The Colorado Rockies pretty much buried the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 10-3 victory at Coors Field on Thursday to take three out of four in the series. Back on Aug. 22, the Diamondbacks led the NL West by 1½ games and FanGraphs gave them a 43 percent chance of winning the division and 65 percent chance of making the playoffs. Since then they've gone 6-14 and those odds are down to 1.5 percent and 3.1 percent.
Colorado's Trevor Story once again came up big, going 2-for-4, scoring three runs and blasting this long home run to give the Rockies a 4-1 lead in the third inning:
When you hit it 471 feet, you can flip your bat.
In D.C., the Chicago Cubs flew into town to face the Washington Nationals for a makeup game and won 4-3 in 10 innings. Javier Baez, who homered earlier in the game, drove in the go-ahead run with a bunt single:
Don't ask questions, just take the run. pic.twitter.com/dm5tWFPOf2— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 13, 2018
With the Milwaukee Brewers off, the Cubs take a 1½-game lead in the NL Central. Kris Bryant, who was on third base after a leadoff double off Sean Doolittle, said he was fortunate Ryan Zimmerman didn't catch the ball.
"I didn't know if he was going to catch it or not," Bryant said. "Thankfully, he didn't because I probably was too far off the bag. We needed something to fall our way and that was certainly the play that did."
This gets us to the NL MVP discussion, in which Baez might be the favorite now and Story is making a late push to insert himself into the argument. (The three most valuable players in the National League have been pitchers Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola, but there doesn't seem to be any momentum to consider them for MVP honors like Clayton Kershaw in 2014 or Justin Verlander in 2011.)
Baez: .295/.329/.568, 31 HR, 103 RBIs, 92 runs, 21 SB, 5.3 bWAR, 4.8 fWAR
Story: .292/.347/.559, 33 HR, 102 RBIs, 81 runs, 25 SB, 4.8 bWAR, 4.5 fWAR
In most seasons, neither player is likely a strong MVP candidate. But no NL player is putting up a dominant season, so the race remains wide open. Baez does lead the league in RBIs, with Story one behind, and while MVP voters don't worship RBIs like they once did, their supporters will certainly use that number as MVP justification. Baez ranks fifth and sixth in Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs WAR, and Story ranks ninth and 11th (before Thursday's games).
Baez is certainly one of the most unique MVP candidates I've ever seen. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 146 to 24 is usually that of a player who gets sent to Triple-A rather than what you see from one of the best players in the league. He still has zero discipline at the plate -- his chase rate of 45.2 percent is last among 145 qualified batters -- but with his blazing bat speed, he murders the ball if you leave it over the plate. His OPS on pitches in the strike zone is third in the majors behind only J.D. Martinez and Mike Trout (so imagine if he controlled those swings on pitches outside the zone even a little bit).
Baez's .329 OBP drags down his value. He's producing runs, but he's using up outs to do so. In the past 50 years, only two MVP winners had a sub-.350 OBP: Jimmy Rollins in 2007 (.344) and Andre Dawson in 1987 (.328). Dawson is widely viewed as one of the worst MVP choices ever.
Baez, of course, has hidden value in his positional flexibility. He has started 72 games at second, 39 at shortstop and 18 at third base. His ability to move around the diamond allowed the Cubs to trade for Daniel Murphy to play second base. Also, Baez has been the one consistent force all season in the Cubs' lineup as Anthony Rizzo got off to a slow start and Bryant missed a large chunk of the season with injury.
One thing to note is that Baez's RBI total isn't a reflection of doing especially well with runners on base (as is the case with Alex Bregman in the AL). Baez has hit .285/.352/.528 with runners in scoring position and .277/.322/.473 with runners on. His high-leverage numbers aren't special -- .243/.284/.439 -- as he ranks 14th among NL position players in win probability added (entering Thursday).
Playing for the Rockies, Story has the usual uphill battle that all Colorado hitters face in the MVP voting. He's hitting .301/.358/.659 at home, .283/.336/.459 on the road. He leads the majors in isolated power at home and ranks 82nd on the road (DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon have hit for more power on the road).
Indeed, Story's batting line isn't anything special for a Rockies player. Since the Rockies installed the humidor in 2002, his .906 OPS would rank just 25th. Blackmon had a 1.000 OPS last season while leading the NL with a .331 average and 137 runs and finished just fifth in the MVP voting.
What helps Story's case is he's doing it as a shortstop, and he has carried the offense at times in the second half. He hit .358/.409/.617 in July and has hit .313/.340/.833 in September with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 12 games (as Nolan Arenado has struggled). Big games in September help, and if the Rockies win the West, Story is going to get a lot of credit for his late-season heroics.
Still, he's probably behind Baez in the roll call right now -- but a lot can change in the final two-plus weeks. As good as Baez has been and as exciting as he is, I'm not sure a guy with a .329 OBP can be the most valuable player in the league. I don't see evidence that he has been particularly clutch. Still, I suspect it might come done to Baez and Christian Yelich of the Brewers, and the award might go to the player whose team wins the Central.
Cubs lose Strop: Pedro Strop has been the Cubs' closer since Brandon Morrow went on the DL in July and has done a pretty good job with 11 saves in 13 opportunities. He got the win Thursday, but only after he left with an injury. After Baez's bunt and a walk to Willson Contreras, Strop batted with the bases loaded, grounded into a double play and hurt his hamstring. He told reporters he's going to miss at least a couple of weeks.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he wasn't sure who would close Friday. "I have no idea," he said. "All these guys are on fumes."
The big question here: Why the heck was Strop batting there? Tommy La Stella was still available on the bench. I get that Maddon had already used seven relievers, including Strop, so he didn't want to go deeper into the game, but you had a chance to tack on two more runs with a base hit. Twitter didn't understand the decision either:
Pedro Strop just hit in the tenth inning of a one-run game with the bases loaded. It is September. Rosters have expanded. The Brewers are one game back.— BP Wrigleyville (@BPWrigleyville) September 13, 2018
This is one of the side effects of bullpenning: When you blow through all your relievers in nine innings, who is left to pitch if the game goes extras? Strop had already pitched 1⅔ innings and thrown 21 pitches as it was. Anyway, questionable decision by Maddon, and the injury just made it even more painful. At least Randy Rosario came on and got the easy 1-2-3 save.
Dodgers get closer to Cardinals: It was a shaky win over the Cardinals to move the Dodgers one game back in the wild-card race, but L.A. will take it. Rolling 8-1 behind Clayton Kershaw, they held on for a 9-7 victory as the Cards scored twice off Kenley Jansen in the ninth and had the tying run at the plate in Matt Adams, who grounded out to first to end it.
Jansen wasn't seeing much action on his cutter and walked two batters as he scuffled through 29 pitches. His two previous outings were 1-2-3, but those easy innings have been few and far between of late. He has pitched two days in a row, so he's probably unavailable for the second game of the series Friday.