BY BEN CRISWELL AND MITCHELL WESTALL, STAFF WRITERS
More than a week after losing the final game of the National League Division Series, the Washington Nationals find themselves in a familiar position—a position that does not include a baseball diamond. The Nats won 95 games this season, which is good enough for the second-best record in baseball and a berth in the NLDS. But a combination of injuries, untimely hitting and a clutch Los Angeles Dodgers ball club cut that season short once again.
Staff writers Ben Criswell and Mitchell Westall list some ESPY-style awards for the season.
Ben: Daniel Murphy
It’s hard to argue this one, and a little harder to imagine where the Nats would have been this year without him. Coming off a historic World Series run for the New York Mets in 2015, Murphy was brought in to continue his streak of Major League Baseball’s best pitching, and he did just that. Murphy finished the year second in the league in batting with an average of .347. He led the Nationals in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and total bases—and a lot of it wasn’t close. By far the most consistent player, Murphy almost single-handedly led the Nats to the franchise’s third playoff berth.
Mitchell: Trea Turner
The easy answer here is Daniel Murphy; however, I don’t believe the Nats would have made the playoffs if they had not called up Trea Turner. In a ball club that was struggling for hits as the Mets were getting hot, Turner provided an injection of life into the Nats’ offense. Turner, who played both second base and center field for the Nats, had a short season, and it came at the perfect time. Wilson Ramos batted around .330 all season long, but had a tough second half, finishing at .307 before tearing his ACL with a few days left in the regular season. While Murphy’s season deserves some serious National League MVP consideration, I believe Turner prevented the Nats from a second straight season where they crumbled after the trade deadline.
Ben: Max Scherzer
This one was tough. The Nats boasted one of the best pitching staffs in the league with a team ERA of 3.51, second behind the Cubs. Two Nats pitchers finished the year with an ERA under 3 (Tanner Roark and Scherzer), and Stephen Strasburg was 15-4 before he went down with an elbow injury in September. Thus, I’m giving the nod to Scherzer. While his ERA went up slightly from 2015, Scherzer won six more games, finishing the season with a record of 20-7. As the Nats ace, he went up against the best pitchers in the game on a weekly basis, which makes the record even more impressive when half the games he pitched in were 1-0 or 2-1 finals.
Mitchell: Max Scherzer
Before injuries derailed his season, Stephen Strasburg easily took this award. However, once Strasburg went down, it seemed like Max Scherzer began to figure it out. He wasn’t having a bad season before, but he was plagued by the home run ball. Scherzer’s second half, combined with his 20-strikeout gem, put him at the front of the Cy Young conversation along with the late Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, and even Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen. Scherzer has five more years on a seven-year contract that he signed two off-seasons ago, and the Nats appear to have a solid 1-2-3 punch with him, Strasburg and Tanner Roark for at least the next few years.
Ben: Anthony Rendon
Before Bryce Harper took home the MVP, there was another young talent who burst his way into the MVP discussion. Just two years ago in 2014, Rendon finished fifth in the National League MVP voting, becoming the first Nats player to finish that high in an MVP race. While an injury-riddled 2015 campaign stymied production, Rendon returned to form in 2016, hitting .270 with 85 RBI and 20 home runs. The often-overlooked Rendon is in just his fourth year in the big leagues, and, barring injury, he will be a good player for a long time.
Mitchell: Blake Treinen
Ever since the departure of Tyler Clippard, the Nats have been searching for a setup man to pitch the eighth inning. This season, Blake Treinen appeared to nail down that role for the years to come. His 2.28 regular season ERA was very exceptional in what proved to be a breakout year for the young right-hander. His postseason was less than stellar: he gave up two runs on three hits in 2.2 innings. Look for Treinen to continue to improve over the next couple of seasons, and if the Nats can resign Mark Melancon, they could have their best late-inning bullpen in recent history, with a healthy Aaron Barrett, Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis for the seventh, Treinen for the eighth and Melancon for the ninth.
Ben: Trea Turner
One of the highest-rated prospects in baseball, Turner came on strong for the Natls towards the middle of the year. A shortstop by trade, Turner filled the void left by injured Ben Revere in center field. In 73 games, Turner hit .342 and stole a team high 33 bases. Turner also got his first taste of the postseason this season, hitting .318 in 22 at-bats against the Dodgers in the NLDS. Turner will be a key player in the foreseeable future for the Nats. Look for Turner to make the move to shortstop this offseason, barring a healthy Ben Revere, to replace Danny Espinosa.
Mitchell: Wilson Ramos
This season, the Nats enjoyed breakout seasons from several players. Trea Turner burst onto the scene in his second season of major league action, Blake Treinen shored up the back end of the bullpen and Tanner Roark came back to the rotation strong after a shaky 2015 campaign. But my pick for breakout player of the year is Wilson Ramos. Over his injury-plagued career, Ramos has usually hovered around the .270 mark, and his home run total depended on how many games he played. For the second consecutive season, Ramos was able to play a full season, until right at the end when he tore his ACL. This season, he and Daniel Murphy seemed to be the top two contenders for the batting title, but a cold second half dropped his average down to .307. Unfortunately, this injury came at the worst possible time for him entering free agency. Ramos has said he might have to make a move to the American League as a designated hitter since a knee injury will limit his ability to catch. This is unfortunate, because he has become one of the fan favorites on this team.
Rather than single out just one player (Bryce Harper), I’ll lump all the disappointments into one category. The three main injuries for the Nats this year were Wilson Ramos, Stephen Strasburg and Ben Revere. Both Ramos and Strasburg were having career years before they went down towards the end of the year and missed the postseason. Ben Revere battled injury the entire season and was left off the postseason roster. Bryce Harper, although not injured, certainly played like he was, batting almost one hundred points lower than he did in 2015. Combined, these three injuries and a lackluster year from Harper played a major role in the ending of the Nationals’ year.
Mitchell: Bryce Harper
In a historic MVP-winning 2015, Bryce Harper looked like he was going to keep it going this season after a hot April. But after a four-game set against the future National League champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Harper’s season went downhill fast. Harper was walked 13 times as the Cubs swept the Nats. Harper finished the season with a .244 average, with 108 walks and 24 home runs. His swing was off-balance all season long, and a few injuries here and there didn’t help his cause. Nats fans are hoping Harper can put 2016 behind him and return to his MVP-level play for 2017 and beyond.
Ben: Wilson Ramos
If you have ever been to a Nats home game, you know that there’s nothing quite like a Wilson Ramos at-bat. Ramos takes his heroic walk to the batter’s box with chants of his name echoing through the stadium to the tune of “Wilson” by Phish. Nicknamed “the Buffalo,” Ramos hit .307 on his way to his first All-Star appearance while playing 131 games behind the plate. “The Buffalo” also has one of the most gut-wrenching stories of any player in the league. In late 2011, Ramos was kidnapped and held hostage for two days in the mountains of Venezuela, but he was rescued after a gun battle and back on the field for spring training.
Fan Favorite: Jayson Werth
For the past few years, it seems like Jayson Werth has been the fan favorite of all the Nats players. Followed closely by Ramos, Turner and even Scherzer, Werth’s popularity in D.C. is about as big as his beard. Even though he has had a pair of disappointing seasons back to back, Werth is still loved by his fans. A fan-run account on twitter dedicated to his beard (@JWerthsBeard) has over 20,000 followers. Even as his career comes to an end, Werth seems to always be there for a clutch hit or a long at-bat and a fantastic post-game quote.