Somehow fewer than two weeks remain in the regular season, which means it’s the final days of pennant chases and awards races.
The American League playoff picture is essentially locked in, so the Junior Circuit’s excitement comes in the hunt for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.
Will Mike Trout win his fourth MVP, even in a year when his team won’t make the playoffs despite an expanded field? Or, does one of the two AL Central Old Guys slug his way to his first MVP? Will two of these awards go to the same player? Here’s where we stand in the AL’s Hunt for Hardware.
This story will pick 10 MVP contenders, five Cy Young choices and three Rookie of the Year options, just like the BBWAA ballots. Stats in bold indicate American League leader; stats in bold and italics indicate MLB leader. All stats are through games played on Monday, Sept. 14.
1. José Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox:
.320/.362/.619 (207 PA), 15 HR, 48 RBI, 120 TB, 62 H, 11 BB, 162 OPS+, 2.4 bWAR
For all the young stars in the White Sox’ lineup, it’s 33-year-old Abreu who has been their best player. As he goes, so does Chicago. After losing both games of a doubleheader against the Cardinals on Aug. 15, the White Sox fell to fourth place in the AL Central at 10–11. The next day, Abreu went 1-for-3 with a solo homer in a 7–2 win. Thus was the start of a 22-game hit streak in which he slashed .370/.414/.772 with 10 home runs and 28 RBI, and the White Sox went 17-5 to take first place in the division. Abreu’s streak was snapped against the Tigers on Friday. Naturally, the next day he went 4-for-4 with two homers in a 14–0 drubbing of Detroit.
2. Nelson Cruz, DH, Minnesota Twins
.323/.414/.652 (186 PA), 16 HR, 32 RBI, 105 TB, 52 H, 21 BB, 186 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR
Fun fact about Cruz: This year is technically his age-39 season, but because of the pandemic, Cruz has played all of it as a 40-year-old. If he wins MVP, he would be the second player to do so after turning 40—Barry Bonds turned 40 on July 24, 2004, the year he won his seventh and final MVP—and because his birthday, on July 1, is earlier in the year than Bonds’s is, Cruz would be the oldest MVP in MLB history. His .652 slugging percentage and 186 OPS+ not only lead the league, but they are the best of his career.
3. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
.296/.403/.648 (196 PA), 16 HR, 39 RBI, 105 TB, 48 H, 29 BB, 181 OPS+, 1.1 bWAR
Trout has never led the league in home runs before this year; his 16 tie him with Cruz and Luke Voit for the MLB lead. Alas, in a truncated season when there is less of a discrepancy between the individual numbers of the top players, the success of a player’s team could carry more weight than his WAR.
The Angels are 3 1/2 games behind the Astros for the second AL West playoff spot, but with 12 games left, there's probably not enough time left. If they do make the playoffs, it will almost certainly be because of Trout. Willing his team to the postseason for the first time since 2014 is what it would take for Trout to win his fourth MVP.
4. Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees
.270/.335/.557 (176 PA), 16 HR, 37 RBI, 95 TB, 43 H, 14 BB, 151 OPS+, 1.2 bWAR
Voit has remained the Yankees' one constant. The 29-year-old first baseman is tied for the lead league with 16 homers despite playing through a foot injury. More than anybody else, Voit is the reason the Yankees are still playoff bound after their 5–15 skid.
5. Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox
.369/.408/.586 (169 PA), 7 HR, 18 RBI, 92 TB, 58 H, 9 BB, 169 OPS+, 2.1 bWAR
After three more hits Tuesday, Anderson improved his MLB-leading batting average to .369. If he holds onto the lead—DJ LeMahieu ranks No. 2 with a .350 average—he’ll win his second consecutive batting title. But he’s more than just a batting champ. As the leadoff hitter, it’s Anderson’s job to ignite this dynamic White Sox offense. He’s done that all year, but especially as of late. He’s recorded at least two hits in eight of his last 12 games.
6. Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
7–1 (10 GS), 64 2/3 IP (6.46 IP/GS), 1.53 ERA, 0.866 WHIP, 102 K, 16 BB, 6 HR, 303 ERA+, 2.9 bWAR
Bieber has emerged as not only the best pitcher in the American League’s best rotation, but he’s also Cleveland’s best player. Yes, that’s right. No knock on Francisco Lindor, who is excellent and is worth more than whatever the Indians won’t pay him in free agency, but this year has been all about Bieber. He is the reason the Indians are in playoff position, and the reason they are tremendously set up to squirm out of the best-of-three wild-card round of the postseason.
7. Teoscar Hernández, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
.308/.358/.637 (159 PA), 14 HR, 27 RBI, 93 TB, 45 H, 12 BB, 163 OPS+, 1.3 bWAR
Much like the Blue Jays, Hernández is having a breakout season. Although he is currently on the injured list, he is one of the main reasons why Toronto is likely playoff-bound. He leads the Jays in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS+.
8. DJ LeMahieu, 2B/3B/1B, New York Yankees
.350/.399/.536 (153 PA), 6 HR, 14 RBI, 75 TB, 49 H, 11 BB, 156 OPS+, 1.9 bWAR
The one thing separating LeMahieu from Voit as the Yankees’ MVP is that LeMahieu missed nine games while on the injured list with a left thumb injury. Still, the 32-year-old is proving that last year in the Bronx was no fluke. After finishing fourth in MVP voting last year, LeMahieu is having a better offensive season (156 OPS+) in 2020 than he did a year ago (136 OPS+).
9. Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
.258/.351/.570 (174 PA), 12 HR, 30 RBI, 86 TB, 39 H, 19 BB, 150 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR
Lowe is the best position player on arguably the best AL team. The 26-year-old finished third in Rookie of the Year voting last season, and he’s improving on his strong first impression. He leads the Rays in home runs, slugging percentage, OPS+, runs and RBI.
10. Luis Robert, CF, Chicago White Sox
.255/.318/.509 (180 PA), 11 HR, 28 RBI, 82 TB, 41 H, 15 BB, 122 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR
Robert is worth the hype. The 23-year-old center fielder was proclaimed to be the Second Coming of Mike Trout, and, while he still has a long way to go before he lives up to that prophecy, he’s done more than enough to earn some MVP votes. He’s energized the youthful White Sox lineup and plays impeccable defense in center. In just 43 games, Robert has 12 defensive runs saved.
1. Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
7–1 (10 GS), 64 2/3 IP (6.46 IP/GS), 1.53 ERA, 0.866 WHIP, 102 K, 16 BB, 6 HR, 303 ERA+, 2.9 bWAR
This is Bieber’s award to lose. He’s been the best pitcher in MLB this season, with his only real competition for that title coming in the National League. His dominance, along with that of the pitchers behind him in the rotation, is why Cleveland will be a tough matchup in the best-of-three wild-card round.
2. Lance Lynn, RHP, Texas Rangers
6–2 (11 GS), 71 1/3 IP (6.48 IP/GS), 2.40 ERA, 0.953 WHIP, 79 K, 23 BB, 9 HR, 188 ERA+, 2.6 bWAR
Lynn deserves to pitch for a contender this season—and next season, for that matter, when the Rangers still won’t contend. Though he wasn’t dealt at the trade deadline, he remains one of the best pitchers in baseball. My favorite Lynn stat: He’s thrown at least 100 pitches in 35 consecutive starts, by far the longest active streak in MLB. In that span, he is 17–10 with a 2.96 ERA.
3. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
5–2 (9 GS), 58 IP (6.44 IP/GS), 2.48 ERA, 0.914 WHIP, 67 K, 13 BB, 4 HR, 183 ERA+, 2.3 bWAR
All Bundy had to do was leave Baltimore to tap into his first-round potential. This is the year the righthander finally has put it all together. And while it isn’t fair to blame the struggles of his first four seasons solely on the Orioles, a change of scenery sure did Bundy good. He’s been the ace the Angels have needed for some time, yet it’s clear now the disappointing Halos were missing a lot more than just a top starting pitcher.
4. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Chicago White Sox
6–2 (9 GS), 53 1/3 IP (5.93 IP/GS), 2.19 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 32 K, 12 BB, 2 HR, 205 ERA+, 1.6 bWAR
Of all the starting pitchers to sign with an AL team this offseason, I would not have guessed Keuchel would’ve been the only Cy Young contender among them. But here we are. One of the key reasons for the White Sox’ success this season is that their starting pitching has come together nicely, and sooner than expected. Lucas Giolito is the undisputed ace of the staff, but it’s Keuchel who's had the better year and stabilized the rotation. The most remarkable Keuchel stat: He’s allowing just 0.3 home runs per nine innings; that leads the league, and is all the more impressive considering today's boom-or-bust offensive era.
5. Liam Hendriks, RHP, Oakland Athletics
3–0 (20 G), 20 1/3 IP, 1.33 ERA, 0.689 WHIP, 18 GF, 12 S, 319 ERA+, 1.2 bWAR
Most years, I stay away from relievers in the Cy Young race. My rationale is that innings pitched should also be a factor in who gets this award, and that usually excludes relievers. No matter, in this fluky season, Hendriks has been one of the five most valuable pitchers in the AL. The A’s simply would not hold a 6 1/2-game lead in the AL West without their closer. He’s finished 18 of their 30 wins and has 12 saves. His only blown save this year came on Opening Day against the Angels, and the A’s won it in extras anyway.
Rookie of the Year
Luis Robert, CF, Chicago White Sox
.255/.318/.509 (180 PA), 11 HR, 28 RBI, 125 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR
Kyle Lewis, CF, Seattle Mariners
.295/.390/.494 (195 PA), 10 HR, 27 RBI, 146 OPS+, 1.8 bWAR
Sean Murphy, C, Oakland Athletics
.250/.373/.478 (110 PA), 6 HR, 13 RBI, 131 OPS+, 1.0 bWAR
We’ve got quite the race here between Robert and Lewis for the AL Rookie of the Year award. I would give it to Robert right now, but it’s close enough that this award will be decided in the final 12 days of the regular season.