From 2004-07, former Twins pitcher Johan Santana won 70 games, led the American League in strikeouts three times and took home two AL Cy Young Awards. Nobody had to ask if Santana was the ace of the Twins' staff. He would have been an ace on any staff.
After the 2007 season, a confluence of contract considerations and the new Bill Smith regime led the Twins to trade Santana to the Mets for a package of players. Most notable among them was Carlos Gomez, the talented but erratic outfielder.
There are no more remnants of that trade left on the Twins' roster unless we're talking about an idea instead of a player: since trading Santana a decade ago, the Twins haven't had a true ace on their pitching staff.
Francisco Liriano was capable of pitching like one and came close in 2010, but he was inconsistent. His ERAs surrounding that 2010 season in which he posted a 3.62 figure: 5.80 in 2009 … 5.09 in 2011 and 5.34 in 2012.
Carl Pavano was a bulldog and a key member of the Twins' rotation for a couple of years in there. But an ace? Nah.
Scott Baker was underrated from 2008-11 and might have become an ace if not for injuries. But he didn't get there.
Phil Hughes was outstanding in 2014. Had he followed that season with another just like it, we might be calling him an ace right now. But injuries slowed him down as well.
But a decade removed from the last time the Twins had an ace in Santana, we are getting closer to declaring they have another ace named Santana — this time one who goes by the first name of Ervin (though his actual first name is also Johan).
He's a righty instead of a lefty and he doesn't strike out hitters at the same rate as the Santana of a decade ago, but Erv is pitching awfully well. On June 14 of last year, Ervin Santana had a 5.10 ERA. For the rest of last season he posted a 2.41 mark in 18 starts. This year, of course, he's been even better: a 4-0 record in five starts with an otherworldly 0.77 ERA.
He's pitched 35 innings and allowed three earned runs. His peripheral numbers — 10 walks, 26 strikeouts — suggest he will come back to earth a bit, but Santana inspires this quality: every time he pitches, you think the Twins have a pretty good chance to win. Lately, that feeling has been upgraded to a very good chance — the same way you felt with Johan Santana a decade ago.
Fittingly, Ervin Santana joined Johan Santana in some rare territory Tuesday with his seven inning, one run outing in Texas. Per the Twins, those two are the only pitchers in team history to allow either zero or one run in five consecutive starts at any point in a season.
And fittingly, Gomez was one of the hitless victims in the Texas lineup last night.
It's probably too soon to declare Ervin an ace, but he's getting close.
We'll know he's there when we no longer have to ask if he is or if he isn't.