Major League Baseball has a bit of an image problem in that its fan base skews much older than the NFL, NBA (by far the most hip/young league) and NHL. Check out any TV ratings for a big MLB event and the majority will be people age 40 and above. The younger generation doesn't much care about baseball because it takes so long to play, and really MLB doesn't market its stars like the NBA does.
However, the good news for MLB is that clearly its two biggest stars right now and best all-around players are Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who is 23, and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who is only 22. These guys are going to carry the popularity torch for baseball for the next decade. And it just to happens both are heavy MVP favorites in their respective leagues at the All-Star Break.
I still say the All-Star Game means nothing, but what Trout did on Tuesday night in Cincinnati is only going to boost his American League MVP case because it's simply a popularity contest. Trout led off the game with a homer -- no player had done that in 38 years -- off Dodgers star Zack Greinke and was named the game's MVP for the second year in a row as the AL won 6-3 to clinch home-field advantage in the World Series. Trout is the first player to win ASG MVP in back-to-back years. He joined Willie Mays, Steve Garvey, Gary Carter and Cal Ripken Jr. as the only two-time All-Star MVPs. Trout was among six starting position players under 25 on Tuesday night, the most since 1965.
Of course, Trout is the reigning AL MVP, winning it unanimously in 2014 after finishing second to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera in his first two big-league seasons. Last year, Trout hit .287 with 36 homers while leading the AL 111 RBIs, 115 runs and 338 total bases. He's your -180 favorite this year and on track to have his best season. Trout is batting .312 (sixth in AL) with 26 homers (tied for first), 55 RBIs (eighth), 68 runs (first), a .614 slugging percentage (first) and .405 on-base percentage (second).
What is going to help Trout's cause here is that Cabrera is out another month or so with a calf injury. He hasn't played since July 13. Cabrera is +700 along with Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cabrera leads the league with a .350 average and .456 on-base percentage. But missing two months pretty much rules him out. Kipnis is third in the AL with a .323 average. Nice player, but he's not an MVP. Barring injury, Trout will win this.
For the NL MVP, Harper is the -200 favorite to win his first major award. It's not impossible that Harper wins the NL Triple Crown, although I certainly wouldn't bet on it. He's second in the NL with a .339 average, second with 26 homers and fourth with 61 RBIs. Harper's cause for MVP and a possible Triple Crown was boosted with the injury to Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton, who has been out since June 26 with a wrist injury and probably not back until early August. He still leads the majors with 27 homers and is third in the NL with 67 RBIs. Stanton is +1000 for MVP.
It looks as if Harper's only real competition will be from Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (+250), who also is in the Triple Crown conversation. Perhaps the most underappreciated star in baseball, Goldschmidt is first in the NL with a .340 average, tied for first with 70 RBIs and fifth with 21 homers. It's just a shame this guy plays in Arizona or more people would know about him. Harper is going to win this award because his team is going to the playoffs and Goldschmidt's won't.
Cy Young Updates
So while I like chalk in the MVP odds, how about Cy Young? In the American League, Houston's Dallas Keuchel is the +180 favorite. He should be. Keuchel is tied for the AL lead with 11 wins, leads with 137.2 innings pitched and is second with a 2.23 ERA for a very surprising team. He also started Tuesday's game for the AL.
Chicago's Chris Sale is next at -300. He had that incredible string of eight straight games with at least 10 strikeouts. But Sale is "only" 8-4 with a 2.72 ERA for a bad White Sox team. The Cy Young winner won't be coming from a team with a losing record, and I'm not sure the Pale Hose will be able to rally.
Seattle's Felix Hernandez (+350), Oakland's Sonny Gray (+400) and Tampa Bay's Chris Archer (+500) round out the favorites. The Mariners and A's are well below .500, and the Rays are hanging around breakeven, but I think will fade. I guess by default you have to go Keuchel here. No first-place team (Yankees, Royals, Angels) has a Cy candidate.
In the National League, the Dodgers' Greinke is a +120 favorite. He entered the break on a streak of 35.2 scoreless innings and is 8-2 with a big-league best 1.39 ERA. He's going to opt out of his contract now and sign another huge free-agent deal, although it wouldn't surprise me if the Dodgers keep him.
The Nationals' Max Scherzer is +200. He has thrown a no-hitter and is 10-7 with a 2.11 ERA, while leading the NL in innings pitched (132.0) and WHIP (0.78). Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole at +300 is the only other guy under +1000. He is 13-3 (most wins in majors) with a 2.30 ERA. I think if the Pirates can overtake St. Louis and win the Central, Cole has a good shot here. I'd roll the dice with him because he might be the only 20-game winner in MLB this season.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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