At his best, Johan Santana (10-9,3.02) doesn't face too many pitchers with better stuff than his, but Atlanta starter Tim Hudson (15-5, 2.24) will present quite an obstacle in tonight's final game of the four-game series.
The Braves have won teh first three. The Mets have trouble producing runs, especially with Santana on the mound.
Thus far, Santana has kept his composure despite the lack of support. That was not the case as his tenure was nearing an end with the Twins, who sent him to the Mets in 2008 for prospects Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.
The Mets didn't pay in talent, but they did in salary as Santana signed a six-year extension worth $137.5 million. Reports at the time stated that Santana would have preferred going to the Yankees or Red Sox. But the Twins turned down a deal from the Yankees that was said to have included Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera.
Now that the Mets do not project as contenders in the foreseeable future, will Santana look to go elsewhere? History suggests that could be the case.
Let's go back to August, 2007 and Santana's comments to Star Tribune reporter Joe Christensen:
Terry Ryan said he didn't read the critical and skeptical comments Twins players made Monday after he traded Luis Castillo to the Mets.
"I've got to keep blinders on," Ryan said. "I've got a job to do. I've got to keep focused on the job the general manager of a baseball team is supposed to do. I can't let reaction out of a clubhouse affect the overall landscape of an organization."
Yes, Ryan is responsible for the organization's future. So this time, he might want to listen.
These were Johan Santana's words Tuesday after the non-waiver trade deadline passed without another trade: "I'm not surprised. That's exactly how they are. That's why we're never going to go beyond where we've gone."
The Twins acquired two minor league prospects for Castillo, saved $2 million in payroll and did nothing to bolster this year's chances.
"It's not just about hope," Santana said. "In a realistic world, you have to really make it happen and go for it.
"You always talk about future, future. ... But if you only worry about the future, then I guess a lot of us won't be part of it," Santana said.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner wasn't smiling.
"Why waste time when you're talking about something that's always going to be like that? It's never going to be beyond this point. It doesn't make any sense for me to be here, you know?"
Torii Hunter will be a free agent at season's end. Santana and Joe Nathan will be free agents after 2008. Asked what message Ryan's latest decisions had sent to that trio, Santana continued firing.
"I've been here for eight years, and I've seen a lot of those kind of things," he said. "I've seen a lot of those guys [like Castillo] come in and leave. [The decision makers] don't care. They always talk about caring about it; I don't think they care.
"Because if you're always talking about having young players — that's the philosophy the team has, and I respect all that — but it's been proven that it's not enough to go all the way to the World Series."
The Twins had chances to add another hitter. Houston acquired Ty Wigginton. San Diego acquired Morgan Ensberg. Atlanta acquired Mark Teixeira.
Once again, Ryan decided it wasn't worth the risk, even with his team starting Tuesday six games back in the wild-card race.
"We've got some problems," Ryan said. "Detroit and Cleveland are awful good, and then if you look at the other things that are going on in our league, we've got an awful lot of work to do."
In other words, one more hitter might not have been enough to put this team over the hump and justify the cost to the organization's future.
But for Hunter, Santana and Nathan, the future is now.
"We've been close," Santana said. "And in all those times, we seem to be a couple players away from winning it all. So I respect all the decisions they make, but I won't say that they're right all the time.
"They protect their young players. They protect their organization, their roots, everything. But I guess I won't be a part of it. A lot of guys don't feel like they can be part of it, and they have to move on."
Santana, Hunter and Nathan all said Tuesday that they won't let their trade deadline disappointment distract them from winning.
But without Castillo, who had two World Series rings and played through constant pain in a quest to win another, it will be different.
"I never give up," Santana said. "Me, personally, I never give up. It's over when the last game of the season's over. I don't know how these guys upstairs think. I'm expecting everybody else to do their jobs and help us win games because I've been so close to being in the World Series.
"A lot of these guys, they don't know. They're just happy to be here. Maybe that's how they like it upstairs, but I don't like it."
It was almost time for Santana's bullpen session.
"Every time I'm out there, I'm trying to win," he said. "And from seeing that we're not even trying from the top to the bottom -- I don't think it's a good sign. I don't think it's good at all."