With 2 months left, Christian Yelich is the most interesting man in the world of the NL Central

After becoming an overnight superstar and MVP last year, the Brewers’ outfielder has morphed into an even bigger, badder monster this year.

SHARE With 2 months left, Christian Yelich is the most interesting man in the world of the NL Central
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers

Yelich is 9-for-21 (.429) with two homers, seven RBI and a 1.288 OPS in the Brewers’ five wins against the Cubs this season — 2-for-20 with one RBI and .367 OPS in the Cubs’ five wins against the Brewers.

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

When Christian Yelich homered off Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel in the 10th inning last weekend in Milwaukee, he matched his 2018 season total with his 36th home run — with 56 games left in 2019.

“I guess the regression didn’t happen,” the Brewers outfielder told media after the game.

Regression?

Yelich’s rise from a nice .290 hitter with a little pop and good glove in Miami to overnight superstar and National League MVP after a trade last year to Milwaukee is well documented.

But after providing the biggest difference for the Brewers in knocking the Cubs from their two-year stay atop the NL Central, the skinny kid from Southern California has morphed again into an even bigger, badder monster.

Which makes him the most interesting man in the world, or at least in the NL Central.

“I really don’t like him. I wish he was still a Marlin,” Cubs manager Maddon cracked earlier this season.

“Guys like him, man, they’re an enigma. They’re so good. It’s a combination of vision and tremendous hands.”

With Yelich resuming his role as leading man in the division and MVP favorite this weekend at Wrigley Field, he represents one of the few threats to the Cubs’ playoff hopes bigger than the Cubs’ lineup and relief corps.

How did this happen? Where did this guy come from? And will the Cubs be able to stop him?

Until Yelich homered and singled against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks in April, Hendricks had as much success against the lefty hitter as anyone (4-for-20 without an extra-base hit and eight strikeouts).

“We always knew he was going to be a good player,” said Hendricks, who held Yelich hitless in two at-bats the next time they faced. “I played against him a little bit in the minor leagues, and even then you could just tell. Just a quiet swing. You could tell he was smart.

“And in Miami, you could see it coming, for sure. But you didn’t know what level it was going to get to. And you could have never predicted him getting to this level.”

In Baseball America’s annual best-tools survey, Yelich was voted by peers the NL’s best hitter, second-most exciting player (behind top MVP challenger Cody Bellinger) and the player with the third-best power.

If he keeps up his July surge through the final two months, some of those rankings might need to be updated.

He entered the series against the Cubs leading the league in hitting and home runs and was within a hot week of catching Josh Bell for the RBI lead.

“We knew how good Christian was. You could see him coming,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of the rising talent in the player he managed before the trade. “But it’s hard to say you’re going to see [this much]. He hit 21 [homers] for us [in 2016], in our ballpark, and drove in like 100.

“And you put him in Milwaukee and you put him [in Wrigley] and you put him in Cincy, playing a number of games in all those [hitter-friendly] ballparks, and it was very easy to see this guy was going to hit for some power. He hit probably 10 balls a year at our ballpark that are homers where he’s playing now that were outs.”

But this much? As difficult as it is to hit a ball into the seats beyond the cavernous outfield in Miami, Yelich jumped from 18 homers in 2017 to 36 the next year in Milwaukee — and has one-third of a season to add to that total this season with 2019’s juiced baseballs and whatever else.

Maddon and Mattingly said the change of scenery from tanking Miami to the competitive end of the NL Central shouldn’t be underestimated.

“He looks the same. He’s not doing anything a lot different,” Mattingly said. “He got into an environment where they were in the heat of the battle, where every at-bat’s meaningful. It just raises guys to a different level.”

Hendricks: “He’s doing it all right now.”

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