Washington Nationals

Time to start talking about Anthony Rendon as legit MVP candidate

Anthony Rendon doesn’t dominate the headlines like Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, but he’s quietly challenging them for NL MVP.

Anthony Rendon stood on the field at Nationals Park on Friday after his ninth-inning heroics, basking in the embrace of his fans. “MVP! MVP!” they chanted as his Washington Nationals teammates doused him with Gatorade.

Just moments earlier, it was Rendon who saved the Nationals from losing a game to the Miami Marlins. Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning and two runners on, Rendon hit a single to left field that drove in Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner for the winning run as the Nationals pulled out a 7-6 walkoff victory.

The Nationals were expected to be going through a decline this season after losing Bryce Harper to the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. Rendon, though, along with Juan Soto, has filled in admirably and has the Nationals back on track to reach the postseason for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.

The 29-year-old Rendon finished the game against the Marlins on Friday 3-4 with three RBI, raising his batting average on the year to an NL-leading .333. His 29 home runs and 107 RBI, fourth in the Majors, are already career highs for the seven-year veteran with a month still to play.

For months, the NL MVP race was supposed to be a two-man affair between the Brewers’ Christian Yelich and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. They even starred in a commercial together, with “Belli” and “Yelli” dominating the conversation for the best player in the NL.

Rendon, meanwhile, has gone about his business quietly and without fanfare. But even without the national recognition, he’s been every bit as good this season as Yelich and Bellinger. His 1.031 OPS ranks fourth in the league behind only his two MVP rivals and Mike Trout. He’s also getting better as the season progresses, ranking second in the NL behind Wilson Ramos of the New York Mets with a .386 average in August. In his past 10 games, Rendon is hitting .487, best in the majors in that span, with a 1.332 OPS, third in the league. He now has multi-hit games in three of his last four, and nine of his last 14 games.

The Nationals (75-58) have followed his lead to sit comfortably in an NL Wild Card spot. They are 2.5 games ahead of the Chicago Cubs for the first Wild Card spot and six games ahead of the Harper-led Phillies. With the win against Miami, the Nationals have won seven of their last eight games and 14 of their last 17.

One person who believes Rendon belongs right there with Yelich and Bellinger in the MVP race is his manager, Dave Martinez. “He’s been phenomenal. I say it all the time, but for me, he’s a candidate for the MVP,” Martinez said on Friday. “He’s carried us in big moments.”

Next: Juan Soto should go Harper route with Nationals

The Nationals will have a decision to make regarding Rendon when the season is done. He becomes eligible for free agency after this season, and Washington risks seeing its star player leave for the second straight offseason. With the way he’s been playing recently, Rendon will be a popular target on the market.

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