THE ANGELS- The race for NL MVP is coming to a close, with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts in a back-and-forth battle heading into the final month of the NL regular season. Big leagues.
Acuna is having possibly the best year of his career playing for a Braves team that has 90 wins and the best record in baseball, on track to win the National League East Division.
Betts, for his part, is posting his best numbers since winning the American League MVP with the Boston Red Sox in 2018. The Dodgers are cruising with a 14.5-game lead en route to their 10th NL West title in the last 11 years.
The two stars put on a show toe-to-toe during their weekend series at Dodger Stadium, with Acuna shining the brightest as the Braves won three of four games.
However, Betts also had his moments and Acuna enjoys the competition.
“I have a very nice relationship (with Mookie),” Acuna said through an interpreter. “Every time we have the opportunity to talk, we do it.”
Betts, meanwhile, made it clear that his competition is not personal.
“I won’t play against Ronald Acuna,” he said after the first game of the series. “I’m playing against the Braves. We’re trying to beat the Braves. “He’s a great person, we don’t take anything away from him, but I won’t play against him.”
Acuna set the tone in the first game, hitting a grand slam in an 8-7 victory, just hours after getting married near Los Angeles in a small ceremony that took even his teammates by surprise. That made him the first player in Major League history with 30 home runs and 60 stolen bases in a season.
Betts hit two home runs in the same game, the first of three consecutive losses for the Dodgers.
Acuna also went deep in the next two games, highlighted by a 454-foot home run to center field that came off his bat at 121.2 miles per hour, the most hit ball in the majors this season.
In Sunday’s final game, the Dodgers avoided a sweep with a 3-1 victory when Betts went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Acuna went hitless in four at-bats with one strikeout.
Acuna, the 25-year-old right fielder from Venezuela, was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2018, the same season Betts was the American League Most Valuable Player while helping the Red Sox win the World Series.
At 30 years old, Betts is posting his best numbers since that MVP season.
He hit .455 in August and set records for hits and runs (35) in a month for the Dodgers. Betts was only the third player in Major League history with a .450 batting average, 50+ hits and 10+ home runs in a month, joining Lou Gehrig (June 1930) and Babe Ruth (July 1930). 2023 and 24), according to ESPN.
Acuna and Betts lead or are among the top 10 in several categories in the National League.
Acuna leads in hits (184), on-base percentage (.419) and stolen bases (63).
Betts leads the National League in OPS (1.021) and slugging (.614), ranks fourth with a career-high 38 home runs, and is second in runs (117) and fifth in walks (78).
Defensively, Betts has the advantage over Acuna. He is playing strong defense in the outfield and his fielding percentage on the right side is 1.000. Acuna’s percentage is .981.
Betts has also spent time at shortstop and second base this season, moves that manager Dave Roberts credits with keeping him fresh and engaged.
“I won MVP in right field,” Betts said. “It doesn’t really matter where I play. The (batter’s) box is the box and the defense is the defense. “They are two separate things and I keep them that way.”
Acuna has taken his game to the next level in his sixth season in the Major Leagues.
“Baseball is a game that lends itself to continuous growth and learning, so I feel like that’s the type of player I am,” he said. “I like to continue growing, I like to continue learning, I like to listen to my coaches, see what comments they can receive from them. “I worked really hard this offseason to get ready.”
Betts has found a level of comfort during his fourth season in Los Angeles. He has Freddie Freeman hitting behind him and has reunited with his former Red Sox teammate JD Martinez.
Betts would be just the second player in Major League history to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues. Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson did it with Cincinnati (1961) and Baltimore (1966).
“Coming to the park, having fun, laughing, joking, those things last a long time, especially when we’re in the sixth inning and we need a big hit,” Betts said. “You know you have your brothers cheering you on and you want to do it so your brothers win the game.”