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Johan Santana's Return Will Help Mets, But Is It Enough?

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After dropping two of three games to the Miami Marlins over the past three days, the Mets find themselves 9.5 games back of the second wild card spot in the National League. Cool Standings gives the team a 1.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus is even less optimistic and gives the Mets a 0.4 percent chance. In short, it would take one hell of a run of good baseball for the Mets to get back into the postseason mix. But if there’s anything that could potentially boost the team’s chances and help them get on a hot streak, it’s Johan Santana’s scheduled return to the starting rotation tomorrow night.

Santana has been on the disabled list for a few weeks with an ankle injury he suffered against the Cubs on July 6. He finished the game and pitched two more, and he got shelled in all three. In just 12.2 innings spanning those three starts, Santana had a 13.50 ERA. Before that, however, he was having a great year.

Through his first sixteen starts, Santana pitched to a 2.76 ERA. He had an 8.54 K/9, his best mark since his 2007 season with the Twins. Basically, Santana looked like he was back, even though the speed of his average fastball was still quite a bit slower than it used to be when he played for Minnesota. And even through his three horrible starts, Santana maintained his strikeout rate for the season.

If Santana’s ankle really was responsible for his poor performance in his three most recent starts and it’s completely healed now, he’s a lot more likely to pitch like he did in his first sixteen starts than he did in his last three. That kind of performance, or even something close to it, would be a significant upgrade over Jeremy Hefner, even though Hefner’s been pretty good in his time filling in for Santana.

With 50 games left in the season, Santana figures to get 9 or 10 starts down the stretch, assuming he stays healthy. If he averages 6.0 innings per start, he would finish the 2012 season with 170.2 innings pitched, far more than many expected from him as he returned from shoulder surgery.

The Mets will need a sweep of the Braves this weekend if they have any hope of making themselves relevant to the playoff race, but at least they have a chance of doing so with Matt Harvey, Santana, and Jon Niese on the mound.