The finalists in the 2018 National League Most Valuable Player Award race include a perennial NL MVP candidate and a pair of stars that ascended to superstar status last season. While the Rockies' Nolan Arenado finished fifth and fourth in NL MVP balloting in '16 and '17, respectively, the Cubs' Javier Baez and the Brewers' Christian Yelich had never finished higher than 19th (Yelich in '16). It all makes for an exciting and intriguing announcement Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network. Here's a look at the case for each finalist.
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Nolan Arenado, Rockies
They say consistency is the mark of a great player -- or as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle often repeats, "If you're good for a long time, they call you 'great.'" Arenado's strong 2018 is simply a pattern that could lead to greatness. While the NL MVP Award is for a single season, context is a big part of Arenado's argument.
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Arenado's 2018 performance isn't a bad argument. He cracked an NL-leading 38 home runs while helping his team to the postseason for the second straight year. He led the NL in multi-hit games with 57, and he finished among the top three in the NL in slugging percentage (.561, third), RBIs (110, tied for second) and extra-base hits (78, tied for third).
Arenado's candidacy gives voters a chance to recognize the elusive value of quality over time. Defensively, Arenado has six Rawlings Gold Glove Awards -- one for each year in the Majors -- and he owns the past two NL Platinum Glove Awards. He is 12th player in NL history and the first since Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to lead the Senior Circuit in homers at least three times, the second player in MLB history to hit at least 35 home runs and 35 doubles in four consecutive seasons (Albert Belle, 1993-96), and the fourth third baseman to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs in four straight years (Vinny Castilla, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez).
And Arenado has been a major figure in turning the Rockies into a contender. Since 2014, Arenado's 123 go-ahead RBIs and 82 game-winning RBIs lead the Majors.
-- Thomas Harding
Javier Baez, Cubs
Versatile. Productive. Indispensable. Thrilling.
There are no shortage of adjectives to describe Baez's breakout 2018 season, when the jack-of-all-trades infielder transformed into a legitimate superstar. And if the question is about value, few have a better case than Baez, who emerged as an elite hitter with game-changing baserunning prowess and an ability to excel defensively anywhere on the field.
The offensive numbers stand out, but they only tell part of the story. What made Baez's season unique was how he blended that production -- a .290/.326/.554 slash line, 34 home runs and 111 RBIs -- with unmatched versatility. Baez began the year as the Cubs' second baseman, and he played 104 games there. He ended as their starting shortstop while also sprinkling in 22 games at third. His consistent performance at all three spots allowed the Cubs to plug him in anywhere they needed him in the infield.
Simply put, Baez was the best player on what was, for most of the season, the NL's best team.
Baez's 111 RBIs paced the Senior Circuit, and he ranked fourth in slugging percentage (.554), tied for fifth in homers (34), fifth in FanGraphs WAR (5.3), seventh in runs (101) and 10th in stolen bases (21). He became one of three players in Cubs history to notch 30 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season, and his ceiling seems higher than ever.
-- Joe Trezza
Christian Yelich, Brewers
Yelich distanced himself from the rest of the NL MVP Award contenders with a remarkably productive second half, including a September surge that mirrored the Brewers' late run for the third division crown in franchise history. His .770 slugging percentage after the All-Star break was baseball's best in 14 years -- since Barry Bonds' .832 in 2004 -- and it was 145 points better than the next-best finisher in the NL this year, Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves.
Thanks to that finish, Yelich was the first batting champion in Brewers history at .326, and he also led the NL in slugging, OPS, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+ and all three major versions of WAR (FanGraphs, Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus). Among the three NL MVP Award finalists, Yelich also led the way in on-base percentage and stolen bases. Arenado led the league with 38 home runs, but Yelich was just two behind. Baez led the league with 111 RBIs, but Yelich was only one behind. He took a serious run at what would have been the NL's first Triple Crown since the Cardinals' Joe Medwick in 1937.
"He's doing special things," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell in mid-September, after Yelich hit for the cycle against the Reds for the second time in two and a half weeks, making him the first player to accomplish the feat twice in the same season against the same team. "This is what guys in this conversation do."
-- Adam McCalvy