Why the AL MVP Race is Far From Over

On the surface, it may seem like a pretty open-and-shut case. J.D. Martinez has been everything the Boston Red Sox could have hoped for and more after the team signed the 30-year-old outfielder to a five-year, $110 million deal this past offseason. The eight-year veteran has blasted his way into his prime, launching an astonishing 83 homers and driving in more than 200 runs in less than 1,000 plate appearances over the past two seasons.

This season, Martinez currently leads MLB in home runs, RBIs, slugging, and total bases. He leads the American League in hits, and ranks in the top five in baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and runs scored. If Martinez can continue his torrid pace through the rest of the regular season, he'll become the first Red Sox player since David Ortiz in 2006 to top 45 homers and 120 RBIs.

With those staggering statistics, there's no question we're looking at the AL MVP, right?

Not so fast. There are several AL stars having tremendous seasons, but Martinez' greatest competition could come from another superstar on his own team: right-fielder Mookie Betts.

Now in his fourth full season, the 25-year-old Betts has placed himself in the conversation as one of the game's most elite players. He currently leads all of baseball in batting average and OPS, and is second in on-base percentage, slugging, and runs scored. In addition, he ranks in the top 10 in doubles, hits, and stolen bases.

Lastly, the Boston star leads all of baseball in the all-important WAR statistic, which theoretically makes him the most valuable player in the game. Betts' combination of power, speed, defense, and on-base ability has placed him in the same conversation with baseball's current undisputed best player, the ever-present Mike Trout.

While injuries have cut Trout's playing time over the past two seasons, when he's been on the field the Angels' superstar only seems to get better as time goes on. Since the start of the 2017 season, Trout has missed 64 of his team's 287 games, but has still put up a 162-game average of 46 homers and 96 RBIs, to go along with 43 total steals, a .627 slugging percentage and an other-worldly 191 OPS+.

Were it not for missed time and his club once again out of the AL playoff race, its highly likely the stud of all studs would be neck-a-neck with Martinez and Betts in the running for his third MVP award. Even so, Trout still leads all of baseball in offensive WAR, on-base percentage, walks, and the ever-important OPS+, which essentially measures damage done at the plate. While recent news suggests he will be out of the Angels line up until the end of August, Trout is currently tied for second in baseball in total WAR at 7.8 with the final key MVP candidate, Cleveland Indians' breakout star, Jose Ramirez.

Like Betts, Ramirez is 25-years-old, and in his third full season in the league has become one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball. In 201, he led MLB with 56 doubles, and popped 29 homers to go along with a fearsome 143 OPS+. He's truly come into his own this season, and currently ranks in the top five in all of baseball in a litany of categories that includes:

* HR (2nd)
* RBI (3rd)
* SLG (3rd)
* OBP (4th)
* Steals (4th)

Ramirez is well within striking distance of the highest total WAR for any Indians' player since Al Rosen's 10.1 in 1953, and if he can reach 42 homers, will place himself in a four-way tie for 8th best in team history. If he can reach 43, he will tie Rosen for 7th best in the team's 118-year history. On cruise-control in first place for weeks, we will certainly see Cleveland in the postseason, but the relative ease with which the Indians will roll into playoff baseball could potentially hurt Ramirez's chances of catapulting into the final running for the MVP.

Even if Trout puts up a, well, Troutian September, the fact the Angels have effectively been out of the race in the powerhouse AL West since early August will likely mean a ho-hum seventh straight top-five finish in AL MVP voting. We're looking at a future four to five-time Most Valuable Player, so I doubt anyone feels very sorry for No. 27.

Ramirez, while on his way to a monster year, will suffer from a punchless AL Central that has not produced a flicker of a challenger for Cleveland, which currently sits 12.5 games up in the division. Had the Twins stepped up and improved upon last year's surprise success to push Cleveland for the division crown, the historic combination this season of Lindor and Ramirez would have gotten much more national attention.

As it stands, the best team in the major leagues features the two top candidates for MVP not only of the American League, but of all of baseball. While the NL has several qualified MVP candidates, (Scherzer, Markakis, Carpenter, Goldschmidt, etc.), none appear to be on their way to as big of years as Martinez or Betts, or even Ramirez, for that matter. The AL has dominated the scene in 2018, and the game's top player this season will come from the Junior Circuit.

But who that top player will be will boil down to the season's final five weeks, and which star will best sustain their stellar performance.

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