Thursday July 22nd, 2010

The Braves' Jason Heyward and the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg got the hype, but the clear-cut best choice for National League Rookie of the Year is the Cardinals' Jaime Garcia, the 24-year-old lefty starter, whose performance so far this year has made him a veritable third ace alongside Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. And Garcia -- by a very circuitous route -- has helped the Cardinals race off to an eight-game winning streak, a return to the top of the NL Central and a jump from the middle of the pack to the top five in the Power Rankings.

The 30th round of the baseball draft is an afterthought. A round when teams take extreme chances, such as when the Rockies used their 30th round pick in 2000 to draft Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick, who hadn't played baseball since high school. And so the Orioles used their 30th-round pick in 2004 on Garcia, a native of Mexico who was attending high school in Mission, Tex., where he was enrolled in Sharyland High but too old to play for the school team. Baltimore gave every draft pick a test, only the Spanish translation was botched, so Garcia wasn't answering the right questions and did poorly -- so poorly, in fact, that the Orioles didn't sign him.

A year later Garcia re-entered the draft, and the Cardinals selected him in the 22nd round. After a couple of seasons in the minors -- and one on the disabled list for Tommy John surgery -- Garcia won a job in St. Louis' rotation in spring training and hasn't looked back, compiling a 9-4 record and 2.21 ERA, including a seven-inning, one-run outing to beat the Phillies on Wednesday night.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
Frustrated by his performance Saturday afternoon, starter A.J. Burnett slammed open the clubhouse doors between innings and suffered lacerations on his hands as a result, prompting an early exit from the game. Of course, he originally told the trainer that he tripped on the steps before revising his story after the game. He apologized to his teammates Sunday morning, but the damage had been done. A high-priced veteran should not be lying or acting beneath his place. Contrast that with departed outfielder Hideki Matsui, who in 2006 excessively apologized to his teammates for breaking his wrist while diving for a flyball. The latter was a great example of honorable behavior; the former was anything but.

The Yankees look to protect their No. 1 ranking with a pair of four-game series against AL Central cellar-dwellers, hosting the Royals before traveling to Cleveland to face the Indians.
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
The Rays are the only team in the majors to have used only five starting pitchers this season. While the other 29 teams have deviated from their original rotations due to either injury or ineffectiveness, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon has entrusted the start of every game to Wade Davis, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and James Shields, who have a collective 3.89 ERA and who average 6 1/3 innings per start, second-best in the AL behind only Seattle. The starters set a goal before the season of exceeding 1,000 innings for the first time in franchise history; they are currently on pace for 1,020.
3San Diego Padres
Last Week: 4
After the NL won the All-Star Game in a 3-1 pitchers' duel, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez joked that it "felt like a Padres game." No one knows low-scoring and close wins better than San Diego. The Padres are 43-5 when allowing three runs or fewer and are an MLB-best 19-12 in one-run games.
4Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 3
No team has a greater discrepancy among its hits leaders than the Braves. Martin Prado leads the team with 128 hits; next is Troy Glaus with only 81. Prado is batting .320 while catcher Brian McCann is next at .271 and no other Brave is even hitting .260. (Utility player -- and dubious All-Star -- Omar Infante is batting .330 but doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.) The difference is so large that, in a high-level statistical analysis, Prado's stat line would probably be excused as an outlier. In related news, the Braves would benefit from adding a bat at the trade deadline.
5St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 15
Third baseman David Freese showed that no one is safe even when they're already on the DL. Freese, who has been sidelined since late June with a bone bruise near his right ankle, dropped a weight on his left foot and fractured his big toe. ("Adding injury to injury," quipped Yahoo!.) Freese, who had been enjoying a nice rookie season (.296, four HRs, 36 RBIs) while batting mostly fifth or sixth, may not miss any additional time, as the two injuries ought to heal concurrently, but contending with both ought to make rehab more difficult.
6Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8
For all the bad news and delays in the belabored bankruptcy proceedings and sale of the club, the Rangers have enjoyed a charmed life on the field. The latest events are that reliever Dustin Nippert, who was hit in the head by a line drive, survived the ugly incident relatively unscathed and that newly acquired catcher Bengie Molina hit for the cycle against the Red Sox despite entering the game with only four home runs on the season and only five triples in his career.
7Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 6
MLB Network's reality show The Club -- a behind-the-scenes look at the White Sox' front office -- debuted over the weekend, but it's a shame it's not live. Chicago GM Kenny Williams is among the league's most active at each summer's trade deadline. An inside look at the negotiations would certainly make for must-see TV, and recent reports indicate he's hoping to wheel and deal his way to another power bat, such as the Nationals' Adam Dunn or the Brewers' Prince Fielder. It's a smart play when your most commonly used DH, Mark Kotsay, is hitting .219 with only six HRs.
8San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 14
Aubrey Huff, a midseason trade acquisition of the Tigers last season, slumped so much down the stretch that he didn't even start Detroit's pivotal final two games including the one-game tiebreaker for the AL Central crown. But he's been reborn in the NL with the Giants, batting .300 with 17 home runs and 54 RBIs. He even has more walks (46) than strikeouts (43) and, if you discount the 45 games played by rookie Buster Posey, Huff has been the Giants' best hitter.
9Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 9
The good news is that the Rockies' will now likely have two first-round picks this year, but the bad is that they failed to sign this year's top selection, Kyle Parker from Clemson. Parker, the first Division I athlete to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 home runs, elected Wednesday to return to for his sophomore football season, where he's the returning starting quarterback. Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement, "Someone once said there is something in those hills at Clemson. At the end of the day, whatever is in those hills was too much for Kyle Parker to turn down." It's hard to imagine that was the reason, given that Parker's alternative included the Rocky Mountains.
10Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 11
The Reds continue to be a landing spot for pitchers with reconstructed ulnar collateral ligaments (i.e. Tommy John surgery). At least four Reds pitchers have had the procedure: lefty relievers Bill Bray and Arthur Rhodes and starters Justin Lehr and Edinson Volquez, the latter of whom returned from his surgery -- and a 50-game suspension for a failed test for performance-enhancing drugs -- to throw six innings and get the win on Saturday. And now the Reds have offered a contract to reliever Jason Isringhausen, who threw just eight innings for the Rays last season before having his own Tommy John surgery.
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