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If you’re wondering who has been the Charleston Dirty Birds’ most valuable player during the team’s inaugural season in the independent Atlantic League, there are a few very good candidates as the team inches closer to a postseason berth.

You can start with the tandem of outfielder Teodoro Martinez and third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who have both spent time this season as the league’s leading hitter. Going into Thursday night’s game at York, Martinez was hitting .340 in a team-high 98 games and leads the Dirty Birds with 64 runs scored, while Callaspo sports a .334 batting average in 97 games and a .466 on-base percentage that leads the team.

Jimmy Paredes, the club’s leader in home runs (17) and RBIs (68), as well as first baseman Edwin Espinal (.309, 10 home runs, 66 RBIs), also have to be considered.

But if you ask me who I think is the Dirty Birds’ 2021 MVP, I’ll have to go with pitcher Arik Sikula.

While not eye-popping in the offense-heavy Atlantic League, Sikula’s numbers are solid, stand head and shoulders as the best on West Virginia’s staff and rank among the league leaders in three major categories.

  • At 10-7, he has four more wins than any other pitcher on the team and ranks fourth (tied) in the league in victories.
  • Sikula’s 101 strikeouts rank fourth in the league.

While his 4.31 ERA looks a bit unsightly, it still ranks third among qualified pitchers in a league where the composite ERA hovers just under 6.00.

Sikula’s 23 starts and 1312/3 innings lead the team, with pitcher/pitching coach Elih Villanueva second in those categories with 18 starts and 981/3 innings. Sikula hasn’t missed a start all year, and only three Atlantic League pitchers have thrown more innings.

Numbers aside, though, Sikula’s contributions to the team go far beyond what he does on the mound.

You see, the former South Charleston, Hurricane and Marshall pitcher also has a day job with the Dirty Birds. When asked, Sikula likens it to the team’s traveling secretary.

Among his duties are recruiting and player procurement, which includes lining up new players with physical exams, finding them a place to live in Charleston, setting up their contracts, doing the paperwork for direct deposits of their salaries to their banks, sending the roster and contract information to the Atlantic League office, coordinating road trips with hotels and bus drivers, etc., etc. ... wow.

“I’m basically the liaison between the front office and the players,” Sikula said.

Combining his work on the mound and behind the scenes, Sikula gets my vote for the Dirty Birds’ MVP.

nnn

Again, I haven’t been asked, but I also have some ideas about who should garner Atlantic League postseason honors.

Pitcher of the year? That’s an easy one. It has to be Southern Maryland’s Daryl Thompson.

The 35-year-old right-hander who had two cups of coffee with the Cincinnati Reds — three starts in 2008, one relief appearance in 2011 — is a few strikeouts shy of pulling down the Atlantic League’s pitching triple crown.

He leads in wins (15-3) and ERA (3.17), and ranks third with 103 strikeouts. Thompson has also pitched the most innings (162) in the league.

Thompson became the Atlantic League’s all-time leader in wins Wednesday night when he notched his 75th in a 12-3 decision over High Point, surpassing Tim Cain. Now in his 10th season in the league, Thompson became the Atlantic League’s all-time strikeout leader earlier this year.

Atlantic League MVP? It’s not so clear-cut, but we might see him at Appalachian Power Park Monday night if (when) Charleston hosts Lexington in the first game of the best-of-three South Division playoff series. The Legends have players all over the triple-crown leader boards.

There’s Tillman Pugh, who leads the league with 107 RBIs to go along with 26 home runs and a .327 batting average. Teammates Courtney Hawkins (.337, 32 homers, 76 RBIs) Ben Aklinski (.290, 27, 103) and Roberto Baldoquin (.356 average with 75 RBIs) are also putting up some monster numbers for the Legends.

Around the league, you’d also have to consider Lancaster’s Caleb Gindl and Josh Sale, who are tied atop the home run list with 34 apiece. Sale has 104 RBIs and is hitting .286 while Gindl has driven in 91 runs to go with his .291 batting average.

You like OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging)? I do. Pugh has the best mark among qualifiers (1.054) in that category. He’d get my vote.

Nick Scala is the sports editor. He can be reached at 304-348-7947 or nickscala@hdmediallc.com. Follow him on Twitter @nick_scala319.