Any realistic shot Nationals outfielder Juan Soto had at winning National League Most Valuable Player last season ended when the 21-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 hours before his team’s season opener against the Yankees. Soto wound up missing eight games – more than 13% of the shortened 60-game regular season – and was behind the 8-ball the rest of the season.
Soto, who also missed five more games in early September with elbow soreness, still put up MVP-worthy numbers in 2020: 13 home runs, 37 RBIs and 39 runs in just 47 games. He also led the league in batting average (.351), OPS (1.185) and OPS+ (212) and was also a Gold Glove finalist in left field.
And yet, Soto wasn’t even a finalist for the NL MVP, placing fifth behind winner Freddie Freeman (60 games), Mookie Betts (55), Manny Machado (60) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (59).
But heading in the 2021 MLB season, oddsmakers are well aware of the noise a healthy Soto will make. He enters the season tied with Betts atop the NL MVP odds at +750 with most Virginia online sportsbooks.
Soto Should Benefit From More Protection In Lineup
Soto has just begun to untap his potential heading into his fourth MLB season, and he’ll have some serious protection around him in the lineup after Washington traded for first baseman Josh Bell and signed Kyle Schwarber this offseason. Add in Trea Turner in the leadoff spot and there will be plenty of opportunity for Soto to improve on his gaudy numbers from a season ago over the course of 154 games.
There’s certainly competition at the top, led by Betts and Dodgers teammate Cody Bellinger (+800), while Tatis Jr. (+850), Ronald Acuna Jr. (+1000), and new Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arendo (+1200) will be in the mix. That’s not even including the reigning MVP Freeman (+1200) and 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich (+1200).
But Soto is the co-favorite for a reason. His 2020 numbers extrapolated out to 55 or 60 games would have given him a strong argument to win the award, and he’ll be starting fresh from the beginning, in rhythm at the plate, and will be front-and-center for a Nationals team that has hopes of getting back to the World Series after 2019’s historic title run.
It’s scary to think how good Soto can be. At 22 years old he has 69 career homers, a Silver Slugger, a batting title, a World Series ring and two All-MLB Team appearances. Might 2021 be the year he adds NL MVP to his collection of accomplishments?