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With Shohei Ohtani out of the picture, get ready for what could be a wide open race for AL MVP

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Twice in the last three years, Shohei Ohtani won American League MVP honors unanimously.

It’s looking like a more wide open race in 2024.

With Ohtani in the National League now, the door is open for a handful of other candidates who are off to terrific starts. One of them is Aaron Judge, who won the award in 2022 by hitting 62 homers. He’s the only player besides Ohtani who has even received a first-place vote for AL MVP since 2021.

Judge has helped the New York Yankees to the AL’s best record, hitting .361 with 14 home runs in May. There’s still plenty of competition early in the MVP race, though, including from one of Judge’s teammates. Juan Soto, the NL MVP runner-up in 2021 when he was with Washington, has been outstanding in his first year with the Yankees.

Outside of New York, a couple of shortstops have distinguished themselves. Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson and Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. are next behind Judge among the AL leaders in Baseball-Reference’s version of wins above replacement. Henderson has a chance to repeat the feat of Orioles great Cal Ripken, who in 1982 and 1983 became the first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons. (Fred Lynn had previously won both in the same year.)

Witt is the brightest star on a Kansas City team that, after losing 106 games in 2023, is currently 12 games over .500.

Also, don’t rule out Houston’s Kyle Tucker, who hit 19 home runs before going on the injured list this past week. The Astros got off to a terrible start but could certainly end up clearing what looks to be a low bar to reach the AL postseason.

As for Ohtani, he isn’t pitching this season after elbow surgery, and that fact that he doesn’t play in the field either gives him some headwinds as he pursues a third MVP. But he is hitting .310 with 15 homers and 14 steals after joining the Los Angeles Dodgers.

MEDIOCRITY

Since the major leagues expanded to 30 teams in 1998, there have never been fewer than 12 teams that finished the season above .500. Right now there are only 10, including just four in the NL. Obviously that could change — there are a whopping 11 teams between .500 and three games under — but if the season ended today, not one but two sub-.500 NL teams would make the playoffs.

TRIVIA TIME

Since Ripken, three other players have also won MVP honors the year after winning Rookie of the Year. Who were they?

LINE OF THE WEEK

Kevin Gausman struck out 10 while throwing a five-hit shutout in Toronto’s 7-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. It was the first shutout of Gausman’s career and his first nine-inning complete game.

COMEBACK OF THE WEEK

Kansas City’s magical season reached a new level Friday night against Seattle. The Royals trailed 8-0 in the fourth inning — and had a 1.0% chance to win according to Baseball Savant. Then Kansas City scored four runs in the bottom of that inning, highlighted by a three-run homer by MJ Melendez, and the comeback was on. It was 9-7 in the ninth before the Royals tied it with an RBI groundout by Maikel Garcia and a run-scoring triple by Witt.

Nelson Velázquez hit a groundball, and when the Mariners were unable to turn a double play, Witt scored to give Kansas City a 10-9 victory. It was only the second game this season in which a team overcame an eight-run deficit to win.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Ryan Howard (2005-06), Dustin Pedroia (2007-08) and Kris Bryant (2015-16).

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

By NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer

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