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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #22: Trevor Story and Gary Sanchez make big rookie splashes

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Neither Trevor Story nor Gary Sanchez won their league’s Rookie of the Year Award, but each of them probably got more ink than the respective winners, Corey Seager and Michael Fulmer, did. Dingers will do that.

Story, the Colorado Rockies’ shortstop, made his major league debut on April 4. He hit two homers that day. The next day he hit another. The day after that, another. The Rockies were off the next day, but in his fourth game he hit two more. He hit another in his sixth game to give him seven in the season’s first week. After that he slowed down, but finished April with 10 bombs and a slugging percentage of .696. The historical comparisons placed him in pretty lofty company, with his seven homers in his first six games putting him past Larry Walker, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Mays who had held the record with six each.

Story seemed to be on his way to the National League Rookie of the Year Award until a thumb injury ended his season in late July. When he went under the knife to fix it, he led the NL with 27 home runs, had posted 72 RBI and had a batting line of .272/.341/.567 in 415 plate appearances. The Rockies were at .500 at the time and were arguably in contention for a Wild Card birth. They’d finish the season by going 23-35 for a final record of 75-87.

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez saw action in two big league games in a 2015 cup-of-coffee, and a single game in early May of this year, but didn’t make it to the majors for good until the Yankees’ 107th game of the season on August 3. He didn’t hit as many homers as Story did in either his first six games or in his entire rookie season, but he hit a ton in a shorter time overall. Indeed, by the time he played his 45th career game he had hit 19 homers, which set a major league record for the fastest to that total in history. Before that Wally Berger held the record with 17 homers in 45 games.

Not all fast-starting sluggers went on to great careers — famous flashes in the pan Sam Horn had 14 in his first 45 games and fellow Yankee Kevin Mass had 15 — but Sanchez did not appear to merely be taking advantage of pitcher mistakes or guessing luckily. He finished the 2016 season with a line of .299/.376/.657 with 20 homers in all and 42 driven in. He walked a good deal as well, suggesting that he’s no fluke by any stretch of the imagination.

As year-end honors tend to favor players who played full seasons, it makes sense that Michael Fulmer of the Tigers beat out Sanchez for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And as Corey Seager had a better overall season, it was not surprising that he walked away with the NL Award, despite Story’s fast start. Heck, Seager had a good argument for the MVP Award, not just rookie honors.

But Sanchez and certainly got people talking. And that places them in our top-25 stories of 2016.

Max Scherzer, with broken nose, strikes out 10 Phillies over seven shutout innings

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Nationals starter Max Scherzer bunted a ball into his face during batting practice on Tuesday, breaking his nose in the process. He ended up with a gnarly looking shiner around his right eye, making him appear a bit like Terminator. Scherzer still took the ball to start the second game of Wednesday night’s doubleheader against the Phillies.

Despite the injury, Scherzer was incredibly effective, limiting the Phillies to four hits and two walks across seven shutout innings, striking out 10 batters in the process. He might even have had some extra adrenaline going, as he averaged 96.2 MPH on his fastball, his highest average fastball velocity in a game since September 2012, per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. The Nationals provided Scherzer with just one run of support, coming on a Brian Dozier solo home run off of Jake Arrieta in the second inning, but it was enough.

Wander Suero worked a scoreless top of the eighth with a pair of strikeouts. Victor Robles added a solo homer off of Pat Neshek in the bottom half. Closer Sean Doolittle took over in the ninth, working a 1-2-3 frame to give the Nats their 2-0 victory.

Over his last six starts, Scherzer now has a 0.88 ERA with a 59/8 K/BB ratio across 41 innings. He has gone six innings, struck out at least nine batters, and held the opposition to two or fewer runs in each of those six starts.