Throughout the season, as the Washington Nationals marched to a major league-best 98 victories, they shunned talk of individual awards. The World Series title, they said, was all that mattered.
But after a sour ending to the best season in the organization’s history, what’s left now is to take some consolation in perhaps earning a few of those honors.
They’ve already seen some roll in. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Stephen Strasburg took home Silver Slugger awards last week. LaRoche earned a Gold Glove the week before that. Manager Davey Johnson was named The Sporting News’ Manager of the Year, and general manager Mike Rizzo finished second to Billy Beane in the Executive of the Year voting. Now come the Baseball Writers Association of America awards, generally considered the “official” awards, and Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez and Johnson are finalists for three of them.
Rookie of the Year — Bryce Harper, Wade Miley (Arizona), Todd Frazier (Cincinnati)
Two “Rookie of the Year” awards already were handed out, and Harper did not win either. Miley won The Sporting News honor, and Frazier earned the Players Choice Award. But Harper is seen by many as the favorite for the BBWAA award.
Harper, now 20, spent his rookie season placing his name among the greatest 19-year-olds ever. His ascension to the majors was accelerated out of necessity, but once he arrived, he became an integral fixture in the lineup. A torrid start gave way to a slower July and August. But in September, with the Nationals in the heat of a playoff race, Harper posted his best month as a major leaguer. He hit .330 with a .400 on-base percentage and 18 extra-base hits in 29 stars.
Harper finished with a .270 average, .340 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage. He clubbed 22 home runs to go with 26 doubles and nine triples, stole 18 bases and did it all in 139 games — spending the first month of the season in Triple-A.
How does that stack up? Frazier hit .273 for the Reds with a .331 on-base percentage and .498 slugging. He hit 19 homers and became an important part of the Reds’ lineup when they thrived late in the summer despite the loss of former MVP Joey Votto to injury. And Miley, a 16-game winner in the Diamondbacks’ rotation, had a 3.33 ERA and 144 strikeouts (with just 37 walks) in 194 innings.
Manager of the Year — Davey Johnson, Dusty Baker (Cincinnati), Bruce Bochy (San Francisco)
If the voting were done after the playoffs, it would probably be a runaway for Bochy, whose Giants took home their second World Series title in the past three seasons. But ballots are due by the end of the regular season, and Johnson’s considered the favorite to win his second Manager of the Year award after stewarding the Nationals to the NL East crown in his first full season at the helm.
Johnson, who announced Saturday that 2013 likely would be his final season in the dugout before he transitions back to a consulting role for the Nationals in 2014, often joked about the award. The last time he won it (in 1997 with the Orioles), he was fired the same day in a contract dispute. That won’t happen this time, even if he doesn’t win.
“I’m glad I dodged that bullet,” Johnson quipped Saturday. “That would’ve been the kiss of death.
“Awards are nice,” he added more seriously on the prospect of winning. “But I’m not big on them. You’re glad that people acknowledge you did a good job, but I’ve been fired four times so, I mean, I’m more worried on how we did as a group and where we’re set up for next year.”
Baker, who missed part of the end of the season with medical issues, led the Reds to a 97-65 record and the NL Central crown. They lost, however, in the NLDS to Bochy’s Giants, who ran away with the NL West title with a 94-68 mark and staved off elimination five times in the playoffs before reaching the World Series.
Cy Young — Gio Gonzalez, R.A. Dickey (New York Mets), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The Nationals thought they knew what they were getting in left-hander Gio Gonzalez when they traded four of their best prospects for him last December. But even Johnson and Rizzo conceded his major league-best 21 wins, 2.89 ERA and just 6.727 hits per nine innings exceeded their expectations.
Gonzalez, an All-Star, put together a phenomenal season and helped make the Nationals’ rotation arguably the most formidable in the game. But Dickey is viewed by many as the heavy favorite to win his first Cy Young award after winning 20 games, racking up 230 strikeouts and a 2.73 ERA. Perhaps even more impressive is that throwing a difficult-to-control knuckleball, Dickey had the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the major leagues at 4.259.
Kershaw, the 2011 winner, posted a MLB-best 2.53 ERA in 33 starts. Kershaw also led the NL in walks and hits per innings pitched and allowed a major league fewest 6.720 hits per nine innings.