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In heated MVP race, Aaron Judge has Jose Altuve’s vote

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Aaron Judge is the presumed shoo-in for this year’s AL Rookie of the Year award, and despite his recent postseason strikeout record, he appears to be a strong contender for the AL MVP title as well. He’ll face some stiff competition for the latter award, however, especially with Astros’ slugger Jose Altuve leading a pack of strong contenders. On Friday, Altuve did his part to put the debate to rest, telling reporters that the Yankees’ rookie phenom would get his vote. “He hit a lot of homers, a lot of RBIs, he got on base a lot, and I like the way he plays,” Altuve said. “If I was a GM, I want him on my team because he plays the right way and he’s very humble.”

It’s a tough call to make. There’s no question that Judge left his mark on the league during the regular season, leading all hitters with 8.2 fWAR and batting .284/.422/.627 with an AL-best 52 home runs in 678 plate appearances. While that power has failed to materialize through much of the postseason thus far, his regular-season accomplishments made him one of the most fearsome hitters in either league. In Altuve’s words: “Obviously, he’s really strong. He hits the ball way farther than anybody in the big leagues, all his homers. He plays good defense, he did everything to win the MVP in the regular season.”

That’s not to discredit the strides Altuve has made in 2017. He’s been remarkably consistent over the last four seasons — something no crystal ball has been able to predict with regard to Aaron Judge’s performance so far — and upped the ante with career-best numbers this year, slashing .346/.410/.547 with 24 home runs, 32 stolen bases and 7.5 fWAR in 662 PA. Although he didn’t capture nearly as many home runs as his rival, his on-base production netted a third career batting title.

Though they make compelling candidates, Altuve and Judge aren’t the only ones up for consideration. Mike Trout returned from thumb surgery to finish the season with 33 home runs and a career-best 1.071 OBS in 507 PA. Chris Sale dominated the AL East with a 17-8 record, 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts, 40 more whiffs than second-place strikeout leader Max Scherzer. Corey Kluber‘s 2.25 ERA was the lowest among qualified starters in both leagues, and his 7.3 fWAR came in only a hair under Sale’s 7.7 mark.

No matter the results of the race, however, one thing’s for certain: With Altuve and Judge suited up for Game 1 of the ALCS, there’s bound to be plenty of excitement on both sides.

Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.