Monday, July 25, 2011

The Stretch Run

Sorry, Aggie fans, but former UC Davis and current St. Louis Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso will not earn the National League Rookie of the Year award.

That is certainly not meant as a knock against Descalso and his fine season. Last fall, he made school history by becoming the first Aggie alum to bat in the major leagues. Then this spring, he made the Birds' Opening Day roster. Descalso had done the UC Davis faithful proud in that moment, and anything achieved in the 2011 season would be gravy.

No, that statement is based more on the reality of the situation: the senior circuit's prized ROY honor will almost certainly go to Braves stopper Craig Kimbrel, who has saved 31 games, posted a 2.16 ERA and fanned 79 batters in 50 innings as of this post. With six more saves, he will break Todd Worrell's National League for a rookie. Unfortunately for the other rookies, Kimbrel almost does not qualify under baseball's definition of a rookie (50 innings pitched, 130 at-bats or 45 days on the active roster prior to the September 1 roster expansions). Although he only appeared in 20.2 frames in 2010, Kimbrel spent 38 days on Atlanta's big club last year, mostly in May and June.

But enough about Kimbrel. Maybe some blogger at Wallace State Community College will go 30 inches on the Dixie's fireballer. This is about Descalso.

Given that he nabbed the last locker in the St. Louis clubhouse, Descalso has by most accounts exceeded expectations. He has appeared in 93 of his team's 101 games, batting .264 with 17 doubles, 28 runs and 26 RBI through July 24. Respectable numbers, even if they don't match up with offensive rookies like Washington's Danny Espinosa (17 homers, 55 RBI, 12 steals), Atlanta's Freddie Freeman (23 doubles, 15 homers, .823 OPS) and Chicago's Darwin Barney (.299 average, 43 runs scored).

However, it's worth noting Descalso's improvement during the season. After a .226 start, Descalso batted .293 (17-for-58) in June and has touched opposing pitchers at a .351 clip (13-for-37) in his July appearances. He has performed equally well at home (.263) as on the road (.265). He has hit .323 (20-for-62) with runners in scoring position, and .341 (14-for-41) in late-inning and "close" situations.

Additionally, consider Descalso's value to the Cardinals. St. Louis suffered from an injury bug early in the season. Fellow Big West Conference alum Skip Schumaker went on the DL in mid-April. Infielders David Freese and Nick Punto followed in early May. Four-time All-Star Matt Holliday was sidelined by appendicitis and a quad strain early on, forcing a form of musical chairs both defensively and in the Cards' lineup. Sure, all of these misfortunes served as Descalso's windfall, as it allowed him more opportunities for playing time than perhaps even he anticipated. But credit the versatile Aggie for creating his own opportunities: he plays three infield positions equally well, providing manager Tony LaRussa with numerous options during a trying spring. Now, weeks past the All-Star break, St. Louis remains in the thick of a surprisingly tight NL Central race.

Again, Daniel Descalso will not win the National Rookie of the Year award. He probably won't even rate high in the balloting, since a) he's not an everyday starter and b) he doesn't post high numbers in the Triple Crown categories usually coveted by the voters. (My guess is the top three spots will go to Kimbrel, Barney and maybe Mets starter Dillon Gee.) But given what he has accomplished, and the contributions he has made to his ballclub, I hope someone among the baseball writers gives him a look when casting a ballot in November.

Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, Danny, keep up the good work -- you've done us Aggie faithful proud.

-Mark Honbo, assistant director of athletics communications, keeps trading cards of several former Aggies on his office wall. Ken O'Brien, Rolf Benirschke, Kevin Daft, Mike Wise, Onome Ojo, J.T. O'Sullivan, Trisha Reinhardt and Greg Bruso are already on there. Descalso and Mark Grieb are on their way.

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