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Sunday, November 10, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It is awards week in Major League Baseball, when the Baseball Writers Association of America announces its honors in both the American and National leagues for those who will be recognized for their excellence this past season.

The Washington Nationals may not collect any of those honors.


Now, the organization has already won the most important and prestigious award in baseball — the Commissioners Trophy as World Series champions. But you would think after a season where a team came back from a 19-31 start to finish 93-69 and go on to beat two of the best teams in baseball — the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros — on their way to the World Series championship, at least someone is worth recognizing as the best in the game at their craft.

It is important to note, though, that these awards are voted on before the postseason begins.

Monday, the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year awards are announced. The Nationals have had one past winner — Bryce Harper in 2012 (for historical purposes, the original Senators had two players win American League Rookie of the Year honors right before they left for Minneapolis — Albie Pearson in 1958 and Bob Allison in 1959). This year the Nationals have nobody in the running for this award.

Tuesday comes the Manager of the Year. In the National League, the three finalists are Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers, Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves and Mike Shildt of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yes, there is a glaring omission — Nationals manager Dave Martinez.

How you could not consider the managing job Martinez did this past season — going 74-48 after their rocky start, the third best record in all of baseball — as one of the top three in the National League is indefensible.

Wednesday will be the announcement of the Cy Young Award winners for best pitcher in each league. Washington does have one of the three finalists in this contest — Nationals ace Max Scherzer, along with Jacob deGrom, last year’s winner from the New York Mets and Hyun-Jin Ryu from the Dodgers. The Mets’ deGrom is considered the favorite to win his second straight Cy Young, but it will likely be a close vote and perhaps Scherzer stands an outside chance to win his third NL Cy Young and fourth overall.

Thursday is the finale — the Most Valuable Player Award. This may be the Nationals’ best shot at an individual award to bookend their World Series trophy. Anthony Rendon is a finalist, along with Cody Bellinger from the Dodgers and Christian Yelich from the Brewers. Bellinger, who won a Silver Slugger award, is the favorite, with 47 home runs, 121 runs scored, 115 RBI and a .305 average. But no one would likely protest if Rendon, with 34 home runs, 117 runs scored, a league-leading 126 RBI and a .319 average, edged Bellinger out.

Truth be told, though, a Washington Nationals player has already won the individual honor that represents what this team accomplished in 2019.

Howie Kendrick was recently named the winner of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association 2019 Heart and Hustle Award — an honor that, according to the MLBPAA, “demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game.”

It also illustrates the Nationals’ season more than any of these more celebrated awards.

You could make the case that Kendrick, one of the Nationals postseason stars and the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, was an MVP candidate for the regular season as well, if we are to accept the meaning of the word “valuable.” No Washington National may have been more valuable to this team this season than Kendrick.

He didn’t have enough at bats to qualify for the batting title — 370 plate appearances — but Kendrick led the league in hitting with a .344 average. He scored 61 runs, had 115 hits, 23 doubles, 17 home runs and 62 RBI while playing three different positions on the field for Washington. Off the field, he took part in the “Salute to Service” experience for military families on game day. He also donated part of his salary to the Alzheimer’s Association and the Nationals Dream Foundation.

There have been alarms sounded about the possible departure of Rendon and Stephen Strasburg from Washington on the free agent market. You should also be very concerned about saying goodbye to Kendrick, who at the age of 36 near the end of his career, will likely be a prime designated hitter target among American League teams in the free agent market.

There were many reasons for the difference in performance from the 82-win 2018 Nationals and the 93-win team from this season — the addition of Patrick Corbin, a healthier Strasburg, a more productive Rendon, better performance from behind the plate with Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes — but perhaps the most glaring difference was Kendrick.

The heart and hustle of 2019 — Howie Kendrick.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.


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