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HARRIS: Nationals’ superlatives are sign of The Times

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION: 

The Nationals tell us they've started a new tradition here, one of winning. It is difficult to argue with the results. They've won enough to make the playoffs. They hope it isn't another 79 years before it happens again.

So in the new tradition mode, your friends in The Times' sports department are going to start one of their own: the simply named TWT Awards (and that's The Washington Times for anyone left wondering). 

The value of TWT Awards is open for debate. Maybe one day they'll be worked into incentive clauses for contracts. OK, probably not. They're not worth a free T-shirt because we don't have any. No free subscription, either. At $5 a month, that's basically free anyway.

Without further delay, let's get to the envelopes that contain the names of the winners of these soon-to-be coveted awards.

TWT STARTER OF THE YEAR — We'll start with a no-brainer. Whatever the Nationals gave Gio Gonzalez in that contract he signed soon after being acquired from Oakland, he's earned.

Most Nats fans probably can't name two of the four prospects the Nats gave up for the man who has won 21 games, put himself squarely into the Cy Young Award conversation and injected a massive dose of personality into the clubhouse (we media types like that kind of thing).

He's young, he's proven and he's locked up long term. One day this award may be named after him.

TWT RELIEVER OF THE YEAR — The Nationals' bullpen has been pretty strong most of the season. Tyler Clippard, an All-Star last season, did a fine job as a setup man. After Henry Rodriguez imploded, Clippard stepped in and did stellar work as closer. At least until September. We'll be kind and not mention his astronomical ERA during that month. Drew Storen missed much of the year and seems to be rounding into his old form that made him the closer last year (and again this year). Michael Gonzalez has been a nice find off the scrap heap. Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus and Tom Gorzelanny have had their moments.

Let's go off the grid with this one.

Show of hands: Who had Craig Stammen even making the team out of spring training? You are lying if your hand is up (and that includes you, Mr. Stammen). For daggone sure, no one had him at 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA (and a save).

He doesn’t have the glamour role out of the bullpen, but he’s been indispensable, as his six strikeouts in two innings Monday night attest. He's an innings-eater among relievers, the type of unsung pitcher every good team needs. Monday night, he struck out six in two innings against the Phillies. The former starter has found a permanent home in the bullpen, it seems. And now he has a TWT Award to brag about to his friends.

TWT ROOKIE OF THE YEAR — Hmmm. Where to go with this one?

Steve Lombordozzi has been versatile, filling in at several positions capably and producing key hits. Tyler Moore is a guy no one envisioned in a major role at this point, and he's become a trusted bat off the bench. Remember the home run he hit last month in New York to beat R.A. Dickey?

Anyone else we're missing?

Oh yeah.

How 'bout that Bryce Harper? Even the Nats haters out there (and a few do exist) have to concede he's fun to watch. He plays hard and he (mostly) plays well. He's in the other Rookie of the Year conversation, maybe at the head of that list now. But his TWT Award will be a fine consolation if that doesn't work out.

TWT MOST VALUABLE PLAYER — A team that wins as much as the Nationals have will boast plenty of candidates. Ryan Zimmerman, who made cortisone a household word, is putting up marvelous numbers. Adam LaRoche returned from a 2011 season cut short by injury to do what LaRoche does — produce on offense and play strong defense. You can make a strong case for Harper, too,

This one, though, goes to Ian Desmond, who was on the way toward putting himself into the league MVP conversation until an oblique injury cost him some time. He's had a massive offensive year (.292, 25 HR going into Monday night's game) and you would run out of fingers and toes counting his clutch hits. He's also become a top-notch shortstop. He committed 34 errors in 149 games in 2010. He had 15 in 126 going into Monday. He'll still make some MVP ballots.

NATS IN OTHER AWARD DEBATES — At this point anyway, some other awards carry a smidge more prestige than a TWT Award. We'll concede that. Gonzalez has had a Cy Young-caliber year, but that one is probably going to the Mets' Dickey. Washington's Davey Johnson should be the National League manager of the year and LaRoche, who played only 43 games in 2011, should be the comeback player of the year except you can make a rock-solid case that San Francisco's Buster Posey has come back even better. LaRoche also will get MVP votes.

General manager Mike Rizzo is a strong candidate for executive of the year, along with Baltimore's Dan Duquette and Oakland's Billy Beane. If Rizzo does win, he ought to give a chunk of the award to Beane, who traded him Gonzalez and later catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Harper is a much stronger candidate for rookie of the year than he was a month ago. He's finishing the season strong and won't have to rely on the hype that comes with being a very productive teenager. Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier and Arizona pitcher Wade Miley will get some love, too. Frazier isn't finishing nearly as strong as Harper. Miley has won 16 games, but his ERA has risen from 2.85 to 3.32 since Aug. 6. It's a good bet this award ends up with Harper, who could put it on his shelf next to his TWT Award if there was an actual award that went with winning a TWT.

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