2019 MVP: Cody Bellinger or Christian Yelich? Is this Mike Trout’s year?

The grand finale of Major League Baseball’s awards season, the Most Valuable Player award, is likely to stir the most contentious debate.

The American and National League’s best will be recognized Thursday when the Baseball Writers Association of America names the MVP.

Both league ballots feature a player that finished among the top-three last year. The NL’s reigning MVP, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich, vies for his second consecutive honor. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout looks to claim his third MVP and is a finalist for the seventh time. Both are within good standing to win the award again, but both also missed the end of the season with injuries that may cost them the award.

Every other name on either ballot presents a very difficult challenge for Trout and Yelich. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger proved to be one of the best five-tool players in the game. Alex Bregman capitalized on his fourth-place finish last year to lead a Houston Astros lineup to its second pennant in three years. 

World Series champion Anthony Rendon likely earned himself in line for a very big payday in his last year under contract with the Washington Nationals. Marcus Semien had an incredible breakout season for the Oakland Athletics, in which he produced career-highs in nearly every offensive category.

The winners will be announced during a live special on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. Stay tuned for full coverage of the announcement and the ensuing reactions. But keep reading as we size up the six contenders, and check out the picks from the Yahoo Sports crew.

American League

Mike Trout - OF, Los Angeles Angels

Trout led MLB in OPS+ (185) for the fourth consecutive year and on-base percentage (.438) for the third time in the past four years. He finished atop the AL with a .645 slugging percentage and 1.083 OPS. Trout slugged a career-best 45 homers and was well on his way toward challenging Pete Alonso for the major-league lead. But he was sidelined for two weeks in August with a wrist injury, and a Morton’s neuroma in his right foot required season-ending in mid-September. Trout’s name has been on this ballot in all but one year since his first full season in the big leagues. He’s finished in second place four times, including last year, where his 10.2 bWAR is nearly two full wins higher than this season. The late-season injuries could have hurt his chances at a third MVP.

Defining moment: Throughout his incredible career, Trout never had more than five RBIs in a game. He broke that record on June 19 in Toronto with a seven-RBI performance that included a grand slam and a two-run blast.

Alex Bregman - 3B, Houston Astros

The final memories of Bregman’s 2019 season will be a couple entertaining moments from a terrific player that didn’t have a great series overall. But postseason performance won’t factor into this award’s voting, and Bregman set career-highs in average (.296), homers (41), RBIs (112) and OPS (1.015) during the regular season. He was on base 16 more times than the next best player and drew more walks (119) than anyone else in baseball. Bregman also bested Trout to lead the AL in bWAR (8.4). He seemed to be having a disappointing follow-up to his fourth-place finish last season, but a strong second half, in which he batted .338, pushed him into strong consideration.

Defining moment: No, not the botched bat hand-off with first base coach Don Kelly in the World Series. But it was the last of a six-game hitting streak in which he finished the streak with 12 hits, including six doubles and a homer, and nine RBIs. Bregman wouldn’t be on this list without his monstrous August.

Marcus Semien - SS, Oakland Athletics

Throughout his career, Semien was much closer to a middle-of-the-pack utility player than what he was this year. He set resounding career-highs in practically every offensive category, batting .285 with an .892 OPS, 33 homers and 92 RBIs. He finished third in the AL in bWAR (8.1 — which is 0.1 lower than what he produced in the previous three seasons combined) and extra-base hits (83). His defense at shortstop, where he started all 162 games this season, has also vastly improved. It was a big hurdle for Semien, who totaled -15 DRS from 2016-17, and it resulted in his second consecutive Gold Glove nomination.

Defining moment: The Bay Area kid batted .375 during a 17-game hitting streak in June, including a season-high four-hit game against the Rangers on June 7. That game was the fourth two-homer performance of the year and his first of three in 2019. 

National League

Cody Bellinger - OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Bellinger played out of his mind for the first month of the season, batting .431 with 14 homers and 37 RBIs at the end of April. He obviously was unable to maintain that unrealistic pace but remained one of the most feared hitters in the game, as evidenced by his MLB-best 21 intentional walks. Bellinger also led all of baseball with a 9.0 bWAR, and topped the NL with 351 total bases. He was second in the NL in slugging (.629), OPS (1.035), runs (121) and extra-base hits (84) and third in home runs (47) and on-base percentage (.406). The mantle is already getting full for the 2017 Rookie of the Year, who also earned his first Gold Glove this season.

Defining moment: It’s hard not to understate Bellinger’s start to the season. He had one of his best games before April, matching season-bests with two homers and four hits and setting a career-high with six RBIs against the Diamondbacks on March 30. 

Christian Yelich - OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Injuries marred another incredible season from the reigning MVP. An oblique strain caused Yelich to miss time in April, back stiffness forced him to drop out of the Home Run Derby and his season ended on Sept. 10 after he fouled a ball off his kneecap. Yelich still got to play 130 regular-season games, and led the NL in batting (.329) and OPS+ (179) for the second consecutive year. His .429 on-base percentage also topped the NL, while his .671 slugging and 1.100 OPS led the majors. Like Trout, he was very much in the thick of the home-run race before getting injured, eventually finishing with 44 long balls, eight more than last season. For his MVP prospects, these ailments shouldn’t really tank his chances, but the Brewers clearly missed him in the wild-card game.

Defining moment: Yelich’s first-career three-homer game began a mid-April series against the Cardinals in which he finished 6-for-12 with four homers and 11 RBIs. 

Anthony Rendon - 3B, Washington Nationals

Rendon has been one of the game’s best hitters over the past three years, but his 2019 season catapulted him into that upper echelon — which oddly enough, included his first All-Star nod. He led the majors with 126 RBIs and paced the NL for the second year in a row with 44 doubles. Rendon finished second in the NL in on-base percentage (.412), third in average (.319), runs (117), slugging (.598) and OPS (1.010) and fourth in bWAR (6.4). Rendon was named the NL Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove finalist at third base. If he falls short of the MVP, Rendon put himself in a great position to cash in on a tremendous payday as he ventures into his first free agency this offseason.

Defining moment: Considering their epic turnaround, a lot has been made of the Nationals’ 19-31 record in late May. Rendon helped Washington secure win No. 20 with two extra-base hits, including a homer, and three runs score in a 12-10 win over the last-place Marlins.

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