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Handicapping the National League year-end awards races


Handicapping the National League year-end awards races

Award week starts next Monday. The Nationals have two representatives in contention: Juan Soto, who hit an opposite-field homer in the MLB Japan All-Star Series on Friday morning, as a Rookie of the Year candidate and Max Scherzer making his annual appearance among the Cy Young finalists.

Soto’s race is preposterously tight. Scherzer’s is more clear, as is the MVP balloting. Let’s breakdown what’s happening:

NL Rookie of the Year

Announced Monday, Nov. 12, 6 p.m., MLB Network

Ronald Acuna Jr., LF, Braves
Juan Soto, LF, Nationals
Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers

This race is strange.

Soto worked as the clear favorite for a large chunk of the summer. He came up unexpectedly, stunned everyone with his demeanor and power, then became the clear front-runner for the award.

Acuna began to close, then seemingly passed, Soto as the Braves pushed to the top of the National League East. By the end of the season, he was often labeled the clear favorite. The Sporting News overwhelmingly named Acuna the NL Rookie of the Year in mid-October, and he is the odds-on favorite here. Bovada lists him at 1/3 to win.

It should be closer. Acuna and Soto are neck-and-neck across a flood of categories. Soto’s OPS was .923. Acuna’s .917. Acuna’s OPS-plus 144; Soto’s 142. Baseball Reference lists Acuna with the higher WAR. Fangraphs lists Soto with the higher WAR. Baseball Prospectus also tags Soto’s WAR (WARP in their case) higher, though it’s close.

This list goes on, and we’ll cover it in detail Monday after the announcement when I explain my ballot. Anyone who took a thorough look found what is basically a toss-up.

Oh, and hi Walker Buehler. Good season.

NL Manager of the Year

Announced Tuesday, Nov. 13, 6 p.m., MLB Network

Bud Black, Rockies
Brian Snitker, Braves
Craig Counsell, Brewers

A strange sight during the All-Star Game in the District this season: Bud Black walking back toward the manager’s office in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

The corner room which has doors to the hallway and a back door to the clubhouse was almost his. Black appeared set to take over for Matt Williams before the entire process became so out of whack the person eventually hired, Dusty Baker, said at his opening press conference he thought he was out of the running before a shift brought him to town.

That mess led to Black being hired in Colorado, where he has excelled since 2017. The Rockies won 91 games this season. The hitting was standard. But, the pitching has improved since the former MLB starter took over as manager.

Black is an amusing figure. When working on a story about Black back when he was the presumptive hire in Washington, I talked to former big league pitcher Mark Gubicza. He relayed a story about how Black used to grunt when he threw a changeup in an attempt to deceive hitters. This from a man predominantly throwing 88-mph fastballs.

Snitker was in charge of the Braves’ resurgence this season. He parlayed their unlikely division title into a two-year contract extension in October. gave Atlanta a 15 percent chance on Opening Day to make the postseason (the Nationals had a 73 percent chance, ahem). To win the division the Braves had an eight percent chance to win. They did both.

Counsell, a key figure in an excellent baseball/humanity book, “The Chicken Runs at Midnight”, managed the Brewers to the NL Central title with an, at times, unconventional approach. Jesus Aguilar turning into a thing helped.

Whoever wins, congratulations. This is so subjective, Bovada doesn’t even put odds out on it.

NL Cy Young

Announced Wednesday, Nov. 14, 6 p.m., MLB Network

Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets
Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies
Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals

No one on this list needs to grunt to fool hitters. Though, Max Scherzer tends to grunt a lot.

This announcement is expected to end Scherzer’s two-year run as the reigning Cy Young winner in the National League and prevent him from becoming one of five pitchers in history with four or more Cy Young Awards. That’s all thanks to deGrom.

Scherzer had a case for much of the season. But once deGrom’s workload caught up to his, it became clear he should win after what is fair to call a modern-day chapter of Bob Gibson’s 1968 season that forced the mound to be raised.

Gibson delivered a 1.12 ERA that season. DeGrom finished at 1.70 this year, though their FIPs, 1.77 for Gibson, 1.98 for deGrom, and WHIPs, 0.853 for Gibson and 0.912 for deGrom, were similar.

DeGrom allowed more than three earned runs once in 32 starts. That was April 10. If Scherzer wants to pinpoint one day that may have taken him out of the race, he can look at Sept. 14 in Atlanta. His ERA jumped .22 following a four-inning outing in which he allowed six earned runs. It was his worst start of the year.

Would a good start there have changed the outcome of this race? Probably not. But, it would have made it much tighter. Instead, this is deGrom’s hardware. Bovada has deGrom as the 1/5 favorite here.


Announced Thursday, Nov. 14, 6 p.m., MLB Network

Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Javier Baez, IF, Cubs

Yelich did voters a favor in September when he delivered a 1.307 OPS in the midst of the NL Central playoff race. He walked 24 times and struck out 15 that month. He even stole six bases in seven attempts.

Pulled together with the rest of his season, Yelich’s .326/.402/.598 line and quality defense should deliver the MVP award to him.

Yelich was a solid player before the All-Star break. He, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, Aguilar and Josh Hader were all in D.C. to play in the All-Star Game. Yelich’s .823 OPS at the time did not have him in demand during the week. He was more just a part of stories, mainly the ones that circled back to chastise Derek Jeter for strip-mining the talent in Miami.

But, his second half was potent. Yelich carried a 1.219 OPS after the All-Star break. The Brewers went from 2.5 games out of first at the break, to six games back in late August, to winning the division in game 163 on Oct. 1.

Baez played with his usual flash and style (more of this, please) while upping his power numbers to jump into the list of finalists. He also struck out with impunity, which is standard in this era, beating his OBP down to just .326.

Arenado continued to be Anthony Rendon’s foil. His offensive numbers received the typical Coors Field boost (1.105 OPS at home, .772 on the road), his glove and arm again did amazing work in the field. Arenado has won six consecutive Gold Gloves and gone to four consecutive All-Star Games. Rendon — who had a higher OPS-plus, which adjusts for a player’s ballpark, this season — is yet to receive either accolade.

Bovada has this as yet another layup. Yelich is a 4/9 favorite.


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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

As you would expect a first-place NL East team to do, the Atlanta Braves bounced back to even the series with Washington Friday night inside SunTrust Park. Josh Donaldson erased Victor Robles' game-tying, two-run home run with his walk-off single in the ninth. Atlanta improved to 59-40 and increased its lead over the Nationals to 6.5 games with a 4-3 final. 

Consider these notes as Washington grinds through a pivotal series in Atlanta: 

Player Notes:

Washington's first-year lefty didn't have his best stuff going Friday night in Atlanta. Patrick Corbin tossed just five innings allowing eight hits, two runs, two walks on 100 pitches. He struck out five Braves on his 30th birthday. 

The Nationals' third baseman has brought new meaning to the word 'consistency' all year long in his first season as an All-Star. Two games into this four-game series in Atlanta, Anthony Rendon has five hits, a walk, and 2 RBI.  

Victor Robles brought the fireworks in the ninth at SunTrust Park. The 22-year-old delivered a game-tying, two-run home run off Luke Jackson. The long-ball traveled a whopping 446 feet. 

The Fernando Rodney experience was alive and well. Davey Martinez made the questionable decision to bring his 42-year-old back out in the ninth for a second consecutive inning. It backfired. Just 14 of his 32 pitches were thrown for strikes. 


SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 25

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

Coming Up:

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Sunday 7/21: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Monday 7/22: Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park 


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Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3 despite Robles' heroics

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Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3 despite Robles' heroics

Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3

ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson's bases-loaded single off Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning lifted the Atlanta Braves over the Washington Nationals 4-3 on Friday night after Luke Jackson allowed a tying, two-run homer to Victor Robles in the top half.

Ronald Acuna Jr., who had three hits, led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk off Rodney (0-3) and took second on Dansby Swanson's single. Freddie Freeman walked on four pitches, loading the bases.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez brought in left fielder Juan Soto as a fifth infielder, including three on the left side against the right-handed hitting Donaldson.

Donaldson hit a 2-0 pitch over Robles to center-field warning track, and the Braves boosted their NL East lead to 6 games over the second-place Nationals. Atlanta had lost its previous five home games against Washington.

Robles' homer went 446 feet to left, giving Jackson his seventh blown save in 24 chances.

Julio Teheran gave up one hit through five scoreless innings and retired 14 consecutive hitters before pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra singled with one out in the sixth. Anthony Rendon chased Teheran with a two-out RBI single.

Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin couldn't win on his 30th birthday while paired with catcher Yan Gomes, who turned 32. Corbin and Gomes became only the second pitcher-catcher tandem to start together on their birthdays since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Chicago Cubs pitcher Dave Hillman and catcher Jim Fanning did it against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 1957.

Corbin allowed two runs and eight hits in five innings. He struck out Ozzie Albies with the bases loaded in the first and fanned Albies to end the fifth with two out.

Albies hit a two-out double in the fourth and scored on Austin Riley's double. Freeman was 2 for 20 in his career against Corbin before his RBI single in the fifth.

Acuna's RBI double against Tanner Rainey gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.


Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer, on the 10-day IL since July 10 with an injury originally announced as a mid-back strain, was given a cortisone shot on Tuesday to address inflammation in the bursa sac under his right shoulder blade. Scherzer still has some discomfort and must throw a bullpen session before cleared to pitch in a game. With Scherzer unavailable, RHP Austin Voth is expected to start in Sunday night's series finale.

Braves: RHP Patrick Weigel, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his major league debut Saturday. RHP Wes Parsons also was recalled from Gwinnett. RHPs Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint were optioned to Gwinnett.


Nationals: RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-6, 3.71) is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this season against the Braves, his former team.

Braves: Rookie RHP Mike Soroka (10-1, 2.24) will try to win his sixth straight decision on Saturday night. The 21-year-old right-hander became the youngest pitcher in franchise history to be selected an All-Star.