With Manny Machado's 100th career home run Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays came a lot of talk about potential, about his consistently high level of play and how important he is to the Orioles.
"I don't ever take it for granted, what he's doing," manager Buck Showalter said. "He spoils us with a great level of play, and unfortunately, sometimes I think we're all guilty of it. When he makes some of the plays that he makes that nobody else makes, and he does some of the things offensively that very few people do, all of a sudden if he doesn't do it every time, he almost spoils you with the level of play.
"But it's so hard to do what he does and I don't ever take that for granted, what he's doing at a young age and whether it's an old age."
All that comes with good reason. He's on pace for another career year, now with 32 home runs and a .306/.357/.563 batting line. He's regarded as one of the brightest young stars in the game, but as he reaches a milestone and ends a month that's as impressive as he's had in his career (.317/.325/.633 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs), did the July swoon that preceded it ultimately knock him out of the MVP race?
The presence at Camden Yards of the reigning MVP, Toronto's third baseman Josh Donaldson, begs that question. Donaldson himself is putting together a good campaign to back it up, batting .294/.406/.580 with 34 home runs for the division-leading Blue Jays. The other candidate in the American League, Boston right fielder Mookie Betts, has 30 home runs of his own to go along with 102 runs and a .320/.360/.563 batting line.
Those two, plus Machado, entered Tuesday's games as three of the top five players in wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs, with Machado fifth with 5.9, Betts third at 6.7, and Donaldson second at 7.0. Angels outfielder Mike Trout will provide the best case of best vs. valuable this season, judging by his league-best 7.5 WAR for a team that's among the league's worst. He's batting .316/.434/.556 with 25 home runs, 100 runs, and 21 steals, and the Angels are 58-74.
One of the last major candidates is Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, whose 6.7 WAR ties him for third with Betts. Altuve leads the majors with a .352 batting average, supplemented by a .977 OPS with 22 home runs and 26 stolen bases. He has one of the more intriguing cases, and certainly has the track record that will make some voters decide he's worthy of the award if they look past this year, but the Astros' playoff fate may play into that more than many will admit.
If Machado tacks a September similar to his August onto his season, he'll not only have a career year, but one of the better statistical seasons in the game for 2016. Only a few things would keep him from earning MVP honors if that's the case, both in and out of his control. The Orioles falling out of contention would obviously hurt his cause, but so will the fact that he went so mysteriously cold in July.
He hit .204 with a .625 OPS and four home runs in 25 July games. He's rebounded in August for another month with an OPS above .950, and launched himself back into the MVP picture.
Another month like this will be what he needs, and what the Orioles need too — his own candidacy will be directly tied to their postseason fate. That's how Machado wants it, too — his own honors coinciding with team success. That's how he characterized 100 home runs, and everything else on the horizon for him.
"Everyone in here works to get to certain situations and I finally got to one," he said. "I reached one, I could knock it out, knock it out of my checklist. Now is a time to keep playing baseball and try to knock out another one off my checklist, which is to try to help this team get somewhere that it hasn't been in a long time."