As May came to an end, Johan Santana, as traditional a slow starter as there is in the game, won his final two outings of the month to improve to 6-4. He appeared to be on his way toward another of his patented midseason win streaks. In 2006 he went 19-3 after an 0-3 start and in '04 he finished on an 18-2 run.
None of that seemed to matter to the two light-hitting ballclubs -- the A's and Nationals -- who beat him in his first two June starts as the Twins remain on the fringe of the AL Central race. To longtime followers of Santana, the two losses were the equivalent of a needle coming off a record. Santana had been the league's best pitcher since 2004, his first full season in the Twins' rotation, but suddenly he's getting lapped in the Cy Young race by a quartet of elite young hurlers -- Dan Haren (7-2, 1.58 ERA), C.C. Sabathia (9-1, 3.01), Josh Beckett (9-0, 2.88) and John Lackey (9-4, 2.60).
Even no-names such as Tampa Bay's James Shields (6-0, 3.04) and Haren's teammate, Chad Gaudin (6-1, 2.43), can stake a better claim to the Cy Young than Santana.
All of which raises the question, What's wrong with Johan?
To be fair, his lackluster 6-6 record can be attributed partly to poor run support. The Twins are scoring only 4.81 runs per nine innings for him this season, below the 5.05 they gave him in '06 and the 5.64 he got in '04, both of which were Cy Young-winning seasons for the Twins ace. Minnesota has scored three runs or fewer in all six of his losses, and they managed only three runs in his only no-decision. What's more, his stuff seems to be as tough to hit as ever, as evidenced by his healthy strikeout rate of 10.05 per nine innings.
However, there are a couple of disturbing stats that stand out and may not bode well for Santana's pursuit of a third Cy Young. Chief among them is his 13 home runs allowed -- his career high is 24. According to the Hardball Times, Santana's HR-per-flyball rate is up to 14.0 percent compared to 11.5 percent last season and 10.9 percent in '05. His groundball percentage is down to 35.6 percent from over 40 the past three seasons. And his rate of infield popups induced is down to 10.5 percent from a high of 18.8 in 2005 and 12.8 in '06. Simply put, Santana is allowing more balls to be hit hard to the outfield.
Then again, those numbers might look completely different by season's end. Check out Santana's track record of dominance in the latter two-thirds of a season:
April/March: 9-7, 4.23 ERA
May: 11-9, 4.05 ERA
June-Sept./Oct.: 64-21, 2.77 ERA
That last line is the type of finish he'll need to successfully repeat as the AL Cy Young winner and, more important, for the Twins to retain their AL Central crown.