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National League MVP update: Ronald Acuña the man to beat

As we near the halfway point of the 2023 MLB regular season, we’ll take a look at the players who are building the strongest case to take home the National League Most Valuable Player award.

We’ll review the players who have been outperforming the pack and see how strong their resume is for the most coveted individual award in Major League Baseball.

Ronald Acuna Jr

After failing to play 120 games in three consecutive seasons – dating back to 2019 – dynamo Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr is finally healthy and putting it all together on the field again. 

Through 71 games, Acuna is second among qualified NL players with a .326 average. He boasts a robust .326/.401/.565 triple-slash rate, 15 home runs (9th in the NL), 30 stolen bases (1st in NL), 45 RBI (7th in NL), 21 doubles (3rd in NL) and 62 runs scored (1st in NL). 

His 30 stolen bases are 10 more than the second-place NL player, Ji-Hwan Bae with 20. 

No player in the National League has put together as complete and impressive statline as Acuna has thus far – he’s hitting for average and power, stealing bases, and generating runs. 

There’s not much Acuna can’t do on the field – and he’s been a major reason the Braves currently sit in first place in the NL East, and they are +340 to win the World Series

Talent has never been the issue for Acuna; through his career, he’s shown the ability to hit for power (41 HRs in 2019), average (.293 in 2018), steal bases (37 in 2019) and generate runs (228 combined R+RBI in 2019). 

He’s perhaps the most all-around talented player in the league. 

However, it has been his inability to stay on the field that has kept him from winning his first NL MVP Award. 

It wouldn’t even take a full season for Acuna to win the award, at this pace – if he can manage 140 games, he’s on pace for about 30 home runs, 60 stolen bases, 90 RBI, 120 runs, and 40 doubles – all with a .326 average. 

If Acuna can maintain even a semblance of that pace past the All-Star Game and play at least 120-130 games, he should have as strong a chance to win the award as anyone. Acuna is the current favorite at -130.

Corbin Carroll

If Acuna fails to stay on the field or tails off in the second half, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll may become the first player to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year award since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. 

A highly-touted prospect, Carroll has exploded onto the scene for the Diamondbacks in 2023 and has been a key component of a lineup that’s helped Arizona reach first place in the NL West. 

Through 241 at-bats, Carroll has posted a .307/.389/.593 triple-slash, and he’s leading the NL in OPS with a .982 mark. 

He’s shown even more power than he was projected to have as a prospect, with 15 HR, 18 2B and 3 3B. 

On top of that power and average combination, he’s run like he was expected to, going 19-21 on stolen base attempts thus far. 

This has helped his monster run production, as he’s contributed 52 runs scored and driven in 38. 

Second-half tail-offs are not unusual for rookies, but for a player of Carroll’s caliber, we may need to get used to this type of performance. 

He is on pace to join the historic 30-30 club with an average above .300., and is +1400 to win the MVP.

In a normal season, this would be more than enough to win an MVP award; however, Acuna’s historic season may be enough to keep Carroll’s name off the hardware – for this season, at least. 

Freddie Freeman

Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman is having another Freddie Freeman-type year. 

Through 71 games and 327 plate appearances, Freeman has posted an exceptional .326/.407/.557 triple-slash, besting his career rates of .300/.387/.511. 

While his 13 home runs are a tad lower than Acuna and Carroll, he also leads the Major Leagues with 24 doubles. Moreover, his .407 OBP is the fourth-highest in the NL, contributing to his excellent .964 OPS.

On top of his otherworldly on-base prowess, Freeman has been excellent in the run production department. He’s scored 58 runs and driven in 46 hitting in the heart of the Los Angeles order, and plays a crucial role in the successes (or failures) of the Dodgers. 

To top it all off, the 33-year-old has stolen 9 bases already, putting him on pace for a career high. 

If the Dodgers turn it on down the stretch, it would likely be driven in no small part by Freeman’s production in the middle of the order. 

While he may not reach 30 home runs or steal 30 bases, it’s hard to beat the all-around excellence of Freeman, especially if he’s in the lineup every game. 

While Freeman may be behind Acuna in the betting at +500, it’s really not a reach to believe he’s the one that will eventually take home the MVP – he’s played 140 games in nine of his 11 seasons (not including 2020), and he’s never played less than 117 games. 

His ability to stay healthy shouldn’t be overlooked – with Acuna’s injury history and Carroll’s uncertain nature as a rookie, Freeman may be on the fast path toward his second MVP award. 

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