HBT First-Half Awards: National League MVP

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With no baseball on Wednesday or Thursday, we’re taking stock of the best performances of the first half of the season by handing out midseason awards. Maybe someday we’ll have the budget for an actual Midseason Award Trophy, but for now they merely get our kind and admiring words. Next up: National League MVP.

Aaron Gleeman‘s ballot:

1. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

Bryce Harper leads the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage–and is one point from the top batting average–while playing good defense in right field for the Nationals. He has some major competition from Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, but Harper’s nearly 100-point edge in slugging percentage and superior defensive value are enough to separate them for now. Goldschmidt is having a spectacular, MVP-caliber season, but Harper has been even better.

Deciding on the third spot was tough, because Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo are deserving based on their great hitting and Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Todd Frazier, Nolan Arenado, and A.J. Pollock are deserving based on their very good hitting combined with defensive value. I went with McCutchen, who won the MVP in 2013, finished third in 2014, and has hit .343 with a 1.033 OPS in his last 60 games after a brutal start to the season.

Craig Calcaterra‘s ballot:

1. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

It’s really hard to do any other 1-2 in the NL MVP race than Harper and Goldschmidt. Harper leads the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage and is a single point behind Goldschmidt in average, if you care about such things. Which isn’t to slight Goldschmidt in the least — his 2015 season is better than a great many actual MVP seasons over the past couple of decades so far — it’s just that Harper is better than him in just about everything that matters. Goldschmidt has a couple more stolen bases and some RBIs, but that doesn’t amount to much. He also plays in a much better hitter’s park. Sorry, Goldy.

The real race for the MVP, such as it is, seems to be for the third slot. As Aaron said above, you can pick six or seven guys here, depending on your tastes. My tastes, like Aaron’s seem to be, are more about all-around greatness than merely batting numbers. I can’t, however, look past McCucthen’s slow start and give him the nod over someone like Buster Posey, who has hit fantastically and consistently while playing one of the most important defensive positions around. I give a different answer if you ask me which of them I’d want on my team starting tomorrow and going through the end of the year, but an award is, by definition, a retrospective thing and, with all due respect to Mr. McCutchen, you can’t erase the month of April.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).