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Rick Zamperin: One man stands in Vladimir Guerrero’s way in AL MVP race

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is unquestionably one of baseball’s mid-season favourites to win the American League’s MVP Award.

However, there is one player who is riding alongside Vladdy and may ultimately prevent the Blue Jays star from becoming the third Toronto player to win the prestigious honour after Josh Donaldson did it in 2015 and George Bell became the first in 1987.

That man is Los Angeles Angels dual threat Shohei Ohtani.

With perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout spending most of the 2021 MLB season on the injured list with a right calf strain, the Angels have relied heavily on the incredible exploits of Ohtani.

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Guerrero made headlines even before the season began when he reportedly lost 42 pounds, and his leaner frame has apparently done wonders for his game.

The 22-year-old Guerrero struggled mightily in baseball’s COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season last year when he managed to hit .262 with only nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 60 games.

Through the first 87 games this year, however, Vladdy has been hitting the cover off the ball.

In his third season in the big leagues, Guerrero leads all players at the all-star break, American and National League, with a .332 batting average, a 1.089 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and 73 runs batted in.

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Batting in the heart of Toronto’s lineup, Guerrero has single-handedly taken over some games, and some series, this season with tape-measure home runs and run-scoring hits at key moments of a game.

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Vladdy’s main opponent in the race for the AL’s most valuable player award is Ohtani.

This year is Ohtani’s fourth season in the majors and it is without a doubt his best yet, at the plate and on the mound.

At 26 years of age, the Japanese sensation has hit his stride, and has hit virtually everything that has been thrown at him in 2021.

Ohtani, who will be participating in Monday night’s all-star home run derby at Coors Field in Denver, has crushed a major league-best 33 home runs — five more than Guerrero and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. — entering the break this week.

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The left-handed batter leads all players with a .698 slugging percentage and trails only Guerrero with a 1.062 OPS and sits third in the majors with 70 RBIs.

But that is only half the story of Shohei Ohtani, a player who is doing things on a baseball diamond that have not been done since Babe Ruth more than a hundred years ago.

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Ohtani is not only the most feared designated hitter in the game, but he is also the ace of the Angels’ pitching staff, compiling a 4-1 record with a 3.49 earned run average in 13 starts, and he ranks second on the club with 87 strikeouts.

In fact, he is the first player ever to be chosen to participate in baseball’s mid-summer classic as both a hitter and a pitcher.

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At this point, I would give a slight edge to Ohtani to win the MVP award over Guerrero, but his exploits in the Home Run Derby could convince more voters to jump on his bandwagon.

Come to think of it, the rate at which Ohtani is hitting, and getting opposing batters out, he could be a runaway winner of the MVP by season’s end.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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