If I could transport myself back to the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park, the first thing I would do is … get a pressed Cuban sandwich, because that's what I always do at Marlins Park.But the second thing I would do is say to anybody who would listen, "You
If I could transport myself back to the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park, the first thing I would do is … get a pressed Cuban sandwich, because that's what I always do at Marlins Park.
But the second thing I would do is say to anybody who would listen, "You see that big, hulking slugger with the body of a superhero?"
"You mean Aaron Judge?" they'd respond.
"No, no, the other big, hulking slugger with the body of a superhero," I'd say. "That's Giancarlo Stanton, and a month and a half from now, we'll be talking about him as the National League Most Valuable Player Award favorite."
"Surely, you jest," they'd respond. "Stanton is having a really good -- but not elite -- year, and the Marlins are terrible. Now, give me a bite of that sandwich!"
Oh, but we know better now, don't we? Stanton has put the Fish in the NL Wild Card conversation and has put himself in position to become one of six players ever to hit 60 homers in a season, and, yes, to win the NL MVP Award.
But the extremely crowded NL MVP Award field is still stacked with quality candidates, so let's digest them, in lieu of a Cuban sandwich, here:
1. Stanton, RF, Marlins
The case for: With Stanton's post-break homer binge (and .881 second-half slugging percentage, which is really nothing short of insane), he entered the week leading the NL in homers (obviously), OPS (1.059) and wRC+, and he was tied for the Major League lead in RBIs (108). It's a more homer-happy league than it's ever been, but with 50 homers to Judge's 37 entering Monday, Stanton was on track to have one of the five largest gaps in history between the Major League home run leader and second place. Furthermore, 23 of his first 50 homers were go-ahead homers. So to say Stanton has had a hand in the Marlins' rise to relevancy in the second half is an understatement.
The case against: "Relevance" might not equate to true contention. The Marlins have a soft schedule the rest of the way, but if they don't make it to October, we know too well how that can impact Stanton's candidacy (not that it should).
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs
The case for: Goldschmidt is a traditionally underrated, do-everything ballplayer on a surprise contender. If not for Stanton's historic homer surge, the first baseman would probably be the gold standard in the NL MVP Award race right now. Unlike some other contending clubs, the D-backs don't have multiple candidates to cloud the conversation. Goldschmidt is their position player WAR leader with a 6.0 mark, and the next-closest player is David Peralta, at 2.2. Goldy is already north of 30 homers, is closing in on 20 steals, he gets on base at an elite clip (.427) and he plays above-average defense.
The case against: Goldschmidt doesn't lead the field in any one standout category. The defensive value at first base might not carry as much weight in the minds of voters as it would at other infield positions.
3. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
The case for: Votto is 33 and possibly better than ever. He has a Major League-high 109 walks against just 70 strikeouts, leading to the highest OBP (.447) in baseball. Votto went 5-for-5 Sunday -- as in five trips to the plate and five walks. But to his critics who care more about power than patience, he's submitted his first 30-homer year (he has 33), the highest slugging percentage (.588) and what is bound to be his highest RBI total (he currently has 89) since his NL MVP Award run in 2010. The Cubs used four outfielders against Votto earlier this month, and he doubled anyway. He's an elite hitter etching an increasingly interesting Cooperstown case.
The case against: This ain't 2010 (when Cincy won the NL Central). The rebuilding Reds are on pace for a 94-loss season. Even if Stanton and the Fish fall short of October, Stanton will likely finish with a stronger case on a stronger club, thereby cornering the "great player on a non-playoff club" market.
4. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
The case for: Entering Monday, FanGraphs had Rendon as the NL WAR leader (5.8), by the slimmest of margins over Stanton (5.7). That's essentially the equivalent of a rounding error, but it speaks to what Rendon, one of the few Nats stars who has managed to avoid the DL, has meant to a team currently running away with the NL East. He has a .301/.403/.542 slash line with 22 homers and 80 RBIs, all while delivering dynamite defense at the hot corner -- yet the only real national attention he's received came when he had that 10-RBI day in April.
The case against: Rendon just doesn't generate the buzz that his more famous teammate, Bryce Harper (whose own NL MVP Award bid was likely felled by the deep bone bruise that has him out of action down the stretch) does. There's also teammate Daniel Murphy, who has basically matched him at the plate with a .318/.375/.545 line in almost identical playing time. With so much of his overall value wrapped up in the defensive end of the equation, it's hard to see Rendon overtaking guys with more behemoth batting lines.
5. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
The case for: Like Goldschmidt, Arenado is a great player who finally finds himself playing meaningful September games, which means his typically strong NL MVP Award credentials will get the attention they deserve. He entered the week tied with Stanton for the Major League RBIs lead (108) and tops in the NL in doubles (39). Arenado's .953 OPS is not a total Coors concoction, as he's posted an .877 mark at more standard elevations. And this is one of the game's greatest defenders, as evidenced by an NL-leading 19 defensive runs saved.
The case against: Teammate Charlie Blackmon (a superior 1.021 OPS) probably has just as strong of an NL MVP Award case, and that's not going to help Arenado's cause in the voting. There's also the Coors Field stigma. If you look at a park-adjusted stat like wRC+, Blackmon (144) ranks eighth in the NL and Arenado actually ranks 22nd.
How do you pick just one among Corey Seager (5.0 bWAR), Justin Turner (4.5), Chris Taylor (4.4) and Cody Bellinger (4.0)? The Dodgers might break the wins record because they don't have a single NL MVP Award candidate but an outrageous collection of impact pieces.
Kristopher Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Is Bryant's 2017 season demonstrably worse than his '16 campaign? No, not really. His OPS, OPS+ and wRC+ marks are all comparable. It's just that the league standards have been raised this particular year and the Cubs aren't standing out like they did a year ago.
Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw
If you had to throw any pitchers into the NL MVP Award conversation, they'd be the first names you turn to. But nah, they won't be winning it.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.