Early signs point to hardware for Nationals
Teammates Harper, Scherzer clear front-runners for NL MVP, Cy Young Awards
I've always felt Memorial Day is a credible waypoint to predict who'll win MLB's coveted awards.
At the one-third mark of the season, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a slam dunk for the National League MVP Award. No one else comes close.
Teammate Max Scherzer is more than earning the megabucks Washington gave him during the offseason and would easily win the NL Cy Young Award.
Harper is only 22, but he has more than come of age this season. He's atop or high up in just about every NL offensive category and on a fast track to add the MVP to his 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award trophy.
For the better part of the last two seasons, we've been saying the Angels' Mike Trout is the game's best player. If the first two months of 2015 are an indication, Harper has moved ahead.
In May alone, Harper blasted 13 homers, drove in 28 runs and batted .360.
Through Wednesday's games, Harper is tied with Seattle's Nelson Cruz with 18 homers, tops in MLB. Only the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton (46) has driven in more runs than Harper's 44. Harper leads the Majors with a .718 slugging average and is batting .333.
With his Ted Williams-type discipline at the plate, Harper has become the complete offensive player. Not only is he hitting for power, he's also hitting for average. I have a hunch Harper is only going to get better.
The Nationals spent $210 million to sign Scherzer as a free agent. He's given them a chance to return to the postseason -- and many predict the club will get to the World Series.
You can make a case for the Braves' Shelby Miller, the Dodgers' Zack Greinke, or Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett, but Scherzer gets my vote for the NL Cy Young Award. He leads the Nats in wins with six, has the lowest ERA (1.85) among their starters and has been the workhorse in innings pitched (77 2/3).
Scherzer -- who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2013 with the Tigers -- solidified my choice in May, when he won five of six decisions with a 1.67 ERA. He led the Majors with 56 strikeouts for the month.
Scherzer has given the Nationals a powerful one-two punch with Jordan Zimmermann (5-2, 2.88 ERA), which has kept them atop the NL East.
AL MVP Award
Cruz. The Mariners have struggled mightily this spring, but where would they be without Cruz? His 18 homers are tied with Harper, his .324 average is 10th best in MLB and he's driven in 39 runs. He has just about been all of Seattle's offense, but with the Mariners' addition this week of Mark Trumbo from Arizona, Cruz will get some protection in the batting order.
AL Cy Young Award
Tough call. It's hard to choose someone else over the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. At this stage of the season, with Houston leading the AL West, my vote goes to the Astros' Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel is a huge reason why the Astros are dominating their division and have their eye on the postseason for the first time since 2005. He led the Majors last year with five complete games and already has two this year. Keuchel is 7-1, his 1.76 ERA is the second best and he has 60 strikeouts. In May alone, Keuchel was 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA and 38 strikeouts. When he lost to the Orioles, 4-3, on May 25, it was his first setback since Aug. 21, 2014.
Hernandez is 8-2, but his season ERA is 2.63 compared to Keuchel's 1.76.
NL Rookie of the Year Award
Flip a coin between the Cubs' Kris Bryant and the Dodgers' Joc Pederson.
My nod goes to Bryant. I base that on the fact he didn't open the season with the Cubs, but spent the full month of May with them. For the month, Bryant led all Major League rookies with 22 RBIs and was second in homers, on-base percentage, runs and total bases.
Overall, Bryant is batting .270 with seven homers and 33 RBIs.
Pederson, on the other hand, has 17 homers, the most by a Dodgers player after 53 games. He has 32 RBIs and is batting .267.
AL Rookie of the Year Award
With Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis (.271 with seven homers and 26 RBIs) on the DL since May 16, my choice is the Rangers' Delino DeShields, son of a former Major Leaguer by the same name. DeShields, finally getting a chance to play more, batted .296 in May with 22 runs. More importantly, he stole 10 bases, key to his increased value to the Rangers. Overall, DeShields is batting .286 in 38 games.
Yes, as the melody goes, it's a long, long way from May to September.
That's true also for baseball and its major awards.
And that's why they're not given two months into the season. But it's intriguing to predict.