The Los Angeles Dodgers will go down as the champions of MLB’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season, so now the only intrigue left is who will win the individual awards for the year.
The BBWAA — the baseball writers association that presents the major awards — announced the finalists Monday night, and the MVP races remain too close to call. On this Election Day, we will break down the cases for each league’s contenders.
Then you can cast your vote on who should go down in history as the shining stars of the weirdest season in memory.
First up, the American League candidates:
José Abreu — Chicago White Sox
Key stats: 19 home runs, 60 RBIs, .987 OPS
Platform: He's durable. He's reliable. He's a run-producing machine. Actually, that has always been José Abreu's game. In 2020, he just took that to another level. The result was an MVP-caliber season that helped end a 12-year postseason drought on Chicago’s South Side and allowed Abreu to play in his first playoff series.
The numbers are voluminous. Abreu's 60 RBIs were eight more than runner up Luke Voit (52) and 14 more than third-place finisher José Ramírez (46). Not a fan of the RBI stat? Fine. He also led the AL in games played (all 60), total bases (148), slugging percentage (.617), and his 2.8 bWAR was tied with DJ LeMahieu atop the AL. Though he's not a Gold Glove finalist, Abreu was among the league leaders with five runs saved on defense.
José Ramírez — Cleveland Indians
Key stats: .292 AVG, AL-leading 45 runs, .993 OPS
Platform: In a condensed season that produced tight playoff races and packed more pressure into smaller parcels, the compact Ramírez was the game’s very best hitter in September. He posted an MLB-best 1.294 OPS and homered 10 times in the season’s frantic final month as Cleveland surged from the postseason bubble all the way to division title contention, eventually landing the AL’s No. 4 seed.
For the season, he tallied 17 homers and 10 stolen bases — making him one of only three players to go 15/10 in the weird season that was 2020. The other two were Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis Jr.
Ramirez, who has twice finished third in MVP voting, may finally be in line to take the crown.
DJ LeMahieu — New York Yankees
Key stats: AL-leading .364 batting average and 1.011 OPS
Platform: Ask yourself this: Is there a batter you’d trust more with the game on the line?
DJ has been spinning clutch hits since his breakout days in Colorado. Now that he’s in New York performing on the biggest stage, the whole world is seeing how strong his game is.
LeMahieu became the first player since 1902 to win a batting title in each league by locking down the AL crown in 2020. He posted a league-best .421 on-base percentage as well, and was clearly the most important player on a team that also features Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole. Not bad for a guy who was originally signed as a depth piece.
Next up, the National League candidates:
Mookie Betts — Los Angeles Dodgers
Key stats: 16 home runs, 39 RBIs, 10 steals
WAR: 3.4 (led MLB)
Platform: It doesn't matter which league Mookie Betts plays in. It doesn't matter which coast Mookie Betts plays on. He will fulfill his promise of being the very best player on his team.
That's not an easy thing you do when you're playing alongside Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager, or even Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Betts succeeded anyway, combining strong offensive production with elite baserunning and outfield defense, plus other intangibles that L.A.'s front office rates even higher than the sparkling on-field metrics.
In Los Angeles, Betts quickly emerged as a leader whose work ethic, selflessness and willingness to share insight helped further elevate one of MLB's most dominant teams. If he were to win, he’d be the second player ever to collect MVP awards in the AL and NL, joining Frank Robinson.
Freddie Freeman — Atlanta Braves
Key stats: 23 doubles, 53 RBIs, .341 batting average
Platform: If there’s one word to describe Freddie Freeman, it’s steady. The perennial MVP candidate continued his strong run in 2020 despite battling a rough case of COVID-19 early in summer camp.
The virus clearly had a lingering effect on Freeman. Over the season’s first 13 games, he only hit .190. Over Atlanta's final 47 games, Freeman slashed .378/.490/.721 with 21 doubles, 12 homers, 46 RBIs, 35 walks and only 25 strikeouts. That's a big advantage with voters who weigh a strong finish more than the entire body of work.
Freeman had a lot of help from Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, but no one would argue against his status as the heart and soul of Atlanta’s lineup.
Manny Machado — San Diego Padres
Key stats: 16 home runs, 47 RBIs, .304 batting average
Platform: Everyone loves a good redemption story, right? While Manny Machado fell short of expectations in 2019 after signing a 10-year, $300 million contract, he more than delivered across the board this season.
In 2020, Machado finished top five in the NL in home runs, RBIs, hits and total bases, while posting his second .300 season at the plate. He was also the main catalyst during San Diego’s season-changing 21-8 run, hitting .398/.424/.761 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs during that stretch. And, as always, Machado was among the very best defensive players in MLB.
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