One of the hottest baseball debates was a no-brainer about a month ago. The National League's Most Valuable Player was an award destined to go to San Diego Padres phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. By the season's end, it may still be heading to the west coast.
But lingering shoulder issues have sidelined the game's most exciting young star and thrown this award race into chaotic uncertainty.
Who wins the National League's Most Valuable Player may be the player who stays the healthiest by season's end.
When Tatis Jr. started experiencing left shoulder problems, which has him sidelined since July 30, the injury took away the MVP front runner. For the third time this year, injuries have robbed baseball fans of potential historic seasons by three generational players.
Even though he's a pitcher, New York Mets' Jacob deGrom was vying for the MVP award along with a no-brainer Cy Young award. Before a forearm/elbow injury landed him on the injured list since July 7, DeGrom was 7-2 with a microscopic 1.08 ERA with 146 strikeouts. More importantly, the Mets were in front in the division most of the season, due in large part to his season on the mound.
Then there was the Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. who tore his right ACL the weekend before the All-Star game. He obviously will not return in 2021 and leaves a question of what ifs with Atlanta Braves fans. He batted .283 with 24 homers, 52 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.
Then there was Tatis Jr., whose .292 average, 31 homers and 70 RBIs and 23 stolen bases are hard to contend with, especially if he is able to return soon.
But if he doesn't return soon, who should carry the mantle as the leading contender in what has emerged as a wide open race. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a couple of contenders in Max Muncy and Mookie Betts. Padres third baseman Manny Machado should merit consideration. And especially with the way the Philadelphia Phillies have ascended up the division standings, outfielder Bryce Harper is a strong contender.
But I ask why not consider last year's MVP winner, Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman? His stats speak consistency: .294 batting average, 24 homers (tied for third in the National League), 63 RBIs, 121 hits (fifth in the N.L.), 65 walks (second in the N.L.) and 3.0 WAR. It is a breath of fresh air to see Freeman hitting like Freeman again, after the dreadful first two months that saw him enter June with a .235 average.
It was unfathomable to think that Freeman, who endured a shockingly awful start to the season, would be in a position to be in the MVP conversation again. But injuries have thrown this year's award into chaos. So I ask again, why not Freeman?
Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.