Ervin Santana has had a Six Flags-type of career: Jump on the roller coaster, and hope you enjoy the ride. He has had more good seasons than bad, he was suspended for PEDs and now, at age 34, he's in the midst of the best run of his career.
On Tuesday night he fired a 2-0 shutout for the Minnesota Twins, becoming the first pitcher since Carl Pavano in 2010 to blank the Orioles at Camden Yards and lowering his MLB-best ERA to 1.80. His 66 percent strike rate was his second-highest this season, and the Orioles went 0-for-12 on outside pitches, including 0-for-7 against his slider. He's the first pitcher with two shutouts this season and has allowed two or fewer hits in five of his 10 starts. Batters are hitting just .134 against him, the lowest for a pitcher through his first 10 starts since Bob Turley's .133 mark in 1955.
Now, there's a lot of luck there, considering his .138 BABIP is 50 points lower than Dan Straily among qualified starters, and nobody else is below .200. His strikeout rate is actually a tick below last season and ranks just 60th among starters, and he's walking more batters. When he does give up hits, he's leaving those runners stranded; he's first in left-on-base percentage. So, yes, his good fortune will eventually turn, but what can we expect the rest of the season?
I thought it would be helpful to check some other surprising pitchers who have posted a sub-2.00 ERA on May 23 in recent years and see where they finished the season:
2016 -- Drew Pomeranz, Padres: 1.70. He had pitched mostly in relief and carried his hot start to an All-Star appearance. Finished at 3.32.
2015 -- A.J. Burnett, Pirates: 1.39. In the final season of his career, the veteran made his first All-Star team. Finished at 3.18.
2014 -- Jeff Samardzija, Cubs: 1.46. This was amazing, because he was 0-4 in 10 starts. Finished at 2.99.
2013 -- Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks: 1.44. Made the All-Star team. Finished at 3.41.
2012 -- Brandon Beachy, Braves: 1.77. Blew out his elbow four starts later. Finished at 2.00.
2011 -- Alexi Ogando, Rangers: 1.81. He'd been a reliever, moved to the rotation and made the All-Star team, and then would move back to the pen the next season. Finished at 3.51.
The interesting thing from this group: Pomeranz and Samardzija were traded a few weeks later -- Pomeranz to the Red Sox, Samardzija to the A's -- and Santana, who is signed through 2018 with a $14 million team option for 2019, has been prominently mentioned in trade rumors since last offseason. Except the Twins are in first place in an American League Central that looks pretty mediocre unless the Indians get on a roll like they did last season.
Of course, how the Twins play over the next two months will determine Santana's fate, and maybe they'll trade for a starting pitcher rather than trade one away. The offense, with Miguel Sano's monster start and on-base machine Robbie Grossman, is better, although it looks more like a middle-of-the-pack offense at best. The defense is much improved -- Byron Buxton, everyone! -- and they lead the majors in Defensive Runs Saved after ranking 28th last season (getting Grossman out of the outfield has helped immensely). Anyway, in the tightly packed AL, the Twins can probably hang close enough at least in the wild-card race to where trading Santana in July becomes unlikely. If you have a chance to go for it, go for it.
Charlie Blackmon is on a tear The Rockies beat the Phillies 8-2 behind Blackmon's two home runs and improved to 30-17, easily the best start in franchise history:
2 in 1 night. 💥 pic.twitter.com/GDkdWQkd1O— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) May 24, 2017
It has been a great road trip for the Rockies. Even though they faced Minnesota, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, this could have been one of those trips where the Rockies went 3-7 and hit .202 while scoring two runs per game. Instead, the offense seems to be picking up, and they've gone 6-2 with two more games in Philly.
As for Blackmon, he now leads the majors with 40 RBIs. He's a leadoff hitter. He's hitting .463 with runners in scoring position, and eight of his 11 home runs have come with somebody on base. He entered the day ranked 29th among National League position players in WAR, which ... well, that seems wrong. Blackmon does have a large home/road split -- 1.259 OPS at home, .742 on the road -- but I'm also buying into this power surge. He hit 29 home runs last season, and over a calendar year he has hit 38 home runs, just one fewer than teammate Nolan Arenado. He's not your prototypical leadoff hitter, because he doesn't walk much and he's not stealing bases like he did in 2015 when he swiped 43 bags, but the total package is impressive. Maybe Arenado is still the team MVP, but Blackmon is right there this season.
Lance McCullers' curveball makes grown men weep If Santana is an early Cy Young candidate, so is McCullers, who fired five scoreless innings for the Astros in a 6-2 win over the Tigers to improve to 5-1 with a 2.43 ERA. His curveball grip is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week with good reason: It's one of the biggest weapons in the game. He throws it at 86 mph and throws it a lot -- 46 percent of the time, more often than he throws his fastball. Batters are hitting .218 against it with a 36 percent strikeout rate. The knock against McCullers is pitch efficiency.
Play of the day. Kyle Schwarber hit a baseball a very long ways:
Have to love Joe Maddon's postgame quote:
Joe Maddon compared Schwarber's HR to the beginning of Star Trek when the Enterprise flys by and "gets small" really fast.— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) May 24, 2017
Big win for the Cubs. They hit three home runs off Johnny Cueto, and Jon Lester fired a 99-pitch, 10-strikeout complete-game win, not going to a three-ball count all night. Unfortunately, not all good news for the Cubs: David Ross finished second in "Dancing with the Stars."
Quick thoughts ... Great duel between Clayton Kershaw and Lance Lynn as Yasmani Grandal's first-inning homer held until the Cardinals tied it in the ninth off Kershaw when Randal Grichuk singled and then scored from second on a wild pitch. Should have brought in Kenley Jansen! (Kidding. Kershaw was awesome. No reason to take him out.) ... Yes, that was Jose Bautista starting at third base for the Blue Jays, and he even started a double play. ... The Angels are 25-23 after beating the Rays, and it seems like Mike Trout is getting zero help (paging Kole Calhoun). ... Good lord, Michael Conforto. He also homered twice and is now slugging .713. Is he headed for the best offensive season in Mets history? The only Met to slug .600 is Mike Piazza, who did it twice. ... My new favorite minor leaguer: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He's just 18 and hitting .346 in the Midwest League with more walks than strikeouts.