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MVP voting could have a Hollywood ending

Dodgers ace Kershaw and Angels slugger Trout might pull off SoCal sweep
MLB.com

The Freeway Series meets awards season Thursday, as two of baseball's brightest young stars step into the spotlight one more time with the announcement of the Most Valuable Player Award for each league, the finale of a weeklong run of Major League Baseball's most prized individual accolades.

From Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's quest for a rare awards double to Angels phenom Mike Trout's opportunity to break through after back-to-back years of being aced out, the road to this year's Most Valuable Player Award for each league might come up on the GPS as Interstate 5. That's the freeway that connects Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium, the homes of two supremely talented players who arrived in Southern California destined for stardom on the baseball diamond and are following the script perfectly.

The Freeway Series meets awards season Thursday, as two of baseball's brightest young stars step into the spotlight one more time with the announcement of the Most Valuable Player Award for each league, the finale of a weeklong run of Major League Baseball's most prized individual accolades.

From Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's quest for a rare awards double to Angels phenom Mike Trout's opportunity to break through after back-to-back years of being aced out, the road to this year's Most Valuable Player Award for each league might come up on the GPS as Interstate 5. That's the freeway that connects Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium, the homes of two supremely talented players who arrived in Southern California destined for stardom on the baseball diamond and are following the script perfectly.

Kershaw, the 26-year-old Texan who on Wednesday earned a third National League Cy Young Award in four seasons by a unanimous vote, is the front-runner for NL MVP honors as well after a transcendent season. Trout, the 23-year-old New Jersey native who finished second to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera in each of the previous two AL MVP races, is in prime position to add to an early resume that's among the best in baseball history. Both will find out their MVP Award fates when voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America is announced Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

If Kershaw manages to win an MVP on top of a Cy Young, he would be just the ninth player to do so, and the first in the NL since the Cardinals' Bob Gibson in 1968. If Trout can break through as the AL MVP, it won't be easy getting past Victor Martinez, another Tigers slugger coming off a magnificent season.

If Kershaw and Trout earn MVP honors, it would mark the first sweep for a two-team market since the Giants' Barry Bonds and the A's Miguel Tejada both won in 2002, and just the 11th in history.

A potential Kershaw double has been the talk of the awards season since before the regular season drew to a close. His dominance every five days was central to the Dodgers taking the NL West, even if the fact that he played only every five days might give some observers pause as to whether he should be in the MVP discussion. But what Kershaw did on the mound with his pitching and defense, and even what he did at the plate, made for a very strong case. 

Video: NL MVP and Cy Young Finalist: Clayton Kershaw

"This guy's the best in the game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after Kershaw delivered a gem to clinch the NL West against his team. "I mean, look at his numbers. I don't know if there's a more deserving MVP [candidate]. Forget Cy Young, when you look at what he's done for them, their club, the year he's had. These are stupid numbers that he's put up."

Now, Kershaw could be looking for another incredible number: two, as in two Baseball Writers' Association of America awards in one season. If he's able to get past reigning NL MVP Award winner Andrew McCutchen and rising superstar Giancarlo Stanton, Kershaw would be the first pitcher since the Tigers' Justin Verlander in 2011 to do it, and the first in the NL in almost a half-century. Before Verlander, the other pitchers to win MVP and Cy Young Awards in the same year: the Dodgers' Don Newcombe (1956) and Sandy Koufax ('63), the Cardinals' Gibson and the Tigers' Denny McLain ('68), the A's Vida Blue ('71), the Brewers' Rollie Fingers ('81), the Tigers' Willie Hernandez ('84) and the A's Dennis Eckersley ('92).

Trout, meanwhile, is hoping to add an AL MVP Award to a resume that is historic for his accomplishments already in three years in the Majors. Twice, and with much debate both times, Trout lost out to Cabrera. This season, Trout's exploits included numbers right in line with what he'd done in previous years, but with an added bonus -- he helped lead his team to the postseason.

Already crowned the AL's Hank Aaron Award winner and the Outstanding Player in the Players' Choice Awards, Trout is looking to make it a third honor with his first AL MVP Award. He'd have to get past a career year from Martinez and a breakthrough season by the Indians' Michael Brantley to do it, but Trout could be on the verge on his greatest honor in a career already rife with accolades.

Hall of Famer George Brett, while cheering on his Royals to victory against the Angels in the Division Series, summed up Trout's assets best: "I think he is the best player in the game. Taking nothing away from the guys on our team, he's the best player in baseball. He hits for average, he hits for power, he runs, throws, fields. There is nothing he can't do."

Whether that recipe adds up to an AL MVP Award remains to be seen for Trout and the rest of the candidates. Here's a brief look at each of the candidates, listed alphabetically:

Video: Diggin In: How do the '14 NL MVP Finalists measure up

National League
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Kershaw already collected an unprecedented trio of awards from the MLB Players' Association, winning overall Player of the Year honors, the NL's Most Outstanding Pitcher and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year for his contributions on and off the field. In a season in which he threw his first no-hitter, he became the first pitcher to claim a fourth consecutive ERA title with a career-best 1.77 ERA, also leading the Majors with a 0.86 WHIP and six complete games.

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: The player who makes the Bucs go also had to deal with some time lost to a ribcage injury. But when he was healthy, the center fielder actually put together numbers that were slightly better than his 2013 MVP season, including a .952 OPS that led the NL.


Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: If not for the horrific scene of Stanton being hit in the face by a pitch Sept. 11, the debate about a pitcher or a hitter being more worthy of MVP honors might have been more intense. Despite missing the final few weeks of the season, Stanton still managed to lead the NL in homers with 37, finishing second in RBIs with 105. He won the Hank Aaron Award for the NL's top offensive player in October and was named the NL's Most Outstanding Player in the Players' Choice Awards.

American League
Michael Brantley, Indians: Brantley earned his first All-Star nod and went on to become the first hitter in Indians history to go for more than 200 hits, 45 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals -- and just the ninth player in Major League history to do so.

Victor Martinez, Tigers: With a full season of health as the cleanup hitter for the Tigers behind Cabrera, V-Mart was open for business in a big way in 2014. Setting career highs with 32 homers and a .974 OPS that was tops in the Majors, Martinez was second in the AL with a .335 average, led the league with a .409 on-base percentage and struck out only once every 13.4 at-bats -- by far the best in the Majors. He won the Silver Slugger as the top designated hitter in the AL, although it's his status as a DH that might affect his chances as an MVP candidate.

Mike Trout, Angels: Among his many statistical feats, Trout became the first player to lead his league in runs scored his first three years in the Majors, topping the AL with 115 this year. He also set or tied career highs in doubles with 39, triples with nine, home runs with 36 and RBIs with 111. That doesn't cover his defensive prowess and overall presence that has raised him to among the top superstars in the game today.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB.

 

Michael Brantley, Clayton Kershaw, Victor Martinez, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout