Louis Meyer, Sports Editor
Since the National League Most Valuable Player award was established in 1931, 13 St. Louis Cardinals players have won it 17 different times. No other team in the National League has had more players win the MVP award than the Cardinals.
Two Cardinals players have won multiple MVP’s, Stan “The Man” Musial and Albert Pujols both have three. Dizzy Dean, Musial and Bob Gibson have had their numbers retired by the Cardinals as well. Since the award was established, the Cardinals have had at least one player win it every decade. The last Cardinal to win the NL MVP was first basemen Albert Pujols in 2009. Pujols, who also won in 2008, almost won his third NL MVP in a row, which would have been his fourth overall in 2010. Star Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina finished top five in the MVP race in 2012 and 2013, but never won. Last year, infielder Matt Carpenter was the Cardinals player that came closest to winning the award, finishing ninth in voting. However, this year might be a different story. This will be the year the NL MVP award comes back to St. Louis and shortstop Paul DeJong will be the recipient.
As the Cardinals kicked off the 2017 season at home against their bitter rivals, the Chicago Cubs, DeJong was in Memphis with the teams Triple-A affiliate. DeJong was not a highly touted prospect and the Cardinals had their starting shortstop in Aledmys Diaz. Diaz was coming off a tremendous rookie season that saw him slash .300/.369/.510 with 17 HR’s and 65 RBI’s. Diaz also made the All-Star game and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year Award voting. However, as the 2017 season went along, Diaz struggled. Then, second basemen Kolten Wong got hurt and the Cardinals needed an infielder. Insert Paul DeJong.
On May 28, 2017, the Cardinals called up Paul DeJong to the big leagues. DeJong caught a flight to join the Colorado Rockies in Denver, but things were not going his way. DeJong’s flight was delayed and he did not arrive at Coors Field until the fifth inning. He quickly loosened up in the hitting cages below the field and was ready to go when manager Mike Matheny called on him to lead off the ninth inning as a pinch hitter. DeJong faced off against star closer Greg Holland and drove a 1-0 fastball over the left field wall. It was the ninth time a Cardinals player had hit a home run on their first at bat and DeJong was just getting started.
The rest of the Cardinals’ 2017 season could have been called the “Paul DeJong Show.” The rookie drew eyes from all over the league as he made a mockery of the pitching he faced. Playing just 108 games in 2017, DeJong slashed .285/.325/.532 with 25 HR’s and 65 RBI’s to go along with 52 extra base hits. DeJong would go to finish second in the Rookie of the Year Award voting. He finished only behind star Dodgers player, Cody Bellinger. While DeJong had a better batting average, Bellinger mashed more homeruns, extra base hits and RBI’s. DeJong also showed above average defense at both shortstop and second base. It was clear he had carved out a role with the team for next season.
As the 2018 season approached, DeJong became the Cardinal’s clear-cut option at shortstop. Starting shortstop Aledmys Diaz was traded along with outfielder Randal Grichuk to Toronto in the offseason, so the starting job was DeJong’s. DeJong started off the 2018 season strong, slashing .260/.351/.473 with eight home runs and 16 extra base hits. Then disaster struck. Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Luis García hit DeJong on the hand with an 84-mph slider. DeJong suffered a fractured hand and would end up missing 48 games. Even when he returned, DeJong’s hand was noticeably bothering him for the rest of the season. DeJong would finish the 2018 season with a slash line of .241/.313/.433 to go along with 19 HR’s and 68 RBI’s. With a 40+ point drop in his batting average, many wondered which DeJong would appear in 2019. Would it be the rookie DeJong, who made himself known as one of the best all-around shortstops in the MLB, or would it be the 2018 DeJong that suffered through injuries and long droughts at the plate?
In the 18 games the Cardinals have played so far in 2019, DeJong looks like his rookie self. In fact, he looks even better. Granted it is a small sample size, but DeJong is currently on pace to have career highs in every single offensive category. He’s currently slashing .342/.407/.630 and is on pace for 36 HR’s and 90 RBI’s. DeJong also just came off a 12-game hitting streak, the longest of any player in the MLB this season. DeJong is also on pace to have a career year defensively. He leads all MLB shortstops in double plays turned and is second in assists, all while committing zero errors. If DeJong can maintain this pace, which looks more realistic every day, there is no doubt that he will win NL MVP. If he wins, he would be the first shortstop to win the NL MVP since Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007. DeJong would be the first Cardinals shortstop to win the award since Marty Marion in 1944.
While there are still 146 games to be played before the regular season is over, I believe that when we get there, Paul DeJong will have emerged as the NL MVP Award winner. He will be the first Cardinal to win it since Pujols in 2009 and maybe, just maybe that will carry the team to the World Series.