For five months, Christian Yelich was merely part of the National League MVP conversation. In September, he became the focal point thanks to an incredible hot streak. And on Thursday, he officially took home the hardware, becoming the Milwaukee Brewers first MVP since teammate Ryan Braun won the award in 2011.
Yelich received 29 first-place votes out of 30 on ballots from the Baseball Writers Association of America as he topped Javier Báez of the Chicago Cubs and Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies in a virtual landslide. New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom received the other first-place vote after winning the NL Cy Young award.
The ascension truly traces back to Yelich’s production during the home stretch of the season. From Sept. 1 until Oct. 1., which is the day the Brewers played Game 163 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field with the NL Central title on the line, Yelich posted a .370/.508/.804 slashline with 10 homers, 34 RBIs and 24 walks. Milwaukee went 20-7 during that span and managed to rally from a 3.5-game deficit to snag the division title from the Cubs hands.
Yelich was at the center of nearly every triumph, which allowed him to leapfrog a large crowd of contenders. Yelich was definitely in the picture even before that stretch. But it elevated him to a near triple crown level. He won the NL batting title (.326) and led the league in OPS (1.000), OPS+ (164) and total bases (343).
When the Brewers clinched their first postseason berth and division title since 2011, Yelich’s case was solidified.
Without Yelich’s strong finish, the NL MVP figured to be wide open. Chicago Cubs do-it-all star Javier Báez seemed to have the most compelling case leading into the final month. The 25-year-old infielder showed his versatility by playing elite level defense at three different positions — second base, third base and shortstop. He carried the load offensively too, posting career highs across his slashline (.290/.326/.554), to go along with an NL-leading 111 RBIs.
Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has become a perennial contender for the award. This season was no different. Arenado posted a .297/.374/.561 while hitting an NL-leading 38 homers. His defense continued to shine too and was rewarded with his sixth Rawlings Gold Glove award. He was named the NL Platinum Glove winner as the league’s best defender.
Yelich’s MVP season is the full realization of the potential many were baffled that the Miami Marlins were willing to trade away. His first five seasons in a Marlins uniform were good, but they were only the tip of the iceberg. In his age-26 season, Yelich destroyed the iceberg while breaking through to the next level.
Perhaps the change of scenery fueled his fire. Playing in meaningful games was a rarity in Miami, particularly later in the season. As the games got more important for Milwaukee this season, Yelich elevated his play to its highest level. Now we’re left to wonder if Yelich reached his peak while driving the Brewers in 2018, or if there are more layers of excellence yet to be discovered.
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