Arenado slowed by lingering shoulder pain
Third baseman has been dealing with the issue since early August
DENVER -- For the second consecutive season, Nolan Arenado is on the short list in conversations about National League Most Valuable Player candidates. Like last season, the way the Rockies fare down the stretch will figure into Arenado's chances, and like last season he is competing with a teammate for consideration. In 2017, it was Charlie Blackmon vying for top honors with Arenado, who finished fourth with Blackmon fifth. This year, it's Trevor Story, who's had a late-season surge just as Arenado has found a funk at the plate.
Arenado and Story are in the top 10 of most offensive categories, including batting average (8th and 9th, respectively), homes runs (tied for 4th), RBIs (5th and 3rd), total bases (6th and 1st), slugging percentage (6th and 3rd), and extra base hits (5th and 1st).
For Arenado, however, the last month has been a bit of a grind. Though he's hitting .299 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs in 133 games this season entering play Friday, he's hitting .250 with 2 homers and 10 RBIs in 24 games since leaving an Aug. 10 game against the Dodgers with a sore shoulder. He's hitting .143 (5-for-35) with no homers and three RBIs over his last nine games, during which he endured a career-high-tying stretch of 19 at-bats without a hit. And while he and Story both have Gold Glove skills -- with Arenado winning five in his first five seasons -- when a ball sneaks past Arenado at third, it's easy to find cause for concern.
"Physically, I'm OK," Arenado said on Friday, prior to the opener of a three-game set with the Dodgers. "I mean, it's this time of year. Not everyone feels great at this time of year. I'm not using it as an excuse."
Even when watching his words, Arenado makes it clear that he's dealing with something less than ideal in recovering from a shoulder injury that had him leave one game, pinch-hit the next two, and DH for a two-game series in Houston before returning to regular play.
"I've never really gone through shoulder pain -- I've never really felt that," Arenado said. "But it's a different year. You deal with something different every year. It's something I have to deal with. It is what it is. We have a chance to win the division, so you just deal with it."
Arenado has only been on the disabled list once in his career, missing close to six weeks in 2014 when he fractured his left middle finger. He's missed a total of six games this year -- five of which came during a suspension after his leading role in an April fracas -- after not missing more than five games in each of the past three seasons.
"Listen, it's never fun to play the game when you're in a little bit of pain," Arenado said, acknowledging the lingering issues from his shoulder injury. "You wish you could feel good all the time. It's just not realistic in this game. There's times where you deal with different soreness, stuff like that. It's part of the game. Sometimes you feel worse. This year. I feel worse physically than I did last year. It's just part of the grind. Sometimes that happens -- you just have to deal with it."
Story's surge in that same nine-game stretch -- when Arenado's slump hit rock-bottom -- helps account for the Rockies improving their standing from trailing by a game and a half to leading the division by a game and a half in that span. Story hit .417 (15-for-36) with five homers and 11 RBIs over the last nine games, with all the homers and eight RBIs coming in the three-game sweep of the Giants.
"It's great," Arenado said of the feeling up and down the Rockies' roster. "The team feels really good. We have a chance to win the division. We put ourselves in a good position. Last year at this point, we were just hoping to make that Wild Card Game, because the Dodgers just ran away. This year, we have a chance to do something special, and we understand that. We're excited about it."
Minor League hardware
The Rockies had three Minor League players named MVP of their respective leagues. Arenado's cousin, Josh Fuentes, was MVP of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Casey Golden took top honors in the Class A South Atlantic League, and Coco Montes was the Pioneer League Rookie Ball MVP.
Additionally, two Minor League affiliates are in the playoffs. The Lancaster JetHawks are tied at a game apiece in the Class A California League South Division Finals against Rancho Cucamonga. The Grand Junction Rockies open their playoff run Friday night in the Division Round of the Pioneer League Playoffs, on the road against the Ogden Raptors.