With the Trade Deadline in the rearview mirror, we can now look ahead to what should be a drama-filled final two months of the regular season, not only in playoff races around MLB but also in the individual award battles.
Some of the major Baseball Writers’ Association of America award races (MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year) looked like foregone conclusions as recently as last month, but a lot has changed since the All-Star break.
At this point, all six races are still up for grabs, and a large field of worthy challengers are vying for glory. Here are the current frontrunners (the players who’d likely win if the season ended today), the top challengers and the dark horses for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards in both the American League and the National League. (Stats are through Sunday's action.)
Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, LAA
Ohtani’s performance has no precedent in AL/NL history. The 27-year-old would have a strong MVP case even without factoring in his mound contributions, as he leads the Majors in homers (37) and total bases (240) while producing a 1.039 OPS with 15 steals. The fact that he’s done all that while also adding 80 innings of 3.04 ERA ball with 100 strikeouts as a pitcher pushes his season from merely great to legendary.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, TOR
Just 22 years old, Guerrero might accomplish two feats his Hall of Fame father never did: hit 50 homers in a season and lead the Majors in OPS. He also has a shot at the Triple Crown. But that still might not be enough to overcome Ohtani’s historic campaign.
Matt Olson, 1B, OAK
Olson has made a leap at the plate this season, lowering his strikeout rate to 16.1% (26.1% from 2016-20) and recording 28 homers with a .953 OPS in 429 plate appearances.
Rafael Devers, 3B, BOS
Devers ranks second in the Majors behind Ohtani in extra-base hits and leads one of MLB’s best teams in bWAR.
Key question: Can Ohtani finish this season strong (and healthy)?
Ohtani has been one of this season's most captivating stories and he’s built a solid lead here, but he hasn’t put Guerrero away just yet. This MVP race could end up being an all-time classic.
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, SD
With Ronald Acuña Jr. out for the season due to a torn ACL, Tatis had a chance to run away with this award, but he was placed on the 10-day IL on Saturday after he re-injured his left shoulder. If he makes a quick return, Tatis could become the fourth player in the modern era (since 1900) to lead his league in homers and steals. He also currently ranks first in the NL in runs scored, slugging and OPS.
Max Muncy, 1B/2B, LAD
For all of the Dodgers' star power, it's Muncy who quietly leads them in bWAR. The left-handed slugger has a .971 OPS, and he’s a capable defender at multiple positions.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL
Freeman is the reigning NL MVP, and if he can carry the Braves to their fourth straight division title in the wake of Acuña's injury, we could see him win it again. The 31-year-old is hitting .391/.477/.602 in his past 34 games.
Trea Turner, SS, LAD
Turner is an NL batting title contender and has an outside shot at a 30/30 campaign. The only problem? A player who changed teams during a season has never won MVP honors the same year.
Manny Machado, 3B, SD
For all of the attention Tatis has (rightfully) received, Machado actually finished a spot higher than his teammate in the NL MVP race a year ago. The third baseman hit .360/.433/.730 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 25 games during July and leads MLB in hard-hit balls (95+ mph exit velocity).
Buster Posey, C, SF
A resurgent season from Posey has helped the Giants surprisingly challenge for MLB’s best record. But with San Francisco giving him frequent days off to keep him fresh, Posey may just barely cross the 100 games played threshold by the end of the year.
Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, SF
If not for his awful month of June (.445 OPS), Bryant would be a more serious challenger for this prize. He’s played all over the field this season and has been a strong offensive presence for the majority of the year. Bryant could get a narrative bump with voters if he helps his new team seal the deal in the NL West, though as we noted above with Turner, no MVP winner has ever played for multiple teams the same season he won.
Bryce Harper, OF, PHI
Although the Phillies bolstered their pitching staff at the Trade Deadline, their postseason hopes might rest on Harper’s shoulders. He’s been excellent as usual this year, but Philadelphia needs the 2015 NL MVP version of Harper to re-emerge for two months.
Juan Soto, OF, WSH
The Nats just cleaned house and are likely headed for a fourth-place finish in the NL East, but how could we not mention the guy who leads the Majors in on-base percentage (.427) and has slashed .375/.521/.804 since the All-Star break?
Key question: How quickly can Tatis return?
Tatis still has some cushion, but the door would open wider for someone to make a run if his shoulder issue lingers and he has to remain on the IL past the minimum 10 days.
AL Cy Young
Lance Lynn, RHP, CWS
After back-to-back top 6 AL Cy Young finishes with the Rangers, Lynn is turning in another fantastic season in his first year with the White Sox, notching the lowest ERA among qualifying pitchers at 2.07 -- nearly a half-run lower than the next closest AL arm. The biggest question is whether the two weeks he missed with a strained right trapezius muscle will end up costing him, considering he currently ranks outside the league’s top 10 in innings and strikeouts.
Carlos Rodón, LHP, CWS
Rodón lost his grip on the lead spot in this race to his teammate Lynn when he allowed six earned runs on 12 hits (four homers) over eight innings in his past two starts. The left-hander threw only 42 1/3 innings combined in 2019-20, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up as the mileage piles up.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, NYY
Cole was the preseason AL Cy favorite as well as the frontrunner over the first two months, but he’s been up and down lately, posting a 4.68 ERA in 10 starts since the start of June. The 30-year-old is still very much in this race, however, as he leads the Majors in K’s (176) and ranks third in the AL in innings (130 1/3). Cole will be missing Tuesday's start due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Chris Bassitt, RHP, OAK
Bassitt leads the AL in innings pitched (137) and is striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time in his career.
Sean Manaea, LHP, OAK
Manaea has joined Bassitt in giving Oakland a stellar one-two punch atop its rotation. The lefty has thrown two shutouts and owns a 3.01 ERA with a career-high 10.1 K/9 average.
Robbie Ray, LHP, TOR
Ray has made a remarkable turnaround after recording a 6.62 ERA and an MLB-high 45 walks in 51 2/3 innings last season. The 29-year-old has trimmed his walk rate by 11.6 percentage points while pitching to a 3.04 ERA with 150 K’s in 118 1/3 innings.
Key question: Can Cole right the ship?
Lynn may have a considerable advantage in the ERA department right now, but if Cole can close the gap, his counting-stats edge could put him over the top. The Yankees ace has 21 2/3 more innings and 54 more strikeouts than Lynn.
NL Cy Young
Zack Wheeler, RHP, PHI
MLB.com’s Sarah Langs recently broke down Wheeler’s strong case for the NL Cy Young Award. The 31-year-old not only leads the Majors in innings (139 2/3) and the NL in strikeouts (165) but also owns a 2.45 ERA.
Brandon Woodruff, RHP, MIL
It’s tough to decide which of the Brewers’ trio of aces is having the best season, but Woodruff ranks third or better among NL pitchers in ERA (2.26), strikeouts (152), WHIP (0.88) and bWAR (4.6) and is fifth in innings (131 1/3).
Freddy Peralta, RHP, MIL
Peralta’s relatively low innings total (108) could detract from his Cy Young case. That said, he’s currently leading the NL in ERA (2.17) and all of MLB in WHIP (0.87) and hits allowed per nine innings (3.9).
Corbin Burnes, RHP, MIL
Burnes ranks in the 95th percentile or better in nearly every notable Statcast metric, but he also has the highest ERA (2.46) of Milwaukee’s top three starters and isn’t among the NL’s top 20 in innings pitched.
Walker Buehler, RHP, LAD
Buehler has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game this season. He’s thrown at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 16 starts, the most in the Majors.
Max Scherzer, RHP, LAD
Scheduled to make his Dodgers debut on Wednesday, Scherzer has the lowest WHIP (0.89) of his career as well as a 2.76 ERA and 147 strikeouts over 111 innings this season. Can the three-time Cy Young Award winner bring home a fourth?
Kevin Gausman, RHP, SF
Gausman looked like the non-deGrom favorite a few weeks ago, but he’s trending in the wrong direction, with an 8.49 ERA and a 1.103 OPS allowed since the All-Star break.
Jacob deGrom, RHP, NYM
deGrom likely won’t be back until September due to right forearm inflammation, but he still can’t be ruled out of this race. If he comes back for five September starts and finishes with a sub-1.00 ERA and 190 K’s over 120 innings, would that be enough to win?
Joe Musgrove, RHP, SD
When the Padres traded for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Musgrove in the offseason, who could have expected that Musgrove would be the best of the three through the end of July?
Trevor Rogers, LHP, MIA
Rogers, a 23-year-old rookie, has allowed no more than three runs in any start this season and owns a 2.45 ERA with a 10.6 K/9 in 110 innings. He’s started to fade lately, however, spending time on the IL with a back injury and posting a 4.13 ERA in his past six starts.
Key question: Who steps up with deGrom out?
Of all the six major BBWAA award races, this is easily the most wide open. deGrom was cruising to his third Cy Young Award before going on the IL with right forearm inflammation on July 18, and he still would have been the favorite if he returned in August. But deGrom's latest setback has given new hope to a large number of challengers.
AL Rookie of the Year
Adolis García, OF, TEX
A 28-year-old rookie, García has been a bright spot for the rebuilding Rangers in 2021. He has a chance to become the 10th rookie to reach the 30-homer mark this century.
Luis Garcia, RHP, HOU
While Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., Jake Odorizzi and José Urquidy all have spent time on the injured list this season, Garcia has been a source of stability in Houston’s rotation, posting a 3.49 ERA with 121 K’s in 100 2/3 innings.
Casey Mize, RHP, DET
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft doesn’t post gaudy strikeout numbers, but he’s been effective nonetheless in limiting runs. After pitching to a 5.06 ERA in April, Mize has recorded a 2.88 ERA in his past 15 starts.
Eric Haase, C, DET
Haase didn’t make his season debut until May 13, but the 28-year-old is two homers away from becoming the 10th rookie catcher in AL/NL history to reach the 20-homer plateau.
Emmanuel Clase, RHP, CLE
Armed with a mind-bending 100 mph cutter, Clase has partnered with fellow righty James Karinchak to give Cleveland an electric late-inning combo. The 23-year-old ran into a rough patch in the first half of July, but he’s put together six straight scoreless appearances to get his ERA back below 2.00.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, TB
McClanahan has recorded more than 16 outs in a game only four times this season, as the Rays have kept him on a short leash. But the electric lefty has done his part to make up for the absence of the injured Tyler Glasnow, notching a 3.12 ERA with 49 strikeouts across 43 1/3 innings in his past eight starts.
Logan Gilbert, RHP, SEA
Gilbert, who went 14th overall in the same Draft class as Mize, has acquitted himself well in his first taste of MLB action, registering a 4.04 ERA with a 23.0 K-BB% and only seven homers allowed in 62 1/3 innings.
Randy Arozarena, OF, TB
Arozarena was the preseason favorite to win this award after a postseason for the ages in 2020. He hasn’t lived up to expectations, but we know he's capable of going on a prolific run.
Akil Baddoo, OF, DET
Baddoo followed up a sizzling start with an ice-cold spell that knocked his OPS down to .725 through May 8, but since then he’s been a stable source of production for the Tigers. The 22-year-old is the only rookie this season with 10+ homers, 10+ steals and an OPS of at least .800.
Key question: Can Adolis García rebound from his summer swoon?
The Rangers slugger built up a sizable lead in this race after producing 11 homers with a .981 OPS in May, but his production dipped in June and July. If that trend continues, there’s an impressive cast of AL rookies ready to pounce.
NL Rookie of the Year
Trevor Rogers, LHP, MIA
Rogers may be dropping out of NL Cy Young contention, but he’s the favorite to win the league’s Rookie of the Year Award.
Jonathan India, 2B, CIN
India had one homer and a .616 OPS through 26 games this season, but the Reds stuck with the 24-year-old as their starting second baseman and he’s rewarded their patience with a .299/.430/.471 slash line, nine homers and 15 doubles in his past 69 games.
Ian Anderson, RHP, ATL
Anderson has been on the IL since July 16 with right shoulder inflammation. Factoring in his upcoming rehab assignment, he may not be back for another 10 to 14 days, possibly costing him a chance to make up ground.
Jazz Chisholm, 2B, MIA
Chisholm was an early contender for this award, but injuries and a .686 OPS since the start of June have made the toolsy infielder a long shot.
Key question: Can India make this interesting?
Barring a complete collapse from Rogers over the final two months, the Marlins southpaw is the likely NL Rookie of the Year. But India is coming off a month of July in which he had a .470 OBP and a .998 OPS. If that continues, we could see the Reds second baseman pull ahead.