Bryce Harper hit .481 (13-for-27) in his past seven games.
The final few weeks of the 2012 season have thrown the NL Rookie of the Year race into some uncertainty.
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley looks like the favorite for the award, especially since Todd Frazier went into a September slide with the Cincinnati Reds. Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario is making a late charge, but probably too late into the season.
And then there's Bryce Harper, who was nearly everyone's pick for NL Rookie of the Year after he was called up by the Washington Nationals in late April. He was the phenom, the sensation. Getting the NL Rookie of the Year award would merely be a formality.
Harper is obviously no longer mentioned in the same sentence as the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout when it comes to rookie superstars. But his September charge may have put him back into serious contention for NL Rookie of the Year honors.
The past week brought about a little bit of shuffling in our rankings, but the names on the list remain the same. Here are the top five contenders for the NL Rookie of the Year and what the final award voting should look like, in our view.
All statistics mentioned are current as of Oct. 2.
Last week: No. 5.
Norichika Aoki remains in the top five, holding off a charge from Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart.
Since returning from an oblique injury that cost him 14 games, Cozart is batting .344 (11-for-32) with three RBI. But even with that time missed, Aoki is ahead of him in several key categories and deserves more consideration for NL Rookie of the Year at this point.
In seven games since last week's rankings, Aoki hit 9-for-29 (.310) with three doubles, a home run and four RBI.
Aoki was a major factor in the Milwaukee Brewers' late-season playoff charge. During September, he batted .310/.374/.543 with 13 doubles, four homers and 18 RBI.
With 148 hits and 37 doubles, Aoki is tied with the San Diego Padres' Yonder Alonso for the NL rookie lead in both categories. His 29 stolen bases are 11 more than the next-closest competitors.
Aoki's .289 batting average ranks third among the league's rookies. He places second with a .355 on-base percentage, and his .790 OPS is sixth.
Though I admittedly have a bias against a 30-year-old with eight seasons of professional baseball on his resume being considered a rookie, the rules say Aoki is eligible for the award, and he's certainly been one of the NL's best rookies this season.
Last week: No. 3.
It's kind of a shame that circumstances didn't allow Todd Frazier to truly compete for the NL Rookie of the Year award toward the end of the season.
Frazier has seen his playing time drastically reduced as Joey Votto and Scott Rolen returned from injuries. The Cincinnati Reds needed to get those players in the lineup to get them ready for the postseason.
Of course, it could also be argued that Frazier wouldn't have gotten the playing time that he did—and thus earned serious NL Rookie of the Year consideration—if those two veterans hadn't gotten injured. So perhaps it all evens out.
Frazier only appeared in five games since last week's rankings, batting 1-for-15 (.067). During September, he batted .181/.241/.264 with one home run and five RBI. The homer he hit on Sept. 27 was the first he'd notched in more than a month (Aug. 21, to be exact), something else that hurt his award candidacy down the stretch.
But as a consolation, Frazier gets to be a major contributor for a Reds team that could win the World Series. He'll surely be a valuable piece for manager Dusty Baker during the postseason as a pinch-hitter and a player who can fill in at third base, first base and left field.
Last week: No. 4.
Many fans still feel that Bryce Harper will win the NL Rookie of the Year award regardless of whether or not other rookies actually outperform him. The Washington Nationals outfielder has just gotten too much publicity, too much hype from the national media.
I wasn't buying into that until I saw Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal publish his picks for MLB's individual awards, which included Harper as his NL Rookie of the Year. Will the rest of the national media, most of which presumably didn't see Wade Miley and Wilin Rosario play that often, follow Rosenthal's lead?
However, it's not like Harper isn't just a candidate for the award based on name recognition and SportsCenter highlights.
With 22 home runs, Harper ranks second among NL rookies. His .340 on-base percentage is fifth, while his .477 slugging places him third. Harper's .817 OPS is the league's fourth-best rookie mark.
In his past seven games, the 19-year-old batted 13-for-27 (.481) with three doubles, a triple, three home runs and seven RBI. During September, Harper hit .330/.402/.651 with seven homers and 14 RBI. That was the best monthly performance of his rookie season.
Harper seems to be saving the best for last, which could bode well for the Nats in the postseason.
Last week: No. 2.
If there were another month left in the 2012 season, could Wilin Rosario overtake Wade Miley for the NL Rookie of the Year award? It certainly seems possible. (Bryce Harper leapfrogging Rosario also could have happened.)
The Colorado Rockies catcher continues to hit as the season nears its end. In his past seven games, Rosario batted 6-for-23 (.261) with two home runs and two RBI. That added to his NL rookie-leading totals. He has 28 homers and 71 RBI for the year.
If not for the Rockies' game versus the Chicago Cubs being called after six innings, as HardballTalk's Matthew Pouliot points out, Rosario might have had a chance to get three hits in five consecutive games. He would have been the first player to achieve that feat in MLB since George Brett did it for six straight games in 1976.
Rosario is also tops among NL rookies with a .539 slugging percentage and .854 OPS. That might help overshadow the 63 wild pitches and 20 passed balls he's allowed as a catcher this season.
The Rockies will surely concentrate on improving his defense behind the plate this winter. But they don't need to worry about Rosario's bat. That is working just fine.
Last week: No. 1.
Could Bryce Harper's name recognition and higher media profile end up giving him the edge in NL Rookie of the Year voting over Wade Miley?
It would be a shame if that happened, though many fans seem ready to explode with outrage over the perceived conspiracy (or, at the very least, lazy voting).
Harper's September surge makes it more likely that he could beat out Miley for the award. The Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander finished his season on something of a shaky note too.
In two starts since last week's rankings, Miley allowed six earned runs and 12 hits over 11.2 innings. However, he also tallied 13 strikeouts with three walks in those two appearances.
Miley took a loss and a no-decision in the last two games of his 2012 season, putting his final record at 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA.
That ERA puts him among the top 10 NL starting pitchers in that category. Not bad at all for a rookie who pitches in Chase Field and pounds the strike zone, preferring to let opposing batters put the ball in play.
A big part of Miley's success is that he doesn't walk anyone. His rate of 1.71 walks per nine innings was the fifth best among the league's starters this year.
Will those numbers be enough to earn him the NL Rookie of the Year award? They should be. But the voting might not see it that way.
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