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).

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.