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Phil Wood: Nationals expected to be big winner for awards season

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The Nationals' first-ever playoff game may still be hours away, but the awards season has already started. In case you missed it, Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez was named winner of the 2012 Warren Spahn Award, as presented by the Bricktown Rotary Club of Oklahoma City and the Jim Thorpe Association. The Spahn Award goes to the best left-handed pitcher in the majors. No, it isn't the Cy Young Award, but it's still quite an honor.

Gonzalez figures to be a strong contender for the NL Cy Young, but the Mets' R.A. Dickey seems to have the edge. The knuckleballer won 20 games during a down year for his ballclub. His ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro last winter doesn't hurt, either; nor do his literary efforts. Still, Gonzalez's 21 wins for a division champion will garner him a lot of support.

Bryce Harper should be the NL Rookie of the Year. I don't have a vote, but his rookie campaign -- .270, 22 homers, 59 RBIs, 18 steals and 98 runs scored (fifth in the league) -- looks better than Todd Frazier's. The Reds' 26-year-old candidate hit .273 with 19 home runs and 67 RBIs and had just three steals and 55 runs scored. If you put any value in WAR (wins above replacement), it's not close: Harper's 5.0 is much higher than Frazier's 1.9. Arizona left-hander Wade Miley, who had 16 wins, should also finish ahead of Frazier.

Despite 98 wins, the Nationals have no clear-cut NL MVP candidate. Adam LaRoche carried the team offensively for much of the first half, and his 33 home runs and 100 RBIs are eye-catching. His glove was solid, too. Shortstop Ian Desmond had a breakout year with 25 homers and 73 RBIs to go along with a .292 average. His All-Star selection was much deserved, but we live in an era where MVPs usually post gaudier stats or play on bigger market teams. Giants catcher Buster Posey had a banner year at the plate, and like Desmond, plays a skill position. It's hard to imagine he won't win MVP with a batting title under his belt and playing for a division winner. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen is also a strong candidate, though some voters may unfairly hold his club's late-season swoon against him. Last year's winner, Ryan Braun, had another super year, but I suspect last offseason's performance-enhancing drugs kerfuffle will cost him a few votes.

I'll be shocked if Davey Johnson doesn't win the NL Manager of the Year Award. Yes, the Reds also had an 18-game positive turnaround from a year ago, but Dusty Baker didn't spend a decade away from the dugout Johnson managed to win a lot of games during the first half when he lost several key players to injury, some for weeks -- or months -- at a time. He assembled a solid bench and managed to survive quite some time with no dependable closer. If there were any doubts before, taking the Nationals to the postseason -- regardless of the outcome -- should punch his ticket to Cooperstown.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@ washingtonexaminer.com.

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