How the Royals pitched Carlos Santana; a very hot hitter

In a four-game series Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana went 9 for 14 while hitting five—that’s right, five—home runs. So why did the Royals keep pitching to him?

For the most part, they didn’t; not when it mattered.

Go back to game one: Santana came into Kansas City hitting .215, but forget that number, the real question is not what a hitter has done over the course of a season, the real question—the right question—is what is hitting doing right now?

And if you want to know the answer to that, look at his last series.

Right before Carlos Santana showed up to destroy Kansas City pitching, he was doing a pretty good job on the guys in Minnesota. Santana went 6 for 13 against the Twins and two of those hits were doubles, one was a home run. So Carlos was already smoking hot when he got off the plane.

Let’s go back and look at my scorebook—assuming it’s right—and see what happened next.

In game one of the series Santana had six plate appearances and led off the inning five times. Michael Brantley, the guy hitting in front of Santana, was also hitting the ball well, but hit a series of at ‘em balls and made the third out of an inning over and over again. That kept Santana’s damage to a minimum: he wasn’t coming up with runners in scoring position.

Santana had two singles, walked twice and the only damage he did in the first game was when the Royals didn’t pitch to him; Greg Holland walked him to start the ninth inning of a 1-0 ballgame and Santana came around to score and send the game to extra innings. BTW: Holland got squeezed on at least two pitches in the sequence.

In game two Santana had four plate appearances, walked once and homered twice. One was a two-out solo shot when the Royals were up 2-1—walk Carlos and you bring the tying run to the plate—and the other homer was worth two runs when the Royals were up by three. In both at bats, Santana could hit a bomb, but he couldn’t tie the game no matter what he did. In the eighth inning the score was tied 4-4 and the Royals did walk Santana. So far the Royals walked Santana when he could hurt them and pitched to him when he couldn’t.

Game three was a slightly different story: Santana led off the second inning against Jeremy Guthrie in a 0-0 ballgame and homered—Indians up 1-0. Carlos came up again in the same inning and with two runners in scoring position, Guthrie Santana put Santana on base.

In the fifth inning with the game tied, Guthrie challenged Santana with an Eephus pitch—if that can be described as a challenge—and Santana doubled, but didn’t score. Two innings later Kelvin Herrera went after Santana with runners on first and second, but with a two-run lead and nobody out, walking Carlos would have put the tying run a single away from scoring. Greg Holland faced him again in the ninth inning, but once again Santana was not the tying run and couldn’t do any real damage no matter how far he hit the ball. Greg went after him and struck Carlos out.

Now we get to the final game of the series and that’s where Santana actually did some real damage.

Bruce Chen walked him to start the second inning with the score 0-0: Santana did not score. Chen hit him with a pitch in fourth inning and that hurt the Royals; there was a runner on first base at the time and the hit-by-pitch moved that runner into scoring position; the runner later scored on a single.

Chen faced him again with a runner on first and two outs in the fifth and this time Santana homered. Francisley Bueno pitched to him in the seventh with nobody out and a runner on first and Santana singled. But by this time the score was 6-3 Indians and the Royals may have felt they couldn’t afford to give up any more free passes, especially one that pushed another runner into scoring position.

The one time it looked like the Royals could have worked around Santana was when Aaron Crow elected to pitch to him in the ninth inning with a runner on second base and first open, but by this time the game was 7-3 and time was running out. Santana homered again and any dim glimmer of hope was snuffed out.

For the most part, Santana put up great numbers during the series, but didn’t do lasting damage—until game four on Sunday. And the Royals did try to pitch him on the outer half and take away his power, but that didn’t work either; he was pulling pitches away out of the yard. When a hitter is as hot as Carlos Santana was over the weekend, there’s not a heck of a lot you can do.

Cleveland starts a series with Seattle tonight, maybe the Mariners will have more luck pitching to Santana than the Royals did and if they don’t, maybe they can limit the damage by working around him whenever he can hurt them.

That’s what the Royals did—most of the time—and for the most part, it worked.