It’s been a wild and crazy season in the National League thus far.
In the NL East, all five teams are good but not great. The same can be said of the NL Central, although you can take the Pittsburgh Pirates out of the mix. Meanwhile, the NL West appears to have three elite teams that could all become World Series contenders.
While it’s made the National League fascinating to watch, it’s also made it difficult to handicap the MVP race one-third of the way through the season. A lot of players have impressed but not always enough to make their teams stand out.
While it's still early, let’s take an early look at the top 10 candidates for NL MVP in 2021.
10. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper was tearing the cover off the ball in April, hitting .321 with an OPS of 1.063, following up on a promising 2020 campaign. Unfortunately for Harper, issues with his wrist and a stint on the IL have slowed him down considerably and given him more modest numbers at this point of the season.
But if he can come back healthy and pick up where he left off in April, he can still put up MVP-caliber numbers and help the Phillies turn things around.
9. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
With Mookie Betts struggling for the first two months of the season and Cody Bellinger on the IL for most of that time, Max Muncy has had to carry the Dodgers for long stretches.
While he should have more help moving forward, Muncy is still in a position to post MVP-type numbers. He’s on pace to flirt with 40 home runs and has an OPS well over .900. If he continues to lead the Los Angeles lineup, don’t be surprised if he ends up in the MVP race.
8. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Playing on a bad team is destined to hurt Trea Turner’s MVP campaign, but his performance warrants inclusion in the discussion.
He’s currently fifth in the National League in batting average while hitting 10 home runs and stealing 13 bases. That puts Turner on pace to join the 30-30 club if he can continue to hit for power. No matter how many games the Nationals lose, that should be enough to make Turner relevant in the MVP race.
7. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
How in the world is Buster Posey doing what he’s doing? The guy is 34 and hasn’t put up numbers like this in almost a decade. Opting out of the 2020 season seems to have given him a spark.
Even when his numbers dropped off a little in May, he still had an OPS of .905 during that month. If the Giants remain a contender all season and Posey continues to be San Francisco’s best offensive player, how could he not be part of the MVP discussion?
6. Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds
The Reds aren’t playing winning baseball, but Jesse Winker can hardly be blamed for that. He currently ranks second in the National League in both average and OPS. Even if he can maintain those numbers all season, playing on a losing team and a lack of name recognition are bound to hurt him. However, it’s time for more people to take note of Winker, who has been one of the premier hitters in the National League this year.
5. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
While the Cubs have been crushing it for the last few weeks, Kris Bryant has been crushing it all season.
After hitting just .206 last year, Bryant has come back strong (in a contract year, no less). He’s currently among the top five in the National League in both batting average and OPS. He’s currently on pace to set career-highs in most offensive categories, meaning this is the best we’ve ever seen from Bryant. He’s another player who could flirt with 40 home runs while also posting an OPS near 1.000, which would have to put him in the MVP discussion.
4. Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds
Who’s ahead of Winker in average and OPS? Well, it’s his Cincinnati teammate Nick Castellanos, who might be the best hitter in the NL right now.
He’s hitting for both average and power while giving opposing pitchers absolute fits. Of course, his problem is that he’s not giving the Reds enough value to make them a winning team. But if we’re talking about the best pure hitter in the game right now, Castellanos is in that discussion.
3. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
In terms of his average, Ronald Acuña Jr. is a little below the top hitters in the National League. However, his power is more than making up for it, as he ranks second in slugging percentage and third in OPS.
With a league-high 17 home runs, a 20-20 season is a virtual lock. With eight stolen bases, Acuna could be a 30-30 player for the second time in his career if he makes more of an effort on the base paths. He’s also on pace to hit more than 50 home runs, which would surely put him in the MVP discussion, especially if he can lead the Braves back to the postseason.
2. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
While he’s not quite doing what Shohei Ohtani is doing in the American League, Jacob deGrom is coming close.
For starters, he’s dominating on the mound in a way that not even he’s done before. Over his first eight starts, deGrom owns a 0.71 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. He’s also struck out 82 batters in 51 innings. In other words, he’s been unhittable, even more so than when he won his two Cy Young awards.
At the same time, he’s 9 for 20 as a hitter with a double and three RBIs. Obviously, he’ll never get as many at-bats as Ohtani. But to be so dominant on the mound and a respectable batter, deGrom will be a serious MVP candidate if he can keep it up.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
Injuries have cost Fernando Tatís Jr. some time this year, which is why he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify right now. But if he was qualified, Tatís would lead the National League in OPS and be nearly 50 points better than everyone else in slugging percentage. Despite the injuries, he’s still on pace to flirt with 50 home runs this year and finish in the 30-30 club.
Equally important, he’s a premier player on one of the best teams in the National League, which will make him difficult to beat for MVP if he can stay healthy.
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