Jaime Garcia leads strong cast of NL ROY candidates

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Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia put on a show Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, tossing a three-hit shutout against the Giants in what became a 9-0 Cards victory.

The young left-hander needed only 89 pitches to get through his nine innings of work and he did not allow a runner past first base.  According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was the first shutout by a Cardinals rookie since Bud Smith fired a no-hitter against the Padres in September of 2001. 

Garcia has been fantastic all year for the second-place Redbirds with an incredible 11-6 record, 2.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 111/54 K/BB ratio through 24 starts.  He must be considered the front-runner for the National League Rookie of the Year Award at this point, but he does have competition:

Starlin Castro – SS – Cubs:  The 20-year-old shortstop was thrown into the fire in early May and has done everything that the Cubs have asked.  Through 94 big-league games, he’s batting .316/.363/.438 with three home runs, 37 RBI and six stolen bases.  Castro has also shown improved range at the shortstop position.

Jason Heyward – OF – Braves:  An early favorite for the ROY, Heyward may still win it if he is able to finish the year strong and lead his Braves to the postseason.  The 21-year-old has posted an .830 OPS with 14 homers and 57 RBI in 104 games for Atlanta this year.  His .378 on-base percentage ranks ninth in the National League.

Buster Posey – C – Giants:  Posey got a late jump on his competition thanks to a delayed call-up, but he’s been truly excellent since finally landing that late-May promotion.  Over 74 games this season he owns a .341 batting average, a .903 OPS and nine home runs.  The 23-year-old has begun playing catcher more with Bengie Molina out of the picture.

Mike Stanton – OF – Marlins:  Stanton was called up to the majors on June 8 with a reputation for taking pitchers deep.  He’s done just that, blasting 14 home runs in only 227 major league at-bats and posting an impressive .848 OPS along the way.  His plate discipline does need work, but Stanton has legitimate 40-homer pop and he is already showing it age 20.

Mike Leake – SP – Reds:   The Reds have already shifted him to the bullpen in an effort to limit his innings total, but Leake’s performance this season is certainly worthy of all sorts of accolades.  He currently boasts an 8-4 record, a 3.85 ERA and a total of 90 strikeouts over 138 innings.  Garcia’s numbers are far better, but Leake has defied the odds in going from a college pitcher to a successful major leaguer without a hint of affiliate baseball and his Reds are headed for their first postseason birth since 1995.

Fringe Candidates: Chris Johnson (3B, Astros), Jonny Venters (RP, Braves), (Stephen Strasburg (SP, Nationals), Gaby Sanchez (1B, Marlins), Tyler Colvin (OF, Cubs).

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.