May 18, 2024

The National League most-valuable-player race isn’t quite over yet.

But, even to his own manager, it’s clear that Dodgers star Mookie Betts could use a big closing week as he jockeys with Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves for the league’s top individual award.

“It would certainly be helpful,” manager Dave Roberts said before the Dodgers’ scheduled doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday. “Obviously, Ronald has got a lot of momentum early in the season. But I think Mookie started to gain some momentum in the second half.”

Indeed, after a slow opening month to the campaign, Betts began to catch fire during the middle portion of the season, culminating with an historic performance in August (when he batted .455 with 11 home runs) that vaulted him to the front of the MVP conversation.

In September, however, Betts has cooled off.

He’s batting just .254 in the month with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .750, ranking barely above league-average.

Acuña, on the other hand, has had a monster couple of weeks, batting .330 with a season-high 10 home runs since the end of August.

As a result, Acuña is now the favorite among Las Vegas oddsmakers, and has seemingly begun the final week a few steps ahead of Betts as the finish line nears.

Betts’ saving grace?

“You go out there and you finish with a great, great week,” Roberts said, “and that could spill over into the voting.”

Another bonus: “This is a great place to play as a hitter,” Roberts added of the high-altitude hitter’s paradise that is Coors Field. “So we’ll see.”

Colorado Rockies' Nolan Jones is tagged out by Dodgers second baseman Mookie Betts on Sept. 26, 2023, in Denver.

Dodgers second baseman Mookie Betts tags out Colorado Rockies left fielder Nolan Jones during a rundown in the fifth inning Tuesday in the opener of a doubleheader.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

In a 4-1 loss to the Rockies on Tuesday afternoon, Betts made only marginal gains.

He singled and stole a base in his first at-bat, then added another base hit in the top of the fifth — though he followed that up with a blunder on the bases, when he caused an inning-ending run-down by not seeing Austin Barnes get held up at third base in front of him.

While the afternoon marked Betts’ fifth multihit game of September, raising his season batting average to .309, his OPS fell slightly to .998, 14 points behind Acuña for best in the NL.

Betts didn’t play in Tuesday’s nightcap.

Exactly how much the MVP race is motivating Betts, who won the award in 2018 when playing in the American League with the Boston Red Sox, is unclear.

For weeks, Betts has straddled a line regarding the topic. While he would like to win — “I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be cool,” he has said previously — he has also downplayed the award’s significance in the picture of the Dodgers’ playoff push.

“MVP is cool, but it’s kind of irrelevant,” Betts said. “We play to win the World Series. Individual goals are really cool and some people play for that and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But me, I play because I want to win. If I play good, cool. I would love to play well, but as long as we win, that’s all I care about.”

What is certain: Without a strong finish to the regular season, Betts is unlikely to land the hardware.

Even he acknowledged Tuesday that “there’s no argument [against] what Acuña has been doing.”

Still, the race hasn’t been decided yet.

And, in Roberts’ estimation, that should be motivation enough for the team’s star leadoff hitter to try and close the regular-season schedule with a bang.

“You get to the one-yard line and you put together an amazing, remarkable season and a chance to win an MVP,” Roberts said, “I just don’t see how it couldn’t be forefront of mind to go out there, finish off strong and put an exclamation mark on your season.”

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