For a while there, the American League MVP race was a two-horse race between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, with Robinson Cano lingering close by in the rear-view mirror threatening to make a charge.
With less than a month to go in the regular season, the AL MVP race is still very much a two-horse race between Cabrera and Trout. What's changed in the last couple weeks is that it's no longer Cano who is lingering nearby.
It's Adrian Beltre.
Over the last two weeks, no player in the Junior Circuit has been as hot as Beltre. He's swinging the bat as well as he ever has, and he's continued to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense for the Rangers at the hot corner.
Beltre popped up in my weekly AL MVP rankings for the first time last week, and he proceeded to continue his charge in the ensuing days. Needless to say, he's back in there again this week.
Scroll ahead to see where Beltre and the other candidates rank in this week's top five.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Last Week: No. 3
The Yankees are slipping. They're now under .500 since the All-Star break at 24-25, and they've lost 10 of their last 13 games overall. Their lead in the AL East has shrunk to a single game.
There are many explanations for the Yankees' collective slump. One that hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention is the fact that the team's slump is coinciding with a bad slump on the part of Robinson Cano.
Over his last 19 games (18 starts), Cano is hitting .224/.316/.448 with just three RBI. All three of those RBI came courtesy of solo home runs.
His struggles are thus somewhat emblematic of the struggles the Yankees' offense is experiencing as a whole. The home run is still the club's primary means of scoring runs, but they haven't hit enough of them lately and they haven't forayed into alternative means of putting runs on the board.
To this end, Cano obviously isn't the only player in pinstripes who's not pulling his weight these days. He deserves to be singled out anyway because he's the best hitter the Yankees have, and it's pretty clear right now that they're just not the same team when he's not hitting.
And indeed, this is the time of year when MVP candidates like Cano need to be at their best, not their worst.
Cano is still an MVP candidate for the time being because his poor production over the last few weeks should not overshadow a full season's worth of production. Despite his recent slump, Cano is still hitting a solid .303/.366/.544 with 28 home runs and 71 RBI. Per FanGraphs, his .384 weighted on-base average ranks seventh in the American League.
Though Cano has come under fire for his lackadaisical effort on Chris Gimenez's ground-ball single on Labor Day, his defense is the last thing anybody should be worried about. He has a 7.2 UZR and he leads all AL second basemen with a DRS (defensive runs saved) of +15 on the season, according to FanGraphs.
Combine his offensive and defensive contributions, and you have a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at 5.8. That ties Cano with Miguel Cabrera for second in the American League.
The only way Cano is falling out of the top five in the AL MVP race is if his slump continues for another week or two.
...And that, of course, is a possibility that must not be ruled out.
Last Week: No. 5
When July turned into August, Josh Hamilton was in a tailspin. He had hit just .177 with a .607 OPS in July, and he was hitting .224 with a mere .731 OPS dating back to the middle of May.
Fortunately for the Rangers, Hamilton was able to flip the switch again. He went back to being one of the top hitters in the American League in August.
All told, Hamilton finished the month with a triple-slash line of .310/.368/.575, and he hit seven homers and knocked in 28 runs. He knocked in a total of 27 runs combined between June and July.
He's off to a good start in September too, clubbing two homers in Texas' first three games of the month.
Hamilton is now tied with Adam Dunn for the major league lead in home runs with 38, and his 114 RBI give him a slight lead over Miguel Cabrera for the top spot in the American League. Hamilton also ranks third in the AL in runs, second in slugging and fourth in OPS.
According to FanGraphs, Hamilton ranks sixth in the AL with a wOBA of .389, and his WAR of 4.6 ties him with Ben Zobrist for sixth in the AL as well.
Hamilton has already set a new career high with his 38 home runs, and he has a shot at topping the career-high 130 RBI he achieved back in 2008.
Even if he does, though, he'll still be far from a lock to win his second AL MVP award. When he won it for the first time in 2010, he finished with a WAR of 8.5 despite missing the final month of the regular season. It's highly unlikely that he's going to get hot enough in the next month to match the value he provided in 2010.
It doesn't help that one of his teammates is having a better season than he is.
Last Week: No. 4
At this point in time, opposing pitchers may want to consider giving Adrian Beltre the Barry Bonds treatment. He's done enough over the past couple weeks to earn that kind of respect.
Over his last 13 games, Beltre is hitting an absurd .453/.473/1.132 with nine homers and 17 RBI. Of his last 24 hits, 17 have gone for extra bases.
Beltre's recent hot stretch has boosted his triple-slash line for the season to .318/.353/.546. With 28 homers and 85 RBI to his name, he looks like a lock for a second straight 30-homer, 100-RBI season.
There's a chance that he'll end up winning his second straight Gold Glove as well. Mike Moustakas and Brett Lawrie have been just as good on defense as Beltre this season as far as the advanced metrics are concerned (see FanGraphs), but Beltre has something that the two of them don't have quite yet: a reputation.
Hey, if you have an issue with that, I recommend you take it up with the voters.
At any rate, Beltre's offensive and defensive contributions add up to a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at 5.1. That's good for fourth in the American League, and it places him comfortably ahead of Hamilton.
That just goes to show that consistency counts for a lot. Beltre has been hot lately, sure, but he's only had one month this season in which he's posted an OPS lower than the .880 mark. Hamilton, on the other hand, hovered under the .800 mark for two and a half months.
He also got hot early in the season when the games mattered very little. Beltre is hot now when the games matter the most.
If a Rangers player wins the AL MVP this season, it should be Beltre.
Last Week: No. 2
It's just a matter of time before Miguel Cabrera wins an MVP award. He's finished in the top five of the voting five times in his career, including each of the last three seasons.
This may be the year he finally finishes No. 1 in the voting.
Cabrera has been a hitting machine all season, but he's been particularly productive since the All-Star break as the pressure on the Tigers has only gotten more and more intense. Thus far in the second half, he's hitting .345/.428/.649 with 15 homers and 40 RBI. Not even a bad ankle has slowed him down.
The fact that the Tigers are still in second place behind the Chicago White Sox goes to show that not even a player as good as Cabrera can do it all by himself. He's certainly trying to do it all by himself, mind you, and the White Sox can vouch for that as well as anyone. Cabrera has battered them around to the tune of a .357/.410/.625 triple-slash line this season.
For the season, Cabrera is hitting .331/.398/.588 with 33 home runs and 111 RBI. He ranks just a point behind Mike Trout in the chase for the AL batting crown, he's five homers off the pace set by Hamilton and Dunn, and just three RBI away from Hamilton for the AL lead.
According to FanGraphs, Cabrera's .413 wOBA is second in the AL behind Trout, who is at .424. His offensive dominance suddenly isn't so dominant, so to speak.
Sadly, Cabrera still rates as a below-average defensive third baseman as far as the advanced metrics are concerned (see FanGraphs). Goodness knows his balky ankle hasn't done him any favors in that department.
If Cabrera was an average or an above-average defensive player, he'd probably be leading baseball in WAR right now. As it is, his 5.8 WAR ties him with Cano for second in the AL, according to FanGraphs.
As always, there's a case to be made for Cabrera to be No. 1 in this week's rankings. I'll explain why he's still second in the running in the next slide.
Last Week: No. 1
Mike Trout is finally starting to slip downstream a little bit.
Trout was hotter than the surface of the sun in July, hitting .392/.455/.804 with 10 homers, 23 RBI and nine stolen bases. Over the last month, however, he's cooled to the tune of a .279/.358/.473 triple-slash line. He's hit seven homers, driven in 19 runs, and stolen 12 bases.
Yeah, these numbers represent a "cold" streak for Trout. That's how good he's been this season.
Trout's cold streak has dropped his triple-slash line to the season to .332/.396/.570. He's very much in danger of losing the lead in the AL batting race to Cabrera, and he's already lost his leads in the slugging and OPS departments.
Nonetheless, Trout still leads the AL in runs with 108 and stolen bases with 43. According to FanGraphs, he also still leads the AL in wOBA at .424 and in weighted runs created at 173. Thanks to his excellent defensive work in the outfield, Trout still owns the WAR race with a WAR of 8.3.
That's a major reason why he still ranks ahead of Cabrera in these rankings. There's not much of a gap between the two players in terms of their offensive contributions, but the gap is still there for the time being and Trout obviously has the edge over Cabrera in terms of their defensive contributions.
If Trout still has an edge in the numbers department when the season is over, the only way Cabrera is winning the AL MVP award is if the Tigers make the postseason and the Angels miss out. Right now, it's looking like that could be the case.
But even then, Cabrera may not be a lock. Cabrera's Tigers and Trout's Angels are on pace to finish with virtually the exact same record.
If it comes to that, the voters may side with Trout even if he and the rest of the Angels are playing golf in October.
5. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
3. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Down a couple spots this week, and clearly trending in the wrong direction.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Steady as she goes.
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Players all over baseball wish they could be as "cold" as Trout is right now.
Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
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