana serving as the ace until Berrios gets more major league innings, will help the young hitters on the club become more comfortable at the plate.
They won’t have to sweat every run-scoring chance, and instead let the game come to them.
After pitching in the AAA All-Star game, Berrios appears ready to return to the majors.
He’s dominating at Rochester, with a 2.59 ERA, and 85 strikeouts in 83.1 innings pitched.
As Jack Morris has said time and again on the broadcasts, he just needs innings at the major league level, both good and bad.
Pushing back his timetable only pushes back his learning curve.
He needs to graduate from AAA and start throwing against big leaguers soon.
The Minnesota Twins also need him. Their hitters have found themselves, propelling them to a 7-3 record in July so far.
Adding an upcoming ace, one who will dominate in a year or two, can help the front office set the rotation. Keeping Santana will give the Minnesota Twins a reliable front end.
The future for the Minnesota Twins is now.