As the home stretch of the baseball season begins, theScore’s MLB editors break down the leading candidates for the MVP and Cy Young awards in the American and National Leagues. Today, we’re ranking the early favorites for the 2018 NL MVP.

5. Christian Yelich

.322 .383 .540 146 3.9

In his first campaign with the Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich has been worth the hefty price paid to acquire him from the Miami Marlins in January. Among qualified hitters, the 26-year-old leads his team in batting average, hits, doubles, and runs scored. Add 14 steals and the ability to play all three outfield spots into the mix, and Yelich is one of the game’s most versatile, young players. He’s partly responsible for the Brewers sitting just 1 1/2 games out of first in the NL Central.

4. Javier Baez

.298 .331 .585 138 4.4

Javier Baez knows how to make baseball fun, and he’s doing it while having the most productive season of his young career. He’s flashy and electric with the glove and bat, and he’s been a big part of why the Chicago Cubs have been one of the NL’s best teams this season. Baez has already surpassed his previous career highs in home runs, RBIs, doubles, and stolen bases, doing all that just 112 games into the season. He’s also on pace for career bests in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, hits, and fWAR. And his glove work is so pretty.

3. Freddie Freeman

.314 .395 .517 143 4.3

The Atlanta Braves have been one of the best stories of the 2018 season, as the team remains in contention for the NL East crown in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Freddie Freeman has been solid and consistent all season, but he slowed down in July (3 HR), a slide that’s continued into the beginning of August (.321 SLG), causing him to tumble down these rankings a touch. While his second-half OPS has dropped to .774 from a pre-All-Star Game mark of .938, don’t expect Freeman to be cold for long. He’s still one of the league’s finest players and should be in the running for his first MVP award right down to the wire.

2. Nolan Arenado

.304 .388 .584 142 4.7

The Colorado Rockies are in a three-way slugfest with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks for the top spot in the NL West, and thankfully for the guys in purple, their biggest puncher is throwing haymakers. Nolan Arenado is in the midst of another highly productive season. He’s second in the NL in homers and is also among the top five in several categories, including WAR, RBIs, slugging, and OPS. While his defensive numbers aren’t up to the same standards as the five previous seasons, Arenado still leads NL third basemen in FanGraphs defense (7.4) and UZR (5.8), and he’s third in defensive runs saved (plus-4).

1. Matt Carpenter

 .281 .393 .598 161 4.9

In April, Matt Carpenter hit just .145 and was in jeopardy of losing playing time. Now, he has an MVP award in his sights. Since the beginning of May, no player in baseball has been hotter at the plate than the 32-year-old Cardinals infielder, who leads his league in homers, is first in the NL in OPS, and is tied for the top spot in doubles. Carpenter has hit 31 home runs, and 16 have come since the beginning of July. He’s also been named the Player of the Week twice over the past three weeks. If the season ended today, he’s hands down the winner of this award.

Honorable mention: OF Lorenzo Cain (Brewers), 3B Eugenio Suarez (Reds), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (D-Backs), SP Jacob deGrom (Mets)

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(WAR courtesy: FanGraphs)