A year after yielding a finalist for all four of Major League Baseball’s major postseason awards, the Washington Nationals have finalists for just one such honor this season: the National League Cy Young Award. Reigning winner Max Scherzer and first-time finalist Stephen Strasburg join the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw as finalists for the pitching award, which will be announced next week along with MVP, rookie of the year and manager of the year honors.
Scherzer is a finalist for the second straight season. He started the All-Star Game, finished second in the NL in ERA (2.51 to Kershaw’s 2.31) and led the league with 268 strikeouts — 29 more than the closest NL starter, the New York Mets’ Jacob DeGrom. He held opponents to a major league-low .178 batting average — 15 points better than the next closest starter (Indians ace Corey Kluber, an AL Cy Young finalist) and 20 points fewer than the next National Leaguer (Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray). His 0.90 WHIP bested Kershaw’s 0.95 mark, and Scherzer threw 200 2/3 innings to Kershaw’s 175. If Scherzer were to win, it would be his third Cy Young Award. Only nine pitchers have won so many, and all but two — Kershaw and Roger Clemens — are in the Hall of Fame.
Strasburg foretold his dominant NL Division Series outings with a 2.52 ERA this season — a point behind Scherzer. He held batters to a .204 average, fourth-lowest in baseball. His 10.47 strikeouts per nine ranked fourth in the NL, and his 1.02 WHIP was third behind Scherzer and Kershaw. For those concerned with wins — and most voters now are adamant they are not — Scherzer’s 16 tied for 10th in baseball; Strasburg’s 15 were tied for 13th. Writers cast their votes for these awards before the postseason, so nothing Scherzer, Strasburg or Kershaw did in October factors into the decision.
The Nationals were shut out of the MVP race by NL finalists Joey Votto of the Reds, Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins after Washington provided the unanimous winner in 2015 and a finalist in 2016.
Bryce Harper played only 111 games due to a late-season knee injury, one that likely cost him any chance at a second MVP award. Harper’s numbers — a .319 average and 1.008 OPS — placed him among the league’s elite offensive performers. But much like the Angels’ Mike Trout, who was not a finalist in the AL for the first time in his career, the injury left him with a smaller body of work to compare to the others, and Harper did not make the final three.
He was not the only National who could make a case for the award. Anthony Rendon finished the season leading the NL in FanGraphs WAR (6.9) after hitting .301 with 25 homers and 100 RBI. He ranked among the league’s best defensive third basemen and had the best Ultimate Zone Rating at the position. Often overlooked on the star-studded Nationals, Rendon was a final vote candidate but did not earn an all-star nod. Still, many in the Nationals clubhouse would have argued his case as the most valuable National, which is, of course, saying something.
Daniel Murphy finished second to Rendon on the Nationals in FanGraphs WAR, despite dropping off in production somewhat from his monstrous 2016. His 4.3 WAR ranked 27th in the majors, though his .322 average was second only to the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon among NL hitters. His .928 OPS was 14th-best in the National League.
Ryan Zimmerman compiled arguably the most impressive offensive season of the group with a .303 average and 36 homers that tied him for sixth in the NL. A season after hitting .218 and looking like a player whose career could be sliding into its twilight, Zimmerman marched back with a season that did not qualify him for NL MVP honors but should earn him serious consideration for comeback player of the year. That award is announced later, and fellow rejuvenated National Gio Gonzalez could also contend.
No Nationals were expected to contend for the NL rookie of the year award, and none did. Dusty Baker, who led the Nationals to 97 wins and a second straight division title, was not a finalist for NL manager of the year. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, the Rockies’ Bud Black and the Diamondbacks’ Torey Lovullo — three of the five NL West managers — are still in the running for that honor.
Read more baseball coverage: