The Jacksonville Suns are not a one-man team. Behind a strong pitching staff and a solid defense, they've allowed the second fewest runs per game in the Southern League, and that is a big part of why -- at 11-6 -- they are in first place in the South Division.
On days like Monday, though, the casual fan can be excused for referring to the squad as "Mike Stanton and the Jacksonville Suns." A day after he popped two bombs and had four hits, the immensely powerful right-handed slugger blasted three home runs in Jacksonville's 11-2 win over Carolina, one to each field. The three homers plated seven men in the Suns' seventh straight victory.
Stanton started the scoring in the bottom of the first. After Osvaldo Martinez doubled with one out, the big righty slugged a 2-1 offering over the right-field fence, displaying his power to the opposite field. Martinez would score on all three Stanton blasts.
Two innings later, the score still stood at 2-0 with Martinez at first, Lorenzo Scott at second and none out. Stanton then turned on a 2-1 pitch from Mudcats starting pitcher Curtis Partch and deposited it over the left-field fence, making the score 5-0.
Partch immediately hit Mark Saccomanno with a pitch before walking Brandon Tripp to set up Matt Dominguez. A 20-year-old Californian like Stanton, Dominguez clubbed a double to left to score both runners, and the rout was confirmed. Selected a round before Stanton with the 12th overall selection in 2007, the slick-fielding third baseman had two hits on the day to creep his average up to .200.
Stanton batted again an inning later, this time against reliever Jerry Gil. The veteran right-hander walked Stanton on five pitches, and two of those deliveries were wild pitches that allowed Scott to advance. Even when he didn't swing, his mere presence in the batter's box had an effect on the opposition.
With the score 8-0 in the sixth, Ruben Medina replaced Gil on the mound, and he didn't pitch around Stanton. Medina got ahead with a called strike, but, after the count evened up at 1-1, Stanton connected again, this time to center field. Martinez again scored in front of Stanton, and the Jacksonville lead was up to 10-0.
The only drama left at this point of the contest was to see whether Stanton could achieve Minor League immortality with a four-homer game. Stanton faced Medina again on the seventh, but the Panorama, Calif., native fell behind 0-2 before swinging and missing at Medina's 2-2 pitch in what would be his final at-bat of the day.
Lost in the shadow of the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Stanton was the terrific pitching performance of Alejandro Sanabia, who went seven innings and allowed just a walk and five hits -- all singles -- while fanning seven. Sanabia entered the game with the best batting average against of any Southern League starter, and that won't change after Monday's performance, which puts the 21-year-old at 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA in four starts.
Just a 32nd-round 2006 Draft choice by the Marlins out of Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, Calif., Sanabia doesn't strike an imposing pose with his 165 pounds spread over a 6-1 frame, but he's moved up a level each season since signing, despite underwhelming performances.
With Jupiter in 2009, Sanabia showed solid command and started to keep the ball in the park. This season, he's added strikeouts to his repertoire, and success has followed close behind. At 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, Sanabia is posting his best whiff rate since he played in the New York-Penn League as an 18-year-old in 2007.
Whether that strikeout rate regresses to the numbers of recent seasons will likely determine how soon the righty can make the next step. On Monday, Sanabia struck out the side in the first to set the tone for his afternoon.
Behind a trio of Californians who have barely reached their third decade, the Jacksonville Suns are on a roll, and the Carolina Mudcats were the latest team to find itself in the wrong place at the wrong time.