BROCK AND SALK

Kurkjian: Why Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, J.P. Crawford will get MVP votes

Sep 20, 2023, 12:10 PM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodriguez J.P. Crawford...

Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners celebrates with with J.P. Crawford on June 16, 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are firmly in the playoff hunt with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, and two of the team’s top hitters are big reasons for that being the case.

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Those hitters are two players who ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian discussed with Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, and in fact are the first two men in the Mariners’ regular lineup: shortstop J.P. Crawford and center fielder Julio Rodríguez.

Kurkjian shared his thoughts on those two during his visit on Wednesday, including why he thinks the duo will figure into the American League MVP voting.

Let’s start with Crawford, who is having a career year offensively.

Crawford enters Wednesday’s series finale with the Oakland A’s slashing .266/.382/.433 (.815 OPS) with a career-high 16 home runs. He’s also driven in a career-high 57 runs and scored 88 times, one off his highest mark.

Crawford has also posted a 4.7 WAR mark so far, surpassing his career-high of 3.8 in 2021. Crawford is third in WAR by American League shortstops this season, per ESPN.

“He’s having a great year,” Kurkjian said. “He is going to get top-10 MVP votes this year not just because of his defense, but because he’s got 16 homers. I just didn’t see this kind of production, this kind of pop, from a guy who’s a little bit on the thin side and at times in his career has been overpowered at the plate. Well, not anymore.”

What makes Crawford’s big year even more noteworthy is he’s played better overall than a number of shortstops who signed lucrative contracts this offseason.

“You can make a case he’s had a better season than any of the free-agent shortstop from last (offseason), and that’s (Xander) Bogaerts and (Carlos) Correa and Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson – and those guys all got enormous amounts of money,” Kurkjian said. “But Crawford has been great all year and when your shortstop is playing like that offensively and defensively, you always have a chance. Very, very impressive what he’s done.”

As for Rodríguez, he shook off a slow start in a major way, becoming the American League’s best hitter over the last two-plus months.

Rodríguez enters Wednesday slashing .285/.342/.495 (.837 OPS) with 30 home runs and 99 RBIs along with 36 stolen bases. He’s also played stellar defense in center field.

Rodríguez has been especially good since the start of July, slashing .338/.387/.593 (.980 OPS) with 17 homers and 57 RBIs in 66 games.

Since Aug. 1, the young outfielder has been even better, posting a .364/.406/.663 (1.069 OPS) slash line with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs in 41 games.

Rodríguez’s skill set brings about a lot of comparisons to star Atlanta right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who Kurkjian belives will win National League MVP this year.

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“His power is a joke, his speed is tremendous, his defense has become a weapon in right field,” Kurkjian said of Acuña. “And yet Julio is everything that Ronald Acuña is, he just hasn’t played as many years.”

While Acuña will win NL MVP, Kurkjian said, Rodríguez should also do very well in the American League race.

“I think Julio is going to finish second – third at the worst – in the MVP voting in the American League, and he’s going to deserve it,” he said. “Especially when, during his big hot streak – which was preposterous – that’s when the Mariners really took off and got themselves in a position to really make the playoffs.

“If you’re asking me who would I take long term out of those two? That’s a coin flip. They’re both that great. It’s just Acuña Jr. has a little bit more of a track record. But Julio Rodríguez is just a breathtaking player to watch. That combination of power and speed, this is where we are, fellas. It’s a young man’s game now and they’re getting younger, bigger, stronger, faster than ever, and Julio is right in the middle of that.”

Listen to the full conversation with Kurkjian at this link or in the player near the top of this story.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Salk: Who do Mariners need to step up during intense final stretch?
• Mariners’ J.P. Crawford homers, celebrates by petting dog
• Which big bats could M’s get this winter? Watch for trades, says Morosi
• Drayer’s Seattle Mariners Notebook: Talks play role in needed win

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