The Curious Case of Carlos Santana’s Season

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Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) hits an RBI double in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 4-6. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When spring training ended and the Indians broke camp, it looked like the experiment to try Carlos Santana at third was on shaky legs. A month in to the season, and his average, his power numbers, and his play at the hot corner left a lot to be imagined.

With the emergence (finally) of Lonnie Chisenhall at the plate, Santana would split time giving Yan Gomes a breather behind the plate and playing first base and DH’ing. Anything to get his bat going.

As the season has progressed, Santana has definitely started hitting, and his play at first base has practically made everyone forget about that little experiment at third and losing Nick Swisher for the year. As of last night’s loss to Detroit, the Indians clean up hitter has a slash of .234/.446/.812 with 27 home runs and 79 RBIs. In other words, what a difference a few months make.

“You can tell he’s getting into it. He leaves his feet so well. He’s very mobile. He’s not afraid to make throws. He’s certainly a threat at the plate. He’s got 100 walks. There’s a lot of good there offensively and defensively.”

At the start of the season, Santana was dogging it, finishing April batting .157 with only three home runs and nine runs batted in. After an abysmal May where he nearly duplicated April’s numbers (.169/.325/.668, 3 HRs and 8 RBIs), the team was faltering right along with him and fans were wondering when the slump would break. Then came June.

Santana’s numbers (and the team’s fortunes) have gone hand in hand all season. With Swisher coming up empty more often than not and Chisenhall starting to show signs of fading, Santana lifted the team onto his back in June and July. After returning from a concussion (costing him nine games) on July 6th, Santana started mashing. By the end of July, his average had raised nearly 70 points. Though cooling off a bit, the Tribe first baseman has stayed steady and provided some serious hits in key situations.

For the season, with runners in scoring situations, Santana has hit fourteen extra-base hits (7 homers) and driven in 44 runs. Add to that 36 walks, and the guy just gets on base when needed. In all, Francona attributes a lot of the late success to Santana’s work ethic and his pride in his improvement in the field. “You can tell he’s getting into it. He leaves his feet so well. He’s very mobile. He’s not afraid to make throws. He’s certainly a threat at the plate. He’s got 100 walks. There’s a lot of good there offensively and defensively.”

One thing to keep an eye on as the season goes on will be where Santana’s final average will fall. With his 26th and 27th home runs last Thursday, he’s already tied his career-high (set in 2011) and he leads the team by eight (Michael Brantley has 19). What’s more interesting is the company he may end up in by season’s end.

This was the face of exasperation early in the 2014 season for Tribe 1B Carlos Santana. Recently, he’s turned his game around and the Indians are still in this thing. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

At his current average of .234, the Tribe first baseman sits in a precarious position in team lore. Four times in Indians history has a player lead the team in home runs but had an average lower than Santana’s. Pat Seery (1946 when he hit .225 but belted 26 home runs), Ken Harrelson (who hit .222 in 1969 and hit 27 home runs, tied with Tony Horton who batted .278), Andre Thornton (in 1979, hitting .233 with 26 round-trippers), and Gorman Thomas (1983, in which he hit .221 and had 17 home runs, tied with Thornton who hit .281). Depending on how Santana finishes, he could be in some dubious company.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter if the team wins, right? With the maddening sweep over the weekend in Detroit, the Indians now sit 6.5 behind the division-leading Tigers and 5 out of the second wild card (held by the Royals). With Houston and Minnesota on deck, the Tribe is in must-win mode now more than ever. With Kansas City coming to town  A lot can change by then, and a lot still rests on the shoulders of Carlos Santana. Judging by the way he’s played, I doubt he’d have it any other way.

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