As recently as 10 days ago this seemed out of the question, but, yes, Aaron Judge can still win the American League MVP Award.
It will take a strong finish, perhaps even the Yankees overtaking the Red Sox in the AL East race with Judge playing a big role, but he has put himself back in the conversation by finding his home run stroke over the last dozen games.
The verdict is not in! Aaron Judge can still make the case to be the American League MVP.
(Daily News Photo Illustration)
Of course, even with that scenario he may need Jose Ramirez to stop hitting everything in sight and the Indians to lose again sometime this season.
Ramirez was a very good, but under-the-radar player, until the last month or so when he has been shot out of a cannon into the MVP discussion, helped in part by the Indians’ record-setting winning streak.
As of Friday, Ramirez was hitting a mere .452 in September with an outrageous 1.095 slugging percentage, and hadn’t struck out even once. For the season he is leading the majors with 50 doubles while playing a strong second base for the Indians, after spending the first third of the season holding down third.
And yet you can also make an argument that outstanding young shortstop Francisco Lindor is the Tribe’s most indispensable player, with 30 home runs to go with his brilliant defense.
The teammates run the risk of the splitting the vote between them, however.
Meanwhile, the Astros’ Jose Altuve has been considered the front-runner for MVP for most of the second half, or since Judge went cold with the bat.
Aaron Judge is heating up again as the Yankees make a push to steal AL East away from Red Sox.
(Frank Franklin II/AP)
Altuve has been the constant force driving the Astros’ runaway season, leading the AL with a .348 batting average and 31 stolen bases, in addition to his 23 home runs, and his candidacy has been helped to some extent by injuries to teammates Carlos Correa and George Springer.
You can’t even count out Mike Trout, despite the thumb injury that cost him six weeks on the disabled list. Trout is having another spectacular season but the missed time probably will cost him his third MVP — though he could convince voters otherwise if he tears it up over the final two weeks and helps the Angels earn a wild-card spot.
It all makes for a great MVP race that is likely to keep voters checking the stats right down to the final day of the season. There are 30 writers who vote on the award, two from each AL city, and I checked in with three of them Friday to get a feel for how they’ll end up voting.
None wanted their name used, as they are instructed to guard their vote carefully, but all three said they’re undecided. Two of the three said they’re leaning toward Altuve, though both were quick to say Ramirez, especially, is making them re-calculate practically on a daily basis.
The other voter said he’s currently torn between Ramirez and Lindor, admitting he has been influenced by the Indians’ winning streak.
As for Judge? All three said they had the Yankee rookie as the MVP at the All-Star break, then had pretty much written him off due to his second-half slump, but were again taking notice as he has come to life of late, hitting six home runs over his last 10 games, as of Friday, to push his league-leading total to 43.
“If he gets hot and the Yankees catch the Red Sox, I think I’d have a hard time not voting for him,” one voter said. “Even when he was slumping, he was getting walked and scoring runs and having an impact. His numbers are still pretty incredible. But he does need a big finish to push me that way.”
As of Friday, Judge was hitting only .197 since the All-Star break, but as the voter noted, he has continued to intimidate pitchers into walking him, and as such, he leads the league in walks and runs scored, as well as home runs and OPS.
The other two voters sounded as if they might need a little more convincing, but each said they could definitely be influenced by the Yankees overtaking the Red Sox if Judge plays a major role.
So we’ll see. I don’t have a vote for MVP but if I did I’d have Altuve at the top of my ballot, though both Ramirez and Lindor would be making me think harder and harder about it.
I do believe Judge has a chance to steal it now, however. His first half is mostly the reason the Yankees played over their heads and forced Brian Cashman to make the pitching trades that give them a chance to make some noise in October.
If he hits some big home runs over the final two weeks that help the Yankees make a final run at the Red Sox, I could be convinced he deserves it. And I think the same would go for other voters.
ARMED & DANGEROUS
If there’s an unsung aspect to the Indians’ winning streak, it has to be the starting pitching. Corey Kluber aside, it’s not a rotation built on big names, yet as of Friday the starters were 19-0 with a 1.77 ERA during the 22-game streak.
Furthermore, the Indians’ starters rank first in the AL with a 3.65 ERA, significantly lower than that of the Yankees and Red Sox, who were tied for second as of Friday at 4.00.
What’s remarkable is that the rotation is almost entirely a product of trades by the Indians’ front office. Of the five current starters, only Josh Tomlin, the No. 5 starter, is a home-grown player, as a 19th-round draft choice in 2006.
Here’s how the Tribe acquired the others:
Kluber: The 2014 Cy Young Award winner, who is neck-and-neck with Chris Sale for this year’s award, has proven to be one of the all-time steals.
The Padres’ fourth-round draft pick out of Stetson University, where he was a couple of years ahead of Jacob deGrom, Kluber was dealt to the Indians in a three-way deal that also involved the Cardinals at the 2010 July 31st trade deadline. To get him, the Indians sent veteran starter Jake Westbrook to St. Louis.
Trevor Bauer: Having his best season, Bauer is the only high draft choice among the starters – No. 3 overall to the Diamondbacks in 2011. But the righthander out of UCLA quickly gained the reputation for being difficult to coach, relying on unconventional training methods, and the D-Backs shipped him out in December of 2012.
In another three-way trade that saw the Reds send Didi Gregorius to Arizona, the Indians gave up Shin Soo Choo and Jason Donald in the deal to get Bauer.
Carlos Carrasco: Signed out of Venezuela by the Phillies, Carrasco was a highly-touted prospect, but the Indians pried him away from Philly in a deadline deal in 2009 as part of a package for Cliff Lee.
Mike Clevinger: A fourth-round draft choice by the Angels, Clevinger was dealt in August of 2014 when L.A. was in a division race and looking for bullpen help. The Indians got him for reliever Vinnie Pestano, who helped the Angels win the AL West that year but was out of baseball by 2016.
Bad enough that the Mets are having one of their worst pitching seasons ever, ranking 14th in the NL with a 5.20 ERA as of Friday, ahead of only the Reds (5.70). But even those numbers don’t tell you how non-competitive they’ve been against the best teams in the league.
In 28 games against the Nationals, Dodgers and Cubs, who just embarrassed them in Wrigley Field this week, the Mets have pitched to a rather staggering 8.14 ERA.
Which means they’ve given up nearly a run per inning against the three division leaders. And the 39 runs the Mets gave up to the Cubs are the most they’ve ever given up in a three-game series.
The Cubbies hit .390 in the series and, worse, the Mets walked 21 of their hitters.
Obviously injuries are at the root of the Mets’ problems this season, but the games in Chicago were started by Robert Gsellman, Matt Harvey, and Seth Lugo, three pitchers who will be counted on next season. Theoretically, anyway.
All of which tells you that returning to contention next season will take a lot more than simply some better luck on the injury front.
So MLB basically reacted to the Red Sox high-tech sign-stealing case against the Yankees by warning teams that if anyone else does it, they could lose draft picks — in addition to being fined.
In other words, the Red Sox essentially got away with it because, as MLB people said privately, there was no precedent for a stiff penalty.
But that was precisely the point: MLB should have set a precedent for breaking explicit rules about using electronics of any kind in the dugout to gain an advantage.
I expected stronger stuff from commissioner Rob Manfred.