As we draw closer to the final two months of the MLB regular season, things are starting to take shape within the National League. The Colorado Rockies, after years of having mediocre teams, are finally establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. With an improved pitching staff, a deep bullpen, and an offense that mashes even outside of the friendly confines of Coors field, the franchise is positioning themselves to make a run at the postseason, despite their recent struggles.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are in the same boat, and after a disappointing 2016 season, they have put themselves in the conversation to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Los Angeles Dodgers, despite playing in a division with possibly two other playoff teams, have simply dominated opponents with their star power and depth on both sides of the ball.
The reigning Chicago Cubs came out of the gates slow, and that sluggish start carried over into the middle portion of the season. However, as beneficiaries of playing in a weak NL Central division where the only other team considered to be a serious playoff contender is the Brewers, the Cubs should ultimately not have much issue returning to the postseason for a third straight year.
In the NL East, the Washington Nationals faded a bit in May after a hot start, but with a star-studded middle of the order, one of the best starting pitchers in the game in Max Scherzer, and an improved bullpen, they should be considered shoo-ins for the playoffs, and will be strong contenders for the NL Pennant.
Baseball is a 25-man sport, and it has always taken positive contributions from the entire lineup and pitching staff for a team to find itself as a strong contender for the postseason. Still, the first half performances by some of these National League stars has been a central reason for their teams success, and made them worthy of National League MVP contention as we enter the second half of the MLB season.
Bryce Harper (OF, Washington Nationals)
Harper’s 2016 season was a far cry from his monstrous MVP 2015 season. However, he has rebounded with a bang in 2017. Posting an elite slash line of .338/.439/.648 with his usual stout defense in right, Harper is firmly establishing himself as the star he was expected to be when he entered the league as a 19-year old in 2012. The leader of the NL East leading Washington Nationals, Harper is proving to be exactly the kind of generational talent that he has always been hyped to be, and will find himself in MVP contention for many years to come. He will almost certainly be at least a top-three finisher for this award in November.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks)
With a 4.6 WAR and an OPS over 1.000, “Goldy” has carried the Diamondbacks to second place in the NL West. Despite playing at the stacked first base position that has eight current players on pace for at least a 4.0 WAR over the full season, Goldschmidt has still managed to separate himself from the rest with his hitting ability, power, and top-shelf defense. Long one of the most unheralded players in baseball because of his quiet demeanor, lack of team success, and playing in the relatively small market that is Arizona, Goldschmidt may finally get the respect he deserves if he is awarded as MVP in 2017.
Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies)
The Colorado Rockies have been one of 2017’s most surprising teams, and Arenado has been right in the middle of it. His .317/.360/.591 slash line paired with his historically good defense at third base has been crucial to a Rockies team that is finally winning games. Although Charlie Blackmon may be the better hitter in 2017, Arenado’s all-around play has proven to be most valuable to his team’s success.
Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy: Although the attention and the votes will fall to Harper, the spectacular seasons that Scherzer, Rendon, Zimmerman, and Murphy are having should not be forgotten when it comes to the NL MVP award. None of the four are likely to win the award, but their individual performances will surely be recognized by writers in the form of down ballot votes, and their contributions to the first place Nationals have been crucial to the team’s success.
Charlie Blackmon: One of the leaders of a strong Rockies ball club finally in postseason contention, Blackmon has put together a tremendous season offensively for Colorado. Hitters that play half their games in the thin air of the Mile High City often get shafted for having inflated offensive stats, and that may prevent him from ever being considered a strong contender for NL MVP, especially when his defense leaves something to be desired. However, Blackmon’s individual performance and tremendous value to the Wild Card seeking Rockies is undeniable.
Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Alex Wood, Chris Taylor: The Dodgers have been arguably the best team in the National League. With a plethora of productive position players, an excellent rotation headed by the great Clayton Kershaw, and a fire balling bullpen, the Dodgers can truly consider themselves a team without a true weakness. Although injuries such as Kershaw’s most recent back issue, (and a late call up in Bellinger’s case) have prevented some of the team’s core players from separating themselves from the pack when it comes to MVP contention, the potential is undeniable. If one of these players goes on a second half tear, especially Seager or Turner, they could easily creep into the conversation for the top-five on the ballot.
Joey Votto: As has become a regular occurrence, the Reds once again find themselves out of the playoff picture. That’s to no fault of Votto, however. Viewed as the Reds’ franchise player, and an all-time great hitter already, the 33-year old first baseman is putting together arguably his best season ever power-wise. With 27 HRs already, Votto is well on pace for a career-high, and if he keeps it up, he will certainly earn his due in the form of down ballot MVP votes.
Travis Shaw: After being traded from the Red Sox over the offseason, Shaw has become the center piece of a stout Brewers lineup. With his .956 OPS and solid defense at third, Shaw has been a consistence presence all year for Milwaukee, and has been the biggest reason that Milwaukee has hung around first place all year in the NL Central. He’s not likely to crack the top-five, but he will deservedly receive votes in the #10-15 range.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo: The numbers are down for both halves of the talented “Bryzzo” combination, but the Cubs as a team have taken off in the second half. The underlying metrics are there- Bryant has cut down on his Ks and increased his walk rate from his MVP 2016 season, while Rizzo is running one of the lowest BABIPs of his career, but still has more walks than Ks, and 24 HRs to his name already. A hot streak seems inevitable, and when it happens, don’t be surprised to see either player rise into the top 5 MVP wise.
Names to consider: Michael Conforto, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Freddie Freeman, Andrew McCutchen.
Photo: Getty Images
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