Dark horse candidates for MLB postseason awards
It’s a funny thing about the postseason awards: Races that look one way now may look completely different six weeks from now. While we have favorites in every category, we’ve also got roughly 25 percent of the regular season still to be played.
So let’s go looking for some dark horse candidates. These guys probably won’t end up winning, but they will show up on ballots, probably higher than you realize.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP
The favorite: No one will debate that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, but like it or not, some voters still refuse to give MVP votes to players on non-playoff teams, which opens the door for …
DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Yankees
It’s nearly impossible for him to be a dark horse candidate for anything because he’s part of the highest-profile sports team on earth. In this case, we have no choice. LeMahieu has started at first, second and third and played all of them well. He’s leading the AL with a .337 batting average and is on track for 200 hits, 30 doubles and 20 home runs. His 4.5 WAR, via FanGraphs, is sixth among AL position players and tops on the Yankees, who have the most wins in the AL despite also having the most injured list days in MLB. Eyebrows were raised when this former Rockie signed with the Yankees as a free agent last winter, but it turns out he wasn’t a product of Coors Field after all.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox
He has a shot at a 60-double, 30-homer season, which has literally never been done before. Not surprisingly, Devers leads the Majors in extra-base hits, and if the Red Sox surge to a Wild Card spot, his candidacy is going to be front and center.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
The favorites: This has looked like a two-horse race between Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger all summer, but if the Brewers miss the playoffs and Bellinger slumps …
Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves
He could finish his first full season with 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, and he’s still only 21 years old. If a guy goes 40-40 and his team runs away with what was considered the toughest division in MLB entering the season, that kind of feels like an MVP, no?
Ketel Marte, 2B/CF, D-backs
He’s right behind favorites Bellinger (6.3) and Yelich (6.2) in FanGraphs’ WAR (5.5), which reflects the totality of his game. Marte is on track for a 30-double, 30-homer, 10-stolen base season, and he has moved smoothly between the infield and outfield. If — and this is a big if — the D-backs take an NL Wild Card spot after trading their ace Zack Greinke in July, Marte’s case becomes extremely compelling.
AL CY YOUNG
The favorites: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole look like the best bets, but there is always a chance of teammates “splitting the vote,” which could open the door for …
Shane Bieber, RHP, Indians
He has been at his best as the Indians have surged into contention. Bieber has a 2.54 ERA since mid-June, and he has turned in a quality start in eight of his past nine games. The MVP of the All-Star Game is averaging more than seven innings per start since June 30.
Lance Lynn, RHP, Rangers
His season will likely be overlooked by voters because the Rangers aren’t going to the playoffs. But his body of work is impressive: Lynn is first among AL pitchers with 5.5 WAR, per FanGraphs.
NL CY YOUNG
The favorites: With Max Scherzer on the IL, this is Hyun-Jin Ryu’s to lose. But if he falters …
Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals
The 23-year-old right-hander hasn’t allowed a run in three seven-inning starts this month, at a time when every game is important in a ridiculously tight postseason race. Flaherty has a 0.79 ERA in his past seven starts, and at this point, no one in either league is pitching better.
Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves
Remember when the Braves went shopping for an ace? Turns out, they already had one in this 22-year-old rookie, whose 2.32 ERA is second only to Ryu’s among MLB qualifiers. And he’s not losing steam, either. Soroka has a 2.72 ERA in his past eight starts, and he has pitched seven innings four times and at least six twice more. That’s ace stuff in a postseason chase. And if he doesn’t win the NL Cy Young Award, he could end up as Rookie of the Year.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The favorite: OK, Houston’s Yordan Alvarez probably has this locked up, as evidenced by his unanimous win in our most recent poll, but let’s at least mention two guys who might end up Nos. 2 and 3 on the ballot…
Zach Plesac, RHP, Indians
The Indians have won 11 of his 14 starts and are 46-21 since he entered the rotation. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer 10 times and has pitched at least six innings seven times.
Luis Arráez, UTIL, Twins
He didn’t get a regular lineup spot — he has started at five positions — until mid-June. Since then, he’s sixth in the AL with a .344 batting average and fifth with a .412 OBP. And if you think he’s a flash in the pan, consider this: Indians manager Terry Francona recently said he thinks Arráez will win a batting title one day.
Asked Terry Francona about the decision to IBB Luis Arraez to face Marwin Gonzalez in the 8th. He thinks Arraez will one day win a batting title & didn’t want his contact skills up against Brad Hand. Didn’t want to face Gonzalez either. Pick your poison moment. #MNTwins
— Dan Hayes (@DanHayesMLB) August 9, 2019
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The favorites: Before a five-hit game on Thursday night, Pete Alonso was hitting .190 over the past month, and Fernando Tatis Jr. might be headed back to the IL, which is opening a sliver of hope for others. Atlanta’s Soroka is probably next in line after those two, but no one has locked this up yet, which means we should keep an eye on …
Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers
He didn’t make his debut until mid-May and then was sent back to the Minors. However, since becoming the Brewers’ regular second baseman in late June, he’s third in the NL with a 1.003 OPS, seventh in total bases and batting average and tied for fifth in doubles.
Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pirates
He probably has played his way out of dark horse status now that he’s leading the NL in hitting (.335) and is on track for a 30-double, 20-homer season. And he’s not hitting a wall, with his .404 batting average this month third highest in the NL.