Odds are the Nationals will fall just short of the playoffs, and instead of playing in October they will be left to ponder their season. The end-of-year awards will be handed out in November, and a few Nationals players may garner some votes. Jordan Zimmermann is a fringe National League Cy Young Award candidate, while Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond may also earn some NL most valuable player votes. With a week left in the season, it is perhaps time to consider the same for the Nationals. Who has been the team’s MVP?
Is it Zimmermann, who has been the most consistent of the Nationals’ starters with 206 innings under his belt and a 19-8 record? Or, is it Desmond, the team’s stalwart shortstop who leads the team with strong defense, in games played with 151, a team-best 61 extra-base hits and leadership? Or, is it Werth, whose monstrous return from injury has keyed the Nationals’ second-half surge with a .934 OPS, seventh best in the majors?
Asked if Werth was the team’s MVP, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson didn’t disagree, but his response was telling. “Hmm, there’s another guy that’s right there with him.” A shortstop, perhaps? Johnson nodded his head and smiled. “Ironman Desi.”
Desmond may wind up having the largest impact on the Nationals’ season. He is a team leader who hustles on every play, although he may not receive as much attention for it. Watch any game and you’ll notice Desmond chasing down foul balls, running out groundouts and diving into bases. At 28, he is a candidate for a long-term extension and has carried himself as a good ambassador for the team.
Desmond’s defense is solid; he is second on the team with a 4.1 Ultimate Zone Rating score, behind Denard Span’s 9.7 UZR score. According to FanGraphs.com, he leads the team with a 5.1 WAR, and Werth ranks second with a 4.4 WAR. He is hitting .286/.335/.467 with 20 home runs, 38 doubles, 80 RBI and 19 stolen bases. Despite playing only 130 games last season, Desmond finished 16th in the NL MVP voting. His 2012 numbers are better, but Desmond has been the Nationals’ ironman from day one.
Since Werth’s return on June 4, the Nationals are 55-42. At 34, Werth is hitting .321/.402/.532 in 122 games and is among the league leaders in many offensive statistics. Even when the Nationals’ lineup slumped during a stretch of the summer, he was still hitting. He, too, is a team leader.
“I think he’ll get a decent number [of NL MVP votes],” Johnson said. “The key is winning. Would we be further down without him? Yeah. [Freddie] Freeman, he would be a candidate because they’re winning the division. [Andrew] McCutchen, Allen Craig, those kind of guys, [St. Louis] catcher [Yadier Molina]. When you’re winning, that weighs heavily because your performance helped get you to the top.”