As we near baseball’s All-Star break, it’s time to take a look at the players who have really stood out thus far in the season. Yesterday I took a look at some outstanding players in the American League. Today I’ll do the same for the National League.
We find a mix of old and new names in the National League MVP conversation. Pirates center-fielder Andrew McCutchen is having a great follow-up to his 2013 MVP campaign, as his .319 average ranks fifth. This, along with his 14 home runs, 58 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases, is proof of his all-around greatness.
Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy has always been a solid hitter, but he has pulled himself into MVP consideration for the first time this year with a .323 average that ranks third in the league, and an .897 OPS that is sixth. His Milwaukee team has also surprised baseball by maintaining first place in the competitive NL Central (though a 4-game sweep at the hands of a weak Phillies team can’t be encouraging).
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been healthy so far, and his numbers show it. He leads the league in several categories, including batting average (.350), OBP (.441), and OPS (1.057). He has also slugged 20 home runs, putting together one of the finest seasons for a major league shortstop in quite some time.
Finally, everyone always knew Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton could hit long home runs, but in 2014, he has done so much more. His 21 home runs and 63 RBI’s both pace the National League and put him on track for career highs. In addition, his .299 batting average and .396 OBP display his ability to get on base consistently as well.
I have to pick Tulowitzki over all the rest because of his well-rounded performance. Not only does he lead the league in many important hitting categories, but he has also been worth the most WAR. Simply put, he has been the best and most valuable hitter so far in the National League. If he keeps it up, he cannot be denied the MVP.
NL Cy Young
There are three players to highlight when looking at the NL’s best pitchers. First, Johnny Cueto leads the league in innings pitched, and is second in strikeouts (134) and ERA (2.03). He has been a top pitcher in the league for some time now, and has rebounded well after injuries kept him down to just 11 starts last year.
Clayton Kershaw has in recent years shown himself to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pitchers in baseball. This, year, he missed time at the start, and has not yet pitched enough innings to be eligible for the ERA title. Since returning, however, he has lowered his ERA to 1.78 (1st in the league), and is 11-2 overall. His 126 strikeouts rank fourth, despite him only making 14 starts. These stats, along with his recent no-hitter, show that he is truly a once-in-a-generation pitcher.
However, Adam Wainwright gets the nod so far over Cueto and Kershaw. At 11-4, he has the second-most wins (11) and ERA (1.79) in the League. Additionally, his 131 innings pitched trail only Cueto. He has been outright dominant for the entire season, as evidenced by his 4.7 WAR, first among pitchers and in the top-five for the entire National League. This may finally be the year he wins the Cy Young, after finishing in the top-five in the voting three times.
NL Rookie of the Year
As opposed to the American League, not many NL rookies have really set themselves apart. Both Arizona shortstop Chris Owings and Washington relief pitcher Aaron Barrett have had solid, but not spectacular rookie seasons.
However the clear frontrunner for the ROY is Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton. He has always been known as a speed demon, but there were concerns about whether he would be able to make any noteworthy contributions with his bat. Hamilton has stolen plenty of bases this year, 37 to be exact, but he has also showed an ability to hit as well. His .280 average is not spectacular, but it is a lot higher than many expected. He also has 5 home runs and 37 RBIs, respectable numbers for someone who was not supposed to be able to hit at all. As a result, his efforts have him knocking on the door of the ROY award. If he can keep his average in the .270 to .280 range, and keep stealing bases, he will win easily.
NL Manager of the Year
The NL has no shortage of great managers, but in 2014, two in particular have done a good job getting their teams back on track. First, Mike Redmond of the Miami Marlins has been superb in developing young players. In his third year with the club, he has finally been able to help his team post a respectable record. The Marlins are under .500, but only by several games. They have been able to win more in 2014 in large part thanks to unproven youngsters like Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, and long-forgotten veterans like Casey McGehee. Redmond certainly deserves a lot of credit for helping these players to achieve, and under him, it looks as though the Marlins might soon be legitimate contenders.
Redmond has been great this year, but Ron Roenicke of the Brewers deserves the award a bit more. After finishing with just 74 wins last year, the Brewers have posted the best record in the National League in 2014. Roenicke is helping drive his players to achieve. The pitching staff has been much improved, even though the rotation lacks a true star. In addition, the lineup is performing admirably, despite former MVP Ryan Braun’s subpar season. Roenicke should be the MOY because he has brought his team a long way from a disappointing 2013. Under his leadership, the Brewers are back in contention.
Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.