BALTIMORE — Is the AL MVP Mookie Betts or David Ortiz?
On nights like Monday, it’s awfully hard to distinguish which player has the edge.
Betts has an advantage because in addition to his hitting, he plays extraordinary defense. He’s become a highlight reel of one superb play after another. He’s without doubt a Gold Glove candidate. Ortiz, on the other hand, won’t get the defensive WAR numbers Betts gets. His contributions are strictly with the bat. But he has so many big hits, and an eye-popping OPS.
Betts homered with a man on base to kick-start the Sox to a 2-0 lead in the third inning in Monday’s 5-2 victory. Ortiz added a two-run homer in the fifth inning that sealed the deal and allowed Rick Porcello to win his 21st game.
If you go simply by advanced stats, Betts has it over Ortiz. Betts’s 8.5 WAR is second only to Angels center fielder Mike Trout (9.8). But Ortiz has Betts on a lot of other things. Home runs: 35-31. RBIs: 118-108. Average: .317-.314. OPS: 1.033 to .897. Both players were hitting .356 with runners in scoring position. Betts also has 24 stolen bases.
Ortiz has 47 doubles to Betts’s 40, but they are 1-2 in the American League.
Betts leads baseball with 341 total bases.
Betts has become a huge defensive force. He was leading the majors with 23 defensive runs saved and he has 13 assists.
The best overall player is Betts, for sure, and because he has the defensive component, some argue it’s a no-brainer he would get the MVP over a DH. But the DH is pretty special himself.
Neither player will engage in such debate. Too long to go. Too many more things to accomplish. Who knows, Ortiz or Betts could win an ALCS MVP or World Series MVP before it’s over.
Ortiz’s 35th homer was also his 2,459th career hit.
“He’s going to get better,” the 40-year-old Ortiz said about the 23-year-old Betts. “He’s in a learning process right now. He has unbelievable tools.”
When asked how Betts has become a force, Ortiz said, “You really want to know? He’s a good player.”
Ortiz echoed Betts’s sentiment that the two never discuss the MVP race. Sometimes there’s a friendly competition between teammates vying for the same award.
“No, we don’t talk about it,” Ortiz said. “We just try to win ballgames. When you start talking MVP — it’s personal numbers — it doesn’t come up in the conversation. I hope he finishes the year strong because of the great defense that he plays and the good numbers he’s putting up. He’s earned it. We’ll see what happens. We have a couple of more weeks to go, hopefully I’d love to see my boy get something like that.”
It’s amazing that one team would have two candidates so close.
There’ll be those who believe a DH should never win the award and others who just watch in amazement at the clutch hits Ortiz delivers at the biggest times.
“My gosh, good players in a deep lineup that feed off one another. They can change the game with one swing of the bat and that was the case here tonight. We’re hopeful that continues for whatever many games are left,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Betts has just obliterated the ball at Camden Yards this season. He’s hitting .500 (13 for 26) with 8 home runs, 14 runs, and 15 RBIs at Baltimore. Betts also has reached base in 12 of his last 13 games.
“I have no idea,” Betts said when asked about the reason for his Camden Yards success. “I try to do it everywhere. It’s no different than any other park. The ball just goes out of the park.”
Betts acknowledges he hears the MVP chants in the crowds. “I just try to block it out of my head,” he said. “It’s irrelevant now. We just show up and try to win. That’s all we’re focusing on right now, not what our batting average is. Every day is a new day. We look at it that way.”
Betts and Ortiz don’t want this to become a competition. If one is fortunate enough to win it, the other will be proud and happy for his teammate. But right now, as Betts put it, “we have bigger fish to fry. We have no excuses. We’re going to give it our all. We have young guys who spark energy for older guys and the older guys just lead us through. We know you have to play 27 outs to beat us.”
There are certainly other MVP candidates: Trout, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson. But with the success of the Red Sox and Ortiz and Betts, the debate is lively.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.