- As the final month of the regular season gets underway, it appears Mike Trout and Justin Verlander have a strong hold in their award races. But can Verlander's teammate Gerrit Cole go on a September streak to steal the Cy Young?
There’s just one month left in the 2019 regular season, but the AL awards races may already be decided. For that, you can blame the two Hall of Famers having career-best seasons, plus a crop of rookie players that, for the most part, hasn’t delivered as expected. Still, there could be some drama late, particularly in the Cy Young race, where a pair of teammates may be headed for a photo finish, as well as two super-prospects poised to slug it out for ROY honors. Here’s how everyone stands with August over and September underway (and here’s how the award races looked back in August).
This piece will pick 10 MVP contenders, five Cy Young choices, and three Rookie of the Year finalists, just like the actual BBWAA ballots. The rookie cut-off is 130 at-bats or 50 innings from the season(s) prior. Stats in bold indicate American League leader; stats in bold and italics indicate MLB leader. We used Baseball-Reference's version of WAR below. All stats are current as of the morning of Wed., Sept. 4.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (Last Month: 1)
.293/.440/.646 (589 PA), 44 HR, 102 RBI, 11 SB (2 CS), 108 BB, 184 OPS+, 8.4 WAR
Trout retains his iron grip on first place, as he continues to lead the AL (and the majors in some places) in several categories, both traditional and advanced. August, meanwhile, marked his fifth straight month with an OPS over 1.000, as he homered eight times in 25 games. The Angels, though, sank out of the wild-card race by going 9–18 on the month and will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year—and yet again, that’s despite Trout doing everything in his power to make them contenders. Some voters will hold that against him; those people are bad and wrong. Still, a third MVP award is a lock.
2. Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros (Last Month: 2)
.297/.416/.575 (598 PA), 33 HR, 96 RBI, 4 SB (1 CS), 98 BB, 159 OPS+, 7.0 WAR
He’s no threat to Trout, but Bregman likely solidified himself as a top-three finisher in this race with a blazing August, hitting .404/.487/.747 with six homers in 26 games. Add to that his superlative defense and a new career high in homers, all for a team on pace to win 105 games, and you have a player who in most seasons would waltz toward an MVP trophy. But thanks to Trout, Bregman will have to be content with second place in this ranking (and in real life).
3. DJ LeMahieu, 1B/2B/3B, Yankees (Last Month: 4)
.331/.378/.531 (567 PA), 24 HR, 90 RBI, 4 SB (2 CS), 40 BB, 139 OPS+, 5.3 WAR
Like Bregman, LeMahieu was on fire in August, slashing .336/.381/.612 with nine homers in 28 games. Like Bregman, he’s put together a career season, blowing away his previous homer high of 15 (shouts to the juiced ball) and putting up personal bests in OPS+ and WAR. And like Bregman, it won’t matter because of how good Trout has been. Still, LeMahieu is a solid bet to end up a finalist, and if he can hold off the Astros’ Michael Brantley, he’ll take home the AL batting title, which would make him the first player in MLB history to win it in both leagues.
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox (Last Month: 6)
.310/.387/.577 (602 PA), 31 HR, 103 RBI, 4 SB (1 CS), 68 BB, 143 OPS+, 4.7 WAR
Bogaerts’s terrific year won’t earn him hardware, but it’s still historic, as he’s on pace to be just the 10th shortstop ever to hit 30 or more homers and post an OPS+ of 140 or better in a season, alongside such notable names as Manny Machado, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Ernie Banks, and [in the loudest Boston accent you’ve ever heard] NOMAH.
5. Matt Chapman, 3B, Athletics (Last Month: 3)
.259/.346/.528 (569 PA), 31 HR, 78 RBI, 1 SB (1 CS), 59 BB, 132 OPS+, 6.2 WAR
Chapman’s overall line would look nicer if his luck on balls in play were a little better; his BABIP tumbled from .338 last season to .278 this year, helping to account for a 20-point dip in batting average. But given that he (like every other hitter in 2019) has set a new career high in home runs, he’ll probably take that tradeoff.
6. Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox (Last Month: 5)
.320/.369/.579 (600 PA), 29 HR, 107 RBI, 8 SB (8 CS), 41 BB, 138 OPS+, 4.9 WAR
Devers slowed down in August, hitting .278/.325/.574, to knock him out of the top five, but regardless of where he finishes in the voting, 2019 has been a huge success, as he’s slashed his strikeout rate (24.7% to 16.2) and swinging-strike rate (13.1 to 11.9) and upped his contact rate (74.5 to 78.2). That’s how you build a breakout season.
7. Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians (Last Month: 9)
.289/.408/.544 (591 PA), 32 HR, 84 RBI, 4 SB (0 CS), 98 BB, 145 OPS+, 4.6 WAR
Santana deserves down-ballot love for this fantastic bounce-back campaign—one in which he’s posting career-best figures in on-base and slugging percentage and holds the third highest walk rate in the majors.
8. Jorge Polanco, SS, Twins (Last Month: 7)
.304/.367/.495 (617 PA), 20 HR, 69 RBI, 4 SB (3 CS), 54 BB, 127 OPS+, 5.6 WAR
A strong August (.309/.397/.482) keeps Polanco on this list, though still toward the bottom, as he wasn’t able to sustain his scorching start to the season.
9. George Springer, CF, Astros (Last Month: 8)
.297/.389/.573 (486 PA), 30 HR, 78 RBI, 5 SB (2 CS), 59 BB, 150 OPS+, 5.4 WAR
It’s a shame Springer missed a full month. Had he not (and kept up this production), he’d be a top-five contender, but that time away leaves him lagging, and he may fall further behind after hitting his head while making a catch on Tuesday.
10. Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox (Last Month: 10)
.285/.385/.503 (644 PA), 23 HR, 70 RBI, 14 SB (3 CS), 91 BB, 126 OPS+, 5.4 WAR
Betts holds off Brantley and Nelson Cruz thanks to his superior defense and baserunning, though it’s a close battle between those three for the final spot.
Missed The Cut
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros (Last Month: 1)
17–5 (29 GS), 193 IP (6.6 IP/GS), 2.56 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 257 K, 35 BB, 7.34 K/BB, 33 HR, 177 ERA+, 6.7 WAR
Verlander’s no-hitter against the Blue Jays on Sunday may have sewn up his second Cy Young award and first since 2011; since that season, he’s finished second in the voting three times, including last year. Then again, this final month could prove crucial, given the hard charge of the man right behind him in both this list and in his own rotation.
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Astros (Last Month: 5)
15–5 (28 GS), 176 1/3 IP (6.3 IP/GS), 2.81 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 266 K, 43 BB, 6.19 K/BB, 26 HR, 161 ERA+, 5.0 WAR
Pick your flavor of strikeout stat, and Cole is at (or near) the top. Not only does he lead the majors in total strikeouts (narrowly edging out Verlander), but he’s also No. 1 among starters in strikeout-per-nine rate (13.6), strikeout percentage (38.7), and strikeout-minus-walk percentage (32.4). He’s also second in swinging-strike rate, just behind Max Scherzer, and in average fastball velocity among starters at 97.1 mph, trailing only Noah Syndergaard. Cole would need a big September to overtake Verlander, but given that he’s put up a 1.98 ERA since the beginning of June, it’s not out of the question.
3. Charlie Morton, RHP, Rays (Last Month: 2)
14–6 (29 GS), 170 1/3 IP (5.9 IP/GS), 3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 209 K, 50 BB, 4.18 K/BB, 13 HR, 146 ERA+, 4.4 WAR
Morton is a distant third in what’s become a two-man race (not helped by an August in which he posted a 4.66 ERA), but he’s still put up a tremendous year. Barring a September injury or collapse, he’ll set personal bests in innings pitched, games started, ERA, and ERA+, and has already posted a career high in strikeouts.
4. Shane Bieber, RHP, Indians (Last Month: Not Ranked)
12–7 (28 GS), 181 2/3 IP (6.5 IP/GS), 3.27 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 224 K, 36 BB, 6.22 K/BB, 26 HR, 144 ERA+, 4.2 WAR
Is it too late now to say sorry to Bieber? (Sorry.) Snubbed (in retrospect) from last month’s top five, the Indians’ young righty proved he belongs in this conversation with a 2.83 ERA in 41 1/3 innings in August.
5. Mike Minor, LHP, Rangers (Last Month: 4)
12–8 (28 GS), 181 2/3 IP (6.5 IP/GS), 3.12 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 180 K, 58 BB, 3.10 K/BB, 22 HR, 164 ERA+, 7.7 WAR
Minor rebounded from a rough July with a 3.41 ERA in August, but he’s faded from favorite status despite the majors’ highest WAR figure among pitchers and second-best ERA+. Those, though, are inflated by Minor pitching in hitter-friendly Globe Life Park, and while he deserves credit for taming that particular beast, the rest of the competition tops him in most every category that counts.
Missed The Cut
Jose Berrios (Last Month: 3)
Rookie of the Year
Yordan Alvarez, DH, Astros (283 PA, .317/.413/.671, 22 HR, 63 RBI, 180 OPS+, 3.0 WAR)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays (430 PA, .276/.350/.456, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 114 OPS+, 2.2 WAR)
Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays (307 PA, .276/.339/.523, 16 HR, 49 RBI, 125 OPS+, 3.0 WAR)
With previous favorite Lowe out since early July and now done for the season due to a pair of leg injuries, this award is Alvarez’s to lose despite his relatively short season (just 66 games played so far). But Guerrero, who’s come on strong since the All-Star break (.313/.381/.515), could snatch the honors if he can stay hot through September.
Missed The Cut