What do Mookie Betts, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Ronald Acuna Jr. have in common? They’ve all been declared as ‘front-runners’ to win awards such as Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year.
However, looking around the league this year, there has been a surplus of players that have been playing at an award-winning level; yet, unlike those aforementioned, they don’t get the same kind of recognition.
It’s easy to make the generic list of award-winners when all you listen to is the same names get listed as the ‘frontrunners;’ however, not many make a case for the ‘little guy.’
Here’s the ‘Dark Horse’ version of the MLB Awards this season.
AL MVP: Francisco Lindor – Cleveland Indians
While Lindor has been given the credit he’s due for putting up monster numbers in 2018, he’s sort of fallen into the shadows in regards to the American League MVP. With the likes of Betts, J.D. Martinez, and even teammate Jose Ramirez having great seasons and getting all the headlines, Lindor is just quietly dominating the opposition.
With a WAR of 6.8 out of the leadoff position, while also threatening the 30/30 club, Lindor should be knocking on the door of the MVP race.
NL MVP: Christian Yelich – Milwaukee Brewers
Playing for a Brewers team that is in the playoff picture despite having borderline no pitching staff whatsoever, Christian Yelich has absolutely dazzled the baseball world in 2018. Posting a career high for home runs already with a month to go in the season and leading the National League in batting average, Yelich should be getting far more recognition as MVP than he’s gotten.
If we’re basing this award on a player’s overall value to the team, there likely isn’t a guy in the National League who is more valuable to his starting lineup than the ex-Marlin. The 26-year-old is a first-time All-Star and has a WAR of 5.0. He’s also had a six-hit game that also included him hitting for the cycle.
AL Cy Young: Blake Treinen – Oakland Athletics
It’s almost taboo in baseball for a reliever to win the Cy Young award as the league’s best pitcher; and following the 0.54 ERA for Zach Britton in 2016 that wasn’t enough to garner the award, it makes Blake Treinen’s case far less appealing.
With that in mind, he still has a sub-one ERA, as well as 33 saves for an Oakland team that has surprised many with their performance. All of this has been done with Treinen anchoring that A’s bullpen, and he’s been their best pitcher on the whole staff. In what has been a magical season in Oakland, it has been a fantastic breakout season for the 30-year-old right-hander.
NL Cy Young: Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies
It’s interesting to think of Aaron Nola as a Dark Horse candidate for the Cy Young, but he is. Looking at the historic season that Jacob deGrom has showcased in 2018, followed by almost as impressive Max Scherzer, Nola’s season has almost gone unnoticed.
The LSU product has always been a highly-touted player in the Phillies organization but hadn’t ever put it all together. Well, it’s safe to say he has this year. Not only is his 2.10 ERA the second best in the NL, but he also leads the league with an 8.9 WAR. He has been absolutely brilliant this year and if deGrom isn’t given the award, it should be Nola.
AL Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Had this list been created back in March, the thought of Ohtani being a dark horse candidate for the Rookie of the Year would’ve been laughable. Yet here we are at the end of the month of August, and that is exactly where he is—to no fault of his own.
The Japanese phenom suffered a sprained elbow ligament back on June 6 and hasn’t pitched since then. He has recently been cleared to start this weekend against the Astros, but it isn’t like his pitching performances can put him into the Rookie of the Year talk again.
However, his offense can, and has. Ohtani is hitting .275 with 15 home runs and 43 RBI in 223 plate appearances. With Miguel Andujar’s surge this second half, it’ll make it tough for Ohtani to catch him, but never say never.
NL Rookie of the Year: Harrison Bader – St. Louis Cardinals
Of all of the Dark Horse candidates listed here, this one has the most chance of coming true. Bader has played just shy of 110 games for the Cardinals this year and has really taken that division by storm. Hitting roughly .280, with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs on the season, Bader also brings to the table the league’s best WAR for rookies in the National League.
He’s been a spark plug in that dugout, running ragged on the field and making ridiculous plays left and right. Plus, despite how great Carpenter has been of late, Bader has been just as exciting to watch on a nightly basis.