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After the first month of the MLB season, a way-too-early look at the NL, AL award winners

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend marks the completion of the first month of the MLB regular season, so we find no reason to delay awards. 

American League Most Valuable Player: Randy Arozarena is the best player on baseball’s best team in Tampa Bay.

Arozarena is hitting .341 with an OPS of .981. The Cuban-born outfielder is no stranger to real awards. He was voted the AL Rookie of the Year in 2021 a year he won the AL Championship Series MVP with an astonishing .786 slugging percentage and 1.152 OPS the year before.

Running second probably is Toronto third baseman Matt Chapman, considered by many in Nolan Arenado’s class defensively but not generally in the class of the great Toronto Blue Jays sluggers. But here is Chapman, as of Thursday, batting .364 with an 1.105 OPS.

The third in the AL is a little off the wall but consider the circumstances. Houston Astros iron-man second baseman Jose Altuve suffered a broken right thumb when hit by a pitch during World Baseball Classic play this spring for Venezuela. What was Dusty Baker to do?

Why, plug in Mauricio Dubon, acquired at little expense from the San Francisco Giants for backup catcher Michael Papierski a year ago. Dubon, taking over at second base, has reeled off a 20-game hitting streak at the top of the order, and the World Series champion Astros have charged to the front of the line in the AL West.

Of course, everyone knows that Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels and the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge will finish 1-2 in the MVP race but let these other fellows have some fun. 

The Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, who pitched Thursday night at 4-0 with a. 0.79 ERA, heads up the Cy Young Award class in this league but right behind is Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan (also 4-0 and also pitching Thursday night. Then, there, naturally, is Ohtani with an ERA of 0.62.

Too early to lock in very many rookies but not for AL Manager of Year with Kevin Cash of the Rays, who should win every year, and Baltimore’s Brandon Hyde, who has built an emerging power.

Is Ronald Acuna Jr.’s MLB’s best player?

ronald acuna jr.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

We didn’t know what the future held for Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr., when he suffered a gruesome knee injury just before the 2021 All-Star Game.

Now, we know. Acuna is the best all-around players in the National League, hitting .363 with a league-leading 22 runs and 13 stolen bases and he has an 1.018 OPS.

Chicago second baseman Nico Hoerner, an accomplished defender, has hit .340 for the surprising Cubs. Bryan Reynolds, finally nailed down to an eight-year deal after saying he wanted to be traded, doesn’t seem so much that he wants to go as he hits .292 for the NL Central Division leaders.

Consider this: The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t won the division since 1992. And they haven’t won a playoff round (other than wild card) since the 1979 World Series.

Who would have thought that Pirates manager Derek Shelton would be the first skipper extended, rather than the first one fired? But he’s your Manager of the Year in the league in late April 2023.

As for National League Cy Young?

How about this blast from the past? LosAngeles’ Clayton Kershaw is 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA and WHIP of 0.871. 

Rick Hummel, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for baseball writing, is the baseball columnist for Sportsnaut.