If the Twins are going to break through at some point in the future to become a consistent contender, they likely are going to need some of their high-end young pitching talent — Jose Berrios and co. — to develop into top-of-the-rotation starters.
To bridge the gap between 2017 and the time some of those promising arms are truly ready for the big leagues, though, it’s no secret they need some of their higher-priced veterans to come through.
Through nine games, three of those pitchers are doing just that.
Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago — three of the Twins’ five highest-priced players overall and their three most expensive pitchers this season — have combined to throw 36 innings in six starts while allowing just nine total runs for a 2.25 ERA. On an per-start basis, that works out to six innings and 1.5 runs allowed. Not surprisingly, the Twins are 5-1 in those starts, with Santana, Hughes and Santiago getting the decision in each case. Santana and Hughes are both 2-0, while Santiago is 1-1 after a hard-luck loss earlier this week in Detroit.
Santana pitched well last season but received little run support in winning just seven games. Hughes was hit hard early before his season ended with injuries. Santiago was ineffective in initial starts after being acquired for Ricky Nolasco, but pitched well enough down the stretch to be brought back. Between Santana, Hughes, Nolasco and Santiago last season, only Santana had an ERA below five and the Twins received just 15 total victories from those four pitchers. They’re already one-third of the way there after nine games this season.
History suggests Santana, Hughes and Santiago won’t stay on their current trajectory for the entire season, but even if the runs come up a bit while the innings stay the same — say they keep averaging six innings per start while allowing between two and three runs per outing — it would go a long way toward making 2017 a relative success while charting a course for more success in the future.