‘He’s definitely the good cop, and I’m definitely the bad one’: How two MVP candidates are fueling each other

Batman has Robin. Tom has Jerry. McCartney had Lennon — and Goldy has Arenado.

Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado might have arrived in St. Louis two seasons apart, but they quickly became linked as the dynamic duo manning the two corners of the Cardinals infield. Both have won multiple Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and this season they could pull off a rare feat: becoming the first teammates to finish 1-2 in MVP voting since Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent 22 years ago.

“When you’re in the moment, you try not to sit back too much but there’s times I’m at home and realize this is pretty fun, what we’re doing,” Arenado said recently. “Our 3-4 hole is good and we’re playing good defense.”

The pair has been better than good this season. They rank first and second in the National League in slugging and have combined for 65 home runs and 224 runs driven in, which is nearly a third of St. Louis’ total runs scored this season. Goldschmidt leads the NL in OPS+ and total bases; Arenado has struck out just 71 times, by far the least of anyone in baseball with 30 or more home runs.

“It’s nice to know, when I’ve struggled,” Goldschmidt said, “he’s coming up next and will get the job done, or vice versa.”

Goldschmidt, who arrived in St. Louis before the 2019 season, first made a name for himself with the Arizona Diamondbacks; Arenado, who became a star with the Colorado Rockies, came over in the 2020 offseason.

Both landed in St. Louis after their previous teams had gone through turnover and turmoil. Though they might share the spotlight more than they had before, they now have one another to depend on — and they each have a deep understanding for what the other is going through.

“He made the transition here really easy,” Arenado said of Goldschmidt. “The thing he did most for me was when I was struggling bad last year … I couldn’t repeat [my swing]. And I told him it was really frustrating because I was getting pitches to do damage on. … He told me he went through what I was going through just the year before. He told me how to fix it.”

Goldschmidt added: “We talk hitting all the time. We talk about our swings, our approach, what the other teams are doing. He’s helped me a ton, even last year.”

While their games are similar, and that has enhanced their ability to get each other through tough stretches during a season, their personalities aren’t exactly alike.

“He’s definitely the good cop and I’m definitely the bad one,” Arenado said with a laugh. “I always make the joke that he’s the angel on the shoulder. I’m more of the devil on the other side because I get more angry than him. He’s more calm and patient.

“I’m a little crazier in a sense. That’s why we click pretty well.”

While giving a noncommittal smile at the assessment of their personalities, in true “good cop” fashion, Goldschmidt turned the conversation back to their play on the field, where he’s more concerned with keeping Arenado’s Gold Glove streak intact and making sure he doesn’t “mess it up” when his third baseman makes a great play. Arenado has won the award every year he’s been in the league — nine times and counting.

Soon after singing his teammate’s praises, in a mid-September game against the Cincinnati Reds, Goldschmidt scooped a low throw from Arenado to complete a tough play. It was followed with a nod of appreciation across the diamond from the All-Star third baseman to his All-Star first baseman.

“He saved me from a big error,” Arenado said with a laugh.

As the No. 3 hitter in St. Louis’ lineup, Goldschmidt’s at-bats also provide an opportunity for Arenado to see what’s coming at the plate when he steps in as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter.

“Watching pitchers pitch him, sometimes I get an idea what’s going to happen to me,” Arenado said. “We’re both right-handed so we get attacked a lot alike. We’re not the same player, obviously, but we have similar traits.”

Before they became close as teammates in St. Louis, Arenado and Goldschmidt actually first got to know each other while playing for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, after they had admired each other from afar as fellow NL West stars.

“I remember getting his number and texting him about how he went about things,” Arenado recalled of their days in the same division. “I respected how he handled himself. I wanted to find out what the secret was in a sense.

“We talk the same language.”

And the similarities don’t stop there. Both players moved to teams while in their prime and now are on massive contracts — Goldschmidt for $130 million, Arenado for $275 million. In fact, Arenado’s deal has an opt-out after this season, and though he hasn’t publicly declared he’s staying in St. Louis, most wouldn’t bet against it.

“I feel like I fit in here and feel welcome here,” Arenado said.

For now, the focus won’t be on Arenado’s looming contract status, or the battle for MVP, which would be the first for either player — not with games left on the schedule and a postseason yet to take place. Arenado and Goldschmidt are both looking toward playing deep into October, as the Cardinals clinched the NL Central with a win over the Brewers on Tuesday night. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Goldschmidt and Arenado are two names baseball fans will be hearing a lot when it comes to this award season.

“It’s been amazing,” Arenado said. “We’re winning ball games but it feels good that we’re both playing well. Last year, when he was playing well, I’d play bad. Or if he was playing bad, I’d play well. We never clicked. It was like ‘one day we’ll get a hit together.’

“This year, to do it together, it’s been so much fun.”

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