- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Everybody loves a winner, and that’s especially true when it comes to the MVP award.

As long as the Washington Nationals are in last place in the National League East, Alfonso Soriano has little chance of winning the NL MVP award.

Soriano needs just one outfield assist to become the first player with 40 homers, 30 stolen bases and 20 outfield assists in a season. On Friday, the Nationals’ All-Star left fielder secured his fourth 30/30 season by stealing second base in the second inning in the Nationals’ 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Heading into last night’s game, Soriano ranked second in the NL with 39 homers, fourth with 93 runs, first with 295 total bases and 71 extra base hits, and was fifth with 144 hits and a .602 slugging percentage.

Soriano hit his 40th home run in the fifth inning last night.

If the Nationals weren’t in last place, the .294-hitting Soriano might be a leading candidate for MVP.

But Soriano and Nationals manager Frank Robinson both agree that the MVP doesn’t come from a bad team, no matter how gaudy his numbers.

“I think to win the MVP you have to have your team going to the playoffs,” Soriano said. “This team is not even close to making the playoffs.

Said Robinson: “Where are we? He’s probably the MVP on this ballclub, he’s certainly put up some nice numbers and he’s having a nice year, no doubt about it, but as far as being a strong candidate for the MVP, it’s a little stretch.

“He’ll probably be a candidate for MVP. And he’ll get some votes, and he should.”

The New York Mets own the best record in the NL and have two legitimate candidates in All-Stars David Wright and Carlos Beltran. The NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals are led by first baseman Albert Pujols. Those three are expected to finish higher in the NL MVP voting than Soriano.

“It’s tough, because I’m putting up very good numbers, but it means nothing for the team because we are going nowhere,” said Soriano, who is a free agent after the season.

In his five seasons with the New York Yankees [1999-2003], Soriano grew accustomed to winning, and winning is going to play a major role in his future contract negotiations.

“I was with the Yankees for a long time, and they win, that’s more important than anything,” Soriano said. “If I don’t win, I’m not happy. Whatever I do is fine, but I’m more happy when I win. I played all those years with the Yankees and they taught me how to win.”

Fick goes to Harrisburg

Nationals catcher/first baseman Robert Fick will begin a rehab assignment tomorrow with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators.

Fick, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since Aug. 1 with torn rib cartilage, will return to Washington today to meet with the team’s medical staff before reporting to Harrisburg. If all goes well with the Senators, Fick is expected to join the Nationals in Atlanta in time for the weekend series against the Braves at Turner Field.

In 37 games this season, Fick is hitting .244 with two home runs and six RBI.

Curse of the long ball

All season, right-handed reliever Jon Rauch has struggled to keep the ball inside the park. In his last three appearances, Rauch has allowed a home run.

But Robinson said it’s not a reason to be concerned as long as Rauch (3-3, 3.39 ERA) gets away from his fastball.

“The only thing that concerns me is Jon is getting behind hitters and just feels like he can throw the fastball,” Robinson said. “He shows no imagination or anything about pitching when he’s giving them up — all three of them have been on 3-2 pitches.”

Robinson wants to see Rauch use his off-speed pitches more during a hitter’s count.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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