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Mike Shildt, Cardinals can’t worry about whether revamped schedule is fair



Professional sports leagues do everything in their power to make sure every team in their respective leagues play the same number of regular-season games. It creates equity and ensures that whoever reaches the postseason has earned that right accurately.

But the 2020 Major League Baseball season might throw that theory off considerably. A quick look at the standings shows that entering Wednesday’s games, 18 of the 30 clubs have played either 11 or 12 games. Three clubs have played either four or five games and three others have played eight games. Even if every team winds up playing the full 60-game schedule, it means several clubs will be bogged down with multiple doubleheaders, which always challenge pitching staffs, as well as potential in-and-out travel to a city to make up a game here or there.

The St. Louis Cardinals, hit with a coronavirus outbreak that severely affected their schedule during the past week, haven’t played since July 29 and aren’t scheduled to play again until Friday night against the Chicago Cubs, who have played uninterrupted and will have played 13 games in 14 days when they take the field at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have played five games.

“You can say it isn’t fair in our game, in our society,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “It’s definitely not what we’re used to. That being said, nobody said it was going to be fair or it was going to be easy. Nobody said you had to have it in a manner that was always equitable. The one thing you would like in a league is equality, but the fact of the matter is the integrity of getting through the season is first and foremost, and there are just going to be situations that come up that impact the ability for it to be fair, and that’s just inherent.

“So if you know that it’s going to have some imbalance to it and you accept that mentally and emotionally and don’t give in to it and appreciate the fact that it’s just the way it is, then you’ve created a mindset of the right way of how to compete with the different variables that are going to take place, and the challenges that are going to come with it.

“This is a tough, dedicated group. We welcome the competition, we welcome the challenge. And fair, unfair, whatever, that’s the world we live in right now. No one is going to feel sorry for us.”

The Cardinals have had six players and seven other members of their traveling party test positive for COVID-19. Shildt, the 2019 National League manager of the year, said the virus was brought into their group from the outside via an asymptomatic source. All-Star catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong are among the six players to test positive.

The remaining players, who had been quarantined in their Milwaukee hotel since July 30, were finally allowed to fly back to St. Louis on Wednesday. Though Shildt has been in professional baseball for decades, many of his players have not and those are the ones he had to make understand the circumstances they’re now facing.

“It’s not a sell,” Shildt said of his message to his players. “Candidly, that’s the blessing of this team. I can tell you this group is really dedicated to each other and to figure out a way to get through this with the right mindset. We’ve got good leadership on this team. We’ve got a lot of quality guys. We’ve got high character people. We have good, good leadership, veteran experienced leadership. It’s not only coming into play about, hey man let’s think about your routine or deciding about taking a bat or about setting up a hitter. We have that too. But it’s more about, hey, we got you.

“We’re going to be OK. We’re going to get through this. Let’s continue to make sure we’re together. Let’s continue to make sure we’re following the protocols, we’re being smart. Let’s continue to understand the sacrifice that continues to take place here.”

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MLB, MLBPA commit $10M for programs aimed at increasing Black participation



Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association committed $10 million to help fund programs from The Players Alliance, made up of more than 100 active and former MLB players, aimed to increase Black American participation in all levels of baseball.

“As the stark racial minority in all aspects of our game, The Players Alliance has given a voice and platform to our Black players, unified in our stance against systemic racism,” said former outfielder Curtis Granderson, president of The Players Alliance. “We stand together for what is right and to change our game for the better. The power of our player membership, including our non-Black teammates, coupled with the support of MLB and the Players Association, gives us the unique ability to create increased opportunities for the Black communities we care so much about.”

Through the programs, The Players Alliance will receive grants, delivered annually through 2024, for programs meant to increase player-led mentorship, raise participation in baseball among Black youth and young adults through the funding of leagues, equipment donations and tournaments, offer Black cultural education, camps and programs aimed to break down barriers to baseball, increase Black business partnerships, support baseball programs in public schools and provide grants, scholarships and community services to the Black community. The Players Alliance will also support programs from MLB and the Player’s Association.

“Major League Baseball is committed to enacting positive changes within our sport to mirror those we hope to see in society,” said commissioner Rob Manfred in a press release. “We believe that the efforts led by The Players Alliance will complement existing diversity initiatives and accelerate progress that will be beneficial for our game.”

Alongside the leadership of Granderson, The Players Alliance finds former major leaguers like CC Sabathia and Edwin Jackson on the board of directors, with the active player advisory board including Tim Anderson, Dexter Fowler, Dee Gordon, Jason Heyward, Aaron Hicks, Cameron Maybin and Andrew McCutchen.

“Recent events and social unrest have profoundly crystallized the need for prescriptive programs and additional education designed to enhance Black participation at all levels of baseball for the betterment of our game as well as society,” said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. “We look forward to working with The Players Alliance and MLB to make lasting changes and to have a substantive impact in this important area.”

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MLB Power Rankings — The 2020 MVP for all 30 teams



As we enter the final week of the regular season, the playoff field is taking shape, as are ESPN’s Power Rankings. After a period of slipping out of our top five (and nearly slipping out of a playoff berth), the Yankees righted the ship and have looked like the powerhouse most expected to see all along. The Bronx Bombers ran off 10 consecutive wins and check in at No. 5 in this week’s rankings.

Also bumping up are the White Sox, who have clinched their first postseason berth since 2008 and move up two notches to No. 3 in the Power Rankings.

As part of this week’s rankings, David Schoenfield weighs in with his picks for every team’s individual most valuable player of 2020.

Previous: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7

Record: 38-16
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 1

With some of last year’s stars struggling, Mookie Betts has been the one constant in the offense. His power hasn’t suffered in moving from Fenway Park to Dodger Stadium and he has a shot at National League MVP honors. Shoutout to Clayton Kershaw for his 6-2 record and 2.15 ERA.

ICYMI: How Gavin Lux wants to make a difference in Kenosha

Record: 35-19
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 2

It’s been a team effort for Tampa Bay, but Brandon Lowe has been the team’s best hitter, leading the Rays in home runs, runs, RBIs and OPS while trailing only the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu among MLB second basemen in WAR. His versatility also has helped as he’s started seven games in right field and four in left field.

Record: 34-19
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 5

Luis Robert has been a revelation, Eloy Jimenez has slugged and Tim Anderson has been even more amazing than he was last season, but first baseman Jose Abreu led all American League position players in bWAR and RBIs entering Sunday while hitting above .300 with an 1.000 OPS. He and Anderson both have a shot at AL MVP honors.

ICYMI: White Sox among teams we’d love to see in World Series

Record: 34-20
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 3

A couple of weeks ago, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. looked like a lock for NL MVP. He’s slumped since then, however, and third baseman Manny Machado has passed him in OPS, home runs and RBIs, so now it looks like a four-man race for MVP honors among Tatis, Machado, Mookie Betts and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman.

ICYMI: Manny Machado on Padres’ rise, his bounce-back season

Record: 31-22
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 9

Most Yankees fans would likely go with first baseman Luke Voit, who is having a monster power and RBI season, leading the majors with 21 home runs. We could go with that, although right-hander DJ LeMahieu has the edge in WAR (fielding and baserunning count) and Gerrit Cole, despite some home run hiccups, is 6-3 with a 3.00 ERA.

ICYMI: Could new Mets owner Steve Cohen lure Brian Cashman away?

Record: 33-20
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 4

The bullpen has been Oakland’s strength so let’s go with closer Liam Hendriks, who is 3-0 with 13 saves, a 1.23 ERA and a 32-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In a season when so many teams have struggled to find a closer, Hendriks has been the best in the game.

ICYMI: How Liam Hendricks channeled his inner dragon

Record: 33-22
Playoff probability: Clinched
Week 7 ranking: 6

Nelson Cruz, who turned 40 on July 1, is on pace for the best OPS+ of his career, beating his previous best set last season. Yeah, he’s a designated hitter, but given the Twins have been unable as a team to match last year’s offensive prowess, Cruz has carried the lineup. He is now ninth on the all-time list for home runs for players 30 and older.

Record: 31-22
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 7 ranking: 8

Bill James tweeted the other day that Freddie Freeman will be a Hall of Famer. The first baseman needs a few more big seasons, but he is better than ever at age 30 and in the running for NL MVP. His most similar player on is Eddie Murray, and that’s a good comp. They called Murray “Steady Eddie.” We can call Freeman “Steady Freddie.”

Record: 31-22
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 7 ranking: 10

Given the struggles of most of the Cubs’ hitters, Yu Darvish is an easy call. The right-hander is in the Cy Young race at 7-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 79 K’s in 63 innings entering Sunday’s start. Since the second half of 2019, Darvish has made 23 starts and is 11-6 with a 2.36 and an incredible 197-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 144⅔ innings.

ICYMI: Inside Yu Darvish’s return to elite status

Record: 29-24
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 7 ranking: 7

Shane Bieber is a lock for the AL Cy Young and might even rate as the MVP favorite. He’s 8-1 with a 1.74 ERA and an incredible 112 strikeouts in 72⅓ innings. Cleveland can’t hit, but it will be fun to see if Bieber and his rotation mates can carry the Indians to their first World Series title since 1948.

Record: 27-26
Playoff probability: 99.8%
Week 7 ranking: 11

How about “none of the above”? Shortstop Carlos Correa leads in bWAR, but that’s thanks to some positive defensive metrics and not his bat. Outfielder Kyle Tucker has a case thanks to his high RBI total. Right-handers Zack Greinke and Cristian Javier have near identical WARs, although Greinke has the much better FIP. Outfielder Michael Brantley leads in win probability added, so he’s been the most “clutch.” So, yeah, there really isn’t a good choice.

ICYMI: Losing Verlander could be beginning of end in Houston

Record: 27-26
Playoff probability: 98.0%
Week 7 ranking: 12

The Jays invested heavily in a new rotation in the offseason and it would be a complete mess if not for the efforts of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA and has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts.

Record: 27-26
Playoff probability: 73.7%
Week 7 ranking: 13

Four players have carried the team: catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder Bryce Harper and right-handers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. If we average Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs WAR, we get Wheeler at 2.15, Nola at 2.0, Harper at 1.55 and Realmuto at 1.5. Harper’s .400-plus OBP has been big, even as he’s struggled of late, plus he’s played more games than Realmuto. Nola has a lot more K’s than Wheeler, but Wheeler has limited home runs. Realmuto has excelled at a position where most teams have struggled to generate offense. Flip a coin. Harper has more big hits than Realmuto, so he wins the flip.

Record: 27-27
Playoff probability: 51.9%
Week 7 ranking: 17

Trevor Bauer is only 4-4 due to a lack of run support, but he has a 1.80 ERA, has tossed two seven-inning shutouts and has dominated in the secondary stats as well with 88 strikeouts in 65 innings and an opponents’ batting average of .161.

Record: 26-24
Playoff probability: 80.8%
Week 7 ranking: 14

Adam Wainwright is 5-1 with a 2.87 ERA while averaging nearly seven innings per start, including two complete games (one seven innings) that have helped save the bullpen as the Cardinals had to play all those doubleheaders. It’s the best the right-hander has looked in six years.

Record: 26-26
Playoff probability: 43.1%
Week 7 ranking: 15

Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski was a surprise as a 28-year-old rookie last year and has been an even bigger surprise in 2020, ranking near the top of the WAR leaderboard among other categories all season. He’s led the way for an offense that has improved from one of the worst in the majors to one of the best.

Record: 28-25
Playoff probability: 70.5%
Week 7 ranking: 19

Nobody stands out, so we’re going to default to win probability added — and shortstop Miguel Rojas is the clear leader here. Entering Sunday, he’s hit .588 in high-leverage situations (10 for 17) with two home runs and 13 RBIs.

ICYMI: Rookie Sixto Sanchez making a major impact

Record: 24-29
Playoff probability: 6.9%
Week 7 ranking: 16

The only knock against Jacob deGrom is he’s averaged just 5⅔ innings per start, but he’s been as dominant as ever, going 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA in his 10 starts. The offense has led the way, but deGrom has a shot at a third consecutive Cy Young Award. He will start Monday and possibly once more if the Mets are still in the hunt later in the week.

ICYMI: Steve Cohen’s first move could be to try to lure Brian Cashman from Yankees

Record: 26-26
Playoff probability: 58.2%
Week 7 ranking: 18

Corbin Burnes has rebounded from a brutal 2019 campaign (1-5, 8.82) to go 4-0 with a league-leading 1.77 ERA. Entering Sunday, the right-hander led the NL not only in ERA, but FIP, K’s and fewest hits per nine innings, and he’s allowed just one home run in 56 innings. As a starter (eight outings), his ERA is 1.25.

Record: 23-29
Playoff probability: 1.9%
Week 7 ranking: 20

With Nolan Arenado having a bad year, especially at the plate, shortstop Trevor Story is the easy choice in what has been a disappointing season for the Rockies after their 11-3 start (at which point their playoffs odds were about 75%).

Record: 20-32
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 7 ranking: 21

It obviously has been a lost season for the Nationals, but outfielder Juan Soto picked up where he left off last October and has arguably been the best hitter in the game, hitting .338/.463/.677 with 11 home runs, 11 doubles and 32 RBIs in 37 games entering Sunday. If he hadn’t missed the start of the season, he’d be right up there in the MVP discussion.

Record: 23-31
Playoff probability: 0.7%
Week 7 ranking: 22

Right fielder Anthony Santander is out for the season with an oblique strain, but he showed impressive power numbers in his 37 games, with 11 home runs and 13 doubles, while also improving his strikeout and walk rates from 2019.

Record: 23-31
Playoff probability: 0.5%
Week 7 ranking: 24

Baseball-Reference hates Mike Trout‘s defensive metrics, so it gives the bWAR edge to Anthony Rendon. FanGraphs had Rendon tied with Tim Anderson for the AL lead in WAR among position players entering Sunday (although just barely ahead of Trout). So maybe it’s Rendon, except Trout has a big edge in home runs, runs and RBIs. We’re going with Trout.

ICYMI: Pujols passes Willie Mays on all-time home run list

Record: 22-30
Playoff probability: 0.2%
Week 7 ranking: 23

Jeimer Candelario is the pretty easy selection for a team devoid of any star talent right now. The switch-hitting first baseman might be for real, as his advanced metrics such as hard-hit rate and expected slugging percentage line up with his numbers.

Record: 23-30
Playoff probability: 0.9%
Week 7 ranking: 27

Kyle Lewis is right up there with Luis Robert in the AL Rookie of the Year race, hitting for power, drawing walks and playing a solid center field. He’s cooled off after a hot start (.373 through his first 28 games), but still has had a nice all-around short season.

ICYMI: Ranking MLB’s top rookies of 2020

Record: 21-32
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 7 ranking: 26

Right-hander Brad Keller got a late start due to a positive COVID-19 test, but he’s 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA in seven starts. Most impressively, he hasn’t allowed a home run. Ground balls are your friend when you don’t have a high strikeout rate. Second baseman Whit Merrifield has been solid and catcher Salvador Perez has mashed in his 30 games, but Keller gets the nod.

Record: 20-34
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 7 ranking: 25

It’s been a mess of a season for the Diamondbacks, who entered with high expectations after a winning campaign in 2019. Right-hander Zac Gallen has been the one player who has lived up to those expectations. He’s just 2-2, but that’s not his fault as he has a 3.00 ERA and has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of 11 starts.

Record: 20-34
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 7 ranking: 28

Outfielder Alex Verdugo has hit for average, hit for some power and played excellent defense. He’s actually a pretty easy choice over third baseman Rafael Devers (slow start, bad defense) and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (good, but not as dominant as 2019) as Boston’s best player in a miserable season.

Record: 19-34
Playoff probability: 0.1%
Week 7 ranking: 29

Right-hander Lance Lynn has been outstanding for the second consecutive season and has pitched the most innings in the majors, with a 2.53 ERA. With one year left on his contract, he’ll draw a lot of trade interest in the offseason.

Record: 15-38
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 7 ranking: 30

Wow, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes actually leads the team in bWAR because he’s played well in his 17 games. That probably doesn’t make him the team MVP, but who else do you go with? Catcher Jacob Stallings, apparently. Ugh.

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Everything you need to know for final week of the MLB season



Did you think we would get here? With one week remaining in this shortened, 60-game season, without the benefit of a bubble to keep the players completely isolated from the COVID-19 virus, the 30 teams and 1,295 different players who have worn a major league uniform in 2020 are going to make it to the end. With a mandatory quarantine date set for Wednesday, some teams will leave for the road this week — packing for a trip that could extend to 50 days if they reach the World Series.

It didn’t look like we would get here after the first weekend of the season, when the Miami Marlins had an outbreak in the organization and then the St. Louis Cardinals had one a few days later. The Marlins didn’t play for eight days, the Cardinals for 16, and doubleheaders piled up for those two clubs and their opponents who had their own schedules interfered with. Remarkably, both the Marlins and Cardinals enter the final week in a playoff position.

With the 16-team postseason tournament looming next week, we still have a few things to decide — most notably, which teams, especially in the National League, will actually get in. Here’s what to watch these final seven days:

The National League playoff race

The Dodgers, Cubs, Braves and Padres are in. After that, it’s a fight between six teams for four spots; sorry, Mets fans, your squad is seventh in this sprint, and its odds are slim. Look, this is a race to a .500 record, and it’s not exactly reliving the NL West race from 1993. With the recent talk about keeping the postseason at 16 teams, hopefully this will serve as a guide as to why that’s a bad idea. Of course, if your team is one of those scrambling to get in, enjoy the games. The teams and their remaining schedules:

Miami Marlins (28-25, 83.4% playoff odds): at Atlanta (4 games), at Yankees (3). After a slew of doubleheaders over the past two weeks, it’s seven games on the road. They’ll miss Gerrit Cole the final weekend, since he’ll be set up for New York’s first game of the playoffs. But they still have the toughest remaining schedule with the Braves and Yankees and a pitching staff that has been prone to blowout games (like Sunday’s 15-0 loss).

St. Louis Cardinals (26-24, 80.4%): at Kansas City (3), vs. Milwaukee (5): The Milwaukee series includes a Friday doubleheader. The Cardinals will have played 53 games in 44 days — thanks to 11 doubleheaders — and that only gets them to 58 games played. A final doubleheader against the Tigers will be played on Monday if it affects the playoff race — which is likely.

Philadelphia Phillies (27-26, 73.7%): at Washington (4), at Tampa Bay (3): The good news is the Rays will be setting up their rotation for the playoffs, so the Phillies will probably miss both Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell. The Phillies also are battling injuries, without Rhys Hoskins and hoping J.T. Realmuto makes it back into the lineup on Monday. Their two aces, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, are scheduled to go Monday and Tuesday, so they would be ready to go on Saturday and Sunday if needed. The Phillies hope Nola won’t have to make that final start and instead be ready for the first game of the postseason.

Cincinnati Reds (27-27, 52.2%): vs. Milwaukee (3), at Minnesota (3): A six-game winning streak last week got the Reds back into the mix, but there are no Pirates matchups left on their schedule. Luis Castillo will start Monday, so he’ll get two starts in the final week, but Trevor Bauer won’t pitch again until Friday — lining him up for Game 1 of the wild-card round if the Reds make it.

Milwaukee Brewers (26-26, 58.6%): at Cincinnati (3), at St. Louis (5): Your fun fact of the day: The Brewers might make the playoffs despite not being over .500 at any point of the season. They started 0-1 and have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 5-5, 10-10, 11-11 and now 26-26 after winning four in a row.

San Francisco Giants (26-26, 42.7%): vs. Colorado (4), vs. San Diego (4): They get four at home, including a Friday doubleheader against the Padres. They’re 6-16 against the Dodgers, Padres and A’s, but they went 8-2 against Arizona and 4-0 against Seattle.

The Marlins are the surprise story of the season, given their 57-105 record last year and how they had to scramble just to fill their roster; they’ve used an incredible 61 players this season — 11 more than they employed last year in 162 games.

The Reds are the team the Dodgers don’t want to face in the best-of-three first round, even though they’re hitting just .212. Bauer and Castillo can shut down any lineup and send even the Dodgers home early. The Brewers also struggle at the plate, but they suddenly have a formidable one-two punch, as well, in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, plus the one-two bullpen punch of Devin Williams and Josh Hader.

The American League playoff race

The eight teams are pretty much set here; it’s just a matter of what order they finish. The Rays, White Sox and A’s lead their divisions, with the Rays and White Sox sitting on 19 losses and the A’s at 20, so any of them could get the No. 1 seed. That’s not necessarily a big factor since everybody will be playing on the road after the initial wild-card series; but with the Indians the likely No. 7 seed, you really don’t want to finish with the No. 2 seed and have to face Shane Bieber in your first playoff game.

The Yankees and Twins look like they will face each other, as well, which is bad news for the Twins. The Twins have lost 16 playoff games in a row going back to 2004, 13 of them to the Yankees. No, the 2020 Twins don’t care what happened in 2004, but many will remember last year’s sweep or the loss in the 2017 wild-card game. The Yankees also are getting hot again at the right time, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both back, Gerrit Cole back in a groove and J.A. Happ on a roll (1.93 ERA over his past six starts). For what it’s worth, the Yankees (21-7) and the Twins (21-5) have both been excellent at home, and that first-round series is played at the higher seed’s home stadium.

The NL MVP race

A couple of weeks ago, Fernando Tatis Jt. had this one locked up; but over his past 12 games, he has hit .125 with no home runs and two RBIs. It now looks like a four-player race:

Tatis: .275/.366/.565, 15 HR, 40 RBI, 47 R, 2.55 WAR, 1.1 WPA
Manny Machado: .316/.378/.607, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 41 R, 2.8 WAR, 0.8 WPA
Freddie Freeman: .346/.464/.634, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 46 R, 2.7 WAR, 2.1 WPA
Mookie Betts: .303/.376/.597, 16 HR, 39 RBI, 42 R, 2.85 WAR, 2.1 WPA

WAR here is the average of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference flavors of wins above replacement, and WPA is win probability added from Baseball-Reference. Both are the totals entering Sunday.

Tatis might still be the favorite since he has received the most attention this season: Sometimes the storyline trumps the stats, especially in an otherwise close race, and Tatis owns the storyline with his blend of youth, excitement, style and power-speed combo.

What jumps out, however, is that Freeman and Betts have the much higher WPA than the two Padres hitters. Here is each player’s performance in high-leverage situations, when games are closest:

Tatis: .306/.375/.694, 3 HR, 15 RBIs in 40 PA
Machado: .263/.362/.605, 4 HR, 17 RBIs in 47 PA
Freeman: .333/.500/.633, 2 HR, 16 RBIs in 40 PA
Betts: .314/.385/.543, 2 HR, 11 RBIs in 39 PA

That doesn’t really seem to separate anyone. Tatis has performed his worst in medium-leverage situations, while the others all raked. Betts hit .429 against the Padres, the team the Dodgers battled for the NL West title. Tatis, meanwhile, hit just .205 against the Dodgers; he cleaned up against the Padres’ two worst opponents, the Diamondbacks and Rangers. Machado also struggled against the Dodgers, while killing the AL West (.414, 24 RBIs in 17 games). Freeman has hit .395 or better against three of his NL East rivals, struggling only against the Mets.

I think Tatis probably remains the slight favorite. But Freeman is surging late, a lot of the clutch statistics go in his favor and that big edge in batting average over Tatis could help — and the two Padres could split the vote.

The AL MVP race

This feels like a three-player field and is made more complicated by the fact that one of them is a pitcher and two of them are teammates:

Jose Abreu: .335/.381/.651, 18 HR, 53 RBIs, 39 R, 2.7 WAR, 1.6 WPA
Tim Anderson: .360/.395/.601, 10 HR, 21 RBIs, 43 R, 2.45 WAR, 0.7 WPA
Shane Bieber: 8-1, 1.74 ERA, 72.1 IP, 44 H, 112 SO, 2.95 WAR, 2.8 WPA

Anderson would have a better case if he hadn’t spent time on the injured list. As is, he still leads the AL in runs scored and has a chance to win his second straight batting title. Abreu could lead the AL in RBIs for the second straight year — he is driving in Anderson much of the time — and is second to Luke Voit in home runs and slugging percentage. Abreu also is the team leader of the young and improved White Sox and an important mentor to the Latino players such as Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada.

As good as Abreu has been, you have to really dominate as a first baseman. And no player in the AL has dominated quite like Bieber. He has had to be this good because the Indians don’t score many runs. He has won three games by 2-0 scores, hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any start and has held batters to a .171 average with a 40.6% strikeout rate that would be the all-time record for a starting pitcher. (My take is that even though Bieber will qualify under 2020 standards, his record shouldn’t stand as the single-season mark.)

Anyway, because of the schedule, Bieber has faced the White Sox just once, getting a no-decision when he allowed three runs in six innings. In fact, Abreu hit one of the two home runs off him that game. The teams do play this week, and Bieber is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday. Maybe that contest will determine the MVP race.

Tim Anderson chasing another batting title

The White Sox shortstop was one of the most unlikely batting title winners in history last year, hitting .335 after entering the season with a career mark of .258. Absolutely nobody predicted him to win again, considering his ultra-aggressive approach at the plate (he walked 15 times all of 2019) and a .399 BABIP.

Well, he’s doing it again, with his .360 average trailing only DJ LeMahieu‘s .361 mark. And he is doing it his way. His walk rate ranks 134th out of 143 qualifiers. His .412 BABIP ranks third in the majors. Anderson doesn’t have elite exit velocity, but he hits line drives, his ground balls find holes and he is tied for the MLB lead with 11 infield hits. He is a little bit like Ichiro — though Anderson hits the ball harder and has more power — in that he has a unique style and approach that might not work for anybody else.

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