MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Cespedes forcing way into MVP debate

Mets slugger has proven to be worthy after just 36 games

Cespedes forcing way into MVP debate

Sure, it's nuts to think that new Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes could win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. I mean, he showed up in their clubhouse about 20 minutes ago, so how much of a difference could he have made?

Oops, wrong question.

At this point, the discussion gets interesting. If the NL MVP Award is for the guy who had the largest impact on the pennant race, Cespedes might be your man. That he's even in the conversation after playing 36 of his team's 139 games speaks volumes about his play.

Cespedes has transformed a team. He has transformed a pennant race.

OK, it's never that simple. The Mets have had plenty of other comings and goings in the past few weeks. David Wright, Travis d'Arnaud and Daniel Murphy returned from the disabled list. Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe also arrived via a trade.

In addition, rookie outfielder Michael Conforto was summoned from the Minor Leagues, and he has been spraying line drives all over the field. Curtis Granderson got hot, too.

Every little thing is connected to every other little thing. There's something called lineup chemistry. One impact bat can change the entire look of a team by altering the way pitchers approach every other hitter.

And no hitter in baseball has impacted his team the past six weeks the way Cespedes has.

Cespedes' RBI double

Let's check the numbers:

• The Mets were 53-50, and two games out of first place, when Cespedes arrived. They're 25-11 since and leading the NL East by seven games with 23 left to play.

• The Mets were the lowest-scoring team in baseball before getting Cespedes. Since then, they're the highest-scoring team. In New York's first 103 games, the team scored 365 runs and averaged 3.54 per game. In their past 36 games, the Mets have scored 221 runs and averaged 6.14.

• In 36 games for his new team, Cespedes has 14 home runs, 36 RBIs and a 1.032 OPS. In that time, he's third in the NL in both home runs and RBIs, 11th in OPS.

• In five games against the Nationals, Cespedes is 7-for-21 with two home runs, three doubles and five runs. The Mets won all five.

When the Mets rolled into the nation's capital this week, the Nats had crept to within four games of first place in the NL East. These games, they said, would be the beginning of the postseason.

Cespedes' solo homer

The Mets rallied to win three days in a row, and Cespedes had a big hit in every game. He had three hits, including a home run, in the first game on Monday when the Mets won 8-5. He doubled and drove in three runs as the Mets rallied from a 7-1 deficit to win the second game 8-7. Finally, on Wednesday night, Cespedes' two-run eighth-inning home run broke a 2-2 game and helped the Mets to a 5-3 victory.

MVP voters typically have considered winning a huge factor in deciding who to vote for. For instance, a guy having a monster year for a last-place team faces an uphill fight if there are alternatives on better teams.

For most of this season, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has been the overwhelming NL MVP Award favorite, and that's unlikely to change even with his team falling out of contention.

Harper's numbers are so impressive that it may not matter where Washington finishes. He's first in OPS (1.124) and runs (104), third in doubles (33) and home runs (33), and second in walks (109).

Cespedes' bases-clearing double

During the six weeks Cespedes has been with the Mets, Harper still has a slightly higher OPS (1.091), along with seven home runs. But during that time, the Nats are 17-21, and they have gone from two games ahead of the Mets in the NL East to seven behind.

Something else to note, though, is how Harper had a stellar showing going 3-for-4 with two home runs and three runs on Wednesday, and yet his performance was completely overshadowed by Cespedes as the Mets went on to win.

Statcast: Cespedes turns it on

Other names sure to show up on most NL MVP Award ballots: Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Zack Greinke and Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs (25-11) are the only team to win as many games as the Mets during this stretch, and Cespedes has been in the middle of everything his team has done.

Regardless of whether Cespedes pulls an upset to take the NL MVP Award away from Harper or not, he has been the smartest acquisition of this season. He seems headed for postseason baseball in New York, which is about as good as it gets.

Cespedes had a taste of greatness two years ago when he won the All-Star Home Run Derby at Citi Field. As thunderous as those cheers were, they're nothing compared to the full October experience. If that's his consolation prize, he'll happily take it.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.