This has really been a fun MLB season, although I haven’t taken the time to write much about it. A few weeks ago, it was looking like there were about four primary contenders: the Dodgers and Mets in the National League; the Yankees and Astros in the American League. Those four teams still look strong (although much has been made of the Yankees troubles of late), but several other clubs have been making a move toward the top. The Braves, in typical fashion, have put together a nice run these past few months, getting stronger and stronger as they prepare to defend their title. Same goes for the Cardinals, who have one of the best records in the game since the Trade Deadline a month ago.
I want to take a quick inventory of each division, recognizing the MVP and Cy Young “winner” of each of the league’s six divisions as we prepare for the real hardware to be distributed at season’s end.
National League East
MVP: With Juan Soto relocating to the Padres, Austin Riley has emerged as the top young bat in this division. Ronald Acuna might be flashier, but Riley has been the Braves best hitter over the course of the season. His .912 OPS ranks as the fifth-best in the National League and he defends his position extremely well. Honorable mention to Pete Alonso, but Riley is the superior offensive performer in my opinion.
Cy Young: Two Braves starting pitchers are having equally dominant seasons: Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Fried has been a frontline pitcher for Atlanta for the past few years. But Wright has really put together an unexpectedly fine year, especially given his track record coming into 2022. He has always had the pedigree, but it has all come together for the Huntsville native this season. That alone has me rooting for him in this race. Honorable mention goes to Miami’s Sandy Alcantara.
National League Central
MVP: With a month to go, Paul Goldschmidt is threatening to become the NL’s first Triple Crown winner since the FDR administration. Lesser cases can be made for Riley, Mookie Betts, and Goldy’s teammate, Nolan Arenado, but as the calendar flips to September, the senior circuit MVP is Goldschmidt’s to lose.
Cy Young: I’d really like to cast a vote for Adam Wainwright here, given that the 41-year-old has once again been a stabilizing force in the Cardinal rotation. But the class of the NL Central is still Corbin Burnes. The NL Cy Young award might be the most wide open of any of the major awards, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Burnes repeat.
National League West
MVP: The Dodgers are not only the class of this division once again, but they are the clear favorites to win it all, boasting a run differential of nearly 300 runs. Trae Turner and Freddie Freeman have been incredible in their first full seasons in Dodger blue, but Betts has been a true catalyst out of the leadoff spot. He missed a little time early on, which may impact his counting stats in the final tally, but Mookie has proven to be the class of the division once again.
Cy Young: His division rival Zac Gallen has been the hottest pitcher in baseball over the last month or so and his Dodger teammates Julio Urias and Tyler Anderson have been great in their own right, but Tony Gonsolin has been the best pitcher in the NL West so far. His 16-1 record is supported by a league-best 2.10 ERA over 128 innings. Who saw that coming?
American League East
MVP: Aaron Judge is the no-brainer here. The Yankee outfielder is on pace to eclipse Roger Maris’s team record of 61 home runs, which would be the ninth 60-HR season in MLB history and the first since the Steroid Era. Judge’s prolific output will likely garner him the American League MVP award in November, although a compelling case can be made for the league’s reigning recipient out west. Divisional honorable mention goes to Rafael Devers of Boston.
Cy Young: Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan has been the class of this division so far in 2022. The hard-throwing lefty has been a dominant force atop Tampa’s rotation, which culminated in an All-Star Game starting nod. He’s cooled a bit of late, having already surpassed last season’s innings total. But he will deservedly receive some Cy Young consideration at season’s end.
American League Central
MVP: The Guardians’ Jose Ramirez is having another incredible season, as his .898 OPS ranks third in the league. Cleveland has somewhat surprisingly emerged as the frontrunner in a bit of a weak division, thanks in large part to Ramirez’s work at the dish.
Cy Young: Justin Verlander entered the 2022 season as a true wild card, having thrown a mere six innings since winning his second Cy Young award in 2019. But at 39 years old, Verlander has put together a phenomenal season, winning 16 games with a league-leading 1.84 ERA over 152 innings. A calf injury has him shelved for the time being, which may open the door for another surprise contender. But even if he doesn’t win his third Cy Young award, Verlander is a virtual lock for Comeback Player of the Year. Truly remarkable.
American League West
MVP and Cy Young: Last season, Shohei Ohtani took the league by storm, doing things that hadn’t been done in the major leagues since Babe Ruth was hurling shutouts and swatting homers in the early days of his career a century earlier. Ohtani was deservedly recognized as the league’s Most Valuable Player on the heels of a campaign that included 46 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 26 stolen bases, 9 wins, a 3.18 ERA over 130 innings pitched and a total WAR (wins above replacement) of 9.0.
Although his 2022 offensive numbers are lagging behind last season’s output, Ohtani has become a truly dominant force on the mound this year, with a 2.68 ERA over 128 innings and a league-leading 12.4 strikeouts-per-nine-innings. McClanahan and Verlander will have compelling Cy Young cases as well, and if Judge hits 60+ homers, he will likely win the league’s MVP award, but you can legitimately argue that Ohtani is even more deserving of the award this season than he was last year. I really wish both Judge and Ohtani could share the MVP honors the way Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell split the award in the National League in 1979.