During a three-strikeout night in Milwaukee in late-May, Paul Goldschmidt’s batting average dipped below .200. For much of the season, he had appeared lost at the plate, mired in a slump that felt both deeper and longer than any he’d previously experienced in his career.
That stretch of the season feels so distant it’s almost as if it never happened, as if it were a dream. Because at the start of play on Friday, Goldschmidt ranked among the best hitters in the National League. As he has most years, he was in the Top 10 in several major offensive categories, including average, on-base, slugging, OPS and home runs.
Incredibly, he has put himself back in a position he’s been in several times in his career, one that seems just as within his grasp as ever before. Once again, Goldschmidt could be the NL’s Most Valuable Player.
A year ago, Goldschmidt entered the final month of the season with what looked like a stranglehold on the award. But his stock dropped after a miserable September and Goldschmidt wound up with the third Top 3 MVP finish of his career.
This year, it’s not just the pennant races that are wide open in the NL. There does not appear to be a clear frontrunner when it comes to the MVP race. Using both Baseball-Reference’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR (wins above replacement), there appear to be roughly six to eight position players clustered together near the top of the leaderboard, plus a few starting pitchers enjoying dominant years.
Goldschmidt is among them thanks to what has been a torrid stretch of production. Since early June, he is hitting .367/.461/.682 with 21 homers in 310 plate appearances.
As he has for much of his career, his production has tied directly to the Diamondbacks’ success. For as hot as the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter has been in recent weeks, Goldschmidt still ranks as the best hitter in baseball since the start of June, and during that time, the Diamondbacks have the second-most wins in the NL.
“If Paul doesn’t go, we typically haven’t gone,” reliever Archie Bradley said. “I think that’s the epitome of that award.”
In 2013, Goldschmidt finished second to the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen. Their offensive numbers were similar, but McCutchen played the more demanding position, and did so for a team that reached the postseason. McCutchen won handily.
In 2015, Goldschmidt was runner-up to Bryce Harper, who had the sort of overwhelmingly dominant season that many long expected out of him (and have since). Harper won unanimously.
Last year, Goldschmidt dealt with an elbow issue that sidelined him for about a week in early September. Upon his return, he muddled through the next two weeks of games, then plummeted at the finish, going 0 for his last 17. Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto both finished ahead of him.
With the Diamondbacks entering the final, difficult stretch of their schedule, Goldschmidt has a chance to control the narrative when it comes to his candidacy. If he can hit the way he has the past few months and help the Diamondbacks secure a playoff spot, perhaps this could finally be his year – in spite of how poorly it started.
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.