I had Friday night's Cardinals-Mets game circled on my calendar for a few days, and with good reason. Adam Wainwright versus Johan Santana, comebacking righty against comebacking lefty. The fantastic SNY crew on the call. I even offered a promotional Tweet to the Interwebs shortly before game time, trying to drum up extra interest.
No, I'm not the least bit surprised someone threw a gem in this spot. My heart just wanted it to be Wainwright's gem.
It's okay to bury the lede a little bit because you already know the news by now: Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history Friday night, a 134-pitch masterpiece. This was one of those instances where most baseball fans (and writers) throw out rooting allegiances and simply pull for the story; it was cool to see the Mets finally get a no-no of their own after five-plus decades of near misses. The Citi Field stands weren't full (only 27K or so) but it was an electric environment anyway. No-hitters are always a little more fun on the weekend. The New Yorkers partied like it was 1969 after the final out; for a franchise unlikely to make the playoffs for a while, this is a signature moment.
Like every no-hitter, there were plenty of sidebars and nuances. Mike Baxter made a terrific defensive play to keep things intact. Carlos Beltran was likely robbed of a hit, done in by a poor umpiring call. Santana walked five men and had to sweat out 10 fly balls into a very windy New York evening. Details, details. No one seemed to mind these things during the post-game dogpile by the pitcher's mound.
Now that the shaving cream is cleaned up and the champagne has been finished, we look forward. Where does Santana go from here? What's the rest of his 2012 going to be like?
Whatever you paid for Santana back in March, it's turned into a bargain. He's currently the No. 14 starting pitcher in the Yahoo! game, with a tidy 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP through the opening third of the year. His strikeout rate is up to a batter per inning (far and away his highest ratio in New York) and his control remains sparkling (2.8 BB/9).
It's a joy to watch Santana pitch these days because he's a true artist on the mound; despite a fastball that averages a modest 88 mph, he's routinely beating batters with his movement, his location, and his intelligence. You don't have to blow hitters away, you merely have to upset their timing. Santana knows how to do that as well as anyone.
I'll admit I had very low expectations on Santana back in March. He had shoulder surgery in September of 2010, and his entire 2011 news feed was a mess of stops, starts, changing timetables, and ultimately, no major-league appearances. As he entered his age-33 season, I was fully into "prove it to me" mode. I don't have a single Santana share on my various rosters.
If I were doing a fresh pitcher Shuffle Up right now, I'd slot Santana in the $18-19 range. The strikeout spike is reassuring, and he still commands his change-up as well as he ever has. The National League environment is obviously a plus, and Citi Field continues to play as a pitcher's paradise, even with the new dimensions. Santana's road stats aren't pretty so far in 2012, but we're only talking about four starts. He's certainly earned Circle of Trust privileges by now.
The 134 pitches from Friday (a career high) are a mild concern, especially given the gravity of the game situation (it's a high-leverage spot when you're trying to keep a no-hitter intact, forget the score) and the medical history with Santana. But the lefty keeps himself in impeccable shape and he hasn't been excessively worked in any of his other 2012 turns. No one can know for sure how Santana's body is going to react to this one-time extension, but at least we're not talking about some tender 21-year-old rookie here. I'm not going to jump to any rash conclusions.
How high is Santana on your current board? Did Terry Collins do the right thing leaving Santana in this ballgame? Did the no-no make your roto week or crush your head-to-head dreams? Show us your ticket stub and tell us your story in the comments.
• Before we leave New York completely and check other action, let me offer a few words on Wainwright. A seven-run outing doesn't look pretty in the box score, but this was one start that looked better on the screen than it does in the numbers. (I watched every Wainwright pitch because that's what I do.)
First and foremost, the Cardinals have a potential problem in the outfield. Matt Holliday, Beltran and Allen Craig were the flychasers Friday, left to right, and not one of them is an adequate defender (Beltran has fallen considerably in recent years, and really shouldn't be in center field). Beltran and Craig had shaky moments Friday and played some potentially-catachable balls into hits, though the swirling winds also factored into the mix. At least Wainwright's ground-ball profile will spare him from some of this carnival act. Get well soon, Jon Jay.
Wainwright also had two extra runs tacked onto his ledger when nervous rookie Sam Freeman couldn't clean up the seventh-inning mess. If Freeman had been sharp, Wainwright's bottom line looks a lot better.
I'm not trying to suggest Wainwright had his best stuff in this game: he didn't. The three-run homer that Lucas Duda crushed may not have landed yet, and Wainwright's command wasn't sharp. But it would be a mistake to read too much into this one appearance. Wainwright's strikeout rate, K/BB ratio and ground-ball bias all put him in good position to be a Top 30 arm (if not better) going forward.
• If you checked out on the Giants and Cubs a little early Friday night, you missed an eventful ninth inning — and perhaps some closer drama to follow for the next few days.
Madison Bumgarner was in cruise control for the opening eight frames (no runs, 11 strikeouts) but he left the 4-0 game after allowing a pair of ninth-inning singles. Santiago Casilla came on for the handshake drill, but he didn't have it: Alfonso Soriano greeted him with a three-run homer, Bryan LaHair followed with a ringing double, and Darwin Barney added a singing-bunt single. That was Casilla's final batter — he fielded Barney's excuse-me hit and tweaked his right knee on the play. Casilla wanted to stay in the game and seemed in good spirits afterwards, but until he's reexamined, we shouldn't assume anything for certain.
The Giants bullpen remains deep as ever. Lefty Javier Lopez closed up Friday, and the club also has lefty Jeremy Affeldt and ridiculous righty Sergio Romo (0.61 ERA, 0.89 WHIP). Romo's one of those relievers who is worth rostering in most leagues simply for the quality of his innings. Lopez and Affeldt are the types of pickups you make if you're in a deep mixer and scrounging for any handshake you can get. To be continued . . .
• I don't know about you, but I'm going to be sad when this Colorado homestand ends. The rampaging Rockies won their fifth straight game Friday, a 13-3 romp over Don Mattingly's anonymous Dodgers; the Mile High Mashers now have 53 runs for the week. Every Colorado starter had a hand in the run production (and at least one hit), so dig in and enjoy your box score. The crooked numbers are likely to continue, up against Aaron Harang for Saturday and Nathan Eovaldi on Sunday.
We've been in Rocky Mountain Promotion Mode all week, so I assume you've already hit your waiver wire. If so, the next graph is merely a review for you. Dexter Fowler's ownership rank has spiked 20 percent this week and his home numbers are ridiculous. Catcher Wilin Rosario (homer and steal Friday, same drill Thursday) remains underowned at eight percent, but we can't make the point and click for you. Marco Scutaro (17 percent) is a handy play, especially at home, and the same goes for Jordan Pacheco (four percent). Keep in mind that while the Rockies depart for three games at Arizona next week, they quickly return for a six-game party against the Angels and Athletics. The book isn't closed on Blake Street yet.
The Dodgers figure to have some fun in Coors Field, too — the Rockies pitching staff is the worst in the NL — but it's hard to know what Mattingly will do with his Father-Son lineup card every day (it's amazing how many current Dodgers are sons of former big league players). Tony Gwynn Jr. got the leadoff call Friday and came through with two hits, a walk and a pair of steals. There's no power with him, but he likes to run. Recent callup Alex Castellanos picked up his first start, batting sixth, and handled himself nicely (single, triple, sacrifice fly). He was crushing in Triple-A, like most of the PCL (you get a .800 OPS in that league just for signing your name). A.J. Ellis had Friday off — he normally doesn't catch for Chris Capuano — but he figures to be back in the mix for the rest of the weekend. I'll sign off on an Ellis play, even if it's in a utility spot.