MINNEAPOLIS -- There's no doubt that right-hander Ervin Santana was the Twins' much-needed ace in the first half, rightfully earning his second All-Star Game appearance.
But it's also clear that if the Twins are going to continue to contend in the second half, they're going to need that same version of Santana going forward with more consistency. Santana has either been incredible -- he has allowed two runs or fewer in 13 starts this season, including a MLB-leading four complete games -- or he has been off with his command and struggled. Friday night against the Tigers fell into the latter category, as he allowed five runs over a season-low 3 1/3 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Tigers at Target Field.
It dropped the Twins 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central, and marked the seventh time Santana allowed at least five runs; he has yet to allow three or four runs in a game in his feast-or-famine season. And four of those seven clunkers have occurred over his past seven starts. Twins manager Paul Molitor said he's aware of the trend but can't explain it.
"I don't know if I have an answer for that," Molitor said. "For as well as he's pitched the majority of his starts, there have been some games where the numbers have been a little crooked. You could see today by the second inning that he was laboring a bit. He had chances to put guys away and then he'd get 3-2 and he's got to throw a strike and they get a good swing. It wasn't his best night."
Santana also said he couldn't explain why it's happened, but the common thread for his subpar starts is a lack of command, especially with his fastball, causing him to fall behind in counts. Entering Friday's start, batters had a .738 OPS against him when he's behind in the count, but a .489 OPS against him when he's ahead.
This was no different, as he walked two, threw a run-scoring wild pitch, and was hurt by a pair of homers from Victor Martinez that both came on 3-2 pitches, a fastball in the second for a solo shot and a changeup in the fourth for a two-run blast.
"I didn't have my best stuff today," Santana said. "I just kept falling behind in the count. They're normally very aggressive against me, but today they were very patient."
With the Twins still in the thick of the playoff race, however, Santana can at least have the peace of mind knowing he's very unlikely to be traded before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, unlike last year, when he was consistently brought up as a potential trade candidate.
"Especially with the way we're playing," Santana said. "I don't think anything is going to happen with me."