Mookie Betts finished a distant second to Mike Trout in the 2016 Most Valuable Player balloting. But his case this season appears unassailable.
Betts was 1 for 2 in Sunday’s game against the Yankees to wrap up one of the best regular seasons in team history.
Betts hit a major-league best .346 with a 1.078 OPS, 129 runs, 47 doubles, 32 home runs, and 30 steals. Metrics rate him as one of the best outfield defenders in the game and clearly the best in right field.
Even Trout agrees.
“Mookie, just an unbelievable player putting up unbelievable numbers,” the Angels star told reporters in Anaheim.
The 129 runs were the most for a Red Sox player since Dom DiMaggio had 131 in 1950. The overall batting title was the first for a Red Sox player since Wade Boggs hit .366 in 1998. It was the first AL batting crown for the Sox since Bill Mueller in 2003.
“Definitely an achievement, definitely an award. I’d be happy to take something like that,” Betts said.
Betts is the first 30-30 player to win a batting title and has the highest batting average for a 30-30 player outside of Colorado’s Larry Walker, who hit .366 in 1997.
(In case you were wondering, Walker didn’t even get close to the batting title. San Diego’s Tony Gwynn hit .372 that season.)
Betts also will finish with the highest WAR in the American League.
“He’s such a good athlete that he covers pitches in different areas of the strike zone and he barrels them,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He’s flexible, explosive [and] disciplined, too.”
Betts ended the season 14 of 22 with 8 extra-base hits, 8 RBIs, and 11 runs over six games.
“When he’s in that mode, it’s very difficult,” Cora said. “He starts going the other way, he pulls the ball with power. He’s been very consistent since Day 1 . . . it’s amazing what he does on a daily basis.”
Cora, of course, feels Betts is the best player in baseball because of his defense.
“That’s a game-changer,” Cora said. “We know what he can do on the base paths. Obviously his power now [and] he’s getting on base at a high rate. But, defensively, he’s one of the best defenders in the league.
“I know what [Trout] is doing in LA, and nothing against him. But [Betts] defensively, I think that’s a separator.”
Out of respect for J.D. Martinez, Cora took a pass when asked if Betts should be the MVP. He compared it to how he loves his twin sons.
“We’ve got two good players here who have a chance,” he said. “They had great seasons. It all depends how you see it.”
Martinez believes it should be Betts.
“If he’s not your MVP, I don’t know who is, really,” Martinez said. “He’s been that player who really stepped up for us all the way around.”
Said Betts: “We’ll see what happens. That’s not my focus now.”
The MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year will be announced in November.
When Betts jogged out to right field to start the bottom of the second inning, Cora summoned him back to get a cheer from the crowd.
That move needs some work. By the time the crowd noticed Betts was almost in the dugout and the ovation was brief, as was a chant of “MVP.”
No worries. Betts will be introduced and trot out to the base line Friday before Game 1 of the Division Series. The crowd is sure to notice that.
Sunday was the first time teams with at least 100 wins met in the regular season since 1962 when the Giants and Dodgers each finished at 101-61 and met in a three-game tiebreaker to determine the National League champion.
Those games were considered part of the regular season. The Giants took two of three and went on to the World Series.
This is also the first season both the Sox and Yankees won 100 games. They came close in 1978 when the Yankees won 100 (including the tiebreaker) and the Sox 99.
Sale’s next step
The Sox will be off Monday but Chris Sale will be at Fenway Park for a bullpen session that pitching coach Dana LeVangie hopes will show improved footwork and extension toward the plate and, in turn, better velocity. Sale is lined up to start Friday . . . The Sox were the only team in the majors without a four-game losing streak. . . . Brock Holt was 2 for 4 with a walk. He was 17 of 41 (.415) in his last 14 games with 7 extra-base hits, 10 runs, and 12 RBIs. After struggling at the plate for two seasons while dealing with concussion symptoms, Holt hit .277 with a .773 OPS over 109 games.
The Sox held a meeting after batting practice to discuss playoff logistics, including tickets and travel. “Just talk to them about the whole schedule,” Cora said . . . The Sox snapped a seven-game losing streak in Game 162 that dated back to the 2011 collapse . . . Giancarlo Stanton was in the original lineup for the Yankees then was a healthy scratch. He hit .371 with a 1.023 OPS in 18 games against the Sox and drove in 17 runs . . . The game drew a sellout crowd of 36,201. The Sox had a home attendance of 2,895,575. That was 22,103 fewer than last season. The Sox have not drawn at least 3 million since 2012.