Because no one in baseball knows who that will be. The National League has been the standard of parity this season, with seven of the 15 National League teams being within at least 5.0 games of first place in their respective divisions.
That parity has also carried over to the MVP race. So far this season we have seen a Matt Carpenter revival in St. Louis, a Lorenzo Cain resurrection in Milwaukee and a Trevor Story emergence in Colorado. All three have strong cases to claim the NL MVP. But who has the best chance to sway the BBWA? Let’s look at the top contenders, case-by-case.
If we were to go back to the beginning of this season and tell fans in St. Louis that Matt Carpenter would be an MVP candidate at the end of the year, they would probably run you out of town.
Sure he posted a 120 OPS+ last season, but he also turned in the lowest batting average of his career at .241. Most thought Carpenter was on the decline and were ready to crown Marcell Ozuna as the Cardinals best choice for an MVP candidacy.
Oh, how wrong we were. All Ozuna has done this year has hit just above replacement level, with a 101 OPS+. Meanwhile, Carpenter has gone on to lead the National League in offensive WAR (5.1), slugging (.561), and OPS+ (159). It is even more impressive to consider that Carpenter was batting a measly .155 when May began.
Carpenter has also been a driving force in St. Louis’ rise to playoff contention, hitting 20 home runs in the past two months. But while Carpenter has been the straw that stirs the drink in St. Louis, the Brewers have been relying on something a little sturdier to steady their playoff push.
Lorenzo Cain may not have the counting stats that the other NL MVP candidates have. But there is one stat that Cain puts up numbers in; leaderboard appearances. Cain is in the top ten in the NL in offensive WAR (4.6), defensive WAR (1.9), batting average (.309), and on-base percentage (.402).
When you put all that together, you get the NL WAR leader at 6.2. The next closest is almost a full win off of Cain’s pace. So why is it that Cain isn’t even the top MVP candidate on his own team? He is not an elite offensive player.
Yes, Cain has a high batting average and on-base percentage, but he does so without driving in runs. He only has 35 RBIs on the season, and his 76 runs scored are nowhere near the top ten in the NL. But offense is not the crux of Cain’s MVP argument.
His overall game is. He provides Craig Counsel with a great lead-off hitter, who can get on base at an elite clip, and has the legs to tear up the base paths. Those legs of his also accompany Cain to the outfield, where he plays a gold glove caliber center field. Even so, Cain doesn’t have to go far to find an NL MVP rival. All he has to do is look to his left.
When the Brewers acquired Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich in the same day, many were left questioning the move. Little did we know, that both Cain and Yelich would turn in MVP caliber seasons for the Brewers. But while both are in the MVP discussion, they have had very different seasons.
Christian Yelich has transformed into an elite offensive player. While he has always been a high-level player (121 OPS+), he has torn the cover off the ball this season to hit .316/.380/.556. Yelich has also found his power stroke, clobbering 27 home runs this season, six more than his previous season high of 21 in 2016.
Yelich has also been an elite run scorer, crossing the plate 96 times this season, good enough for second in the NL. When you combine that with his 85 RBIs, you get one of the best offensive players in baseball, proven by his 5.1 offensive WAR.
But if there is one weakness in Yelich’s game, it has been his defense. While Yelich was a gold glove left fielder in 2014, he hasn’t been able to transfer those skills to right. And given Cain’s MVP candidacy, the Brew Crew pair may only inhibit each other’s chances for the MVP.
The NL Central has been the home of NL MVP candidates this season. But Trevor Story has been having a monster season tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. Story first made his presence known in 2016, when he hit 27 home runs in his first 97 games. But an injury and sub-par second season lowered expectations for Story.
It didn’t take Story long to surpass those expectations. Story has always had tremendous power, and backed that up this season with 31 home runs. But he has also improved in making contact. After hitting .253 in his first two seasons, Story has hovered around .300, currently batting .298.
Story also came up with good speed, and he has showcased it this season. After stealing 17 bags in the past two seasons combined, Story has already swiped 25 this season. That type of elite power and great base running skills are hard to come by in one player.
But that is what Story rests his MVP case on. Being able to hit with power and be a threat on the base paths has made Story a star offensive player. He is tied with Matt Carpenter and Christian Yelich for first in NL offensive WAR with 5.1. If Story can keep producing and drive the Rockies to the playoffs, he may take home the hardware.
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