- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Well, the last week of the season finally is here. It wasn’t the smoothest ride, though it sure was eventful. The Washington Nationals may not be very good, but if nothing else, they’re interesting.

Think about how much has transpired in the last six months. Alfonso Soriano’s refusal to play left field in spring training. Jose Guillen threatening Pedro Martinez. A rash of injuries. The new owners being named. Ryan Zimmerman making his case for rookie of the year honors. Jim Bowden trading away Livan Hernandez, Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Mike Stanton, Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward. Soriano becoming the charter member of the 40-40-40-20 club. A lot of other bad stuff that most fans probably would rather not remember.

As the finish line draws near, it’s time to look back at 2006 and hand out some team awards and other honors.

• Most valuable player: Alfonso Soriano

Was there any doubt? It is truly remarkable to think back to Soriano’s spring training fiasco and see how everything worked out. No one could have foreseen this, not his prodigious offensive numbers, not his defensive improvement in the outfield and certainly not the overwhelmingly positive influence he has had in the Nationals clubhouse. Even if he signs elsewhere this winter, Soriano treated the fans to a fabulous season.

• Most valuable pitcher: Chad Cordero

There aren’t a lot of choices here. No member of the decimated starting rotation deserves consideration, and most of the bullpen was a revolving door all season. The one constant was Cordero, who may not have duplicated lasts season’s All-Star performance but still reaffirmed he was not a one-hit wonder and should be closing games in the District for years to come.

• Rookie of the year: Ryan Zimmerman

There’s no question he’s the Nationals’ rookie of the year. But will he be the National League’s? Check back in November to find out. Zimmerman certainly made a bona fide case for it. He cracked 100 RBI, consistently kept his batting average above .280, played Gold Glove-caliber defense and had an uncanny flair for the dramatic. Florida’s Dan Uggla made his own compelling case, but Zimmerman may be more deserving.

• Most improved player: Nick Johnson

It’s a bittersweet honor at this point because his season ended horrifically Saturday when he broke his right leg crashing into teammate Austin Kearns. But the good news is Johnson should be ready for the start of spring training, and this injury shouldn’t overshadow his fine season on the field. Johnson set career highs in batting average, home runs, RBI, doubles and on-base percentage and established himself as one of the Nationals’ most reliable and most talented cornerstone players.

• Biggest disappointments: John Patterson and Jose Guillen

The Nationals expected big things from both players, two keys to the club’s success in 2005. Both had serious injuries and contributed little to the team. Patterson pitched well in seven starts but complained of a forearm strain all along. Turns out he had an impinged nerve near his elbow, requiring season-ending surgery. Guillen, meanwhile, battled a variety of injuries, hit a meager .216 in 69 games and then learned he needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

• Play of the year: Zimmerman (April 21 vs. Braves)

Might qualify as one of the plays of the year in the major leagues. In the third inning, Atlanta’s Pete Orr lofted a high popup behind third base. Zimmerman turned around and sprinted into shallow left field, looked over his shoulder to find the ball and then went all-out to make the catch parallel to the ground. The RFK Stadium crowd roared with approval for the rookie’s “Web Gem.”

• Game of the year: Nationals 3, Yankees 2 (June 18)

Zimmerman provided plenty of spectacular moments this season. This one topped them all. Trailing the Yankees 2-1 with one out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson singled off Chien-Ming Wang. Zimmerman followed by hitting the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence, the first game-winning homer of his life. A sellout crowd of 45,157 at RFK went berserk, celebrating the Nationals’ second dramatic rally to beat the Bronx Bombers in as many days.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page.

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