Nolan Arenado punctuates early MVP candidacy

Nolan Arenado has a strong MVP case this season -- and he added to it on Sunday afternoon. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Nolan Arenado reminded everyone on Sunday that his name deserves to be in the discussion for National League Most Valuable Player. Perhaps his team's ascent to the best record in the National League is the platform Arenado has needed to show how good his game is.

Sunday's heroics

The Colorado Rockies led entering the ninth, before the San Francisco Giants took back the lead on a Hunter Pence home run. The Rockies already had a run across in the bottom of the ninth when Arenado came to the plate with runners on first and third.

He hit Mark Melancon's first pitch out of the park for his second career walk-off home run and fourth career walk-off hit. Three of his four walk-off hits have been against the division rival Giants.

This was the third time this season that Arenado hit a home run in the seventh inning or later that stood up as the winning margin. He had one homer against the Milwaukee Brewers and another against the San Diego Padres in April. Arenado is one of five players to have multiple go-ahead home runs in the ninth inning or later this season. The other four are Bryce Harper, Eric Thames, Mike Moustakas and Chris Davis.

What makes him valuable

Arenado’s 56 home runs since the start of last season are the fifth most in the majors and the most in the National League during that span. He had a brief slump at the end of May, but he is hitting .373/.403/.657 in his past 16 games. He has produced hits when he has had the chance to drive in runs all season. He’s hitting .358 with runners in scoring position, which ranks 15th in the majors.

He has led the majors in runs batted in for each of the two previous seasons. Arenado already has more home runs before turning 27 than anyone else of that age in Rockies history -- four more than Troy Tulowitzki. Arenado will turn 27 in April.

But what makes Arenado distinct is that he can win games late with his glove too. He set the tone for the season with a fantastic play on a Ryan Braun ground ball, which he turned into a game-ending double play.

Arenado entered Sunday tied with Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell for the major league lead with 14 defensive runs saved. That’s nothing new. He led the majors in defensive runs saved at third base in 2015 and 2016, after finishing second and third in the stat in his first two seasons. He won a Gold Glove at third base in each of his four major league seasons. Elias research notes that the only other player to win at least four Gold Gloves to start his career is Ichiro Suzuki, who won in each of his first 10 seasons (2001-10).

Those three walk-off hits against the Rockies' three-time World Series champion division rivals? Also nothing unexpected from the third baseman. He has 21 career home runs against the Giants. That's the most of any player since his debut in 2013 -- by eight home runs (Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Kemp each have 13).