The Major League Baseball season is about three-fourths of the way through, and most of the divisional and individual races have taken shape, particularly in the National League.
Six teams, the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Arizona Diamondbacks, are in contention for the five playoff spots, meaning just one of the ball clubs will be heart-broken.
The Rookie of the Year Award is down to two candidates: Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. If Puig continues his torrid pace, he should prevail.
The Cy Young Award appears to already be locked up, with Clayton Kershaw having dominated the season. Barring an injury or a historic collapse by the Dodgers ace, he should win.
The MVP Award is where the uncertainty is in the National League. Unlike in the American League, where it’s a two-horse race between Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera (go Miggy), with both having incredible seasons, the National League doesn’t appear to have any clear cut favorites.
So, after looking through the National League statistics, I have picked four players whom I think can win the award. I even went so far as to name a favorite, which of course means he won't win.
For the record, I prefer players who play on contenders except if a player on a losing team clearly has the best numbers (think A-Rod back in his Texas days, back when he was doing steroids as often as I take a breath). Considering no player on a non-contending team is putting up enormous numbers (sorry, Carlos Gonzalez), these four candidates all come from one of the six teams I mentioned above.
The Wild Card: Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
12 HR, 28 RBI, 7 SB, .352 AVG, 2.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), .979 OPS, 92 H (68 Games)
Would lead league in OPS and AVG if he qualified
If you don’t know who Yasiel Puig is, then I’m shocked you’re reading this, as he has arguably been the top story in the Major Leagues this season. One only needs to look at his numbers, and be told that the Dodgers have gone from almost getting their manager fired because they were underachieving so much to leading the NL West by 7.5 games since Puig’s arrival to understand why he's in the conversation.
Puig has seen his popularity skyrocket in the last two months, and there will certainly be those that feel he should win the award, but I don’t see it, yet. There’s never been a player who was called up in the middle of the season and won an MVP, and I don’t think this is the year it happens. I still think he gets some votes, and maybe if he keeps up his pace for the rest of the year he could have a real shot, but not now.
The Sleeper: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
31 HR, 100 RBI, 13 SB, .297 AVG, 5.6 WAR, .945 OPS, 137 H
Leads league in HR, RBI, 2nd in OPS and WAR
If anyone is looking for someone to root for that has a legitimate chance at winning the award, but probably won’t, it’s Goldschmidt. While his numbers are dwarfed by Davis and Cabrera in the other league, he’s the best power hitter numbers-wise in the senior league, and because he plays in Arizona, not many people know who, or how good, he is.
Currently, the Diamondbacks are on the outside looking in, five games behind the Reds for the last wild-card spot and 7.5 games behind the Dodgers in the division. If they make a run behind his bat and sneak into the playoffs, he will definitely be in the running. Right now, though, the fact that his numbers still aren’t THAT impressive, and neither is the position he plays in terms of defense, he’s going to need to finish the year at around 40 HR, 120 RBI, 20 SB, and a .300 AVG to go along with his high WAR to have a legit shot.
The Contender: Clayton Kershaw, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
12-7, 182 K, 190 IP, 1.80 ERA, .85 WHIP, 6.7 WAR
Leads league in K, ERA, WHIP, WAR, and Innings
There have been a few times when a pitcher has won the MVP award; it usually happens when their season has been truly remarkable and/or there simply wasn’t a hitter that stood out. This year, it’s the latter. Don’t let the low win total fool you. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the National League, and probably all of baseball (sorry, Max).
The WHIP (Walks + Hits per Innings Pitched) is what’s the most incredible. If the season were to end today, he would have the 15th lowest in the history of baseball. Keep in mind that only two of those WHIPs occurred in the last 44 years (Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux).
The sub-2.00 ERA is also astounding as his is currently the lowest in the NL since 1995 (Maddux was reallllllyyyy good that year).
So, can he win it? Yes. Should he win it? I won’t argue with anyone who says so. Will he win it? I’d say that’s somewhat likely, especially if my favorite doesn’t do what I think he, and his team, will.
The Favorite: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
17 HR, 71 RBI, 26 SB, .316 AVG, 6.5 WAR, .901 OPS, 146 H
Leads league in WAR, top 6 in AVG, OPS, SB, H, OBP, and 2B
If Yasiel Puig is the individual story that has captured baseball this year, then the rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates is definitely the team story that has done the same. Finally, after 20-plus years, the Pirates appear to be in serious contention and are on track to finish above .500 and make the playoffs. While they are having a little bump in the road at the moment, they’re still leading their division by two games and are nine games clear of the D-Backs for the last wild card spot.
McCutchen is without question their best player. While no particular number jumps out, all together they do say he’s the most versatile player in the National League, and may give Mike Trout a run for his money too. Not many players can lay claim to being at, or near, the top of seven major offensive categories, especially since some aren’t even related to one another.
Last year, McCutchen was an MVP candidate until the Pirates collapsed. That doesn’t appear to be happening this year. As long as he continues to stay consistent (no sign that he won’t) and the Pirates continue to do well, McCutchen should reap the rewards for having been the centerpiece to the best team story in all of baseball this season.