Awards season in baseball can bring out the more provincial predispositions in those around the game, with the merits of candidates often colored by how close those discussing it are to those players.
Yet it can be true that a team owes its spot in the playoff race to a small number of players who rate among the game's best, and still have those players struggle to break through in the national conversation.
For Orioles Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini, candidacy might be as far as they get to honors like American League MVP and Rookie of the Year when they are settled. That their teammates readily acknowledge the main reason the Orioles’ games still mean something with three weeks to go is the steady contributions of that pair is worth more to them than any award.
"Jon and Trey have been pretty consistent through thick and thin, and that's been a key for us to stay competitive," manager Buck Showalter said. "Everybody's going to have their ups and downs, but for those guys, there weren't many long periods where they were out of whack offensively."
Said designated hitter Mark Trumbo: "I know the recognition may not be quite as strong as some of the other guys around the league might get from time to time, but it's definitely not lost on anybody that watches Orioles baseball the kind of contributions these guys have made. The first half, our offense as a whole wasn't near as good as probably we've been in the second half — it may not even be close — but those two guys in specific have hit the entire way."
Schoop, 25, had the honor of being listed as one of the seven candidates for AL MVP in an ESPN poll ahead of their Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, along with surging teammate Manny Machado, but the competition is steep.
Dan Shulman, who will be in the broadcast booth for the Orioles-Cleveland Indians game Sunday, said Schoop’s resume is impressive.
"I think Schoop really jumped out at me, because anybody can have a hot couple weeks or a hot month, but from afar looking in, he's sustained it," Shulman said. "He's had a great year. For a second baseman to be a .300 hitter with 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs, you don't see that. I think that's really impressed me. He was a good player last year, but he's taken it to a whole other level this year."
Even at Schoop’s own position, though, the Houston Astros’ José Altuve entered Friday batting an otherworldly .351 with a .969 OPS and 21 home runs to lead the AL with 6.4 wins above replacement (WAR). Schoop, by comparison, entered Saturday batting .304 with an .887 OPS, albeit with 31 home runs.
Factor in the perennial candidacy of Los Angeles Angels star outfielder Mike Trout and the breakout of Angels teammate Andrelton Simmons, plus New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge and Indians breakout infielder José Ramírez, there are plenty of people whose seasons might top Schoop's.
"I don't think [Machado] or Schoop can win it, but I think both will finish in the top 10," Shulman said. " I think both will get some votes."
That he might not get any national recognition for his season doesn't change the perception of those around him.
"What Schoopy has done is pretty impressive," closer Zach Britton said. "He's right in there with anybody who's in the discussion for the award. A lot of time, market size, playoff team — unfortunately, a lot of those things do come into account.
"But I think if you look at the year that Schoopy has had, it's been pretty impressive, and it's been consistent all the way through. That competition he's got with Manny has pushed him, too. He's seen what Manny has done the last few years and come into his own."
Schoop said earlier this month that his goals were larger than an award, as the MVP or any other honor would be moot if he went home in the first week of October and watched the playoffs.
Mancini, a Rookie of the Year candidate, has similar lack of focus on the potential honors, despite entering the weekend as one of the league's top rookies by nearly any measure.
"I've always really liked him and wondered, is he a first baseman, a left fielder, a DH, a platoon guy?" Shulman said. "And every time they put him in there, he hit. Especially early in the season ... he had about a 10-day, two-week stretch where you just couldn't get the guy out. He was hitting everything out of the ballpark."
He entered Saturday batting .292/.339/.501 with 23 home runs and 21 doubles, all while learning to play a serviceable left field on the fly. While his offense has made him the second-best AL rookie hitter behind Judge — who even with a second-half swoon entered Saturday with 39 home runs and a .982 OPS — his defense isn't highly rated by advanced metrics. That has resulted in Mancini netting a 1.3 WAR, which was seventh for AL position player rookies going into the weekend. Three rookie pitchers have topped that this year as well.
The 25-year-old Notre Dame product knows full well what he was up against. As he was trying to fashion himself as an outfielder and build his role into an everyday one, Judge was sealing the award for himself.
"Early on, what he did — and what he's done this year — is ridiculous," Mancini said of Judge. "He's had such an incredible year, so no, it's not really something you think about. The main thing you think about is just trying to do well, help your team win. You don't really think about regular-season awards or anything."
Mancini would rather earn the types of things Showalter and Trumbo have to say about him that.
"The thing that's most important to me is just kind of respect around the clubhouse, trying to be a part of something bigger than yourself," Mancini said. "Especially coming into this year and not exactly knowing what my role would be — for that to be the case is incredible to hear something like that, and honestly worth more than any award could ever be."