By Dan Schlossberg
It isn’t even close.
Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Mookie Betts are right-fielders for the best teams in the National League, the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.
They are both right-handed lead-off batters with speed, power, and strong throwing arms.
Both have won World Series rings, though Acuña was injured and unable to play when the Braves won the 2021 world championship.
Arguably the two best players in the National League, if not all of baseball, they are likely to finish first and second in the MVP voting that follows the World Series.
But, getting back to the first four words in this article, it shouldn’t be close.
So what if Betts played second base and even shortstop when his team needed him?
The Braves had veteran All-Stars at both positions in Orlando Arcia and Ozzie Albies so there was no need to move Ronald, though he has indeed worked out at shortstop during infield practice.
Giving Betts the benefit of his versatility in the MVP voting is ridiculous, especially when baseball precedent is considered. Hank Aaron played 27 games at second base in 1955 but finished only ninth in the MVP voting that fall.
The fact is that Acuña is having a historic season, one that may never be duplicated by anyone, including Acuna himself.
The 25-year-old Venezuelan, entering play Friday, stood head and shoulders over the diminutive Betts in virtually every statistical category.
With a leadoff homer in Washington Friday night, he produced the fifth 40/40 season in baseball history. He already had the first 30/60 season (that many home runs and stolen bases) and could make it 40/70 depending on the weather in Washington this weekend and what he does in the last week of the season.
With 68 stolen bases, he’s within striking distance of Otis Nixon’s Atlanta franchise record for stolen bases (72) and even has an outside chance to catch Miami’s Luis Arraez for the NL batting crown.
When the weekend began, Acuña led the baseball world with 705 plate appearances, 617 at-bats, 207 hits, 140 runs scored, 68 stolen bases, 365 total bases, a .414 on-base percentage, 1.006 OPS, and 167 OPS+. Mookie Betts leads the league in nothing — nada — except hype from the L.A. press, which happens to be triple the size of the Atlanta press corps.
Before Friday, they were even in home runs with 39 apiece. Acuña also is ahead of Betts in batting (.335 to .309) and slugging (.592) while Betts leads in MVP awards already won (1). Should Betts win again, he’ll join Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as the only players to take the trophy in both leagues.
But that’s no reason to elect him.
This whole election fiasco smacks of the same injustice that befell earlier Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones in 2005, when his 51 home runs, 128 RBIs, and Gold Glove defense in center field clearly overshadowed Albert Pujols, who topped Jones only in batting average (.330) but trailed badly in power production (41 homers, 117 RBI) even though he led the NL with 129 runs scored.
Pujols wound up with his first of three MVP awards, while Jones was denied one he deserved — and then penalized in Hall of Fame voting because writers said he never won an MVP. Yeah, probably the same writers who snubbed him once did it again.
Post-season performance doesn’t count toward awards voting so it doesn’t matter what the Braves or Dodgers do once the playoffs begin.
During the 162-game marathon, though, Acuña used all his speed to run away from the field. And that means Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson too.
He should win and he should win big.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is national baseball writer for forbes.com and contributor to a myriad of other outlets. He’s also the author of 40 baseball books. Contact him via email@example.com.