Real or not? Mike Trout still has a chance at MVP

Mike Trout turned 26 on Monday. All he did to celebrate was hit a line double into the left-field corner for his 1,000th career hit, and then belt a home run high off the left-field foul pole for an encore.

The Baltimore Orioles got the big celebration, however, as Manny Machado broke a 2-2 tie with a grand slam in the seventh:

The Orioles are now 8-2 in their past 10 games and back to .500, sitting just 1.5 games behind the Kansas City Royals for the second wild-card spot after the St. Louis Cardinals pounded Kansas City 11-3 on Monday night.

But let's talk about Trout, who is now hitting .346/.464/.716 with 23 home runs and 52 RBIs. The two-time MVP was out for 39 games with a thumb injury and missed a few other games earlier in the season with a tight hamstring, so he has missed 45 of the Los Angeles Angels' 113 games. It might seem impossible for Trout to be part of the American League MVP race after missing that much time, but don't write him off just yet.

Let's start with where he ranked among the AL leaders in Baseball-Reference WAR position players entering Monday:

  1. Jose Altuve: 6.3

  2. Andrelton Simmons: 5.7

  3. Aaron Judge: 5.3

  4. Mookie Betts: 5.2

  5. Carlos Correa: 4.9

  6. Trout: 4.4

Note: Judge led Altuve 6.0 to 5.7 in FanGraphs WAR, with Trout third at 4.9.

You have to discount the chances of Simmons and Betts winning, since a large percentage of their value is defensive and unlikely to be rewarded in MVP voting given that Simmons ranks 29th in the AL in OPS and Betts ranks 32nd. Correa, meanwhile, is out for at least another four to five weeks with his own thumb injury, so Trout will pass him up. Judge, meanwhile, has hit .182/.333/.377 since the All-Star break and has lost momentum in the "What have you done for me lately?" category. The rookie still leads the league in homers, runs, OBP (tied with Altuve) and slugging, while tied for third in RBIs, but Trout would easily lead in OBP and slugging if he had enough plate appearances.

The point is that with Judge slumping, the race is a little more wide open than it was a month ago, when the Yankee looked like the runaway favorite. But if Trout plays the remaining 49 games for the Angels the way he's played so far, he'd accumulate about 3.3 WAR (Baseball-Reference) or 3.7 (FanGraphs), bringing his totals up to 7.7 or 8.6, depending on the source. And that's certainly MVP territory.

(For the record: This isn't to dismiss Chris Sale, who leads in wins, ERA, strikeouts and pitching WAR and should certainly be part of the discussion.)

Some of Trout's counting stats might not rank up there, but he'll still be among the leaders in runs created. Altuve and Judge rank first and second among current AL leaders. But Trout isn't far behind at sixth.

Here are the projected totals based on current rate of production and all three guys playing every remaining game:

  • Altuve: 141.8

  • Judge: 140.1

  • Trout: 128.2

That puts Trout close, and it's likely that Altuve and Judge don't keep producing at their current rates; Altuve in particular won't be playing every game down the stretch with the Astros holding such a big lead. Trout's rate stats in getting on base and power might be so impressive that his value at the plate could end up equaling Altuve's or Judge's.

Now, for Trout to have a real shot, the Angels probably have to make the playoffs. They had climbed back to .500 but have since lost three in a row, so those chances are slimmer than they were three days ago. If they do somehow find a way to sneak into a wild-card berth, though, Trout is going to get a lot of credit ... as he should.

Look, it will be difficult because Altuve and Judge still will end up with big numbers at season's end, and we know the Astros will make the playoffs. Because of that, Altuve feels like the favorite right now, but there's a lot of baseball left to play.

The Nationals' bullpen is coming together. Good game in D.C. between the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals. Bryce Harper cracked a solo home run in the fourth inning, his 29th of the season. Then in the sixth, with the Nationals ahead 2-1, Giancarlo Stanton would tie the game with a home run off Max Scherzer, his 37th of the year and fourth in four games. That solo shot came on a 3-1 fastball, belt high and over the middle of the plate -- after Scherzer had shaken off Matt Wieters several times. Stanton had swung through a 2-0 fastball and Scherzer thought he could slip one past him again. Nope.

The Nationals won the game with some old-school baseball in the bottom of the eighth. Wilmer Difo led with a base hit, Andrew Stevenson sacrificed him to second, and with two outs, pinch hitter Adam Lind singled in Difo. Sean Doolittle then closed it out for his sixth save since joining the Nationals.

Dusty Baker's late-game bullpen suddenly is pretty good. He has gone with Doolittle as the closer over Brandon Kintzler, who had 28 saves with the Twins before he was traded, even though Doolittle is the lone lefty. Kintzler, who pitched the eighth inning on Monday, will be a setup guy along with Ryan Madson, with Matt Albers the fourth guy.

Doolittle missed time early in the season, but his numbers are worthy of that ninth-inning role: 30.1 IP, 19 H, 6 BB, 39 SO. He still goes after batters with a lot of fastballs up in the zone -- he has thrown his fastball nearly 90 percent of the time this season -- and he hasn't had much of a platoon split in his career, so you don't care that he's left-handed. The only blip that is a minor cause for concern is the four home runs allowed, the one risk as he pounds the strike zone.

Anyway, those top four have been hard to hit:

  • Doolittle: .176/.216/.315

  • Madson: .185/.232/.268

  • Kintzler: .233/.289/.311

  • Albers: .197/.270/.340

Among relievers with at least 30 innings, Madson ranks eighth in wOBA allowed, Doolittle 10th, Kintzler 50th and Albers 55th. The only team with more relievers in the top 55 are the New York Yankees, who have six. The Chicago Cubs also have four, plus Pedro Strop, who ranks 57th. What's interesting is the Los Angeles Dodgers have only Kenley Jansen, who ranks first. Their second-best reliever by wOBA is Pedro Baez, who ranks 61st. Look, some of these differences are small, but it seems like the Washington Nationals' bullpen is now essentially on par with Chicago's and maybe better than L.A.'s.

Speaking of that Stanton home run ... Here it is:

With this recent little hot stretch, Stanton is on pace for 54 home runs. Of course, his biggest factor to matching his career high in home runs is that he has missed just two games after missing an average of 47 the past five seasons. But he has also been much better than last season, with an OPS 166 points higher. Two keys besides good health: His swing-and-miss rate is down 3.6 percent, and his chase rate is down 4.8 percent (and is the lowest of his career). He hit .218 against "soft" pitches last year, but that better pitch recognition and patience have allowed him to hit .260 and slug .559 against those pitches (curve, slider, changeup, splitter) in 2017.

Inside-the-park home run of the day: AT&T usually takes away home runs, but on Monday it gave one to Javier Baez:

The Milwaukee Brewers had a chance to climb back into first place in the National League Central on Monday, but they blew a lead and lost 5-4 to the Twins -- Domingo Santana froze on a line drive that sailed over his head, helping the Minnesota Twins score the go-ahead runs in the seventh -- and the Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants, so the reigning champs' lead is back to 1½ games.

Catch of the day: Left fielder T.J. Nichting of the Aberdeen IronBirds sacrificed his body for one of the best catches of the season at any level:

Great catch, T.J. See you in the majors in four years.