Don't forget about Stanton and Heyward

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
12:07
AM ET

Welcome back, Giancarlo Stanton. You too, Jason Heyward.

I remember all those years ago when you were the new kids who caught our attention, the phenoms who seduced us with enticing numbers when you were just 20 years old. Einstein once said, "I never think of the future -- it comes soon enough." I suppose he's right. I mean, who can disagree with Einstein, right? But you guys were so talented that we dared to dream of greatness and trophies and monster numbers and national acclaim that might even get you a commercial televised on non-baseball sporting events.

Then ... well, Heyward, you kind of disappeared last season. And Stanton ... well, you changed your name and hurt your knee and maybe you got freaked out by that new park and you didn't hit a home run the first 19 games this season.

But you guys are back. I feel it. These new outfield phenoms -- Bryce Harper, Mike Trout -- sure, they look pretty good and they're getting a lot of pub, but I'm here to remind baseball fans that you two guys are just 22 years old.

* * * *
The Miami Marlins have won seven in a row -- all on this current nine-game road road trip -- as they've climbed from an 8-14 start that bordered on disastrous to 15-14. Stanton has led the way on offense, hitting another home run in Monday's 4-0 victory over the Astros, his fifth on this road trip and sixth in nine games. No player in the game can match his raw power and his slow start nearly made us forget how good he was a year ago when his 34 home runs were the fourth-most ever by a 21-year-old, just one of 10 to hit at least 30.

The Marlins' pitching has been red hot on this trip, allowing just 17 runs in those seven wins for a 2.15 ERA. Granted, pitching staffs often get healthy on trips to San Francisco and San Diego, but they've needed to be stellar considering the offense is still struggling to score runs. While Stanton has heated up, many of his teammates are still struggling. Jose Reyes has a .317 OBP and .333 slugging percentage, a .650 OPS that is 227 points below his 2011 mark and well below his .782 mark entering the season. He's on pace for just 67 runs. Emilio Bonifacio doesn't have an extra-base hit yet. Hanley Ramirez hit his sixth home run Monday but is batting .228/.313/.439. Gaby Sanchez is hitting .202 with one home run.

For all the hype about signing Reyes and moving Ramirez to third base, it is Stanton that makes this offense. He's the guy Ozzie Guillen will soon move back into the cleanup spot, the guy to drive in Reyes and Ramirez, the one to strike fear in pitchers. If his knee holds up and he doesn't let the new stadium psyche him out, he's still a 40-homer guy in the making.

While ace Josh Johnson has been terrible, Carlos Zambrano has provided a huge lift at the back of the rotation. He has pitched at least six innings in each of his six starts and Monday's three-hit shutout -- his first since Sept. 25, 2009 and just the fifth of his career -- lowered his ERA to 1.98.

This is what makes the Marlins worth paying attention to once again: They're suddenly over .500 even though Johnson is winless, closer Heath Bell has been demoted after blowing four saves and the lineup has yet to live up to its potential.

Hey, there's a reason the NL East is looking like the division of death in the NL.

Heyward is a key reason the Atlanta Braves have been the one team in the division to score runs. While the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija shut down the Braves on Monday with seven strong innings, the Braves lead the NL in runs scored. Their 163 runs are 51 more than the Phillies, the No. 2 run-scoring team in the division.

After posting a .393 on-base percentage as a 20-year-old -- the only guys ahead of him: McGraw, Ott, Williams, Kaline, Rodriguez and Mantle -- expectations were enormous for Heyward in 2011, but injuries affected his swing and he slumped to .227 with a .319 OBP. Heyward belted his fourth home run on Monday and is currently hitting .269/.376/.473, similar to the production he generated as a rookie.

Heyward gives the Braves three left-handed power bats in the lineup, joining Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman (plus switch-hitter Chipper Jones). In a division full of dominant right-handed starters, that southpaw pop gives the Braves a big edge over their division rivals.

Anyway, it's just a little reminder: Have fun watching Harper and Trout show flashes of brilliance this season; but don't forget about those grizzled veterans in the division of death.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Alexei RamirezDavid Richard/US PresswireJason Kipnis is just letting Alexei Ramirez know that he really is out.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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