Matthew Pouliot

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AL MVP race shaping up much better for Mike Trout

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A month ago, there were two very strong alternatives for voters to turn to in denying Mike Trout his second AL MVP award. Recent weeks, though, have not been so kind to Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson.

Altuve, whose batting title seemed assured in mid-August, is hitting .195/.232/.390 over his last 19 games. His average has slipped from .366 on Aug. 20 to .340 now, and his OPS has dropped 50 points to .950. Meanwhile, his Astros have turned into major long shots in the wild card chase after a 4-8 start to September.

Donaldson was out of the lineup for a third straight game Wednesday and is undergoing an MRI on his right hip. Before taking a seat, Donaldson was hitless in his previous seven games, taking his OPS from .985 to .952.

Mookie Betts has overtaken both Altuve and Donaldson for second place in the AL in rWAR. Here’s the current breakdown:

9.3 – Trout
7.9 – Betts
7.5 – Altuve
6.6 – Donaldson
6.6 – Manny Machado
6.5 – Brian Dozier
6.5 – Kyle Seager

Betts might actually be the strongest alternative to Trout if the Astros fail to make the playoffs. Still, how are writers really going to justify voting for him? Trout has a higher average, a higher OBP by a whopping 80 points and a higher slugging percentage while playing the more difficult position and hitting in a much tougher ballpark for hitters than Betts does. Yes, one has done it in the pressure of the race, but does anyone believe Trout is ill-equipped to play meaningful September games? Does anyone really think the Red Sox are better off today with Betts than they would be with Trout?

It probably doesn’t hurt Trout, either, that David Ortiz, the AL’s best hitter this year, could cut into Betts’ support somewhat. Any division on the clear No. 1 alternative to Trout makes it more likely that he’ll get the award. If Altuve finishes up with a .350 average and the Astros sneak into the wild card, then he could be the favorite. If Donaldson or Betts goes on a major tear for a postseason team during the final two weeks, then that might just be enough. As is, though, it’s going to be difficult to deny Trout the hardware.