MIAMI -- Anthony Rendon may not be the name that immediately comes to mind for National League MVP, because his numbers may not be as eye-popping as Giancarlo Stanton's, but he may just be the frontrunner.
In the Nationals' 7-2, series-opening win over the Marlins, Rendon once again bolstered his case. The third baseman went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs, finishing a triple shy of the cycle.
Rendon is hitting .304 and has a .948 OPS. His 6.5 WAR leads the NL and trails only Houston's Jose Altuve (6.6). Stanton is close behind at 6.1.
So where does Rendon fit in the MVP conversation, according to Nats manager Dusty Baker?
"Oh man, he fits big-time. Anthony's our clutch man," Baker said. "When the other guys leave them out there, that's when Anthony picks them up."
Rendon picked up his teammates on multiple occasions Monday. His two-run shot in the second off Adam Conley put the Nats ahead and they never looked back. His two-run double in the seventh capped a four-run rally to put it out of reach.
The long ball, his 23rd, was a welcome sign considering Rendon hit just one in August. According to Statcast™, Rendon's homer was hit at 102 mph with a projected distance of 396 feet.
Rendon also brought his season RBIs total to 90, second-most on the club behind Ryan Zimmerman's 91. Rendon is on pace for 106 RBIs after already smashing his previous career high of 85.
Even in the field, Rendon has been in a class of his own. It's one more reason his WAR is so high. The slick-fielding Rendon's 15.2 defensive WAR leads the NL as well, and that top-notch defense was on full display Monday night.
With two outs in the seventh, Stanton chopped a weak dribbler down the third-base line. Rendon charged hard, bare-handed it and flung it over to Zimmerman at first.
"He's an elite defender, which goes completely under the radar," second baseman Daniel Murphy said.
There's not much Rendon hasn't done for a Nats team that boosted its lead in the NL East to 16 games. As far as MVP talks though, Baker was happier to mention his guys.
"We have Murph, we have Anthony, we have Zim, we have [Bryce] Harper," Baker said before smiling. "We probably have four out of the top 6-8 guys in this league for MVP."
Patrick Pinak is a reporter for MLB.com based in Miami. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.