Of his 10 seasons in the majors (Angels, Royals, Braves), Santana has essentially averaged 171 strikeouts per year. But until this most recent five-day period, the power righty had never tallied double-digit strikeouts in consecutive starts.
On Monday, Santana stifled the light-hitting Padres (46-59) for 11 punchouts over eight scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and walking nary a batter.
Just five days ago (July 23), Santana mowed through the Marlins for 10 strikeouts in the Braves’ 6-1 home victory.
Put it all together, and Santana — the Braves’ $14 million investment from spring training (spurred on by injuries to Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy) — has quickly recaptured his mojo from April, when he surrendered just two runs in his first three starts.
"Santana obviously sets a tone, and he gave us every opportunity to win the ball game," said Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez after his team’s third straight victory. "(Counting Santana), (Andrelton) Simmons (two great defensive plays on Monday) and (Evan) Gattis (two RBI) … that was some kind of a baseball exhibition."
From a punchouts perspective, Monday’s domination of the Padres also marked Santana’s third double-digit-strikeout effort of the year — an impressive factoid, considering he didn’t register a single outing of that ilk last season (with Kansas City).
1) Through the first seven innings, Santana tossed a first-pitch strike to 24 of 26 hitters.
2) Santana (77 strikes, 25 balls) didn’t have a single Ball-3 count all day.
"It was (a good day). Me and Gattis were on the same page the whole game," said Santana (10-6), whose seasonal ERA plunged 24 points to 3.63. "(My slider) kept everybody off balance; it was the key."
For those who play in "weekly" fantasy baseball leagues, it is incredibly rare for a starting pitcher to face the same team in a standard Monday-to-Sunday cycle.
But that’s Santana’s schedule for the week, as he likely becomes the season’s first starter — to my knowledge — to do the Monday/Saturday thing against the same franchise (Padres — in different cities, of course).
While sitting in the press box during the Take Me Out To The Ballgame portion of the 7th Inning Stretch, I casually leaned over to MLB.com writer Joe Morgan and jokingly said, "Gattis ends this thing on his first swing."
Sure enough … on a 0-1 count, the brawny backstop belted a line-drive dinger over the left-field wall, enthralling a hot-and-sticky crowd that might have begun to wonder if this game would spill into extra innings — on getaway day, no less (more on that later).
But Gattis, with a little help from Santana, sent the fans home in a timely and happy manner. It was the catcher’s first home run in the majors since June 18. For good measure, Gattis poked a seeing-eye single to right field in the eighth inning, easily scoring Justin Upton.
From a writer’s perspective, the 12:10 p.m. start is a thing of beauty. The Turner Field press dining area is a sumptuous feast of pancakes, eggs, sausage links, sausage patties, muffins and orange juice.
With a little luck … you can also beat Atlanta’s unrelenting traffic before rush hour.
On the flip side, it must be very hard for athletes to get themselves physically ready to play by noon — especially coming off the long, emotional day of the Hall of Fame ceremonies preceding Sunday’s game.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the majority of San Diego players probably arrived at the visiting clubhouse sometime around 8-8:30 a.m. (EST) — or 5-5:30 a.m. on the Pacific Coast!
The term ‘getaway game’ — afternoon series finales that help one or both clubs bolt for the next destination in a timely fashion — can be many things to many people:
**For a team traveling secretary, it involves officially herding an entire club (including the front office) from city to city, via bus and plane — on the hope you’ll arrive to the next-city hotel at a decent hour (preferably before 4 in the morning).
**For managers, it’s an easy chance to rest a regular starter — treating it like a pseudo off day. (Jason Heyward left the game early with a sore back, and is considered "day to day" for Tuesday night.)
**For the every-day hitters in the lineup, it may involve a conscious effort to get one or two prime cuts at the plate, per visit, on the hope the game will move at a brisk pace.
**For starting pitchers like Santana and the Padres’ Jason Lane — making his first-ever start in the majors (at age 37) — getaway games are golden opportunities to rack up quick outs … knowing opposing batters usually don’t have enough patience for long at-bats (including a string of foul balls).
"Iwas on the first pitch and took a fastball right down the middle," recalled Gattis, with a wry smile. "Of course, when you’re not sitting on a pitch, you’re able to hit (the next one) out."