While the Minnesota Twins have some question marks surrounding their starting pitching, the team will send one of the surest bets in baseball to the mound Friday night as they look to move into a first-place tie in the AL Central.
Santana (18-5, 2.75 ERA) is putting together a season that could culminate in his second Cy Young Award as he seeks to become baseball’s first 19-game winner. Minnesota (86-60) has won 12 straight starts by the ace left-hander, who’s 9-0 with a 2.42 ERA in that span.
While the Twins lost star rookie starter Francisco Liriano for the season Wednesday when he walked off the mound against Oakland with elbow pain, Minnesota seemed mostly unaffected by the stunning development a day later. The Twins lost to the A’s 1-0, but rebounded with a 9-4 victory over Cleveland in the opener of the four-game series Thursday.
The win may give Santana a chance to pitch Minnesota into the top spot in the division Friday. The Twins moved to within one game of faltering Detroit, which was off Thursday.
Torii Hunter homered and drove in four runs and Rondell White followed Hunter’s eighth-inning shot with his seventh homer of the year to lead Minnesota. Hunter and White each had three hits as part of a 15-hit attack for the Twins, who found out earlier in the day that an MRI on Liriano’s arm showed no structural damage.
“We could have hung our heads, but we kept on truckin’ and won,” Hunter said.
Minnesota did that for the sixth time in seven games as they began a season high-tying 10-game road trip. The Twins, who haven’t been this close to first place since April 5, also opened up a two-game advantage over idle Chicago for the wild card.
Minnesota was 10 1/2 games out of first following play Aug. 7.
Santana, 11-0 at home this season, is 7-5 with a 3.36 ERA in 15 road starts. He’s lost his last two outings at Jacobs Field after winning his first four career decisions at Cleveland.
The left-hander is 4-2 in 12 career games—six starts—with a 3.86 ERA in Cleveland, and 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in four starts against the Indians this year.
While Santana has been unbeatable of late, Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona (1-9, 6.24) hasn’t won since picking up a victory in his major league debut April 15.
The right-hander was shifted to the bullpen after struggling badly in his next two starts, and after blowing three straight save opportunities in a short stretch as the team’s closer, was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo. The Indians are trying him as a starter again in his second stint with them.
Carmona’s first start since returning from the minors didn’t go well, as he lasted only three innings and gave up five runs and seven hits in a 10-8 loss to the White Sox on Saturday.
The 22-year-old right-hander is 0-6 with a 16.05 ERA over his last 10 appearances. Carmona is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances against Minnesota this season.
“He’s never had to deal with a significant amount of failure before,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “Sooner or later in this game, you’re going to deal with failure. He’s got to know how to respond to that.”
Cleveland (68-77) has lost five of six, and fell for the eighth time in 10 meetings with Minnesota. Ninth-place hitter Andy Marte hit a tying, three-run homer in the sixth inning Thursday, but the Indians could not overcome a weak effort by eight relievers who allowed eight runs and 10 hits over five innings.
Center fielder Grady Sizemore went 0-for-3 in the loss and is hitless in his last 17 at-bats against the Twins.