Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle wrote a column Aug. 27: “Clayton Kershaw is the National League MVP and it’s not that close.”
Oh, but it is, Bob, it certainly is.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace has somehow managed to outdo himself from the historic 2013 campaign he had. Even with the time he’s missed, he’s had twice as many complete games he had last year, equaled as many shutouts, has a higher ERA+, a lower WHIP and a lower FIP. It looks like he should be able to eclipse his strikeout total from 2013, and aside from innings pitched, the case could be made that Kershaw’s 2014 is better than Justin Verlander’s 2011 AL MVP season. All things should point to a runaway NL MVP for Kershaw, right?
Enter Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton is the only other player that Lutz acknowledged that there could be an argument made for. In fact, there’s a lot to argue about Stanton. It’s very impressive to lead the NL in home runs (33) and the Majors in RBI (98). He’s as feared as they come, with his 89 walks leading the senior circuit. The man knows how to get on base, and his 164 OPS+ leads the NL. Impressive numbers, to be sure.
As they say, though, numbers don’t tell the whole story, and in Stanton’s case, this couldn’t be any more true.
This isn’t to say Kershaw is not MVP worthy. In fact, if he were to receive the award, it would be very well deserved, but let’s step back and analyze some things for a minute. The 26-year-old southpaw is the ace of a team predicted by many to win the World Series. When ESPN did their expert predictions for 2014 back in March, 11 of the 44 participants in the predictions picked the Dodgers to go all the way. An overwhelming number of them said they would repeat as NL West Champions. Actually, only Michael Knisley of ESPN.com said they would miss the postseason altogether.
Now, how many of them predicted the Miami Marlins to make the playoffs?
Not a single one.
The proof is right here: http://espn.go.com/mlb/preview14/story/_/id/10638313/espn-expert-team-predictions-2014-baseball-season
Even though no one from ESPN said the Boston Red Sox would win the 2013 World Series, at least some of them said they’d find a way into the postseason.
Literally no one thought the Marlins would make it into the playoffs. Yet, here we are, Aug. 31, on the eve of Labor Day and Sept. 1, and this franchise mathematically and realistically could make the playoffs as they’re only 5.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. It would be only the team’s third trip to the postseason in franchise history, and a large part of that is owed to Stanton. At 66-68, the Marlins already surpassed its win total from a season ago. In fact, this team went 62-100 in 2013 and finished with the worst record in the entire National League last year. It’s no wonder nobody from ESPN picked them to reach the postseason. Why would they? What were the chances the team with the worst record in the NL from a season ago would be talked about as a playoff team down the stretch while playing in a division that already could wield two postseason teams?
It’s probably about as likely as Todd Frazier managing just one circus shot in the 2014 Home Run Derby semifinals and that would be enough to edge the favored Stanton to move on to the finals, maybe even less. It happened. Frazier hit only two out in the first round, had to win a tiebreaker, only knocked a single ball out of Target Field while opposing Stanton, yet Stanton himself couldn’t muster anything to put Frazier away.
If Frazier could make arguably the most improbable run to the finals in Home Run Derby history, why not the Marlins making postseason after going through everything mentioned above?
But wait, there’s more.
Kershaw winning the NL MVP is a very realistic possibility. Him winning the NL Cy Young is about as open and shut as it gets. There’s one pitcher who could have possibly challenged Kershaw for that award, and his name is Jose Fernandez. It was found out in May he would undergo Tommy John surgery and as a result would have to miss the rest of the season. His 2014 numbers consisted of 51.2 innings pitched, a 157 ERA+, a 0.948 WHIP and he recorded 70 strikeouts against only 13 walks. Stanton has played a huge role keeping the Marlins alive even without the club’s ace pitcher. Maybe Miami would be even closer to the postseason if Fernandez didn’t go down, yet they’re still alive without him.
Consider this: The Marlins can still make the playoffs, but four, count them, four teams are ahead of them in the Wild Card race. The San Francisco Giants hold possession of the first NL Wild Card entering play on Sunday. The other Wild Card spot belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals, the reigning NL Champions. Every single year so far in the 2010s decade has featured either the Giants or the Cardinals in the World Series. San Francisco won two World Series championships this decade. St. Louis has won one.
As if that’s not daunting enough, the Marlins would have to leapfrog the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are only a game out themselves, and the Atlanta Braves, who are a game and a half back. The Pirates have reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Braves have made the postseason in 2010, 2012 and 2013. They just missed the playoffs in 2011 when the Redbirds came out of nowhere to overtake them and eventually win the World Series.
It’s really something that boggles the mind. It’s not just the fact the Marlins aren’t too far off a Wild Card spot and that four squads are looking up on them. Miami went 4-2 against St. Louis in 2014. They have gone 7-6 against Atlanta could take the rubber game at Turner Field on Sunday. Should they win that game, they’ll have had a winning August to go along with a winning May and a winning July. Plus, they’ll host the Bravos for a 3-game set at Marlins Park Sept. 5-7. The Fish went 3-4 against the Giants this season, while going 2-4 versus the Bucs.
When someone tries to wrap their head around all of this, they should get an understanding that it’s a lot closer than it seems.
Lutz concluded in his column that, “With a month to go, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Kershaw as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.”
No one should take anything away from Kershaw. If he is the 2014 NL MVP, he earned it, no questions asked.
However, when taking a closer look, it’s not hard to imagine Stanton snatching that piece of hardware away from Kershaw. It very well could happen and this is a heated NL MVP race that ought be very much debated.
If Stanton leads the Marlins to the postseason, this should be the National League’s answer to intense AL MVP debate of 2012 between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.