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Strong season gives Votto case for NL MVP Award

CINCINNATI -- Although it probably was not enough to stop the freight train of support for Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, the way Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished the 2015 season still made everyone take notice. How could they not?

Votto showed he indeed is back among the elite hitters of baseball, and that is why he is a finalist for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's National League Most Valuable Player Award.

Joining the odds-on favorite Harper and Votto as NL MVP Award finalists is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks. The winner will be announced tonight at 6 ET on MLB Network.

• Complete 2015 awards coverage

The 2010 NL MVP Award winner, Votto batted .314/.459/.541 with 29 home runs and 80 RBIs in 158 games this past season.

Video: [email protected]: Votto puts the Reds on the board with homer

Here are some of the other achievements the 32-year-old Votto had at the plate in 2015:

• Votto's 1.000 OPS was good for third in the Majors, behind only Harper and Goldschmidt.

• Votto was ranked fifth in the Majors with a 7.4 WAR (wins above replacement).

Video: [email protected]: Votto singles home Barnhart in the 7th

• Votto was tied for second in the Majors behind Harper with 172 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus).

• Votto's franchise-record 143 walks led the Majors.

Video: [email protected]: Votto works 13-pitch walk for 143rd walk

• Votto reached safely 319 times, and he was on base at least twice in a game 107 times -- both of which set a club record. He also reached base safely in 144 of his 158 games played.

• Down the stretch, Votto tied Pete Rose's 1978 club mark by reaching safely in 48 consecutive games. It was the longest streak in the Majors since 2007.

Video: [email protected]: Votto reaches safely for 48th straight game

"It's been a phenomenal season to watch," Reds manager Bryan Price said in October after Votto tied Rose's record. "Most of us here have seen all if not most of his games. It's just something to see to have such great strike-zone command and be able to hit the ball hard to all fields and do what he does."

The above numbers all underscored that Votto was consistently one of the hardest hitters to get out in the Majors during 2015.

By comparison, Harper batted .330/.460/.649 in 153 games for the Nationals, with 42 homers, 99 RBIs and 9.9 WAR. Goldschmidt batted .321/.435/.570 with 33 homers, 110 RBIs and 8.8 WAR in 158 games.

As a last-place Cincinnati club struggled and finished with 98 losses, Votto's production during the second half was historic with how it escalated.

After the All-Star break, Votto led the Majors in hitting (.362) and on-base percentage (.535), and he also had a .617 slugging percentage. The only other players to produce a half-season like that with at least a 1.152 OPS were Ted Williams in 1941, who hit .406 in the first half with a .535 OBP and a 1.373 OPS in the second half, and Barry Bonds, who batted .365 with a .628 OBP and a 1.422 OPS in the first half of 2004.

Video: [email protected]: Votto puts Reds ahead with two-run shot

Entering the year, the biggest question about Votto was related to his health. He had spent the 2014 season largely banged up with a left knee and quadriceps injury that sapped his leg strength and power. Limited to only 62 games, Votto batted a career-low .255 with six homers and missed the entire second half.

Votto avoided setting expectations about what he could produce at the plate in 2015.

"I try to be careful with expectations, because I find they can create a floor or a ceiling," Votto said on Aug. 30. "I do everything I can to prepare, and I like to think I'm evolving as a player. I'd like to think I'm learning from my past mistakes and hopefully making adjustments I can apply to my game in the future.

"I had no idea what I was going to come in with this year. I had no idea how I was going to look a month ago or two months ago. I'm always trying to stay on my toes out there and trying to take advantage of every single opportunity that's out there."

Votto clearly succeeded at that in 2015, and that's why he earned a nod as a finalist for the NL MVP Award.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto