Here's why Manny Machado deserves MVP
Back in late-July, I posted my annual season predictions, which included the pick of Manny Machado as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
About a month ago, a friend of mine recalled that prognostication with a touch of snark, telling me: “You had the wrong Padre.”
Or did I?
There’s no question that Fernando Tatis Jr. has been the game’s breakout star of 2020, but is he the most valuable player in the NL? Is he even the most valuable player on his own team.
My good friend, Richard Justice, made a case last week for Freddie Freeman of the Braves for the NL’s MVP Award. With all due respect to both Richard and Freddie, there’s a better choice out there.
The Padres own the second-best record in the NL, and they are headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2006, thanks in part to a prodigious offense paced by Machado and Tatis, who have suited up in every game San Diego has played this season.
Tatis took the baseball world by storm during the first three-plus weeks of the season, hitting 11 home runs with 28 RBIs and a whopping 1.094 OPS. The Padres were 13-12 during that stretch, during which Machado had five homers, 13 RBIs and a .736 OPS. While Tatis made himself a fixture on nightly highlight reels, Machado was off to an uninspiring, pedestrian start.
Then something clicked for Machado, and that meant very big things for the Padres.
San Diego is 21-8 since Aug. 19, morphing from middling contender into a team nobody wants to see come October.
Tatis, Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet and the newly acquired Mike Clevinger have all done their part, but Machado has been the conductor driving the train that has the Padres headed for their first postseason berth since 2006.
In those 29 games, Machado has 11 home runs, 33 RBIs, a .398/.424/.761 slash line, racking up more extra-base hits (18) than strikeouts (12). And now the four-time All-Star leads Tatis in homers, AVG, OBP, SLG and WAR (Baseball-Reference).
As Machado goes, so go the Padres.
“Tatis is the media darling of that team; he’s just so much fun to watch,” a National League West executive said. “But they aren’t where they are without Machado. He still scares me every time he comes to the plate.”
Machado won back-to-back NL Player of the Week Awards to close out August, joining Tatis to form a potent pair near the top of San Diego’s lineup. The Padres went 10-3 over those 13 games, catching the league’s attention and giving general manager A.J. Preller the confidence to make a big splash at the Trade Deadline.
When the calendar turned to September, Machado continued to produce while Tatis fell into his first slump of the year – yet San Diego has continued to win, going 11-5.
Tatis was the runaway winner in MLB.com’s Most Valuable Player Award Poll earlier this month, earning 28 of 30 first-place votes. Machado? Somehow, he was the baseball equivalent of the San Diego State football team, finishing in the “Others receiving votes” section.
A 4-for-31, one-RBI skid by Tatis since that poll was released might have potential voters thinking about NL MVP alternatives. All they need to do is look about 30 feet to Tatis' right, where Machado has been playing the heck out of third base for the Padres all season.
The Padres have been the best story in baseball this season, and as spectacular as Tatis was for the first six weeks, Machado -- who had a pair of top-5 AL MVP finishes during his time in Baltimore -- has been the straw stirring the drink during San Diego’s big run.
Machado ranks in the top-5 in the NL in home runs, RBIs, runs scored and total bases, sitting in the top-10 in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, defensive runs saved and position-adjusted fielding.
“He’s been as good as anybody in the game,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “It’s not just in the batter’s box, but defensively. … Just his game clock and awareness are unbelievable.”
Isn’t that what the Padres were expecting when they signed Machado to a 10-year, $300 million pact prior to the 2019 season? It may have taken a year for Machado to settle into his new baseball home, but based on the results in his second year, the Padres have to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.
Machado leads the team in go-ahead RBIs (eight) and game-winning RBIs (six), making an impact at the most important times. He is living up to his contract, which is saying something given that it’s one of only three free-agent deals worth at least $300 million handed out in the history of Major League Baseball.
Machado believed in the Padres’ long-term plan when he signed that deal. He’s being rewarded with a trip back to the postseason, while San Diego looks pretty wise for its decision to add the four-time All-Star, who just might join Ken Caminiti as the only Padre to take home NL MVP honors.
“Good for [Machado] to see the future a little bit and to sign there before they were playing like this,” the NL West exec said. “It’s a good story -- other than the fact that they are in our division.”