MILWAUKEE (AP) - Christian Yelich's outstanding debut season with the Milwaukee Brewers has ended with the outfield slugger winning the National League MVP award.
Yelich topped fellow finalists Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies and Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs when the winner was announced Thursday. He received 29 of 30 first-place votes.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's really hard to put into words right now. You never dream of winning an award like this."
How Christian Yelich became the face of the Brewers' revival
The ex-Marlins outfielder's first year in Milwaukee couldn't have gone much better, from his MVP-caliber season to his warm embrace by Midwest fans.
In his first season for Milwaukee, Yelich, 26, became the fourth player in Brewers history to win MVP honors. He joined Rollie Fingers (1981) and Robin Yount (1982 and 1989), who both won the award while Milwaukee played in the American League. Ryan Braun became the Brewers' first MVP as an NL club in 2011, the last year Milwaukee won a division championship before Yelich led the charge to this season's NL Central title.
After a first half typical for his career standards, Yelich heated up after the All-Star break, hitting .367 with 25 home runs and 67 RBIs in 65 games. He was at his best when the season reached its zenith, going 11-for-24 with 17 RBIs as Milwaukee closed the season with eight straight wins to erase its deficit to the Cubs in the division.
The Brewers went on to advance to the NL Championship Series; they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games, leaving the club one win shy of its first pennant since 1982.
With his second-half surge, Yelich nearly became the NL's first Triple Crown winner since Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937. Yelich became the first Brewer to win a batting title, leading the NL with a .326 average. He fell two home runs shy of Arenado with 36 long balls and was just one RBI behind Baez with 110.
It could hardly have been a more successful first season in Milwaukee for Yelich, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins in January for a package of prospects. The Southern California native fit in so well with his new team that the city temporarily named a bus line -- No. 22, Yelich's uniform number -- the "Yelich Line" in honor of his MVP campaign.
Christian Yelich heated up after the All-Star break, hitting .367 with 25 home runs and 67 RBIs in 65 games. Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports
Yelich witnessed his then-Marlins teammate Giancarlo Stanton win last year's NL MVP award.
"To think about doing that a year ago ... it didn't even cross my mind that I might be in those same shoes a year [later]," Yelich said.
Yelich, whose contract should keep him in Milwaukee through at least the 2022 season, barring a trade, established career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, runs, RBIs and stolen bases. He hit for the cycle twice within the span of three weeks late in the season. In the first of those games, he went 6-for-6 at the plate against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 29.
Yelich's late-season heroics allowed him to pull away in what appeared to be a murky MVP race entering the season's final month. Baez, 25, was bidding to become the second Cubs player to win MVP in the past three seasons, joining Kris Bryant, who won in 2016.
In addition to his league-leading 111 RBIs, Baez hit a career-high 34 homers and stole 21 bases. Baez became just the third Cubs player with at least 30 homers and 20 steals in a season, joining Sammy Sosa, who did it three times, and Ryne Sandberg. A notoriously aggressive hitter, Baez walked just 29 times on the season, fewer than all but two MVP winners.
Arenado was attempting to become the Rockies' second MVP winner; Larry Walker won the award in 1997. Arenado posted his fourth straight season with at least 35 homers and 100 RBIs, the second-longest streak by a third baseman in big league history. Alex Rodriguez posted five straight such seasons from 2004 to 2008.
He finished in the NL's top five in slugging percentage, homers, RBIs, runs and extra-base hits. Long known as one of baseball's top defenders, Arenado has won a Gold Glove in each of his six major league seasons for his work at third base.