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Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger win 2017 Rookie of the Year Awards

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As expected, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger won the Rookie of the Year Awards unanimously in their respective leagues, as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Judge, 25, hit .284/.422/.627 with 52 home runs, 114 RBI, and 128 runs scored in 678 plate appearances. He led the American League in home runs, runs scored, and walks (127). Judge made the AL All-Star team during the summer and just took home a Silver Slugger Award. He’s a major contender for the AL MVP Award as well.

Judge is the first Yankee to win the Rookie of the Year Award since Derek Jeter in 1996.

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi finished in second place with 23 second-place votes and six third-place votes. Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini finished third with five second-place votes and 16 third-place votes. Other players receiving votes included the Athletics’ Matt Olson, the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel, and the Yankees’ Jordan Montgomery.

Bellinger, 22, hit .267/.352/.581 with 39 home runs, 97 RBI, and 87 runs scored in 548 plate appearances. He didn’t lead the league in any categories, but he also didn’t debut until April 25.

Dodger rookies have won the award in back-to-back years. Shortstop Corey Seager took home the honor in 2016. Prior to that, the last team to have back-to-back ROY Award winners were the 2004-05 Athletics with Bobby Crosby and Huston Street. The Dodgers, of course, have kind of made the ROY their thing as their players won the award five years running from 1992-96: Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth.

Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong finished second in balloting with 15 second-place votes and 11 third-place votes. Pirates first baseman Josh Bell finished third with 10 second-place votes and two third-place votes. Others receiving votes included the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins, the Rockies’ German Marquez and Kyle Freeland, the Padres’ Manuel Margot, the Reds’ Luis Castillo, and the Cubs’ Ian Happ.

The 2017 Rookie of the Year Awards mark the first time both winners won the award unanimously since 1997 (Scott Rolen, Nomar Garciaparra). It also happened in 1993 (Mike Piazza, Tim Salmon), and in 1987 (Benito Santiago, Mark McGwire).

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.