Making a run at his second AL Cy Young Award in three years, Santana seeks his eighth straight victory on Tuesday as the Twins (79-57) continue their series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (55-83).
With fellow starters Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke sidelined by injuries, Santana (16-5, 2.95 ERA) has more than done his part to hold the rotation together and keep Minnesota in the thick of the playoff race.
The Twins reclaimed the AL wild-card lead Monday, moving a half-game ahead of Chicago by beating Tampa Bay 2-1 while the White Sox lost 3-2 to Boston.
Minnesota has won all of Santana’s starts since the All-Star break, and is 23-2 in his last 25 outings. He’s gone 7-0 with a 2.95 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 67 1-3 innings over 10 starts since losing at Texas on July 9.
The AL leader in ERA and major league leader with 207 strikeouts, Santana has yielded four earned runs in his last 29 innings.
“I don’t try to put pressure on myself or anything like that,” Santana said after striking out 11 in seven innings to beat Kansas City 3-1 on Thursday. “I just want to do my job. Hopefully everyone will get together and win some games.”
While Radke has a stress fracture in his right shoulder, Liriano has been on the disabled list since Aug. 8 with a strained ligament in his pitching arm. The rookie left-hander reported no problems after throwing 78 pitches during a 16-minute bullpen session Monday, and could return before the middle of the month.
“He says he feels great,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s got a good smile on his face.”
This will be Santana’s first start in September, a month in which he’s gone 7-1 with a 1.07 ERA over the past two seasons.
Santana won his lone outing against Tampa Bay this year despite an unimpressive performance, allowing three runs and six hits with four walks in six innings of a 6-4 victory on July 20. He has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four games versus the Devil Rays since losing his first career start against them on June 3, 2004.
That’s also the last time Minnesota has lost any game to Tampa Bay. Monday’s victory in the opener of this three-game set was the Twins’ 13th in a row over the Devil Rays, who have scored only 33 runs during the skid.
Minnesota had lost five of seven before Monday’s win, though its problems at the plate continued. The Twins had six hits, getting held below eight for the sixth time in seven games, and have been limited to 17 runs over their last eight contests.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer has gone 2-for-22 over his last seven games as his average has dipped to .346, the lowest it’s been since late May. Michael Cuddyer is 2-for-17 with one RBI in the last five games and Phil Nevin is 1-for-10 with no RBIs in three games since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs.
The last-place Devil Rays can only try to play spoilers in the final month and try to hold off Kansas City for the worst record in the majors.
“When you’re outside, there’s a playoff odor about it, it’s good stuff,” Tampa manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what I want guys to understand, that playoff smell. The aroma, the scent. It matters, it means something. You have to get there.”
Tampa Bay will activate Jae Seo (1-5, 4.40) from the 15-day disabled list to start Tuesday. He’s been out since leaving a start against Cleveland on Aug. 20 with a strained left groin.
Before struggling in that outing, Seo was pitching well for the Devil Rays, giving up three earned runs in 20 2-3 innings over his previous three starts. However, he goes into this contest with an 0-2 record in five starts at Tropicana Field—all since being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in late June.
The only time he’s faced Minnesota came on July 19 at the Metrodome, where he was ripped for seven runs and 11 hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss.