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MVP Watch: Betts passes Trout; Carp closing in

Betts comfortably in front in AL in latest poll of MLB.com's BBWAA members
August 21, 2018

The National League Most Valuable Player Award race just got crazy, and you can thank Matt Carpenter and the Cardinals. Until they took off, we were close to getting things figured out.Did we mention Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman? He has been the NL MVP Award favorite for most of

The National League Most Valuable Player Award race just got crazy, and you can thank Matt Carpenter and the Cardinals. Until they took off, we were close to getting things figured out.
Did we mention Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman? He has been the NL MVP Award favorite for most of this season and may still be. However, in the latest poll of MLB.com's Baseball Writers' Association of America membership, Carpenter has cut Freeman's lead to a single point, 106 to 105.

If you're looking for normalcy, that would be in the AL MVP Award race, where Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts continues to hold a large lead over Michael Trout and Jose Ramirez. Betts received 25 of 30 first-place votes with Ramirez (three) and Trout (two) getting the other five. Trout finished slightly ahead of Ramirez in the overall balloting by receiving a large number of second-place votes.
Freeman got 14 of 30 first-place votes in the NL, with the other 16 spread among four players: Carpenter (10), Nolan Arenado (four) and Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom (one apiece).
Interestingly, the NL vote is a reminder that team performance still matters in the MVP Award selection process. Carpenter turned his season around in mid-May, but didn't become a significant factor in MVP Award voting until the Cardinals opened August by winning 14 of their first 18 games.
NATIONAL LEAGUE
Freeman, Braves (106 points)
No NL hitter, including Carpenter, has been hotter than Freeman, who entered Monday with a .429 OBP his past 21 games. He began Monday leading the NL with a 5.0 WAR and a .321 batting average. Freeman may join Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Chipper Jones as the only Braves to have three seasons of at least 30 doubles, 20 homers and a .300 batting average.

Carpenter, Cardinals (105 points)
Carpenter's turnaround has become one of the best stories of this season. Since his batting average bottomed out at .140 on May 15, he leads the NL in OPS (1.101), slugging (.679), total bases (218) and has hit 31 home runs in 86 games. Carpenter's 13 intentional walks are a career high and the most by a Cardinal since Carlos Beltran drew 15 in 2012.

Arenado, Rockies (38 points)
Arenado's 4.9 WAR at the start of play on Monday was sandwiched between Freeman's 5.0 and a 4.7 by Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt at the top of the NL leaderboard. His .406 wOBA leads the NL, and his defense at third remains the gold standard in both leagues.

Others receiving votes:Javier Baez, Cubs; Scherzer, Nationals; deGrom, Mets; Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks.
AMERICAN LEAGUE
Betts, Red Sox (138 points)
Betts is the only Major Leaguer to hit for the cycle and have multiple three-home run games (two). If that sounds like we're stretching for superlatives, it's because we've almost run out of them. Betts led the Majors with a .343 batting average entering Monday and was second in OPS. He's also 24-for-27 in stolen bases and second to Detroit's JaCoby Jones in Defensive Runs Saved among AL outfielders.

Trout, Angels (69 points)
This season has brought some clarity to the discussion about where Trout belongs among the all-time greats. His 62.0 career WAR is the second highest by a position player through his age 26 season. Only Ty Cobb (63.4) was higher. Trout and Willie Mays are the only players with three seasons of 30 or more home runs and 20 or more stolen bases by age 26.

Ramirez, Indians (55 points)
Ramirez entered play on Tuesday with 37 home runs in 122 games, the third most by a switch-hitter in MLB history, trailing only Mickey Mantle, who had 45 in 1961 and 42 in '56. Ramirez's 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in the first inning are the most in MLB since Carlos Guillen had 37 in 2007.

Others receiving votes:J.D. Martinez, Red Sox.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.