Any player nominated for a Most Valuable Player Award has obviously had a great season. But describing what this year's MVP candidates accomplished as "great" kind of undersells their seasons.
In the American League, home run history was made out east while last year's MVP continued to make his own unique brand of history on the mound and at the plate out west. Meanwhile, in the middle of the country, one left-handed slugger guided his team to the best record in the junior circuit.
In the National League, one player flirted with a Triple Crown and is vying for his first MVP Award against two of the greatest third basemen the sport has ever known -- one of whom is his teammate.
Here's a look at the case for each of the six MVP candidates before the winners are announced Thursday on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET.
Yordan Alvarez, DH, Astros
Trying to measure up against a player who blasted 62 homers in Aaron Judge, setting an AL record, and a dominating two-way player in Shohei Ohtani is difficult, but Alvarez has some impressive credentials of his own. He hit third or fourth in the lineup of a 106-win division champ, which finished seven games ahead of the Yankees and 33 games ahead of the Angels.
Alvarez batted .306 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs, a 187 OPS+ and a 1.019 OPS in 135 games, ranking second behind Judge in OPS in the AL. He also ranked second in the AL in hard-hit percentage (59.8 percent), second in on-base percentage (.406), second in slugging percentage (.613), third in homers, fourth in batting average, runs (95) and walks (78) and tied for fifth in RBIs.
What’s more, Alvarez wasn’t limited to DH. He made a career-high 56 starts in left field and had seven outfield assists, which tied for second among AL left fielders. The Astros were 25-6 in games in which Alvarez homered. -- Brian McTaggart
Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees
Seeking to become the first Yankees outfielder to win an MVP Award since Mickey Mantle in 1962, Judge turned in a walk season for the ages after turning down an Opening Day contract extension, setting an American League single-season record with 62 home runs while batting .311/.425/.686 in 157 games.
Judge’s chase to shatter Roger Maris’ 61-year-old AL record for home runs in a single season captivated the sports world for weeks, culminating with a 62nd blast in the second game of an Oct. 4 doubleheader at Texas.
The fourth Major Leaguer to hit 62 or more homers in a single season, Judge led the Majors in homers by 16 over the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber (46), the largest gap since the Athletics’ Jimmie Foxx led the Majors by 17 homers in 1932.
Judge has previously received MVP votes in 2017, ’18 and ’21, finishing second to the Astros’ Jose Altuve in ’17, when he was the AL’s unanimous Rookie of the Year. -- Bryan Hoch
Shohei Ohtani, DH/SP, Angels
While Judge was chasing history with his home run total, Ohtani was creating his own history yet again in 2022.
The two-way superstar incredibly was even better than he was in 2021, when he won the American League MVP Award unanimously. Ohtani, 28, batted .273/.356/.519 with 34 homers, 11 stolen bases and 95 RBIs in 157 games, while also going 15-9 with 219 strikeouts in 166 innings on the mound. He became the first player in AL/NL history to qualify among the league leaders as both a pitcher and a hitter in the same season.
Ohtani became the first player in AL or NL history with 10 wins on the mound and 30 homers at the plate in the same season. Hall of Famer Babe Ruth is the only other player with 10 wins and 10 homers in the same year, when he had 13 wins and 11 homers in 1918.
Ohtani also became the only player in AL or NL history with both an eight-RBI game and a 13-strikeout game in a career and he accomplished the feat in back-to-back days against the Royals on June 21 and 22.
As a pitcher, Ohtani led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings and led the league with 10 games with at least 10 strikeouts. Among AL leaders, he was third in strikeouts, fourth in ERA and tied for fourth in wins. And as a hitter, Ohtani ranked third in the AL in extra-base hits, fourth in homers and fifth in OPS.
Add it all up and there’s no more valuable player in baseball than Ohtani, who's elite as both a pitcher and a hitter. -- Rhett Bollinger
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals
Arenado is arguably the game’s best all-around player and potentially the best third baseman in history. That’s the opinion of Hall of Famer and 16-time Gold Glover Jim Kaat, who feels strongly that Arenado should be mentioned with Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as the best all-around players in baseball.
Determined to bounce back from what he deemed a down year in 2021 and prove his past production wasn’t merely a product of Colorado’s thin air, Arenado put together arguably his best all-around season. While teaming with MVP finalist Paul Goldschmidt, Arenado led the Cardinals to the first division title of his 10-year MLB career. He ranked first in the NL in WAR (7.9), second in slugging (.533), sixth in batting average (.293), 11th in home runs (30), fourth in RBIs (103), third in doubles (42) and fourth in OPS (.891). He won the Player of the Month award in April and August, the only two-time winner in the NL.
Defensively, Arenado was even better. The 31-year-old third baseman equaled a mark set by Ichiro Suzuki by winning his 10th consecutive Gold Glove to start his career.
Arenado’s biggest impediment to finally winning an MVP is, of course, Goldschmidt. The first baseman did finish second to Arenado in the NL in WAR and fell short of a Gold Glove. Like Goldschmidt, Arenado has never been an MVP, but he’s been close several times, finishing eighth (2015), fifth (’16), fourth (’17), third (’18) and sixth in (’19). -- John Denton
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals
It’s time for the superstar first baseman to take his rightful place among the game’s greats who have also nabbed MVP awards. He has finished second in NL MVP voting twice, third once and sixth twice. He lost out to Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton in 2013 (NL bests 36 HRs, 125 RBIs) and ’15 (33 HRs, 110 RBIs) despite putting up monster numbers. This season -- one in which he’s already won the NL Hank Aaron Award, MLBPA’s Most Outstanding Player Award and a Silver Slugger -- seems to be the best shot for the 35-year-old “Goldy” to finally be crowned MVP.
On Aug. 25 -- when he battered the Cubs for three hits, two home runs and five RBIs -- Goldschmidt led the NL in batting average and RBIs and trailed Schwarber in home runs by one. Goldschmidt’s bid to become the NL’s first Triple Crown winner since Joe “Ducky” Medwick in 1937 would fall short, but not before he put together his finest all-around season.
The NL leader in OPS (.981) and slugging (.578), Goldschmidt won the NL’s Player of the Month award in May and the NL’s Player of the Week three times. He also finished in the NL’s top five in WAR (7.8, second), on-base percentage (.404), batting average (.317), home runs (35) and RBIs (115). In addition to helping the Cardinals win an NL Central crown, Goldschmidt was a Gold Glove finalist and the franchise’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee. He is the odds-on favorite to become the first Cardinal to win the MVP since Albert Pujols did in 2008 and ’09. – John Denton
Manny Machado, 3B, Padres
Machado led the National League with 7.4 fWAR -- marking the highest total for any Padres position player since Ken Caminiti in 1996. Fittingly, Caminiti was the last (and only) Padre to win an MVP Award.
If Machado is going to join him, it would take something of an upset, with Goldschmidt the presumed favorite. But Machado built himself quite a case in carrying the Padres to their first full-season playoff berth in 16 years.
He slashed .298/.366/.531 with 32 homers and his usual outstanding defense at third base. On top of that, Machado performed when the Padres needed him most. For much of the early part of the season, he was the Padres' offense. Fernando Tatis Jr. was absent, and trade reinforcements wouldn't arrive until early August.
Through it all, Machado raked -- with one blip. In late June, he sustained a gruesome ankle injury. The Padres worried he might be out for months. Instead, Machado missed just 10 days.
He played hurt and his numbers took a hit, but the Padres desperately needed Machado on the field. Remove his .694 July OPS, and there's a good chance he's the MVP frontrunner.
Instead, he’s locked in a tight contest with a pair of Cardinals – though, to some, the fact that he’s being judged alongside a pair of teammates is enough of a case for Machado to be deemed most valuable.
“I’m biased,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “But it depends on what your definition really is for MVP. … Goldschmidt, those numbers are fantastic, but he’s also got Arenado behind him. So, look, it’s going to play out however it plays out. But I don’t see a guy that’s more valuable to his particular team in this league than Manny Machado is for us.” -- AJ Cassavell