As the home stretch of the baseball season begins, theScore’s MLB editors break down the leading candidates for the MVP and Cy Young awards in the American and National Leagues. Today, we’re ranking the early favorites for the 2018 AL MVP.
5. Matt Chapman
Chapman may not yet be a household name by virtue of playing for the oddly anonymous Athletics – they’re legitimate contenders – and he could wind up being overlooked if Aaron Judge gets healthy again. But as far as slick-fielding third basemen go, no one touches Chapman. His 25 defensive runs saved is tops at the hot corner by a wide margin. Plus, it’s not as though he’s an offensive liability, either. He may not possess the pure power stroke of teammates Khris Davis or Matt Olson, but Chapman has been a tough out all season. He’s especially raked in 17 second-half games, batting .358 with five home runs in 77 plate appearances.
4. Francisco Lindor
If the season ended today, Lindor would already have tabulated his best totals yet. He’s walking at a career-best pace, which has resulted in a vaunted OBP, and he’s almost assuredly going to eclipse his high in home runs (33), set in 2017, and stolen bases (19), which he managed the year prior. Basically, he’s polishing the parts of his game that were already excellent. Pair all that with elite defense and you’ve got one of the most dynamic players in baseball who should be a perennial MVP candidate, even if he’s not the most deserving on his own team in 2018.
3. Mookie Betts
Red Sox faithful may gripe that Betts is only rounding out the top three and not on top of the pile. He very well could leapfrog the competition down the stretch, though, especially if voters favor him due to Boston’s dominance. He’s within striking distance of a 30-30 season, which would be his first. The Red Sox would likely still be a playoff team without Betts, but he is their most important piece if a World Series championship is in play.
2. Mike Trout
Yes, this is recency bias, but Trout received a cortisone injection Monday for a lingering wrist issue that has forced the best player in baseball to miss six straight games, and he’ll probably miss a couple more. When healthy, Trout is superhuman. There are no holes in his offensive approach and he’s reaching base at the best clip of his career. But, like last season, injury troubles may give voters enough reason to look for an alternative when it comes to doling out hardware.
1. Jose Ramirez
To chalk a Ramirez MVP solely up to Trout’s injury would be a great disservice to Cleveland’s outstanding third baseman. No one in the AL has been better at the dish over the last month. He rarely strikes out, he’s neck and neck with noted professional dinger machine J.D. Martinez for the major-league lead in home runs, and he leads the AL in stolen bases. And he’s only appeared in two more games than Trout, so any gap between the two at their best (at least in 2018) is narrower than it may appear at first blush.
Plus, as The Athletic’s Jayson Stark points out, Ramirez has a legitimate shot at becoming the first AL player ever to lead the league in home runs, extra-base hits, and stolen bases in the same season. If he does all that, how is he not the MVP?
Honorable mention: Aaron Judge (Yankees), Alex Bregman (Astros), Martinez (Red Sox)
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(WAR courtesy: Fangraphs)