Analysis: Acuña vs. Betts showdown for NL MVP highlights MLB’s award races as the season winds down


By DAVID BRANDT AP Baseball Writer

Ronald Acuña Jr. has the kind of numbers that make the young Atlanta Braves star a no-doubter for the National League MVP award.

Then again, so does Dodgers standout Mookie Betts and his teammate, Freddie Freeman.

It’s getting close to the postseason for Major League Baseball, which also means it’s close to award season. Some of the races are tighter than others, and it appears the NL MVP race is a particularly epic chase.

Acuña has been the favorite for months. He’s the catalyst for a robust Braves offense that leads the big leagues by scoring nearly six runs per game. The 25-year-old outfielder even created his very own club this season, becoming the one and only player in MLB history with at least 30 homers and 60 stolen bases.

Who could beat that?

Well, Betts is certainly trying. The 2018 AL MVP has somehow put himself into the discussion with a stellar second half that has propelled the Dodgers to the top of the NL West. He’s batting .311 with 37 doubles, 39 homers, 103 RBIs and 11 stolen bases — all while moving between right field, second base and even shortstop.

If advanced metrics are your thing, Betts has a 7.9 Wins Above Replacement while Acuña is at 7.3, according to FanGraphs.

Then there’s Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP, who is batting .339 with 55 doubles, 26 homers, 93 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.


The favorite: Acuña Jr.

In the mix: Betts, Freeman, Matt Olson (Braves).

The race: It still feels like Acuña is a sizable favorite thanks to a combination of speed and power that’s never been seen in the big leagues. Betts and Freeman are also poised to receive plenty of love from voters. And let’s take a minute to appreciate Olson, a 51-homer first baseman who has been a force all season.


The favorite: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels.

In the mix: Corey Seager (Rangers), Marcus Semien (Rangers), Kyle Tucker (Astros).

The race: Ohtani’s likely got this one wrapped up. His two-way prowess was derailed by a torn elbow ligament in August, but for five months, he treated baseball fans to one of the most impressive performances in MLB history. Seager and Semien have been fantastic for a Rangers team that is vastly improved but backsliding in September. Tucker has emerged as an under-the-radar star for the defending World Series champ.


The favorite: Blake Snell, San Diego Padres.

In the mix: Zac Gallen (Diamondbacks), Justin Steele (Cubs), Spencer Strider (Braves).

The race: This one is still up for grabs in the season’s final weeks. Snell probably has the best overall numbers, but he’ll be hurt by the fact that the Padres have underachieved this season. Gallen recently pitched a shutout against the Cubs, helping his case, but he was knocked around by the Mets on Wednesday. Speaking of the Cubs, Steele has come out of nowhere to be the ace for the surprising playoff contenders. Strider’s ERA has creeped upward over the past month, but it’s hard to ignore those 250 strikeouts.


The favorite: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees.

In the mix: Luis Castillo (Mariners), Sonny Gray (Twins).

The race: The Yankees have been a huge disappointment this season, but it’s not Cole’s fault. The veteran right-hander has a 13-4 record, 2.79 ERA and 204 strikeouts. Castillo has been a key cog for the Mariners, who have made an unlikely charge up the standings since they were sellers at the trade deadline.


The favorite: Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks.

In the mix: Spencer Steer (Reds), Kodai Senga (Mets), Matt McLain (Reds).

The race: Carroll has slowed a little in the second half, but he’s still hit 24 homers and stole 47 bases, helping the Diamondbacks stay in the playoff race all year. Steer, McClain and Elly De La Cruz are among several young Reds who have made an immediate impact in the big leagues. At 30 years old, Senga isn’t a classic rookie, but has been among the bright spots in a tough season for the Mets.


The favorite: Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles.

In the mix: Josh Jung (Rangers), Triston Casas (Red Sox), Tanner Bibee (Guardians).

The race: Henderson’s clearly the favorite, particularly after Jung was sidelined with an injury in August. The Orioles shortstop has helped turn the franchise into a powerhouse. He’s hit 25 homers, all while providing stellar defense at shortstop and third base.

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