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Yaz for NL MVP? 30-year-old making case in first 30 games

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USA Today

There are so many Yaz facts that kids throughout New England memorized, and one of the most impressive ones has to do with the MLB All-Star Game. There are only six men in the history of the game who have made an All-Star team 18 times. One of them is Carl Yastrzemski

Mike Yastrzemski, unfortunately, is missing out on his first chance to get the same honor. The 2020 All-Star Game was canceled when the season was cut to 60 games, all of which were played after the traditional break in the schedule. 

But Mike still has a shot to match Carl in another way. His grandfather was the American League MVP in 1967, and right now, the younger Yaz has as strong a claim to the NL MVP Award as anyone. 

Yastrzemski entered the day leading the Majors with 2.1 Wins Above Replacement and added to that tremendous start with a go-ahead solo homer in the sixth inning Sunday, his seventh of the year. The Giants went on to win 6-1, clinching a sweep of the Diamondbacks and their sixth straight win.

At the halfway point, the Giants are 14-16 and currently hold the first Wild Card spot by percentage points over the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets. The rebuilding year has turned into a surprise playoff push in large part because of the outfielder who turned 30 on Sunday and in his second big league season finds himself being talked about with the likes of Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis Jr., although he's certainly not going to be the one doing it. 

 

"I'm just focusing on the important stuff by keeping my focus on winning and impacting the game somehow, someway, whether it be on the offensive side of defensively," Yastrzemski said. "That's where my focus has been and that's translated to keeping a level head and not having emotional swings with ups and downs. I think where it's helped me is just staying in the game and being level-headed and being ready for the big at-bat when it comes."

There might be some really big ones in his future. If the season ended today, the Giants would be headed to Wrigley Field -- or perhaps a bubble -- for a postseason series. But if the season ended today, it's unlikely that Yastrzemski would actually win the MVP Award.

Tatis Jr. is the most exciting player in the game and has a flashier resume, with 12 homers for a San Diego Padres team that's finally reaching its ceiling. Betts has 11 homers and has been the best player on a Los Angeles Dodgers team that's on a 119-win pace in a normal year. Bryce Harper's Philadelphia Phillies have played seven fewer games than the Giants, but he has seven homers and leads the NL in OPS by 100 points. 

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There's some great competition, but Yastrzemski is right there with an all-around resume, and like the others, he comes with a built-in narrative. He's hitting .309 with a .429 on-base percentage and ranks first in the league in extra-base hits (20), second in runs (28) and fourth in RBI (23). His defense has been strong, too, and he has shown an ability to play a solid center field. 

"He's been extremely disciplined, he's really just building off what he did last year," said Alex Dickerson, who hit a three-run shot in the seventh. "He's so good at taking good swings to good pitches for what's already kind of a long stretch of (at-bats) and he's also playing great defense every single day, to the point where he's played every game and every inning out there for the most part. It's been extremely fun to watch. I hope it keeps going."