First-quarter awards: NL Rookie of the Year

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heyward swinging.jpgA one-man race, right? Jason Heyward was practically handed the award a couple of weeks into the season, and though he’s hit a bit of a rough patch over the last week, he’s still batting an exceptional .274/.399/.540 with 28 RBI. That’s definitely Rookie of the Year material.
But what no one expected was that there’d be a pitching equivalent: Jaime Garcia has been a revelation for the Cardinals, opening the season 4-2 with a 1.42 ERA that ranks second in the National League.
Let’s take a look at the legitimate candidates at the quarter pole:
Jason Heyward: .274/.399/.548, 8 HR, 28 RBI in 113 AB
Gaby Sanchez: .294/.386/.468, 4 HR, 18 RBI in 126 AB
David Freese: .305/.378/.458, 3 HR, 24 RBI in 131 AB
Ian Desmond: .279/.326/.443, 3 HR, 18 RBI in 122 AB
Jaime Garcia: 4-2, 1.42 ERA, 36/16 K/BB in 44 1/3 IP
Mike Leake: 4-0, 3.09 ERA, 33/20 K/BB in 46 2/3 IP
Jonathon Niese: 1-2, 4.79 ERA, 33/18 K/BB in 41 1/4 IP
Hisanori Takahashi: 3-1, 3.12 ERA, 33/14 K/BB in 26 IP
This isn’t to say that John Ely, Ike Davis and others won’t factor in later, but given their limited action to date, they don’t have a real case for any honors right now.
Heyward and Garcia are still the obvious standouts, with Leake, Sanchez and Freese next in line. That Freese plays the tougher defensive position (albeit not quite as well) and has the bigger RBI total probably gives him a bit of an edge over Sanchez as the No. 2 hitter.
Leake, with six quality starts in seven tries, is a big reason the Reds are a half-game in front of the Cardinals at the moment. Still, his numbers don’t measure up with Garcia’s.
So, Heyward versus Garcia. Heyward has been the big bat in an Atlanta outfield that’s been otherwise totally void of power the last couple of years. He’s leading the team in both homers and RBI. He’s getting on base at an excellent clip, playing fine defense in right field and handling lefties about as well as righties. He’s pretty much the perfect rookie, and the Braves would be lost without him.
That said, Garcia has been even better to date. He’s gone at least six innings in all seven of his starts and allowed more than two runs just once — and those extra two he gave up in the one “poor” start were both unearned. The Cardinals are just 4-3 in his outings, but that’s because they’ve scored a total of two runs in the losses. He’s second in not only the NL in ERA, but also the majors as a whole.
That makes Garcia the choice in my book. Heyward remains the heavy favorite to be the NL Rookie of the Year, of course. Garcia not only isn’t this good, but he’s also a significant injury risk. Still, for a quarter of the season, he’s been one of baseball’s top performers.
First quarter NL ROY
1. Garcia
2. Heyward
3. Leake

Edwin Encarnacion: “I think [the Blue Jays] got too hasty in making their decision.”

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Indians early last month. The 34-year-old had spent the last seven and a half seasons with the Blue Jays, but his future elsewhere appeared to be written on the wall when the Jays signed Kendrys Morales in November to essentially occupy Encarnacion’s role.

Encarnacion spoke about testing free agency for the first time in his career and the situation that led to him leaving Toronto for Cleveland. Via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY:

“Toronto was always my first option, but I had never been a free agent, and anybody who gets to free agency wants to find out what’s out there,’’ he said. “I think they got too hasty in making their decision, but now I’m with Cleveland and I’m happy to be here.’’

Encarnacion last season hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and an AL-best 127 RBI. He’s now on the team that defeated his Blue Jays in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. Encarnacion effectively replaces Mike Napoli, who returned to the Rangers.

Sammy Sosa compares himself to Jesus Christ

Sammy Sosa
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I’m on record saying that Sammy Sosa has been rather hosed by baseball history.

The guy did amazing things. Unheard-of things. He was truly astounding at this peak and was incredibly important to both his franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole. His repayment: he’s a pariah. His club won’t claim him and his greatness, by any measure, has not just been overlooked but denied by most who even bother to consider him.

Yes, he had PED associations, but they were extraordinarily vague ones. He’s in the same boat as David Ortiz as far as documented PED evidence against him, but Ortiz will be a first ballot Hall of Famer while Sosa barely clings to the ballot. He hit homers at the same cartoonish rate as Mark McGwire, but while Big Mac has been embraced by baseball and has coached for years, Sosa can’t get into Wrigley Field unless he buys a ticket and even then the Cubs might try to hustle him out of sight. The man has been treated poorly by any measure.

Yet, it’s still possible to overstate the case. Like Sosa did in this interview with Chuck Wasserstrom:

It’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa told chuckbloggerstrom.com. “Everybody thought Jesus Christ was a witch (laughing) — and he was our savior. So if they talk (bleep) about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”

At least he was basically joking about it. Still, it’s a totally unfair and almost offensive comparison.

I mean, anyone who watched Sosa’s career knows that he had trouble laying off breaking stuff low and away. In contrast . . .