Shohei Ohtani or Aaron Judge for AL MVP? The race could go down to the wire

Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani prepares to bat during a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Shohei Ohtani prepares to bat against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Angel Stadium. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

There are 46 games left in the Angels' season after Monday, which means 46 games left for Shohei Ohtani to add to his resume and complete his case for why he should repeat as American League most valuable player. His main competition for the accolade, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge.

To some, the case is a no-brainer. Yankee fans on Twitter have no problem declaring Judge the rightful winner. Ask the Angels' fanbase, and you’ll get a similar answer, but with Ohtani’s name. Ask some of the people who’ve worked with or played alongside Judge and Ohtani, and the question elicits more deliberation.

“Nobody can do what [Ohtani] does. Not saying that somebody could do what Judge is doing,” shortstop Andrew Velazquez said before the Angels played the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

“That’s why they’re both in contention,” Velazquez continued. “It’s gonna come down to the wire. In my opinion, it’s gonna take Judge doing something historic, which he’s already kind of doing. But I mean, every day is something historic for Ohtani.”

Velazquez is from the Bronx, N.Y., and played with Judge and the Yankees in 2021. The Angels claimed him off waivers before 2022.

Added interim manager Phil Nevin, who was the Yankees third base coach from 2018 to 2021: “That's a hard one for me. Love them both. To say I'd vote for one guy or another I mean, our guy, nobody does what our guy does.”

Judge is currently chasing Roger Maris’ AL record of 61 home runs in a season, which Maris did with the 1961 Yankees. Judge had 46 home runs through Monday. Judge also leads baseball in the oft-debated Wins Above Replacement (7.0), on-base plus slugging rate (1.076), runs scored (96) and RBI (100), among other offensive stats.

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge at bat.
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge at bat during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday in New York. (Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

Ohtani, this season, meanwhile, accomplished a nearly-100-year-old feat with 10 wins and 10-plus home runs — before Monday, he had 26 homers (10th in MLB). The last to do that were Babe Ruth (1918, Boston Red Sox), Bullet Rogan (1922, Kansas City Monarchs) and Ed Rile (1927, Detroit Stars), per the Angels.

“It’s a special time in our game because of what he's doing,” Nevin said when asked to reflect on being Ohtani’s manager.

Ohtani’s nine starts of 10 or more strikeouts leads MLB in 2022. He is seventh in strikeouts on the season (157). Ohtani is also fifth in WAR (5.7) and second in intentional walks (12).

There was also his eight-RBI game in June, which he followed up with a 13-strikeout game pitched the next day.

At least two Angels had definite answers on who they think is the undeniable MVP this year.

“Judge is having an insane year and hitting a lot of bombs and his OPS is really high, but Shohei is doing that and pitching at an elite level,” fellow starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval said. “I don't think it should be that big of a debate.”

Added infielder David Fletcher: “With Shohei pitching and hitting, it's been hard to bring more value than that to me.”

Trout and Rendon updates

Mike Trout before Monday’s game had batting practice again, took pitches from one of the organization’s minor leaguers, ran the bases and did more offensive work.

“Really encouraging stuff even more so than the last couple of days,” Nevin said. “So, once again, we see how he comes out of it tomorrow.”

There is still no set date for his return.

Anthony Rendon continued his recovery from wrist surgery, taking more ground balls and lightly tossing a ball from about five feet. He has not yet started fully throwing.

The Angels said over the weekend that the hope is for Rendon to finish his rehab in order to have a normal offseason before the next spring training.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.