With a week and a half left in the season, let's take stock of baseball's biggest awards. With one exception, the MVP and Cy Young awards are highly debatable. Here's a look at where things stand.
The favorite: Jose Altuve
The outlook: It's probably his, unless a Troutian miracle occurs.
Altuve seems to have both the numbers and the narrative on his side. The greatness in Altuve is not just that he had the one amazing month but that his idea of a slump is what he has done the past month, with a slash line of .287/.353/.508 since Aug. 11. That allowed him to maintain an off-the-charts performance record as someone such as Aaron Judge cratered.
The only way Altuve loses this award is if Mike Trout goes on an all-time run to put the Angels into the postseason over the final 10 days. We're talking not just hitting .450 with eight home runs but also hitting some memorable ones that stick in the mind of voters and drive the narrative to overwhelmingly support his candidacy (think Chipper Jones, September 1999).
AL Cy Young
The outlook: It depends what you like.
Do you prefer the guy who started strong? Do you want the one who made every start, who was durable, whose strikeout-per-nine-innings rate is off the charts? Then you're taking Sale.
Or do you want the guy who has been better than that guy for four months since getting healthy? The one who has a half-run lead in ERA (his defense has done right by him)? Then you're probably voting for Kluber.
The gap between Sale and Kluber is extremely narrow, such that (a) both positions are reasonably justifiable (b) whatever happens in the last 10 days -- short of one of them pitching a 27-strikeout perfect game -- isn't going to have much impact on the voting.
The outlook: Do you want your MVP to be from a non-contender?
This is an odd year for NL MVP in that the success of each of the three division-leading teams is a group effort. The Dodgers have five players worth at least 4 wins above replacement but none worth more than 5.5, and their MVP is arguably Kenley Jansen. In this day and age, a closer isn't winning the MVP (though there's a good case here).
The Nationals have three pitchers (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez) and a position player worth at least 5.5 WAR, but they all hover around the same number, and for a pitcher to win an MVP, he has to be far better than his peers. Although Kris Bryant leads the Cubs in WAR, he's down about two wins from last season, so the narrative is that he isn't as good.
On top of that, the two best players in the league -- Stanton and Votto -- are basically dead even in quality. The next-best player, Arenado, has a teammate (Charlie Blackmon) who is maybe a sliver behind him. And Goldschmidt's outstanding season has been overshadowed by the home runs J.D. Martinez has hit since the Diamondbacks got him in trade.
Stanton is the one player who can probably win the MVP by doing something concrete: reaching the 60-homer mark. But it will probably be quite the logjam when voting is announced in November.
NL Cy Young
The favorites: Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw
The outlook: There are more worthy candidates than you think.
The narrative will tell you that two-time Cy Young winner Scherzer is the best pitcher on the Nationals. But not so fast. Strasburg has an identical ERA and a better strikeout-to-walk and home run combination (Gonzalez has great surface numbers, too, but his peripherals don't put his candidacy up with his teammates).
Kershaw has stumbled since returning, but it's going to be hard for old-school voters to overlook 17-4 with a 2.26 ERA. Even with the increased home run rate, his candidacy is strong, albeit not the best of the best. Let's put in another plug here for Jansen, whose dominance has been extraordinary from day one. If you need to get one out to win a game this season, he should be the choice (however, games require 27 outs, thus putting a damper on his chances).
Similar to in the AL, there probably isn't much these guys can do to impact their candidacies. Their track records are locked in because they aren't pitching under make-the-playoffs pressure.
The pitcher sneaking up on everyone but fans of his team is Zack Greinke, whose ERA is a little higher than his competitors' but who has given his team more high-quality innings in an environment in Arizona that is highly hitter-friendly. Greinke is atop the WAR leaderboards at both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.
Remember when the baseball world wondered whether Greinke would ever return to greatness after his 2016 struggles? Turns out he's just fine. And he might be a couple of good starts away from a second Cy Young.