Santana dominating again, but he needs some help

Updated: May 10, 2009

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Johan Santana, who starts Monday for the Mets, is 4-1 with a 0.91 ERA to start the year.

Last season Johan Santana made an exceptional debut with the New York Mets, and this year he has simply been a pleasure to watch.

Not only has he quickly acclimated to playing in a new league, but he's also successfully handled the pressure of playing in the big New York market possibly better than any other big-name pitcher in recent memory.

One of things I appreciate about Santana is even though his bullpen has let him down at times and he has suffered from inferior run support on occasion, you never see him scowling in the dugout. The hitters notice what the pitcher is doing, and it means a lot when you see your pitcher up rooting for you whether he's winning big, losing or in a struggle.

Clearly, he was one of the best pitchers in the major leagues when he was traded to the Mets, but this year his performance has been good enough for him to be mentioned in the NL MVP race. His ERA and WHIP are both at an amazing 0.91, and opposing hitters are hitting only .168 against him. It honestly looks like something out of a video game -- which is set on easy -- when he pitches.

Despite years of tape on him, opposing hitters aren't able to catch up to his stuff and figure him out because he's one of the smartest pitchers in the majors. He doesn't just rely on his overpowering fastball and changeup, but he powers in that slider and destroys hitters inside and outside. Speaking of how he's attacking pitchers, if you look at his pitch chart, you see a pitcher who knows what he likes to do against lefties and righties and is confident and smart enough to execute his game plan.

Against right-handed hitters we see him alternately busting hitters inside and on the outside edge of the strike zone, while he favors going outside against lefties, which turns them into weaker hitters.

All that said, the Mets went out and strengthened their bullpen in large part because of the fact that too many strong starts by Santana and his rotation mates were wasted by a weak bullpen last season. They went out and acquired J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez to help out and that's certainly improved the team, but they still have middle relief issues and problems with the other parts of the rotation. Starters Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Livan Hernandez have been respectable, but nothing special, while Oliver Perez has been abysmal. The Mets simply can't be happy with this because no one pitcher has the ability to carry a team for an entire season.

The Mets have to be worried that they are going to waste another special season from Santana, and that's why I expect them to be active in the trade market. They have pieces in their minor league system to go out and get a No. 2 or No. 3 starter to help them down the stretch as they battle for the NL East title. They don't need a great pitcher, just someone who can get the team to the seventh and eighth innings consistently so Putz and K-Rod can close the game out. For most of this season they haven't been getting that from their starters, and unless these pitchers are able to keep up this latest hot streak, you'll see the Mets bring in someone before the trade deadline.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: May 7 | May 6 | May 5 | May 4 | May 3

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllThis season, "Baseball Tonight" will be tracking Web Gems. We'll publish a leaderboard on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page each Monday. In addition to listing the leaders in appearances (both players and teams) on "Baseball Tonight," we'll offer up the leaders in Web Gem Points.

Web Gem Points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem Points leaderboard
Brandon Inge 22
David Wright 16
Michael Bourn 13
Nick Punto 13
Ryan Sweeney 12

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 7
David Wright New York Mets Third base 7
Michael Bourn Houston Astros Center field 4
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Nationals Third base 4

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
New York Mets 11
Philadelphia 10
Tampa Bay 9
Cincinnati 9
Washington 9

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Braves at Mets

Johan Santana is not the only quality pitcher taking the mound Monday at Citi Field. Derek Lowe has been a valuable addition to the Braves' rotation. Signed this past offseason, Lowe is 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA so far in Atlanta.

White Sox at Indians

Gavin Floyd won 18 games for Chicago last season, but he has struggled out of the gate so far this season, posting a 2-2 record with a 6.29 ERA.

Reds at Diamondbacks

Bronson Arroyo has a good record. His ERA … well, that isn't so good. He is 4-2, but carrying around a 7.15 ERA.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Dave Winfield
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Dave Winfield

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
J. Larish, Det2CleReyesTop 2: 3-2, 1 Out. None on.
M. Teixeira, NYY7BalUeharaTop 1: 1-1, 2 Outs. None on.
A. Huff, Bal6NYYChamberlainBot 1: 2-0, 1 Out. 2 on.
J. Bruce, Cin10StLWainwrightBot 3: 3-2, 1 Out. 1 on.
H. Blalock, Tex8CWSColonTop 2: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Sunday's homers

BBTN MINUTE: LOWE VS. SANTANA

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Tigers' starting rotation, which dominated the Indians in a three-game sweep over the weekend:

Tigers' starting pitching
this weekend vs. Indians
IP 21
ER 1
BA against .169
K-BB 23-5

WEB GEMS

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Ivan RodriguezIvan Rodriguez has turned out to be a solid signing for the Astros. He went 4-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs in the Astros' 12-5 victory against the Padres -- Houston's third consecutive win. Rodriguez is hitting .273 on the year, which is much improved from the .219 average he compiled down the stretch a season ago with the Yankees.
WORST
Guillermo Mota• Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota got bailed out once by the L.A. offense on Sunday. He gave up a run in the 12th against the Giants, but the Dodgers scored once in the bottom of the inning to extend the game. Then Mota coughed up two more in the 13th in a 7-5 loss. In two innings of work, Mota gave up six hits and three runs.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Johan Santana entered play on Sunday leading the National League in ERA, batting average and slugging percentage against and strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

Santana has used his changeup and slider to keep hitters confused over his 4-1 start. Opponents are hitting more than 100 points worse and slugging more than 200 points worse against Santana's off-speed pitches than league average and they are failing to make contact.

Entering Sunday, the Braves, who face Santana and the Mets on Monday, were hitting .203 and slugging .254 against off-speed pitches, both below the league average.

Johan Santana
Opponents vs. non-fastballs this season
Santana NL avg.
BA against .090 .222
SLG against .134 .341
Swing-and-miss pct. 47.7 31.0

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Adam Madison examines the four games on Monday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes