According to first baseman Adam LaRoche, it’s pretty clear who the Nationals’ MVP has been this year. Before Friday’s game, he said Anthony Rendon “may be our hands-down team MVP when this thing’s said and done.” In a season where Washington’s two highest-profile players — Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg — have had their struggles, a lot of players have stepped up to help lead the Nationals to the best record in the NL. So is LaRoche right about Rendon being the team MVP? With just a few weeks of the regular season remaining, here are the leading candidates.
1. Anthony Rendon
.280, 18 HRs, 73 RBIs
LaRoche knows what he’s talking about. Rendon has been the Nationals’ best player this season. Not only does he lead the team with a 4.0 offensive WAR (wins above replacement), but he also has a team-high 1.3 defensive WAR, playing an above-average second and third base this year. He leads Washington in runs, is second in hits, and third in batting average, homers and RBIs. Rendon’s production directly affects the Nationals’ outcome. In wins, the 24-year-old is hitting .347 with 59 RBIs. In losses, he is hitting .189 with 14 RBIs.
2. Denard Span
.299, 4 HRs, 31 RBIs
Since the All-Star break, there hasn’t been a better Nationals hitter than their leadoff guy. Span has hit .360 with a .407 on-base percentage in 43 games in the second half of the season. For the year, he’s on pace to steal a career-high 32 bases, and the center fielder had a hit or walk in 36 straight games at one point in 2014. In August alone, Span had 14 multi-hit games, and he doesn’t appear to be cooling off. The 30-year-old, who has averaged one home run every 112.7 at-bats in his career, hit two bombs in Monday’s game against the Dodgers.
3. Jayson Werth
.288, 16 HRs, 76 RBIs
Like Span, Werth has been on fire since the All-Star break, hitting .317 with four home runs and 22 RBIs. The veteran outfielder, who leads the team with a .383 on-base percentage, was the NL player of the month for July. Werth is crushing left-handed pitchers, sporting a .939 OPS against them, and has come through in the clutch. In 25 ninth-inning at-bats, Werth has 13 hits (.520 average), and he has hit .345 with a .463 on-base percentage when batting with runners in scoring position. The 35-year-old has been a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup.
4. Ian Desmond
.251, 22 HRs, 81 RBIs
The shortstop’s batting average is the second-worst among Nationals who have played more than 80 games this year, but he’s one of the best hitters when it counts. When there’s no one on, Desmond has a dismal .245 batting average. But when there’s a runner in scoring position, his average jumps to .282. And with the bases loaded, Desmond is 8-for-11 (.727 average) with one home run and 17 RBIs. His ability to come through with runners on has led to a team-high 81 RBIs. The 28-year-old also leads the team, and all major league shortstops, with 22 homers.
5. Doug Fister
12-5, 2.55 ERA, 80 Ks
The 6-foot-8 right-hander missed the first month of the season, but he’s been the Nationals’ best starter for most of the year. In 17 starts from May 14 to Aug. 17, Fister went 12-2 with a 1.89 ERA. But the Nationals offseason acquisition entered his Tuesday night start against the Dodgers coming off two of his worst outings of the year, allowing eight earned runs in 11 2/3 innings. If Fister is able to regain his form this month and Washington makes the playoffs, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fister be the team’s Game 1 starter.
(Stats entering Tuesday’s game)
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