Howard wins NLCS MVP after record-setting run

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Ryan Howard failed to drive in a run last night for the first time in this year’s playoffs, but it didn’t stop him from being named NLCS MVP after hitting .333/.524/.933 with two homers and eight RBIs in the Phillies’ five-game series win over the Dodgers.
Howard’s streak of consecutive playoff games with an RBI was snapped at eight, which ties him with Lou Gehrig and Alex Rodriguez for the all-time record (pending what A-Rod does tonight).
He also joins the following list of this decade’s NLCS MVP winners:
2009 – Ryan Howard
2008 – Cole Hamels
2007 – Matt Holliday
2006 – Jeff Suppan
2005 – Roy Oswalt
2004 – Albert Pujols
2003 – Ivan Rodriguez
2002 – Benito Santiago
2001 – Craig Counsell
2000 – Mike Hampton
Lots of big names on that list, with the occasional Suppan or Counsell thrown in as a reminder of how unpredictable the playoffs can be. Philadelphia is the first NL team to play in back-to-back World Series since Atlanta in 1995 and 1996, and the NLCS MVPs those two years were Javy Lopez and … Mike Devereaux.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉