The Acuña vs Betts MVP Race Spiced Up By Media Commentary

Truist Park before regular season gameTruist Park before start of regular-season Braves game (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

by John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

As Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves and Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the two best players in all of baseball, battle for the Most Valuable Player award for the National League, it’s helped bring back something sorely lacking in baseball before the pandemic: the return of the bitter rivalry between two top-notch teams that makes September baseball another compelling chapter in America’s pastime.

If you’re a fan like me, you remember the classic rivalry battles, like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, or New York Giants versus the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals still hate each other. Even for a while, we could enjoy battles between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, or Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the San Francisco Giants. But many of those compelling clashes have taken up few races for the pennant, or even a division crown. All of these reflect a little more nostalgia than “must see” television.

Lately, however, we’ve seen the Dodgers and Braves battle for National League supremacy. Their teams met in the postseasons in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and only some big upsets cost the two another meeting last year. This year, the two have the best teams in baseball, and MLB will benefit if they have another October clash. Currently, the Braves have the better record and should take the top seed going into the playoffs. But the NL MVP race, however, is neck-and-neck, and destined to be as bitter as any player award in baseball history.

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Los Angeles Times “columnist-provocateur” Bill Plaschke was in his usual form, declaring a winner before the season ends. “But the duel is already over. The clear MVP is the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts, not the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr., period, election over, I’m calling it, and anything different would make one wonder what the voters are watching. If they’re watching value, it’s Betts. If they’re watching versatility, it’s Betts. If they’re watching baseball, it’s Betts.”

He claims Acuña is flashier with home runs and stolen bases, but writes this off due to larger bases and new pickoff rules (which also apply to Betts, you know, and not just Acuña. “When it comes to virtually every other important statistic, Betts rules,” Plaschke claims.

As of September 14, the day of the column, Betts leads Acuña in WAR, slugging percentage and OPS. Acuña leads Betts in runs (133-120), hits (199-165), batting average (.335 to .312) and on-base percentage, so Plaschke is wrong. Betts doesn’t rule every other important statistic.

The name Plaschke may not ring a bell for everyone in America, but Braves fans certainly recognize it from the 2021 NLCS battle, when the sportswriter tweeted “After the five-game madness against the Giants, this NLCS Game One in sterile shopping-mall Atlanta stadium feels like a Saturday night in May…most excitement is discussion of post-game trip to Waffle House.” Local media in Atlanta fired back, and Braves fans exacted revenge with a victory in the NLCS that year.

Though Plaschke may be simply trying to needle Braves fans with his premature claim of a Betts victory, there may be another reason. Last year, a Dodger fan site took issue with Plaschke for criticizing Betts for his postseason play in 2022. “Bill Plaschke is a very good storyteller…As a baseball analyst, though, Plaschke leaves a bit to be desired,” Jeff Snider wrote. The columnist may be trying to make amends this season.

But in the end, this war of words and battle between baseball’s best for the MVP Award is just what baseball needs. As the Mets faded over the years to deprive MLB of a North-South rivalry, this new East-West clash could make for a compelling final few weeks, and even a spicy postseason.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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