Monday, July 28, 2014

Santana Smoking Hot

Santana's swinging a hot bat after slumping through April and May (WahoosOnFirst)
The Cleveland Indians are deservedly off today after 11 straight road games to open the second half. And while I'm sure every Indian's thankful for the reprieve, especially with Cleveland having lost six of its last eight, something tells me Carlos Santana wouldn't mind another game tonight.

The former-catcher-turned-corner-infielder has been unconscious over the past week, hitting safely in seven straight games and launching six home runs during that span. His hitting streak, modest as it is, has also produced three doubles and six singles. That makes 15 base knocks in 27 at-bats, a .556 clip that's hiked his season average from a Mario Mendoza-esque .204 to a still-lowly-but-more-respectable .232.

But it's the home runs--five of 'em in the past three days and 14 since the start of June--that have people talking. Santana's slugging percentage rose from .380 after last Sunday to .456, just a tick below his 2014 high-water mark of .462 four games into the season. The 28 year-old Dominican kicked off his monster weekend with a pair of long balls off the young Yordano Ventura Friday night, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that Santana had played 14 innings--a game and a half--the day before.

But despite his big day at the plate, the Indians lost that game and the next one, too, blowing a five run lead on Saturday that Santana started with a solo shot off Jeremy Guthrie. He walked later in the inning and doubled his next time up, but Zach McAllister couldn't keep the Royals at bay and the Tribe fell, 7-5.

After losing the first three games of their series in Kansas City and falling behind early in the fourth, Cleveland salvaged the series and road trip with a 10-3 rout yesterday. The switch-hitting Santana led the way, smashing a two-run homer off Bruce Chen and another off Aaron Crow. The pair of bombs gave him eight on the month and upped his season total to 20, equaling his figure from last year but in 59 fewer games. They also raised his OPS to .827, 101 points higher than where it stood one week ago.

With Cleveland one game below .500 but only 3.5 out of the second wild card spot, Santana's hot streak couldn't have come at a better time for Terry Francona's scuffling club. They need him to keep producing big power numbers out of the cleanup spot if they're going to stay in the hunt for a second straight postseason berth. Thankfully for them he appears to have put his miserable start (.572 OPS through May 21st) behind him. After going through a recent rough stretch where he struck out 14 times in the seven games leading up to the All-Star Break, Santana seems to be seeing the ball more clearly and has had much more success making contact lately, with nine walks against four whiffs in his first 51 plate appearances of the second half.

Santana has always been a patient hitter who's at his very best when he waits for his pitch, putting himself in a position where he can lay back and drive the ball, taking advantage of the natural power that's cranked out 85 homers over the past three and a half seasons. This year's major league leader in walks has definitely been doing that a lot lately, and he'll try to stay hot tomorrow night against Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma.

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