What do you want, a Lexus RX 350 or BMW XM? A date with Sofia Vergara or Scarlett Johansson? Seats on Arrowhead Stadium’s 50-yard line Thursday for the Chiefs’ opener against the Lions or courtside at Ball Arena when the NBA champion Denver Nuggets start the season against LeBron James’ Lakers?
All excellent but difficult choices to make, much like what apparently will face baseball writers voting a month from now for the winner of the National League MVP Award.
Do you pick the guy who’s the first in MLB history to hit 30 home runs with 60 stolen bases — with a full month still to go! — or select the one who leads the league in WAR and OPS while playing stellar defense in both the outfield and infield?
The competition for the award between the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts, which was lopsidedly in Acuna’s favor until the past month, seems bound to create stirring discussion between now and the time the MVP is announced after the World Series.
Acuña is going to end up 30/70 & he hasn't slumped for a second.
Betts is having his best-ever month & leads NL in both WAR & OPS.
The MVP is far from over, but it is indeed a race. On how Betts got back into it, & what it means to lead WAR/OPS.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 29, 2023
In awards odds provided by leading online sports betting sites, Acuna, the NL Player of the Month in both April and June, had a huge lead as of the All-Star break. He was favored by as much as -1000 or more in July and early August, depending on the date and sportsbook, with Betts and teammate Freddie Freeman jockeying for position well behind.
Then Betts became Player of the Month in August by batting .455 with 11 homers and 51 hits. He briefly surpassed Acuna in betting odds on Aug. 28, only to fall behind again.
The Braves outfielder has hit .406 in his last seven games, with four home runs, 11 RBIs, and four stolen bases, and much of that came in the national spotlight of a four-game series between the Braves and Dodgers in Los Angeles.
If Acuna continues his play of the past week and Betts repeats his August performance in September, it could conjure memories of the historic 1941 AL MVP race in which the 56-game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio helped propel him to selection over Ted Williams, whose .406 batting average was the last time anyone reached .400.
Many odds shifts likely await
The odds on the dynamic pair could be changing day to day in September, not just week to week, but with both their teams resting Monday, FanDuel had Acuna back atop at -195 and Betts at +140. DraftKings had the same odds for Betts and a less-favorable-to-bettors price of -210 for Acuna.
Both players were among top preseason favorites for NL MVP, at odds of 10/1 or shorter. At the All-Star break, Betts could be bet as high as 15/1 at BetRivers, and his odds got even longer in ensuing weeks before his explosive August. A week ago, he turned into a favorite of -140 with FanDuel and -145 with BetMGM.
It was almost as though Acuna took the odds shift as a personal affront, considering how historic the 25-year-old’s season is. In the four-game series in L.A., he not only hit three homers to help the Braves win three of the games, but one was a mammoth 454-foot shot that was clocked at 121.2 mph off his bat, the hardest-hit ball in the major leagues in 2023.
It wasn’t like Betts slumped in the series, batting .333 with two homers of his own. It just so happens that both players are setting incredibly high bars for the other to match.
Acuna is first in the NL in runs (123), hits (184), and steals (63). His on-base percentage of .416 also leads, with Betts third at .410.
Acuna’s wins-above-replacement of 6.8 is also phenomenal, but it’s second to Betts’ 7.9. Betts’ OPS of 1.025 also leads the NL, with Acuna’s .994 second. Betts also has more homers (38 to 32) and RBIs (99 to 85).
It is impossible to argue against either player. If they continue on their same tracks through September, it could come down to whether baseball writers doing the voting are more impressed by Acuna’s wide lead in steals in a year when stealing was made easier, or Betts’ all-around stellar defense at multiple positions.
Betts, 30, already won an AL MVP with Boston in 2018, when his .346 batting average led the league by a wide margin. (Only one prior player, Frank Robinson, has won the MVP in both leagues.) In that same year of 2018, Acuna was the NL’s Rookie of the Year.
If this writer had to vote today (he won’t be allowed anywhere near an actual ballot in October, not even to look at), he’d settle it by just splitting his vote as a tie. But then, he’d also try settling that date thing by having both Vergara and Johansson accompany him. That’s just the kind of indecisive guy he is.