Breaking Down The 7-Man NL MVP Race

In the same way the National League playoff picture is crowded with eight contenders, the race for the NL MVP is down to seven main players. Out of the teams still in the postseason mix, only the Dodgers and Phillies are without a true MVP threat. Some would argue Phillies’ ace Aaron Nola has a case to win the award, but the field is too deep this year for a pitcher to garner enough traction to take home the trophy.

Let’s take a look at the leading candidates for the NL MVP:

Nolan Arenado

Arenado may not be a household name to those east of the Rocky Mountains, but Colorado’s third baseman has been one of baseball’s best players for the past few seasons. Arenado has established himself as one of the best fielders in the game, and while his numbers aren’t up to his usual standard this season he remains above-average. The reliable slugger is batting .297, ranks third in the NL with 31 HR, and fifth in RBI with 93.

Javier Báez

With all of the talent on the Cubs roster, Báez may have been the third or fourth name brought up in an MVP discussion before the season. Fast-forward to September and Báez has been the best Cub by a mile. Not only has the fiery Báez starred defensively at multiple positions, but the Puerto Rican native has become one of the NL’s best hitters. Báez is hitting for power (30 HR), driving in runs (100 RBI), and also for average (.297). Báez has displayed incredible instincts throughout the season, routinely stealing runs with his aggressive approach on the base paths. Being the top player for the NL-leading Cubs will surely be a benefit when it comes time to vote.

Matt Carpenter

It is rather remarkable that Carpenter is the odds-on favorite to win the MVP when considering how awful he was for the first two-plus months of the season. On June 3, Carpenter was batting an abysmal .215 with seven homers and 21 RBI. In the three months that followed, Carpenter became one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Carpenter currently leads the NL with 35 HR, and has led the Cardinals into the playoff picture. The Red Birds’ slugger is third in the NL in Offensive WAR (5.0), second in SLG (.568), first with 39 doubles, and fourth with 91 walks. If Carpenter continues to produce and leads St. Louis to the playoffs, he is the most likely candidate to take home the MVP.

Freddie Freeman

Arguably the favorite to take home the award at the All-Star break, Freeman still has a chance to become Atlanta’s first MVP since Chipper Jones in 1999. In mid-June, Freeman’s average stood at .344. While he has cooled off — comparatively to his torrid start — Atlanta’s star is still hitting .307, the 10th best mark in baseball. His 164 hits trail only three players and give him a real shot at a 200-hit season. Freeman has remained a great fielder, only committing seven errors on the year thus far. Trailing only Báez and Lorenzo Cain, Freeman is currently tied with Christian Yelich for third in the NL with a 5.3 WAR.

Paul Goldschmidt

Much like Matt Carpenter, Goldschmidt has vaulted himself into the MVP discussion after a truly horrific start to the season. After hitting .144 for the entire month of May, Goldy has been a machine — .364 in June, .317 in July, .356 in August, and .357 thus far in September. The Arizona masher has somehow recovered to have an average of .295, is third in the NL with 31 HR, and third in OBP with a .396 clip. If Goldschmidt didn’t go 14-for-97 in May this race could have been out of reach.

Trevor Story

After a relatively poor sophomore season in Colorado, Story has rebounded with a vengeance this year. The Rockies’ shortstop has nearly identical numbers to Arenado. Story is batting .298 with 31 HR and 95 RBI — good for third in the NL — and has also stolen 25 bases. Story is tied with Christian Yelich atop the NL with a 5.1 Offensive WAR and fourth in hits with 158, while his .566 SLG is good for third. Add in a league-best 39 doubles and Story leads the NL with 75 extra base hits. Story has been competent with the glove, but he is not yet considered a premier defender.

Christian Yelich

Yelich has been baseball’s best player since the All-Star break.

The Brewers’ All-Star entered the break hitting a respectable .292. Since leaving the festivities in D.C., Yelich has seen his batting average skyrocket to .316 — second in the NL, and fifth overall. He is up to 27 HR and 85 RBI, while adding 16 SB. He is third in the NL with a 5.3 WAR trailing only Báez and fellow Brewer, Lorenzo Cain. Yelich has scored 96 runs, more than anyone in the NL, and is fourth in SLG with a .556 mark. Yelich doesn’t have the same name recognition as some of his competitors — playing in Miami and Milwaukee doesn’t help — likely hurting his chances of surpassing Báez or Carpenter.

Image Source: ESPN Stats & Info/Twitter, Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports, Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports