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Mike Trout vs. Josh Donaldson: Who Is AL MVP Leader After Head-to-Head Battle?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2015

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The main plot of the three-game series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels that concluded Sunday was the playoff chase.

The Halos are in the thick of the wild-card hunt, and the Jays hold a narrow half-game edge over the New York Yankees in the American League East.

But there was a solid subplot to this weekend's action: the burgeoning AL Most Valuable Player race between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout.

Like the postseason scramble, the Trout/Donaldson MVP showdown is far from settled. But this recent bout of head-to-head action afforded a fine opportunity to assess where things stand between the two stars.

Based on these three games, the momentum is with Donaldson.

Donaldson has so far bested Trout in a number of categories, including home runs and RBI.
Donaldson has so far bested Trout in a number of categories, including home runs and RBI.Ben Margot/Associated Press

The Blue Jays convincingly swept the series, outscoring the Angels 36-10, while Donaldson went 8-for-13 with four doubles, a home run and nine RBI.

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After going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts through the first two games, Trout redeemed himself by going 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI Sunday, but it wasn't enough.

The Angels now sit in third place in the AL West, looking up at the first-place Houston Astros and the suddenly scalding Texas Rangers. If the season ended today, Los Angeles would miss the postseason.

Yes, the MVP battle is about individual performance. But frequently, voters have leaned toward the guy whose club punched an October ticket, particularly if the stats are close.

Right now, the stats are close.

Here, let's just lay out the numbers, as of Sunday, and toss in Trout's complete 2014 MVP campaign for comparison:

MVP Credentials
PlayerAVG.HRRBIOPS
Mike Trout.2973373.979
Josh Donaldson.30234100.956
'14 Mike Trout (full season).28736111.939
MLB.com

If you like counting stats, Donaldson has a slight edge in home runs and a sizable advantage in RBI. Trout, meanwhile, has drawn more walks (64 to 51) and owns a higher OPS.

On the WAR front, Trout edges Donaldson, 7.35 to 7.09, according to ESPN.com.

As a shorthand for overall value that accounts for offensive and defensive contributions, WAR has its utility. But numbers that close, with so much baseball yet to play, indicate a virtual dead heat.

That's not the way many saw it playing out, even recently. On Aug. 9, High Heat Stats MLB tweeted an unequivocal Trout endorsement:

High Heat Stats @HighHeatStats

MVP race: AL 1) Mike Trout 2) Mike Trout 3) Mike Trout 4) Mike Trout 5) Montel Vontavious Porter

That might yet turn out to be true, minus the Montel Vontavious Porter bit. Donaldson, though, has made certain it's anything but a foregone conclusion.

Then again, perhaps it is, if you ask Donaldson's Toronto teammate, Jose Bautista.

"You put him on this stage, it's easy to figure out what he can do," Bautista said, per Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. "He's doing it and he's the best in the league so far…by far the MVP. If anybody doesn't think that, they're a fool."

Call me a fool, then, because I'd say it's definitely up for grabs. Based on the stats, Trout might enjoy a razor-thin advantage. Based on the standings, which matter whether you like it or not, Donaldson's the man.

"It's not my main focus," Donaldson said of the prize, per Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown. "It's not something that would make or break me. I believe in the player I am. So I have confidence in that." 

As TSN.ca's Scott MacArthur opined, "The player that doesn't win the award is in no way diminished. Trout falling short to Donaldson or vice versa doesn't lessen his importance to his team; it doesn't change the fact he is one of the best players in the sport."

Trout has the best WAR in the American League but could get dinged in the MVP race if the Angels miss the playoffs.
Trout has the best WAR in the American League but could get dinged in the MVP race if the Angels miss the playoffs.Alex Gallardo/Associated Press/Associated Press

So we'll have to let the season play out; no one is running away with this. Trout and Donaldson should swap blows the rest of the way, though they won't meet again in the regular season.

Speaking of which: As topsy-turvy as the AL playoff picture is, don't be surprised if the Angels and Blue Jays wind up winning the two wild-card slots and meeting in a one-game, do-or-die playoff.

That hypothetical matchup wouldn't impact MVP voting, which is based solely on regular-season performance. But it'd be one hell of a plot twist in this thrilling, evolving story.

All statistics and standings current as of Aug. 23 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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