The good news is that last week's public revelation of a sexual assault complaint from 2009 isn't the reason why Johan Santana pitched so poorly against the Twins. The reason we can be sure of that also serves as the bad news in this equation. Santana was just as bad on Saturday as he's been all month.
Theories about why Santana has been looking like a completely different pitcher are piling up faster than theories about what happened to the dinosaurs. He's still struggling with the aftereffects of offseason elbow surgery (his second) unless you believe he's too much of a creature of habit and the league has caught up to what he's doing. Or he was too amped up to face his former team on Saturday. All of these could be wrong, though, and Santana may just be breathing out of the wrong eyelid.
In other words, no one knows why Santana is struggling. All we do know is that his fastball isn't quite as fast as it used to be and that he isn't getting nearly as many hitters chasing his once-feared changeup. That's not a great recipe for success and it makes you wonder if Santana, at 31, is struggling or if he's merely a different pitcher than he was in the past.
It's awfully dangerous to write off great players because of a bad month or two so no one should be rushing to any conclusions on that particular question. That doesn't make it any less crucial to the Mets right now, however. If Santana is a lesser pitcher, the need for a trade that nets them a frontline starter gets even bigger because the rest of this team looks like it is ready to win right now.
Just as Santana's continued struggles make you question what he's got at this point, another round of splendid starts from Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese make you think that there's more going on here than a simple hot streak. The two young pitchers are checking off boxes on the "Are they for real" checklist every time they take the mound, something that both highlights Santana's struggles and somewhat diminishes the effect they are having on the Mets.
The lineup is also looking fit as a fiddle. David Wright still strikes out now and then, which probably means he's still terrible to his detractors but those who see the bigger picture must notice that the Wright of 2009 is nowhere to be found. Jose Reyes is sizzling as well, making for a welcome return of the Batman and Robin structure that had everyone so excited about the Mets a few years ago. We're not sure if that makes Ike Davis Batgirl or Alfred but what you call him is a lot less important than the fact that every home run the rookie hits looks like it was launched from Cape Canaveral. If Jason Bay ever starts hitting...
Let's stick with the realistic dreams for the moment, which brings us back to Santana. It wasn't so long ago that he reeled off five straight excellent starts so there's definitely reason to hope that Santana isn't going to be this pitcher for the rest of the season. He might not be the dominator he was in the past but the Mets might not need him to be that either. They just need him to be better than he's been this month and they need it to happen right away.