Wow is all anyone can say about Johan Santana's performance last night. I need to confess, I wasn't always sure he could do it. I was worried that the pressure would get to him and when he was struggling with his changeup early on in the year it was settled. This guy was just another tease who was just a 3 month wonder like so many others.
I should have known better. Johan has great stuff and a great presence on the mound. All three of his pitches are hard to hit and he throws strikes. Actually, he pumps strike after strike into the zone and ends up with 13 K's in one game. Santana is so good that he is leading the AL in strikeouts with 125. So it is hard for hitters to put good wood on the bat. He doesn't walk anybody either so there aren’t many runners on base and without runners there isn't a lot of scoring in his starts.
Johan has been more dominant then any pitcher in the majors in the last month. He gives the club a legitimate Ace and chance in any short series. He is a big reason they are in first place by a game. There is no reason that he wont keep it up. He might tire a little as the season goes on and he gets to a level of innings he hasn't been at before. Then again, last night he just got stronger as he pitched his first career complete game. The same can be said for his career to this point. Every year has built upon the last. Santana should be protected but the gloves are coming off and what is emerging doesn't come along very often.
Last night the Twins played their 82nd game of the season and their record stands at 45 wins and 37 losses. Not great but good enough for a weak division. It's now time that we hand out some hardware for performance thus far.
MVP - Lew Ford
Where would the Twins be without the official play of Twinschatter? Probably off somewhere rebuilding, that's where. Instead Ford has been a life saver. First taking over for Torii Hunter in center and later Shannon Stewart in left, arguably two of the most important players in the lineup. The team never missed a beat. Lew hasn't stopped hitting. He has been all over the lineup and he has continued to produce even while everyone else has struggled. He's got on base, scored runs and drove them in. Nothing more could be asked of a player in his first real major league season.
Rookie of the Year - Joe Mauer
Was there ever any question? The team got to see just how big a part he is already when it lost him for much of the first two months. Now that he is back Mauer is winning ballgames for the club. He might be young but he has taken on the added pressure of batting third in the order. The kid can do it all and has definitely lived up to the hype.
Cy Young - Brad Radke
Santana was mentioned above and has been nearly unhittable lately but it was Radke who carried the team through the period where nothing was working for any of the other starters. He doesn't have the wins but he has kept the team in ballgames while eating innings. His ERA of 3.42 is also lower then Santana's of 3.89. Brad is still the leader of the staff and coupled with Santana creates a great 1-2 punch.
Gold Glove - Torii Hunter
He is still the most feared defender on the team. He can transform a game with his glove. It has to be demoralizing for other teams when they see their guy get a hold of one only to have it pulled back at the last second. Torii is money in one of the most important positions on the field.
Best Reliever - Joe Nathan
Hands down the most dominating reliever on the staff. Juan Rincon deserves credit for stabilizing the rest of the bullpen but it is Nathan that has shut the door on victories. Coming into he season it was hard to know what to expect of him and he has exceeded all expectations enroute to an All Star selection. With 23 saves and a 1.19 ERA, he is most deserving of this award.
Hitter to Watch in the Second Half - Shannon Stewart
Shannon barely beats out Corey Koskie. Both players have had quiet first halves largely because of injuries. Look for Koskie to raise his batting average to near his career average. Stewart transforms the lineup. It's hard for me to admit but the team scores more when he's there. He adds patience and it will be like making a big trade. Look for Stewart to largely do what he did last year in pushing the Twins to the division title.
Pitcher to Watch - Jesse Crain
This guy may be the key to whether the team wins its third straight division. He will be in the majors sometime soon and he throws smoke. The question is whether he can harness his ability and be consistent. If he can, Crain will fill the 7th inning void. If Crain doesn't pan out look for Grant Balfour or JC Romero to step up and finally take the role for themselves. This is why the Twins should use their assets to acquire a hitter or 5th starter, the bullpen should be able to work itself out from within.
What do you think? Am I right, or are there other players more deserving? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a comment below.