It’s awards week in baseball, with the big four - MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year - set to be handed out over the next four nights by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Despite their success and deep roster of players who enjoyed impressive seasons, the Nationals have an opportunity to emerge with only one of these four awards. Both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are finalists for the National League Cy Young Award (along with Clayton Kershaw).
Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy all figure to have received votes for National League MVP, but none managed to crack the top three in voting conducted before the start of the postseason. Dusty Baker probably received a handful of votes for NL Manager of the Year, though the best he can finish is fourth. And the Nats didn’t have any first-year players significant enough to contend for NL Rookie of the Year, so there won’t be any local intrigue when that announcement kicks off the week this evening.
Let’s run through all four categories, though, and try to guess who will walk away with the hardware ...
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Announcement: Tonight (approx. 6:45 p.m. ET)
Finalists: Josh Bell (Pirates), Cody Bellinger (Dodgers), Paul DeJong (Cardinals)
I had a vote in this category, and I’m not allowed to reveal it until after the results are announced this evening. Let’s just say it wasn’t a particularly difficult decision this year.
Bellinger was never expected to make the kind of impact he did this season, but boy did he make an impact on the Dodgers. His 39 home runs were the third-most ever by a rookie, trailing only Aaron Judge (who shattered the old record this season with 52 for the Yankees) and Mark McGwire (who hit 49 for the Athletics in 1987). But it went beyond that. Bellinger showed great patience at the plate, posting a .352 on-base percentage despite a pedestrian .267 batting average. And he proved versatile enough to play four different positions (first base, plus all three outfield spots).
DeJong didn’t receive nearly as much attention, but the Cardinals shortstop was plenty impressive himself. He hit .285/.325/.532 with 25 homers and was solid in the field. Bell quietly put together a strong season for the Pirates, as well, leading all rookies with 159 games played while hitting 26 homers and driving in 90 runs.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Announcement: Tuesday (approx. 6:15 p.m. ET)
Finalists: Bud Black (Rockies), Torey Lovullo (Diamondbacks), Dave Roberts (Dodgers)
It’s a showdown of NL West managers for this award, and each has a compelling case.
Black did what so few previous managers in Colorado have been able to do: win and coax quality pitching out of his staff despite the mile-high environment. The former big league lefty had the Rockies in contention all season and wound up winning 87 games and a berth in the wild card game.
Lovullo was the latest first-time manager to enjoy success. Handed an Arizona club that had talent but major question marks, he guided his team to 93 wins, a berth in the wild card game and then a date with the Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
Roberts, meanwhile, is attempting to win his second Manager of the Year award in as many seasons as a big league manager, which would be no small feat. Yes, he was handed the roster with the sport’s biggest payroll, but he had to mix and match his way through the entire season. And as we saw, his creativity paid off for the Dodgers, straight into late October.
NL CY YOUNG AWARD
Announcement: Wednesday (approx. 6:45 p.m. ET)
Finalists: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Max Scherzer (Nationals), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals)
This is going to be quite an interesting vote, and it may depend on what mattered most to the reporters who voted.
Kershaw had the most dominant stats, leading the league with a 2.31 ERA while posting a ridiculous 202-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But the lefty made only 27 starts due to injury, and those missed starts could be enough to knock him off the top step of the medal stand.
Scherzer is seeking his second straight Cy Young Award and third overall (which would put him in awfully elite company) and he may be the slight favorite heading into the announcement. He lowered his ERA (from 2.96 to 2.51) and WHIP (from 0.968 to 0.902) from his previous Cy Young campaign. He again led the league in strikeouts. And he again dazzled us with the potential for a no-hitter once every seven or eight times he took the mound.
Strasburg has received Cy Young Award votes only once before in his career (he finished ninth in 2014) but nobody was better than the right-hander during the second half of the season. In 10 starts after the All-Star break, he went 6-1 with an 0.86 ERA and ridiculous .457 opponents’ OPS. That allowed him to finish the year with a 2.52 ERA (though his midsummer elbow injury limited him to 28 starts, and that could hurt his case, as well).
Announcement: Thursday (approx. 6:15 p.m. ET)
Finalists: Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks), Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Joey Votto (Reds)
I have to admit, I’m glad I didn’t have an MVP vote this year, because I have no idea how I would have settled on one of these guys over the others. Shoot, I could have made a case for several others who didn’t finish in the top three, including the Nationals’ Rendon and Zimmerman and the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado.
If you care about power numbers, Stanton’s your guy. He enjoyed a phenomenal season, leading the league with 59 homers and 132 RBIs and a .631 slugging percentage.
If you care about big numbers for a team that actually made the postseason, Goldschmidt is your guy. Maybe the most underappreciated star in baseball, the Arizona first baseman hit 36 homers with 120 RBIs, posted a .297/.404/.563 slash line and played Gold Glove defense.
If you care about rewarding the best offensive player no matter how his team performed, Votto is your guy. The Reds may have been lousy, but their star first baseman was once again off-the-charts great at the plate, hitting .320/.454/.578 with 36 homers, 100 RBIs and a staggering 134 walks. He also played in all 162 games, which in this day and age should count for something.
I honestly don’t think anyone knows how this one is going to shake out. No matter what, it most definitely will produce plenty of debate.