Analysis: Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. among MLB award favorites

AP photo by Matt Slocum / Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. celebrates as he runs the bases after hitting a two-run homer against the host Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night.

Ronald Acuña Jr. has the kind of statistics that would seem to make the young Atlanta Braves star a no-doubter for the National League MVP award.

Then again, so do Los Angeles Dodgers standout Mookie Betts and his teammate, Freddie Freeman.

It's getting close to the postseason for Major League Baseball, which also means it's close to time for the votes to be cast for league awards, which are based on regular-season performances. Some of the races are tighter than others, and it appears the NL MVP contest is a particularly epic chase.

Acuña has been the favorite for months. He's the catalyst for a robust lineup that leads the majors by scoring an average of nearly six runs per game. The 25-year-old right fielder from Venezuela even created his very own club this season, becoming the one and only player in MLB history with at least 30 homers and 60 stolen bases.

Who could beat that?

Well, Betts is certainly trying. The 2018 American League MVP during his time with the Boston Red Sox, Betts put himself into the discussion for this year's NL honor with a stellar second half that has propelled the Dodgers to the top of the West Division standings. He's batting .311 with 37 doubles, 39 homers, 103 RBIs and 11 stolen bases -- all while moving between right field, second base and even shortstop.

If advanced metrics are your thing, Betts is valued at 7.9 wins above replacement while Acuña's WAR is 7.3, according to FanGraphs.

Then there's Freeman, the Dodgers first baseman who was the 2020 NL MVP with the Braves. He's batting .339 with 55 doubles, 26 homers, 93 RBIs and 18 stolen bases this season, his second in L.A.

Here's a breakdown of major MLB awards races.

  photo  AP photo by Mark J. Terrill / Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Mookie Betts watches his three-run homer as Atlanta Braves catcher Sean Murphy looks on during an Aug. 31 game in L.A.


The favorite: Acuña.

In the mix: Betts, Freeman, Matt Olson (Braves).

The race: It still feels like Acuña is a sizable favorite thanks to a combination of speed (66 stolen bases) and power (37 homers) that's never been seen in the big leagues, and he's also batting .335. Betts and Freeman are poised to receive plenty of love from voters, too. And let's take a minute to appreciate Olson, the Atlanta first baseman who has been a force all season; his 51 home runs are tied with former Braves center fielder Andruw Jones for the franchise's single-season mark with more than two weeks left in the regular season, plenty of time to make the record all his own. Acuña and Olson are two big reasons why the Braves (96-50) have the best record in the majors, became the first team in 2023 to clinch a playoff berth on Sunday and wrapped up their sixth straight NL East Division title Wednesday night.


The favorite: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels.

In the mix: Corey Seager (Texas Rangers), Marcus Semien (Rangers), Kyle Tucker (Houston Astros).

The race: It's worth noting that all four candidates mentioned are from AL West teams, but Ohtani likely has this one wrapped up. His two-way prowess was derailed by a torn elbow ligament in August that has taken him off the mound for at least the remainder of the season, but for five months, the pitcher/slugger treated baseball fans to one of the most impressive all-around performances in MLB history. Seager and Semien have been fantastic for a team that is vastly improved from last season but has been backsliding in September. Tucker has emerged as an under-the-radar star for reigning World Series champion Houston, which is battling Texas and the Seattle Mariners in the division race.


The favorite: Blake Snell, San Diego Padres.

In the mix: Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks), Justin Steele (Chicago Cubs), Spencer Strider (Braves).

The race: This one is still up for grabs in the season's final weeks. Snell probably has the best overall numbers, but he'll be hurt by the fact that the Padres have underachieved this season. Gallen recently pitched a shutout against the Cubs, helping his case, but he was knocked around by the New York Mets on Wednesday. Speaking of the Cubs, Steele has come out of nowhere to be the ace for the surprising playoff contenders. As for Strider (17-5), who leads the majors in wins, his ERA has creeped upward over the past month to 3.73, but it's hard to ignore those 250 strikeouts.


The favorite: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees.

In the mix: Luis Castillo (Mariners), Sonny Gray (Minnesota Twins).

The race: The Yankees have been a huge disappointment this season, but it's not Cole's fault. The veteran right-hander has a 13-4 record, 2.79 ERA and 204 strikeouts. Castillo has been a key cog for the Mariners, who have made an unlikely charge up the standings since they were sellers at the trade deadline.


The favorite: Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks.

In the mix: Spencer Steer (Cincinnati Reds), Kodai Senga (Mets), Matt McLain (Reds).

The race: Carroll has slowed a little in the second half, but he had 24 homers and 47 stolen bases heading into Thursday, and he has helped the Diamondbacks stay in the playoff race all year. Steer, McClain and Elly De La Cruz are among several young Reds who have made an immediate impact in the majors. At 30 years old, Senga isn't a classic rookie, but he has been among the bright spots in a tough season for the Mets, whose record-setting payroll didn't produce the desired results.


The favorite: Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles.

In the mix: Josh Jung (Rangers), Triston Casas (Boston Red Sox), Tanner Bibee (Cleveland Guardians).

The race: Henderson's clearly the favorite — particularly after Jung was sidelined with an injury in August — after helping turn the Orioles, who last made the postseason in 2016, into title contenders. He headed into Thursday with 25 homers, all while providing stellar defense at shortstop and third base.